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08/20/2002 - Updated 11:22 AM ET


Boston photo album

By Dina Gerdeman for USATODAY.com

Boston is a beautiful big city brimming with historical landmarks and ornate architecture, museums and cultural sites. Yet it has managed to maintain a small-town feel, despite a population of nearly 600,000, partly because it is clean, relatively safe and easy to get around. There are more than 50 colleges and universities in the area, and a plethora of fine arts venues. To see 372-year-old Boston the way it's supposed to be seen, tie on your tennis shoes and tour the streets by foot. Most of the city's sights can be seen within a 5-square-mile area in the North End, the historic center of the city. Most people use the city's subway, the T, to get around. From Faneuil Hall to Beacon Hill to Harvard, Paul Revere's house or the site of the Boston Massacre, a huge chunk of the nation's heritage can be found by an intrepid sightseer.

Sights worth seeing — Start where most visitors to Boston start: The 2.5 mile walking trail through downtown Boston, the North End and Charlestown that is called the Freedom Trail. It's easy to follow, because a painted red line on sidewalks and roads leads you to some of the cities most notable historic sites. The trail begins at Boston Common, America's oldest public park. The Common, on 50 acres of open land, was originally a pasture for grazing cattle. Later it became a training field for militia, and the British army settled in during their occupation of the city. It is bordered by Tremond, Park, Boylston and Beacon streets. On the Common is Frog Pond, a huge wading pool in the summer and a giant outdoor ice rink in the winter. Head out of the Common and onto the Freedom Trail, and among the sights you'll see on the trail are the nation's first public school house, John Hancock's grave, the Old Corner Bookstore building, the sight of the Boston Massacre of 1770, Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church, the U.S.S. Constitution (or "Old Ironsides" as the old warship used in the battle of 1812 is known) and the Bunker Hill Monument. Order free maps and guides in advance. To reach the beginning of the trail and the Boston Common Visitor Center, take the red or green subway line to Park Street Station, exit the station and turn 180 degrees, and the center will be 100 yards in front of you; (617) 227-8800; www.thefreedomtrail.org

Retreat to an urban oasis — Bring your blood pressure down by seeing the serene 24-acre Public Garden, established in 1859 as America's first public botanical garden. Willow trees tickle the pond and flowerbeds change by the season. Allow yourself to be foot-paddled around the pond aboard a Swan Boat from April to September, a 15-minute low-key ride run by the same family for more than 120 years. Also, don't miss the Make Way For Ducklings sculpture. It's definitely worth the $2 cost of admission. The Public Garden is bordered by Arlington, Boylston, Charles and Beacon streets; (617) 522-1966; www.swanboats.com

Get a great view — The Massachusetts Avenue bridge (or Harvard Bridge), which connects Boston to Cambridge and spans the Charles River, is measured in Smoots, which legend has it is the last name of the college freshman whose body was used to measure the bridge's length as a fraternity prank in 1958. Built in the 1800s, the bridge doesn't go to Harvard, but rather to the campus of MIT. Start at sunset and walk from Memorial Drive on the Cambridge side to Beacon Street on the Boston side, counting Smoots along the way. You'll see a startling view of Back Bay, the State House and the Esplanade, not to mention all the beautiful sailboats dotting the river.

Quack like a tourist — To accumulate little-known trivia tidbits, take the Boston Duck Tour. You'll ride a renovated World War II amphibious vehicle that gives you a look at several Boston landmarks, and then splashes you into the Charles River for a waterside view of the city. While a "conDUCKtor" narrates the city's highlights, get ready to exchange "quack, quacks" with the locals you pass on the sidewalks. Tickets are sold inside the Prudential Center mall at Center Court, 800 Boylston St. (617) 723-3825; www.bostonducktours.com

Stroll the neighborhoods — Start at the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston streets, where you can check out the park at Copley Square, the ornate Boston Public Library and the grand Trinity Church. Then take Dartmouth a couple blocks north to Commonwealth Avenue, where you can stroll through a narrow park that serves as a median to divide a street lined with beautiful, unique residential buildings. It's a peaceful walk with a view of true Boston architecture and monuments to study along the way. You'll wind up at Arlington Street, which borders the Public Garden.

The square — Perhaps the best people-watching, shopping and all-around cultural experience in the metro area is to be found by wandering around the 4-mile radius of Harvard Square. With the prestigious university at its center, the square is also the place for 100s of restaurants, historic sites, quaint and funky shops, parks, and diverse neighborhoods. Follow the brick sidewalks to more than 20 bookstores, nine music stores, five performing arts theaters, four movie theaters and nine museums. Street musicians perform on the sidewalks and in the parks, and there are live performances in many of the clubs. Massachusetts Avenue and John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge; (617) 491-3434; www.harvardsquare.com

Grab the kids — The Children's Museum is great for younger children, who can dance in an Arthur video, pretend they're rock climbers and get messy with finger paints and arts and crafts. 300 Congress St.; (617) 426-8855; www.bostonkids.org. Older kids will get a kick out of the sharks at the New England Aquarium — at Rowe's Wharf near Atlantic Avenue and Milk Street; (617) 973-5200; www.neaq.org — or the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Science at Science Park off the O'Brien Highway (Route 28); (617) 723-2500; www.mos.org

Creatures of the deep — The New England Aquarium offers hours of up-close encounters with penguins, sea turtles, tropical fish, sharks, eels and much more. Many can be seen inside the 187,000-gallon, six-story Giant Ocean Tank that spirals to the ceiling. More than 70 exhibits feature animals from India, the Amazon Rain Forest and across the U.S. Plus, there's an IMAX theater when you're ready to sit down. The aquarium is on the waterfront at Central Wharf. Admission is $13 for adults, $7 for children, $11 for seniors and kids under 3 are free. There's an aquarium stop on the T (the subway). It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (6 p.m. on weekends and even later hours in the summer). It's adjacent to the Marriot Hotel and near Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market; (617) 973-5200; www.neaq.org

Remembering JFK — The John F. Kennedy Museum and Library is filled with exhibits and film clips about the nation's most charismatic president. There are 21 exhibits in themuseum covering the life and work of JFK, his administration and his family from 1960 to today. After a 20-minute introductory film, visitors enter the galleries, which are in rooms that extend off a corridor that is a replica of one in the White House. There, you can see a mock 1960 Democratic National Convention floor and watch excerpts of the Kennedy-Nixon debates in a re-creation of the studio where the first debate took place. Other exhibits touch on the Peace Corps, President Kennedy's press conferences, civil rights, the Cuban missile crisis, foreign policy, mental retardation, and the space program. Plus, there are personal items of the president and Jackie. The museum and library are on Columbia Point close to Route I-93. Via subway, take the Red Line to JFK/UMASS station, where there is a free shuttle bus to the library. Open daily 9 am. to 5 p.m.; no admission fee; (877) 616-4599 or (617) 929-4500; www.jfklibrary.org

An homage to art — The biggest and most diverse of Boston's many art museums, the Museum of Fine Arts first opened in 1876 and moved to its current location at 465 Huntington Ave. in 1909. There's a bit of everything in the museum, from its well-known Egyption collection to big-time traveling exhibits. American artist John Singer Sargent's paintings, sculpture and architectural ornamentation in the rotunda, and his murals and reliefs in the adjacent colonnade are perhaps the most striking in the museum. The west wing, designed by I.M. Pei, houses temporary exhibitions. The classical department is famous for its vases and Asiatic art. The collection of Old Kingdom and Nubian art rivals that of the Cairo Museum, and the MFA's collection of works by Impressionist artist Claude Monet, along with other Impressionists, is bested only in Paris. Plus, there are more than 60 portraits by John Singleton Copley (including the famous 1758 painting of Paul Revere) and more than 40 by Gilbert Stuart. The museum is about 15 minutes from downtown. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; $14 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and college students; young people 7-17 are $5; (617) 267-9300; www.mfa.org

Still in the museum mood? — There are plenty in Boston, but the most popular are:

• The Museum of Science: More than 170 years old, this museum attracts over 1.6 million people a year. There are more than 400 interactive exhibits, an Omni theater, dinosaur exhibits, a virtual fish tank, plus plenty of science, health and hands-on experiments. Located on the O'Brien Highway (Route 28) near the Science Park subway stop in Science Park. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and later on Fridays and school holidays. Admission prices vary, but start at $11 for adults and $8 for seniors and kids 3-11; (617) 723-2500; www.mos.org

• Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A collection of Italian Renaissance, French, German, and Dutch masters assembled by one of Boston's most remarkable figures. Gardner, the wife of John Lowell Gardner, was a monied world-traveler and art aficionado of the last 1800s, whose collection soon filled her own home and the house next door. The museum was opened in 1903, and Isabella Gardner lived on the fourth floor. She died in 1924, but her museum has remained virtually unchanged since then. Three floors of galleries surround a garden courtyard. In addition to paintings there are sculpture, tapestries, furniture and decorative arts spanning 30 centuries; 280 Fenway; take the Museum of Fine Arts T stop; (617) 566-1401; www.gardnermuseum.org

• The Institute of Contemporary Art: Founded in 1936, this facility has showcased Picassos and Warhols, Rauschenbergs and more, but you never know what you'll see here because this is an institute without its own collection. Sometimes they present "temporary works of art" on the city's streets and parks, but inside the institute you'll find traveling modern exhibits, films, speakers and tours. From May through September the institute will display 15 contemporary artists' sculpture in the form of architectural models. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; noon to 9 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for students and senior, free to children under 12; 955 Boylston Streeet, take the Green Line to the Hynes Convention Center/ICA T stop; (617) 266-5152; www.icaboston.org

• Harvard Museum of Natural History: This is the public museum of three of Harvard University's natural history institutions. In addition to a chance to explore the beautiful campus of America's foremost university, this museum offers high-minded exhibits on science and nature. Among their current exhibits (open through September) is a showcase of never-before-seen treasures from historic expeditions that explored the oceans, Tibetan mountains, Brazilian Amazon, America's western frontier, and other remote environments that had been unknown to science. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $6.50 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens, $4 for youth 3-18; free Sundays until noon and after school Wednesdays from 3-5 during the school year; 26 Oxford St.; (617) 495-3045; www.hmnh.harvard.edu

Travel City Guides - What's worth doing in Boston

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