The metropolitan area of BOSTON has long since expanded to fill the shoreline of Massachusetts Bay, and stretches for miles inland as well, with places to visit. However, the seventeenth-century port at its heart is still discernible. The tangled roads (former cow paths) clustered around Boston Common are a reminder of how the nation started out, and the city is enjoyably walkable in scale.

Boston was, until 1755, the biggest city in America; as the one most directly affected by the whims of the British Crown, it was the natural birthplace for the opposition that culminated in the Revolutionary War. Numerous evocative sites from that era are preserved along the downtown Freedom Trail. As the third busiest port in the British Empire (after London and Bristol), Boston stood on a narrow peninsula. What is now Washington Street provided the only access by land, and when the British set off to Lexington in 1775 they embarked in ships from the Common itself. During the nineteenth century, the Charles River marshlands were filled in to create the posh Back Bay residential area. Central Boston is now slightly set back from the water, and until recently, was divided by the unsightly John Fitzgerald Expressway that carried I-93 across downtown. In 2006 the city successfully routed the traffic underground and disposed of this eyesore – a project more than a decade in the making, known as “the Big Dig”.

Echoes of the “Brahmins” of a century ago can be seen in the stately brick enclaves and purple windowpanes of the city’s posher districts. But this is by no means just a city of WASPs: the Irish who began to arrive in large numbers after the Great Famine had produced their first mayor as early as 1885, and the president of the entire nation within a hundred years. The liberal tradition that spawned the Kennedys remains very much alive, fed in part by the presence in the city of more than one hundred universities and colleges, the most famous of which – Harvard University – is actually in the contiguous city of Cambridge, just across the Charles River.

The slump of the Depression seemed to linger in Boston for years – in the 1950s, the population was actually dwindling – but these days the place has a bright, rejuvenated feel. The aesthetic effects of the Big Dig have completely reshaped the city – most notably with the elegant, skyline-boosting Zakim Bridge, the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the beautification of the HarborWalk. With its busy street life, imaginative museums, eminent architecture and palpable history, Boston is one destination in New England there’s no excuse for missing.