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East coast warm-hearted city on the water

Costa Rica

There’s a buzz in Boston as It takes on the Big Apple as the alternative US short break and shopping destination. This is my list of things you must do in the warm-hearted city on the water, with its mazy 19th century streets, gleaming skyscrapers, lively pubs, zippy restaurants and acres of city centre malls. Picture, Gareth Huw Davies

Ride the T.

Make the go-anywhere “Charlie Ticket” your first buy. It''s a crazy deal: $15.00 (£7.70) for 7 days, or $9 (£4.60) for 24 hours. Buy it at the airport, then take the ''T'', the city''s civilised underground (Blue or Silver Line) downtown. Safe and clean, trains wiggle round sharp bends under old Boston. People apologise if they bump into you. They offer directions. Women exchange “I like your dress” compliments. Key T stations are Park and Boylston, for Boston Common, where there’s ice skating in the winter on Frog Pond. A gorgeous carillon concert drifts over the park from Park Street Church Sunday evenings at six. Another good stop is South Station: from there walk up Atlantic Avenue for the knockout view of the Financial District skyline, and the Aquarium. Take the Red Line to Harvard for the Charles River view.

Tea perfection

For a splendid antidote to jet lag on our first afternoon we sank into plush sofas by a roaring fire under a $1m art collection in the newly opened Gallery in our hotel, the Ritz-Carlton. (Just off Boston Common, and open to non-residents.) We ordered Earl Grey tea and home-made biscuits ($10, £5.14, for two). It’s a fabulous hotel, with civilised extras such as help-yourself coffee in the lobby from dawn, and breakfast with decadent home made muffins. We also sampled the Intercontinental, a magnificent mountain of blue glass over Boston''s Waterfront, the latest shining symbol of this district''s renewal. Our room overlooked the very water where they tipped the tea chests in the Boston Tea Party. There’s a 24 hour Provencal-themed restaurant, and rum and champagne bar RumBa.

Shop easy

Don’t try serious mall shopping on your first day. Take your retail bearings with a slow stroll somewhere outdoors and authentic, eg Washington St (Downtown Crossing station). It’s full of discount shops, and the excellent Macy''s. You need a good rest before attempting the glittering “Shops at Prudential Centre” (flagships stores Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor). In nearby Copley Place Mall find another 100 stores, including Neiman Marcus. Next door are the ultra smart shops on Newbury Street. There’s a Filene''s [bargain] Basement here. For electronic goods it''s Best Buy and Apple in the Cambridgeside Galleria (last stop on the Red Line). [ Op cut: The Afghan President''s brother''s restaurant, Helmand. is opposite, with a good discount shoe shop next door.] Then relax with a movie at the 19-screen Loews Theatre (Boylston station.)

Pure history

There is graceful strolling through old Boston, with more concentrated history than anywhere in the USA. In the exclusive Beacon Hill neighbourhood’s mansion-lined squares and narrow, tree-lined, cobblestoned streets we found hints of Islington, York and Dublin. We picked up the Freedom Trail, a two mile long red brick line in the sidewalk, under the glowing golden dome of the Massachusetts State House. Then it’s non-stop famous old buildings to Quincy Market, the perfect stop for a clam chowder. On through the bustling fruit and vegetable market, into the Italian Quarter (North End). Then over the Charles River into old Charlestown, stopping for a sandwich at the excellent Sorrelle cafe. Last stop the great granite obelisk on Bunker Hill, where the British were defeated and a superpower was born.

Brainiacs‘ beat

They filmed Leonardo di Caprio and Matt Damon in the Seaport District in Disappeared (www.bostonmovietours.net). The Cheers bar is based on the Bull & Finch Pub (now Cheers, Beacon Hill; another Cheers is in Faneuil Hall ). But for the purest film background head for Harvard where you can stroll in the very lawns where they filmed Beautiful Mind, and Good Will Hunting. There was another great performance here. Dylan Thomas gave the world premier of Under Milk Wood in the university’s Harvard Fogg Museum in 1953, reading it himself (Catch the delightful old Peabody Museum of Natural History. Then head for the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the brand new Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery shows the latest fruits of resident braniacs.

Easy dining

Boston Red Sox baseball players (some of them own apartments above) can be seen at pizza restaurant Cambridge 1 (1381 Boylston, Kenmore T station).sitting superstitiously in their usual places on cherrywood benches at slate tables ordering the same as the last time they won. My pizza was daringly different - waxy red new potatoes, laden with rosemary on a base as thin as butterfly wings, done on a wood-burning grill, with a Pumpkinhead Ale. I recommend, too, the Eastern Standard (Commonwealth Ave), where an irresistible high decibel buzz drew us in. We sat at a brasserie table, just like in Paris, for confit of duck with figs and braised greens, sage roasted chicken, cherry bread pudding, and rosemary poached pear. It’s the identical formula, and same happy, frantic crush, at Lucca’s (Hanover St).

The writer flew with British Airways who offer flight from Heathrow and 4 nights at the Ritz Carlton Boston Common from £808. 0870 2421276.

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