“I always like Boston,” Lisa turned to me and said. “But right now, I LOVE Boston.” As we pedaled along the picturesque Charles River, watching the crew teams fly by and dogs play on the riverbanks, I couldn’t have agreed more.
When Lisa and I moved here four years ago as college freshmen, we couldn’t have imagined what a perfect fit Boston would be for both of us. Now, as seniors at Northeastern University, we’ve learned some of the city’s ins and outs—the Orange Line subway is the fastest; the best restaurants are hidden in the South End; and, most important of all, never, never, never admit to being a Yankees fan.
Wanting to learn even more about our adopted home, Lisa and I decided to take a guided tour with Urban Adventours which offers Daily City Tours. Perhaps I’m just biased toward Boston, but I honestly believe this was the best tour I’ve had in any city, anywhere. The most obvious difference between this tour and the others I’ve taken before was that we went on bicycles! A few years ago, Boston was named the least cyclist-friendly city in America. Well, either Boston has changed or someone got it dead wrong. Boston by bike is beautiful!
Urban Adventours provided a stable, easy-to-ride hybrid bicycle for each member of our tour group. The squishy seats were comfortable for even the boniest of bums, and the staff made sure those seats were correctly adjusted to each rider’s height. They also spent time fitting every person with a comfortable helmet. We were each given a water bottle to keep us hydrated over our 10-ish mile tour. You can get more details on the exact tour we took here. They also do Paul Revere’s Ride by bicycle.
After we were all geared up, we were sent a short distance to our meeting point at the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Park fronting Boston Harbor. Our group numbered 18 riders including 3 tour guides. A typical weekend tour can be anywhere from 16 to 40 people; weekday tours are smaller, usually 4 to 16 riders. Lisa and I both felt that 18 was a perfect size for the group, and we enjoyed talking to everyone. Of course, we enjoy talking . . .
Before we got started, we all introduced ourselves, telling where we were from. I was not surprised that people from as far as Ireland and L. A. would be taking a tour like this. But I was also not surprised that other Boston locals like us were there for a different view of the city, too. Our guides were Pell (like “pell-mell,” he said), an animation guru who boasted forty years of commuting via bicycle; Angie, a young teacher working in Cambridge; and Annie, a Boston native who had just finished her first year at Stanford University. Our guides’ backgrounds were diverse, but they all clearly shared a love for Boston and cycling.
We took off like “one big rolling family,” as Pell said, and headed to Boston’s Italian district, better known as the North End. Locals and tourists alike visit this part of the city for authentic Italian food and delicious pastries. We rode past the Old North Church, the oldest standing church in the city, and on to a terrace overlooking the famed Bunker Hill. We stopped there for a brief history lesson, then continued on to see the Zakim Bridge (the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world), which serves as a welcome mat to Boston’s infamous Big Dig.
From there, we rode through many of Boston’s green spaces including the Boston Common which was originally used by farmers to graze their cattle on, the Charles River Reservation I mentioned earlier, and the Back Bay Fens including the beautiful Kelleher Rose Garden.
We rode past fabled Fenway Park, and I was glad that our guides Annie and Angie explained to the out-of-towners how the Red Sox bring Bostonians together. Like small town fans and their high school football team, everyone in Boston loves the Red Sox, watches the games, and follows the season. I suppose the players’ salaries are the main difference.
But Boston boasts more than amazing sports teams. (I won’t mention that the Bruins had just brought home the Stanley Cup.) It’s also rich with literary history. My favorite stop of the trip was Louisburg Square, an unassuming but beautiful collection of townhouses in Beacon Hill. I’m an English major, and my inner literary dork was thrilled to learn that this small square, now the most expensive residential neighborhood in America, has sheltered a treasure trove of amazing writers, including Louisa May Alcott, Robert Frost, William Dean Howells, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton. I’m hoping some of their genius rubbed off on me while I was there!
We took short breaks at several other locations like Boston University and the Christian Science Center. One stop was in the Historic South End near my home. They forgot to mention that my brownstone apartment is the most important building in Boston, at least to me. But I won’t hold it against them because they did tell us about the history and architecture of Copley Square, an area developed in the late 19th century. The cornerstones of it are the National Historic Landmarks of Trinity Church, the Boston Public Library, and Old South Church, the latter playing a pivotal role in both the Revolution and the Underground Railroad. Nowadays, it hosts my favorite farmer’s market on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it’s where the Boston Marathon finishes.
This tour isn’t geared towards serious cyclist or workout enthusiasts; it’s for people who enjoy a fun, non-threatening bike ride. Throughout the tour, Annie was on safety patrol and kept us safe from cars by alerting them of our presence at stoplights and by biking up and down the line of riders as we traveled. The constant reassurance was important for our group’s mixed age range and biking ability. With Annie’s help, the bells attached to the bikes’ handlebars, and the safe route we traveled, Lisa and I never once felt in danger riding through Boston. The pace was leisurely so that it was easy to keep up and still get a good look around. Having now done two different tours of Boston, I believe that pedaling a bike is the best way to see the city.
On a bike, you get to see parks and intimate nooks of the city you wouldn’t driving in a car, trolley, Duck Boat or bus. You control your own speed, so if you want to slow down and get a good look at Trinity Church, you can. Finally, it’s good for the environment and you! As Urban Adventours says, “Burn carbs, not carbon!” Lisa and I worked up a good appetite during the 3-hour bike trip; afterwards we walked to a restaurant at Faneuil Hall nearby.
If you’ve never been to Boston, you should visit Faneuil Hall since it’s one of the most famous places in the city. However, lunching there reminded me that because it’s so famous, it’s also very crowded. Another good option to reward the appetite you’ll work up, is one of my favorite seafood restaurants, Neptune Oyster, located nearby in the North End. If you are an adventuresome eater, the raw oysters there are fresh, and, most importantly, delicious!
After your trip, you might also consider renting a bicycle from Urban Adventours and continuing to explore the city on your own. Since I bought my own bicycle about a month ago, I’ve found it’s the best way to get around Boston. Bikes are even allowed on the subway. You don’t have to deal with parking (or lack thereof), traffic, or cab fares, and of course, they’re really fun!
The bottom line is that if you’re in Boston, get on a bicycle. It’s an active way to see and learn about one of America’s most historic cities. If you live here, show your home some love and learn more about it with a tour. If you’re visiting, I can’t wait to hear how you’ve fallen in love too!
Urban Adventours is located between Faneuil Hall and the Aquarium near the wharf. It’s right in the hustle of downtown, and public transportation is the easiest way to get there. I took the “City View” tour, one of the many Daily City Tours offered. Check out the other Daily City Tours offered to decide what’s best for you. Pell told us that the Bike and Brew Tour, one where you end up at Boston’s Harpoon Brewery, is a particularly popular one. The Daily City Tour is only $50 a person, a good price for 3 hours of guided biking, which includes the bike, water bottle, helmet, and the incomparable local knowledge of the guides.
The group size and pace worked perfectly. Our guides were friendly, kept us safe and comfortable, and we were happy to tip them at the end for the great job they did. Urban Adventours also offers private and group tours. School bike programs are available as well. If you take my advice and rent a bike for your own exploration, Urban Adventours offers very reasonable rental rates that include a bike lock, helmet, and map. Urban Aventours is unique in the Boston area, a quality local company with a worthy mission to show off the best of the city in and environmentally friendly way. They’ll help make your Boston visit both active and fun!