Chowder, lobster rolls & more: 5 great Boston restaurants

Chowder, lobster rolls & more: 5 great Boston restaurants

I went looking for great clam chowder in Boston and I found it ... but the unexpected treat was the lobster roll, which I hadn't had before. I learned that there are two types -- the lobster salad roll and the hot & buttered lobster roll -- and that both are incredible.

Here are my five favourite Boston restaurants. If you're visiting, you can't go wrong at any of these. Bon appetit!

1. Atlantic Fish Co.: Prior to my visit, I asked my credit card concierge to compile a list of the best clam chowder restaurants in Boston, and Atlantic Fish was on the list. I'm pretty sure I'd eat here at least every other day if I lived in Boston. Don't be deterred by the white tablecloths; the vibe is friendly and you won't have to whisper during your meal. The New England clam chowder in a bread bowl was the best I had during my week in Boston, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I also loved the Maine lobster roll and the crab grilled cheese with king crab meat, cheddar and Muenster cheeses, tomatoes and scallions on grilled challah bread.

2. Luke's Lobster: This restaurant is a chain that can be found in quite a few U.S. states. In Boston, there are at least three locations in the downtown-ish area. Luke's is casual and self-serve, but don't think this means the food is of cafeteria quality. The chowder is very good, and the lobster roll is juicy and succulent. There isn't a lot of seating so be prepared to dash quickly from the order line if you spot a table being vacated, throw your coat on the chair, and then run back to the line. Or just go with someone.

3. Legal Sea Foods: Another great choice in Boston. I liked the lobster bisque here, but the clam chowder definitely takes marquee billing. I can also recommend the steamed mussels and the baked oysters. This is another restaurant chain with a number of locations in many states but it started in Boston.

4. Ned Devine's Irish Pub: Save Ned Devine's for the day you're visiting Faneuil Hall Marketplace and eat your lobster roll (served here on grilled bread) and chowder while people-watching at your outdoor table. You won't experience a more uniquely Boston experience.

5. Union Oyster House: Another great choice for chowder if you're downtown. If you're not downtown, you should make the trek. The chowder is very good and the restaurant -- the oldest in North America -- has a great ambiance. There will likely be a wait for a table but I think the best seat is at the bar, where you can watch multi-tasking staffers serve chowder and beer, shuck oysters and chat up the customers, practically all at the same time.

And one more: But wait ... You're not done! It's time now to head over to Parker's Restaurant at the Omni Parker House hotel, which is the country's longest-running hotel, for some Boston cream pie. This is where it was invented! We got ours to go, but it was no less delicious for having been eaten on the run.

Pahty time in Boston: 10 awesome things to see and do.
Where should I stay in Boston? Check out Marriott's Moxy Boston Downtown.

Pahty time in Boston: 10 awesome things to see

Pahty time in Boston: 10 awesome things to see

Goooood clam chowder, and "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

These two things pretty much summed up everything I knew about Boston before I visited the city recently. The first thing is self-explanatory. I had thought the clam chowder would be good; in fact, it's extraordinary in Boston. The second thing is the tagline from the classic movie Love Story, starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw and their tearjerker of a story set at Harvard College.

But as I learned quickly, Boston is a great tourist town for a lot of reasons. There are SO MANY things to do, a lot of it free or very low-cost to see. The city is also incredibly walkable, and the T subway system -- the oldest in North America -- is intuitive, efficient and cheap.

The GBCVB is a great site to start planning your trip, but if you're looking for a quick Top 10 here, in no particular order, are mine.

1. Faneuil Hall Marketplace: You'll easily spend the better part of a day here exploring Faneuil Hall and the three adjacent buildings that make up the marketplace. Faneuil Hall is where civic leaders first met to discuss independence from Great Britain so it's drenched in history. The other three buildings have lots of shopping (chains and independent stores) and restaurants (all price points).
Tip: Don't broadcast your touristy-ness: It's pronounced Fan-yul, like Daniel.

2. Old State House: I love this building so much. Built in 1713, the Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in Boston, and the site where the seeds of the American Revolution were sown. The Declaration of Independence was first read to the public from this building! Now surrounded by skyscrapers, the building is part museum and also the entryway to a T subway station. It is also the site of the Boston Massacre and there is a memorial in the front marking that tragedy.
Factoid: Five colonists died in the Massacre but the population of Boston was only 20,000 at the time. Proportionally speaking, five deaths would be like hundreds today.

3. Boston Common: Founded in 1634, this is the oldest public park in North America. It's massive and you should take the time to stroll through it properly.

4. Harvard University: It's super easy to get to Harvard on the T, and their free student-led tours are informative and interesting. The name-checking is awfully fun, as of course anyone who's anyone went to school here. ("When Bill Gates attended, he stayed in that residence; of course, he dropped out after his first year to found Microsoft." "When Matt Damon attended ..." "When Nelson Mandela gave the commencement speech ...")

5. Sports, sports, sports: Bostonians love their sports! See a Celtics game, a Bruins game or a Patriots game. TD Garden is a wonderful venue, and the T takes you there in 15 minutes from downtown. You can actually enter TD Garden right from the subway.

6. Freedom Trail: There are a lot of Freedom Trail tours in Boston. The one that we took was led by a direct descendant of a man who fought in the American Revolution and I highly recommend it for the knowledge that's shared as well as the entertaining nature of the tour. The tour comprises a 4-km walk that stops at 16 locations that are an integral part of the history of Boston and of the United States. You'll see Paul Revere's grave, hear about how Americans camped on what is now Boston Common as they rose against the British, the Boston Massacre, and so much more.  

7. Paul Revere House: It's small but well worth seeing. Paul Revere was the third or fourth owner of the home, and a lot of people lived here in very cramped quarters. There is a guide in each room who is able to answer questions about Revere's life and times. From here, walk on to visit the North End, the city's oldest residential area, and savour a delicious Italian meal.

8. Boston Public Library: Book nerds will love this, but it's worth seeing even if you're not one, just for the fabulous Reading Room.

9. The food! Clam chowder, lobster rolls and Boston cream pie in the city that invented it! Here are my top five restaurants in Boston.

10. Cheers bars: There are actually two Cheers bars in Boston. If you only have time for one, visit the replica bar at Fanueil Hall Marketplace because the fake re-creation is actually more complete than the real bar. Don't forget to have your photo taken with the giant cardboard cutouts of Cheers characters like Norm and Woody. There's a great gift shop, too; I loved the T-shirts that say: "I don't even know my name."

Where should I eat in Boston? Chowder, lobster rolls and more: My favourite Boston restaurants.
Where should I stay in Boston? Check out Marriott's Moxy Boston Downtown.

Snapshot: Marriott's Moxy Boston Downtown

Snapshot: Marriott's Moxy Boston Downtown

If you've never stayed at a Moxy hotel, it's safe to say you'll find this trendy boutique line to be unlike any other of Marriott's brands. Moxy hotels are very hip -- and also incredibly comfortable.

When we were in Boston recently we stayed in the city's first Moxy hotel and found a lot to love, especially its location in the theatre district that's also close to the very efficient T subway system. The hotel is also about a 15-minute walk to touristy areas such as Faneuil Hall, the North End and downtown. And at the end of the day, we found the inviting lounge to be the perfect spot to unwind with a drink.

The Moxy Boston Downtown is actually so new that it had been open for less than two weeks when we stayed there. The rooftop bar wasn't quite finished and there were workers still applying the finishing touches to one of the elevators. But these were the only signs that the work was not quite done.

The staff was fantastic, helping us to sort out a booking mixup that was not Marriott's fault, apologizing profusely for it, and then upgrading us to a room on the top (23rd) floor with a view of the Charles River and Boston Common. And then they threw in some complimentary drink tickets for good measure. How to make us feel welcome!

About the only negative thing might be the size of the rooms, which are definitely small for two people. But we considered the location, the comfort level and the above-and-beyond staff, and for us, those factors will always be worth more than slightly more square footage.

Here's a look in photos:

Part of the lounge at Moxy Boston Downtown.

Another area of the lounge. There are lots of games like Jenga, as well as a foosball table.

Entry is on the first floor; reception is on the second. Signs have words spelled like Bostonians would pronounce them.

This photo booth is such a great touch! Guests can primp and pose, and then email the photos to themselves.

The bar at Moxy Boston Downtown.

Bedroom with view of the Charles River. The wifi is lightning fast.


Fantastic shower.

View of the Charles River and some of Boston Common to the right.

"Press here for bedtime stories."

Pahty time in Boston: 10 awesome things to see and do.
Where should I eat in Boston? Chowder, lobster rolls and more: My favourite Boston restaurants.

Washington, DC: Land of the free or very cheap

Washington, DC: Land of the free or very cheap

I've recently returned from a visit to Washington, DC and it's been a long time since I've been so impressed by a city.

Many cities are nice, or fun, or really enjoyable, but they are not places I'd visit twice. They're one and done, basically. But there are some cities that are remarkable from the moment you step off the plane, cities that have that intangible WOW factor. Venice, Italy, is one such city. Singapore is another. And now I'm going to add DC to that list.

There are many reasons for this. The city -- the part that tourists will see, anyway -- is incredibly clean and so well laid out. Transportation is cheap, efficient and intuitive to use. And because there are police officers and Secret Service and FBI everywhere through these areas, you will never feel as safe as when you're in DC. I really loved talking with our Uber and Lyft drivers and hearing how proud they were of their city.

When you tour the Capitol (above), make sure you also visit the amazing Library of Congress.
My favourite sights were the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery. But there's so much to do in DC that it will appeal to a broad spectrum of visitors. Stroll along the National Mall, visit any of the wonderful museums, take in a baseball or football or hockey game, have a bite in the hip new Wharf area, or do a little shopping in Georgetown.

Here are five things to know while you're planning your trip:

Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. 

1. Pretty much all sightseeing is free. Yes, really. After you've shelled out for a place to stay, this will be the cheapest place you'll ever visit. The Capitol and the Library of Congress? Free. Any of the 17 Smithsonian museums? Also free. The very moving Arlington Cemetery (which is actually across the Potomac River in Virginia)? Absolutely. Sights like the Pentagon or White House? Yep, even these are free.

In addition to free admission, many sights also offer free tours. They really like tourists in DC! Ask at the information desk if you don't see the tour times posted near the entrance. And the tours are fabulous. For example, we had a fantastic docent named Jack who gave us such an informative tour of the highlights of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Ditto at the Capitol, where we enjoyed another free tour. My favourite tour was of the Pentagon (more on this below) and of the White House as well.

An aerial view of about two-thirds of the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. It's long!

2. The sights aren't as close as they look on the map
. In fact, just about everything is farther apart and it will take longer than you think to see the museums along the National Mall, which is that long, green space along which many of the museums and galleries are located. It's also wise to keep in mind that most of the sights you'll be seeing are government-run, and so they will all close around 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. In DC, you need to get an early start.

Many sights offer timed entry slots online; take advantage if possible by booking before you leave home. It will save you a ton of time when you get there.

It's also good to remember that it can take a long time to gain entry to a sight due to security checks. Just about all of the museums will ask you to remove cellphones and metal items from your pockets; then you'll have to go through a body scanner. It all takes time. The National Gallery of Art seems to be more relaxed in this regard. They had no lineups when we were there, and guards only did a visual check of my purse.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the National Archives, which are one street behind the National Mall. Don't miss the chance to see the original Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution and the original Bill of Rights. It's incredible viewing!

The front of the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

3. Visit the White House and Pentagon.
 I find it incredible that these two sights are open to the public. One is the home of the President of the United States and the other is the home of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military. And you can visit both for free! Just make sure you allow lots of time after making your request to clear security checks -- literally, months. There aren't a lot of spots and the few that are available will go fast.

My favourite visit in DC was to the Pentagon, where unfortunately no photos were permitted except for the cheesy fake podium shot at the gift shop. (So of course I got one taken! See below.) The most surprising thing to me was that practically the whole first floor of the Pentagon is a giant mall, complete with drycleaners, banks, pharmacies, clothing stores and even a jewelry store. The Pentagon also has four Starbucks locations and two Dunkin' Donuts spots, and a full food court. The reason: 26,000 people work there and it would be chaos if all of them left at noon to go into the surrounding areas for lunch or to run errands. So everything a person might need is right there within the Pentagon walls. Other fun factoids: The Pentagon has 17 miles of corridor, and some 8,500 parking spots. It is the largest office building in the world.

Pro tip if you want to visit the White House: Canadians, despite what it says on the White House website, our embassy hasn't helped us get tickets for a White House tour since 2011. I contacted Congresswoman Suzan DelBene in Washington state for help, and her office was kind enough to help us get our tickets.

The Washington Monument, where you can take an elevator right to the top.

4. The Washington Monument is open again!
After being closed for more than three years for elevator repair and for the construction of a new visitor screening centre, the sight opened again in October 2019. Built without cranes, bulldozers or electric power, at 555 feet in height it was the tallest structure in the world for some time after it was completed in 1885.

Did you even know the structure has an elevator? The views are spectacular from the top. You'll need to act fast to get tickets to go on it, though. (Again, they're free.) Put your request in as soon as you can. Make a full morning of it and also visit the majestic Lincoln Memorial to the west as well as the poignant Vietnam Veterans Memorial you'll pass along the way. (Both are free, of course.)

5. Transportation & weather: About the only thing you'll pay for in DC is transportation, and even that is very low-cost.
✔ The best way to get around is on DC's easy-to-use Metro system (map is below). As a tourist, you'll spend most of your time on the Blue Line, which will take you from the Capitol all the way west to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. Rides cost between $2-$3 each way.

✔ Once you're in the vicinity of the National Mall, you can also take the Circulator bus for just $1. Seniors pay 50 cents, and students ride for free. The bus has a number of routes, but the one you're most likely to be interested in is the National Mall loop. It will take you to all the points you'll want to get to for sightseeing.

✔ Finally, just a note about the weather and the skeeters. If rain is forecast, bring appropriate gear because it rains in sheets in DC. And, after the sun sets, expect to get bitten by mosquitoes unless you've got repellent.

Photos by Juanita Ng