A number of people, transit enthusiasts, friends, and coworkers alike, ask me what my weekend plans are and how I get so much done all while still enjoying myself. Meticulous planning and research, I usually tell them. I have always been somewhat of a transit geek, a road geek, and a sucker for doing travel research, all while actually applying what I have learned. I often tell people that going from New York to certain cities is a day trip or a weekend getaway trip, depending on the days of the week and their travel budget. Mainly depending on those two factors, a great trip revolves around a plan, whether specific or generalized.
Boston is another great weekend or two-day idea, having been to Boston several times since 2002, my first visit. Boston offers the best New England big city experience whether it’s sports entertainment, shopping, sightseeing, or people-watching.
If you are planning for a traditional weekend getaway, i.e. Saturday-Sunday, I would recommend a drive since bus and rail schedules are not as frequent to and from Boston as well as transit options when you are down there. I will say, though, that there are several ways to get to Boston, but unless you know your road network, I would advise either using a GPS or just simply taking the bus or train. Taking I-95 is a great way to get to Massachusetts,…that is, if you don’t mind the Providence detour (a nice city to stop by if you do get the chance) and getting lost near the Cape Cod area. A more direct route from New York to Boston would be taking I-95 North to New Haven, followed by I-91 North to Springfield, Followed by I-90 (Mass Turnpike) East to Boston. A quicker route would have you exiting I-91 at Hartford and following I-84 east to the end before jumping on Mass Turnpike east. If you do take I-95 north and miss the exit, then you might as well take I-95 through New London and through Providence and stop over before continuing and taking I-93 north into Boston. I-90 and I-93 are the two main interstates in Boston, though from New York, I-90 offers a better approach and better drive time.
If you are planning a two-day weekday getaway, your best bet is to choose either bus travel or rail travel, depending on your budget and how much you want to get done in Beantown. Amtrak is a great way to get to Boston, with travel times ranging from 3 hours, 30 minutes on the Acela Express (the most expensive option, from around $145 for Business Class to $220 for First Class) to about 4-4.5 hours on the Northeast Regional services, making more stops along the Northeast Corridor. The cheaper, faster route would be Greyhound and Peter Pan Lines from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which can run around $30-45 depending on the time of travel and when you book your tickets. All Amtrak trains and all Greyhound and Peter Pan buses use South Station, which was beautifully restored inside out, mainly inside the terminal and to accommodate airport passengers through the MBTA Silver Line tunnel station. Other options include many curbside bus companies such as the Greyhound-operated Bolt Bus and the Stagecoach/Coach USA-operated Megabus, which offer express bus service from curbside locations in Midtown Manhattan. Prices start at $1 and go up once demand goes up. Booking at least a month to two months in advance can net you $1 tickets, but once you approach your departure and arrival dates, tickets can go up to $5, $10, $15, even upwards of $25-35 as demand rises for tickets. You also have other curbside alternatives such as the chinatown buses from various curbside bus stops in New York and the only stop allowed by the City of Boston, which is South Station. Many years ago, curbside stops were allowed but were deemed illegal by the city due to a number of safety-related incidents.
Once you get down to Boston, the MBTA is a great way to get around, with four subway/light rail lines, a high-speed trolley line, the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit line, 12 commuter rail lines, and hundreds of bus routes throughout Boston and surrounding cities and towns including Revere, Somerville, Qunicy, Cambridge, and Chelsea. Fares are cheaper on buses than on trains, but you can buy 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day passes for unlimited rides in the system. The Charlie Card, a smart card similar to SmarTrip in DC or Smartlink in New Jersey (PATH), is the best ticket in town. Charlie Ticket is also available for those who do not want to purchase a Charlie Card to put fare products on, but Charlie Ticket fares are more expensive than Charlie Card fares. Visit http://www.mbta.com for more detailed information.
You can easily get to many destinations via the MBTA, if you stop by any ticket agent booth or consult with MBTA personnel at South Station, home to subway, Silver Line, commuter service south of Boston, and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. If you happen to be on the north side of town, you can also visit North Station, home to MBTA commuter services north of Boston, Amtrak’s Downeaster service, and the TD Garden above the tracks. The Boston Celtics’ TD Garden basketball arena is directly above the station, so fans do not have to go outside to enter the arena. Quincy Market and associated shops are nearby the Green and Orange Lines, taking you the closest to 17th Century and 18th Century New England architecture as you can get with public transit. New York’s South Street Seaport very much mimics this setup with the docks close by from a time period when masted ships were used to trade goods abroad.
If you like being outdoors but not apart from city life, there is the Boston Commons, the Central Park of Boston, right off Park, Boylston, and Tremont Streets downtown. If you like to shop, there is a Macy’s at Downtown Crossing. The Theater District is down Washington Street, not far from Boston’s Chinatown. For baseball, take the Green Line to Fenway and then walk to Fenway Park, one of America’s last original major league baseball fields. For other activities, you can take the Green Line to Prudential, the Red Line to Harvard (Harvard Square, with Harvard University nearby), the Green Line to Science Park, the Blue Line to the Aquarium, or the Orange Line to Ruggles. Most of the Boston nightlife is along Tremont Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Copley Street, Boylston Street, Huntington Avenue, Beacon Street, Watertown Road, and Washington Street.
For transportation enthusiasts, the MBTA for the most part is the only game in town as far as public transit systems goes. Everyone else is a shuttle, campus, or motorcoach operator. Most of the bus action is at South Station’s intermodal bus terminal, located above the railroad tracks at South Station. You have several bus companies including Concord Trailways and Plymouth & Brockton serving New Hampshire and Greyhound, Peter Pan, Bolt Bus, Megabus, and other intercity carriers for service to New York and beyond. Most of the major colleges, except for Harvard, have their own campus shuttle buses operated by charter companies or by the schools themselves.
As far as the MBTA goes, there’s several different types of buses from the high-floor RTS series to the low-floor diesel and CNG bus fleet from New Flyer, NABI (North American Bus Industries) and Neoplan. There are also trolley buses, CNG and dual-mode articulated buses from Neoplan built between 2001 and 2004 and articulated hybrid buses from New Flyer built in 2012. Most routes use diesel and CNG low-floor 40-foot buses, but some routes use the more unique buses. Route 39 uses the CNG articulated Neoplans and hybrid articulated New Flyers. The Silver Line, which is broken up into two distinct services, runs CNG New Flyers and CNG articulated Neoplans on the Washington Street side, and dual-mode articulated Neoplans on the Waterfront/Tunnel side. Both services meet at South Station, with Washington Street services operating from Dudley Square and the Waterfront services from Logan Airport and the cruise ship terminals.
If transit is not your thing, then take to the highways and roadways,but at your own risk especially during rush hours. Bear in mind also that in the immediate Boston area, there are only two main highways into and out of Boston, I-93 and I-90. There is also roads like Route 128 and I-95 that circle or bypass the Boston area, and Storrow Drive for those who want the riverfront “parkway” feeling much like the FDR Drive or the Garden State Parkway. Otherwise, local routes, including numbered local highways, are your best bet for travel between towns. I-93 and its interchange with I-90 were part of the infamous “Big Dig” that basically moved the elevated I-93 highway underground to create more green space and increased real estate for developers to build on, all while trying to reduce congestion in the interchange. This includes the congestion from the Ted Williams Tunnel which takes traffic from Logan Airport to Boston and beyond on the Mass Turnpike. Finding hotels is easier if you did drive to Boston, being that there are no shortage of hotels and motels off I-93 in Boston and outlying suburbs for much cheaper than downtown Boston. Taking the train or bus to Boston, however, might yield better results financially, even when hotels downtown are more expensive than those outside of the vicinity. From my experiences, hotels by South Bay, Watertown, Braintree, Quincy, and Cambridge are cheaper and still accessible by transit for most of the day. Check travel websites and maps for all details before you travel. I have a few useful links in the Favorite Travel Links section of the blog.
All of these things can be accomplished in a two-day span, especially since Boston is less than 200 miles from New York City. Cities in the 200-mile-and-under range from New York have a lot to do for New Yorkers looking to get away for a while but not break the budget. What helps a great deal is the high frequency of intercity bus and rail service for different budgets and different tastes so that a “far” getaway is still cheap. And you can still get home in time to get some sleep before you have to go to work the “Monday” after.