Weekend Getaways: Finding Art, History and Literature Beyond the Freedom Trail in Boston

Get off the beaten path to find these cultural gems around the city

Suzanne Goldsmith
Columbus Monthly
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Just as 4 million visitors to Boston do each year, you know you’re going to walk the Freedom Trail. And you should. But the region’s history encompasses much more than the American Revolution, and for those willing to drive a bit, there are wonderful artistic and literary historic sites near Boston. An October bonus: A short drive out of the city will bring you leaf by jowl with New England’s splendid fall color.

Just 20 miles west of Boston, the charming town of Concord, settled by the English in 1635, was the site of the first battle of the Revolution. Take a walk around the pretty town square and visit the bridge and battlefield where the first shots were fired. Then make your way to the homes of some of the 19th century literary lights for whom the town has become even better known. You can tour Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, recognizable to any fan of “Little Women.” (The house made a cameo or two in the 2019 Greta Gerwig film adaptation.) Nearby, The Old Manse housed, at separate times, both Hawthorne and Emerson; influential transcendentalists met there to hammer out ideas. Also pay a visit to the Ralph Waldo Emerson House, from which you can follow the foot trails through the woods that Emerson and Henry David Thoreau traversed to get to Thoreau’s tiny cottage on Walden Pond. Find a quiet moment here to contemplate the radical simplicity of Thoreau’s lifestyle—and maybe take a dip in the pond.

Statue and replica cabin of author Henry David Thoreau in Walden Woods

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For a day of art, head one town over to Lincoln and the deCordova Sculpture Garden and Museum, where 60 sculptures by 20th and 21st century artists are displayed on 30 gorgeously landscaped acres. There’s an indoor museum, as well. If you’re traveling with children, consider combining it with a visit to Audubon’s nearby Drumlin Farm, where you can experience life on a working farm and enjoy a wildlife sanctuary. Then make the 5-mile trip to Gropius House, designed and built in 1938 by Walter Gropius, founder of Germany’s Bauhaus school of architecture, when he was teaching at Harvard. Inside the house, you’ll find furnishings designed by Marcel Breuer and fabricated in Bauhaus studios.

Find more Weekend Getaways:12 Great Direct-Flight Vacation Destinations From Columbus

deCordova Sculpture Garden and Museum

For a second day of art, return to Boston. Of course you’ll visit Boston’s world-class Museum of Fine Arts, and note that Harvard’s three art museums reopened to the public in September. But don’t neglect the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a quirkier but no less impressive gem in the Fenway. Gardner, a fantastically wealthy widow, built this faux palazzo in 1899 and stuffed it with paintings, sculptures, tapestries, rare books and other treasures. You’ll also see the empty frames that were left behind in 1990 when daring thieves made off with 13 paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and others. And until January 2022, the Gardner serves as the only U.S. stop for Titian: Women, Myth & Power, which The New York Times called “a small supernova of a show.”

Flights from Columbus to Boston

Delta and American, both twice daily to Boston Logan International Airport

Where to Stay in Boston

Few U.S. hotels can boast a more illustrious roster of past guests than Beacon Hill’s Omni Parker House, where 24 U.S. Presidents have slept and where Charles Dickens lived for almost two years while on tour. In fact, John F. Kennedy announced his first campaign for office there and proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in the restaurant.

Consider, too, an overnight stay at the even more historic (albeit less luxurious) Concord’s Colonial Inn. Part of the inn, built in 1716, was used to store arms and provisions for the Revolutionary War effort. The hotel retains the quirky charm of a well-used antique, with crooked pine floors, multiple staircases and winding hallways; on the first floor, you’ll find a taproom and a tavern, as well as more gracious dining at Merchants Row.

This story is from the October 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.