Boston isn’t short on famous sites and busy tourist attractions. But what should you do if you want to escape the crowds? From hiking Spectacle Island to exploring abandoned bear dens, here’s our list of offbeat activities to enjoy in the Massachusetts capital.
Boston is home to sixteen historic cemeteries, the oldest of which is attached to the King’s Chapel and dates from 1630. One of its most famous residents is Bostonian shopkeeper Joseph Tapping (1655-1678), whose gravestone reminds visitors of their mortality with engravings of a winged skull and draining hourglass. Copp’s Hill (1659) and Granary (1660) are the city’s other two oldest burying grounds and contain many strikingly adorned tombstones. During fall, visit the arboretum at Forest Hills, one of the most beautiful garden cemeteries in the U.S.
On October 16, 1846, in what is now known as the Ether Dome within Massachusetts General Hospital, a Boston dentist successfully conducted the first public surgery using ether as an anesthetic. Over 8,000 operations were performed in this elegant, light-filled amphitheater between the hospital’s inauguration in 1821 and 1868, and it’s still used as a teaching theater today. Also on display are a mummy, a skeleton and a small collection of antique surgical implements. Staff in the hospital’s reception will point you to the Ether Dome.
When the Franklin Park Zoo opened in 1912, people flocked to see its wild bears. Although the zoo closed due to declining popularity in 1954, the large open-air enclosures in which these magnificent animals lived were left standing and are still intact today, as are some detailed stone engravings of their former residents. The Old Bear Dens are found by taking a path that leads through woodland off Playstead Road (near the White Stadium), in a forgotten corner of what is now called Zoo New England.
If you want to escape the city, jump on a ferry and head to the 105-acre (42ha) Spectacle Island, located 4mi (6km) offshore. In the mid-19th century, it was the site of two hotels used for gambling and other frowned-upon activities. After police closed these shady establishments in 1857, the island became a giant dumping ground, until it was renovated in the 1990s. Spectacle is now a popular recreation spot, offering 5mi (8km) of hiking trails, a snack bar with outdoor seating and the Harbor’s only sand beaches.
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