The first time you fly into Boston, over its handsome jumble of islands, bays, rivers and inlets, it’s tricky to pick out the city’s iconic sights unless you know exactly where to look. The visual overload can be disorienting, but once you’re on the ground, a steady procession of signature Boston landmarks quickly takes shape.
A great place to start is the unmistakable dome of the Massachusetts State House, which on blue-sky days glints like a golden nugget in a bowl of walnuts. Although it was built in 1798 by splendidly named architect Charles Bulfinch, more than three-quarters of a century would pass before the gilding was applied to the dome. At the pinnacle sits a wooden pine cone, also gilded.
For the storied heights of baseball architecture, head over to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912 and enshrined as “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.” Tours can be booked year-round. Outside the stadium, and visible for miles around is the historic neon Citgo sign, named after the oil company, and locally known as the “See-It-Go” sign after the many home runs that have been launched in its direction.
Pretty much every movie set in the city since 2003 has used an aerial shot of the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge as a great big signpost for Boston, from “Knight and Day” to “The Departed.” Two giant concrete wishbones strung together like twin steel-cabled harps, the bridge was part of the Big Dig—the most expensive highway construction project ever undertaken in the US. If you’re anywhere near TD Garden, another great sporting landmark, you can’t miss it.
On the other side of the river, in Charlestown, two iconic Boston sights share the local skyline: the impressive masts of the USS Constitution (aka Old Ironsides)—the world’s oldest, still floating, commissioned navel vessel—and the Bunker Hill Monument, built to commemorate the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. Both have great museums for all the family.
The Boston Public Library (Central Branch) on Boylston Street contains even more than the wonderful 19th-century exterior promises. The courtyard was inspired by the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, and artist John Singer Sargent spent three decades on the third-floor murals. No need to check out a book—just marvel at the craftsmanship at every turn.
For the best view of the city as a whole, other than the one you saw just before your plane landed, head to the Top of the Hub restaurant on the 52nd floor of the Prudential Building. As you clink glasses, toast the iconic city that spreads out in all directions to the horizon.