See This, Skip That: Boston

PHOTO: Keith Lockhart speaks to the audience during the opening night of Holiday Pops in Boston on December 4, 2013.Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe via Getty Images
Keith Lockhart speaks to the audience during the opening night of Holiday Pops in Boston on December 4, 2013.

Boston is one of the country's hottest tourist destinations for good reason: History lives and breathes here, attractions are family-friendly, and the food scene is thriving. And even if you've been here before, new things to do abound. Read on for some of our favorites.

Skip the Streets, Take to the Skies Boston is one of the country's most walk-friendly cities. But the visuals from high above will give you an even better take on this historic town's beauty. Noble AirVentures is the only company to hold an FAA license to operate tours directly over Boston. That means a special birds'-eve view of attractions like Fenway Park, the Hancock Building and Boston Harbor; scenic flights, in fact, can be tailored to spots you want to see. Noble also offers introductory flight lessons – basic training is done aboard classic Cessna 172 aircraft – and runs a shop that carries all the pilot essentials, from charts to headphones.

Skip the Restaurant, Eat on Deck Taking sail aboard the Odyssey takes a sit-down meal to a new level. The culinary cruises on this deluxe vessel -- with a newly revamped third deck and swanky new sky lounge with outdoor bar – offer multiple gourmet courses for lunch, brunch and dinner. Lobster bisque, grilled salmon and short ribs are regulars on the menu; desserts can range from seasonal fruit cobblers to chocolate truffle tortes. But even sweeter might be the views: sweeping sights of the Boston skyline that are unlike most anything you can capture on land. Weddings take place onboard regularly. And the annual New Year's Eve cruise, which sets sail at 9pm, features a three-course dinner, live DJ and dancing, a midnight toast with bubbly and prime fireworks viewing.

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Skip the Mainland, Explore the Islands A 15-minute ferry will sweep you away to the 34 islands – they range from just one to more than 250 acres – that are nestled within Boston Harbor. Twelve of these are open to visitors, and family-friendly discoveries abound. Fort Warren, a national historic landmark, is on Georges Island and once served as a training camp for Union troops (and a prison for their Confederate counterparts). And the oldest lighthouse station in the country is on the shores of Little Brewster Island. Islets like Nut and Thompson offer beautiful spots for hiking, biking or kayaking, and campers are bound to find the perfect spot to pitch a tent on Grape, Bumpkin, Lovells or Peddocks. If you jump off on Spectacle Island, don't miss an authentic New England clambake.

Skip the Freedom Trail, Stroll the Black Heritage Trail Yes, the Freedom Trail is a must – a two-mile yellow brick road for history buffs that includes 17 sites, from Faneuil Hall to Bunker Hill. But the Black Heritage Trail is also well worth the trek, as it takes you to pre-Civil War sites that feature prominently in African-American history. Meandering mainly through Beacon Hill, more than a dozen stops are featured, like the home of abolitionist John Coburn, Phillips School (one of the city's first to embrace desegregation) and the monument to the 54th Regiment, one of the first black military units during the Civil War. For some historical perspective: the Underground Railroad – the clandestine escape route for Southern slaves – led to Boston, and Massachusetts was the first state to outlaw slavery, in 1783.

Skip the Concert, Attend the Rehearsal Concerts by the Boston Pops Orchestra are legendary and draw big crowds. But if you're a high school student considering a classical music career, you get an extra special seat. The orchestra holds open rehearsals throughout the year, aimed at students in grades 8-12. A special on-stage screen at Boston Symphony Hall allows you to hear and see the conductor from the orchestra's perspective, and the music is preceded by a discussion of the music about to be performed. Tickets to these morning sessions run just $10.

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Skip the Brew, Sip the Mead It's no secret: The beer culture thrives in Boston, and any traveler would be remiss not to stop for a periodic sip at any of this city's buzzing pubs. But for something extra special in your glass, travel just about 45 minutes north of Boston and lap up the honey-inspired offerings at Moonlight Meadery. Seen as a unique element in the regional craft-brewing scene, Moonlight makes wine out of honey – a liquid tradition that goes back to the Vikings. Like any fine wine, it can range from dry to sweet, and Moonlight even makes sparkling versions. Tastings starts at $5 and you want to give yourself at least an hour for the deluxe tour of the winery, located in Londonderry, N.H.

Skip Dessert, Head to the Hotel No matter how tempting the dessert menu looks, skip it. Or at least leave room for Boston cream pie at the place that invented it. This decadent treat – spongy cake, buttery cream, chocolaty fondant, sweet icing – was invented at the iconic Parker Restaurant inside the Omni Parker House Hotel. So what better place to savor it? And between bites, read up on the special history here: Ho Chi Minh was a baker here and Malcolm X once bussed tables. This hotel was also where Jackie told JFK, "I do."

Skip the Museum, Visit the Arboretum In a historic haven like Boston, no museum will disappoint. But don't overlook the Arnold Arboretum, the oldest public collection of trees and flowers, which is part of Harvard University. Scientists study all types of woody plants here, and the ever-growing collection numbers more than 15,000. The landscape here – close to 300 acres – is open every day, year-round, and the public is welcome to enjoy the grounds for free. Depending on the time of year you visit, you can witness the crabapple collection ripen or the maple collection explode into bloom. The bonsai trees go in display during the summer, and one day is set aside each year – a Sunday in May – to celebrate the lilac. Wildlife teems here, too, from rare birds to coyotes.

Go Scouting, Hop on the Bus Movie buff, are you? Even if you're not the organized-tour type, the "Boston TV and Movie Sites" tours from On Location Tours will bolster your film and TV knowledge. The three-hour excursions aboard posh buses begin at Boston Common – the park known as Movie Mile has been the backdrop for movies like "The Departed," "Good Will Hunting" and "Ted" – and includes must-do stops like the Bull & Finch Pub (the real Cheers bar) and settings for Boston Legal, Ally McBeal and Legally Blonde.

Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which publishes new Local Deals for Boston regularly at