Green space is an important part of Boston's appeal, and the public parks are known for their beauty. The world-famous Emerald Necklace, Frederick Law Olmsted's vision for a loop of green spaces, runs through the city.
The best-known park, for good reason, is the spectacular Public Garden, bordered by Arlington, Boylston, Charles, and Beacon streets. Something lovely is in bloom at the country's first botanical garden at least half the year. The spring flowers are particularly impressive, especially if your visit happens to coincide with the first really warm days of the year. It's hard not to enjoy yourself when everyone around you seems ecstatic just to be seeing the sun.
For many Bostonians, the official beginning of spring coincides with the return of the Swan Boats (tel. 617/522-1966; www.swanboats.com). The pedal-powered vessels -- the attendants pedal, not the passengers -- plunge into the lagoon on the Saturday before Patriots' Day, the third Monday of April. The surrounding greenery and placid water help lend a 19th-century aura to the attraction, which the Paget family has operated since 1877. Although the Swan Boats don't move fast, they'll transport you. They operate daily from 10am to 5pm in the summer, daily from 10am to 4pm in the spring, and weekdays noon to 4pm and weekends 10am to 4pm from the day after Labor Day to mid-September. The cost for the 15-minute ride is $3.50 for adults, $3 for seniors, and $2 for children 2 to 15; it's free for kids under 2.
Across Charles Street is Boston Common, the country's first public park and the first site on the Freedom Trail. The property was purchased in 1634 and officially set aside as public land in 1640. Although the city refurbished it recently, the Common still seems run-down, especially compared to the gorgeous Public Garden. The Frog Pond makes a pleasant spot to splash around in the summer and skate in the winter. At the Boylston Street side of the Common is the Central Burying Ground, where you can see the grave of famed portraitist Gilbert Stuart. There's also a bandstand where you might take in a free concert or play, and many beautiful shade trees.
The most spectacular garden in town is the Arnold Arboretum, 125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain (tel. 617/524-1718; www.arboretum.harvard.edu), which Frederick Law Olmsted designed as part of the Emerald Necklace. One of the oldest parks in the United States, founded in 1872, the arboretum is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Its 265 acres contain more than 15,000 ornamental trees, shrubs, and vines from all over the world. In the spring, blossoming dogwood, azaleas, and rhododendrons are everywhere, and the air fills with the dizzying scent of hundreds of varieties of lilacs, for which the arboretum is especially famous. This is definitely a place to take a camera -- but not food. Lilac Sunday, in May, is the only time the arboretum allows picnicking.
There is no fee to enter this National Historic Landmark, which Harvard University administers in cooperation with the Boston Department of Parks and Recreation. To get there, take the MBTA Orange Line to the Forest Hills stop and follow signs to the entrance. The visitor center is open weekdays from 9am to 4pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm, and Sunday noon to 4pm (closed major holidays). Call or visit the website for information about educational programs and driving directions.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.