Summer Escapes: Stick Around

The Reluctant Excursionist’s Survival Guide

Making the Best of Boston’s Tourist Traps

New England Aquarium
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because even by the standards of a compact city filled with elbow-to-elbow tourist attractions, this place gets packed. If You Must: Go early. The aquarium teems with visitors from late morning to mid-afternoon. “If you’re in here from 9 to 10:30 a.m., you’re golden,” says spokesman Tony LaCasse. Alternative Itinerary: The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is only 25 miles off the coast, and Boston Harbor Cruises guarantees a whale sighting or they’ll spring for another ticket ($39.95).

Top of the Hub
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because it’s in the Pru. Enough said. If You Must: The skyscraper itself may resemble a computer chip, but the view from its 52nd-floor restaurant is impossible to beat. Catch a stunning sunset on the cheap by ordering a cocktail from the bar and then nursing it in the west-facing Fenway Room. Alternative Itinerary: The rooftop at the Colonnade Hotel offers great city vistas with the bonus of a pool. A day pass is $40.

Old State House
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because it’s the Old State House, and there are so many other old things around here. If You Must: The museum’s got a new tour about the Boston Massacre, that deadly brawl that helped spark the American Revolution. Avoid an altercation of your own by visiting between 9 and 10 a.m. or 4 and 6 p.m., when the crowds are sparse. Alternative Itinerary: The new State House. Okay, it’s not that new (built in 1798), but it does have that kind-of-weird, kind-of-cool Sacred Cod sculpture hanging in the House of Representatives.

Fenway Tour
Why You’ve Avoided It: It actually makes you physically ill to think of enduring 50 minutes with a gaggle of pink hats who took the tour only so they could see for themselves the precise spot where Jimmy proposed to Shauna on Sox Appeal. If you Must: Take the tour on the morning of a game day, which will give you the best chance of seeing batting practice, and maybe even getting on the field. Alternative Itinerary: Look, it’s Fenway. There is no alternative.

Duck Tour
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because all that wacka-wacka-wackiness is just a little contrived, no? If You Must: Take the last tour of the day, at 7 p.m., so you’re on the river for sunset. Also, the extra $3.50 to buy a ticket online and guarantee yourself a spot is a worthy splurge. Alternative Itinerary: The 90-minute Boston Harbor Sunset Cruise hits all the highlights with minimal wackiness.

Cheers Bar
Why You’ve Avoided It: In some ways, it’s because the Bull & Finch Pub officially changed its name to Cheers in 2001, thereby cementing its status as a tourist trap. But mostly it’s because you harbor a lingering hatred of Diane. If You Must: Go early in the week when the tourists have thinned out — but don’t expect anyone to know your name. Alternative Itinerary: It may take a few visits, but the bartenders at Jamaica Plain favorite Brendan Behan Pub will eventually know you by name — and they’ll pour you a proper Guinness.

Freedom Trail
Why You’ve Avoided It: Actually, you probably haven’t been able to. It’s everywhere. If You Must: Take one of the “reverse tours” from Faneuil Hall — or check out our Freedom Trail pub crawl. Alternative Itinerary: The Black Heritage Trail offers tours of the West End and Beacon Hill neighborhoods, where most of the city’s African-American residents lived in the 19th century. This fall, the African Meeting House will reopen after a $4 million renovation.

Swan Boats
Why You’ve Avoided Them: The Swan Boats have been looping through the Public Garden’s lagoon since 1877. Riding one can feel like you’ve been stuck there just as long.  If You Must: Catch the first boat at 10 a.m., when the city is still quiet. “People are walking their dogs in the Garden; it’s more local than tourist,” says Lyn Paget, who runs the boats. (By the way, at $2.75 a pop, it’s one of the city’s cheapest touristy fixes for the in-laws.)  Alternative Itinerary: Rent a rowboat at Jamaica Pond for 10 bucks an hour.

Boston Pops Fourth of July concert
Why You’ve Avoided It: Arthur Fiedler added howitzers and fireworks so “all hell could break loose.” Which is exactly what has happened to anyone who’s ever tried to jostle for a seat at this thing. If you Must: Stick to the Mass. Ave. Bridge area, where you’ll see the fireworks and hear the Pops over speakers. Alternative Itinerary: Museum of Science members can pay $26 for a spot at the Fourth of July party that’s held on the museum’s roof.

U.S.S. Constitution
Why You’ve Avoided It: Old Ironsides used to brave cannonballs bouncing off her sides. These days, visitors brave schoolkids whose joyful screams bounce around in their heads. If You Must: Actually, just go. There will be aggravations no matter when you show up, but you’ll enjoy yourself anyway. Alternative Itinerary: To see boats that still move, check out the Extreme Sailing Series’ daily races at Fan Pier during Boston Harborfest, June 30 to July 4.

— Margaret Loftus