The Boston Harbor Islands are a highlight of any trip to Boston. With historical sights such as the 1850s Fort Warren on George's Island and the historical Boston Light on Little Brewster Island, the islands are a great way to explore the city's heritage and culture—and to spend some time out on the water en route. In addition, many of the islands in Boston have camping areas and opportunities for many recreational activities. Spectacle Island, for example, is a popular spot for its marina, beaches, and walking trails.
The Boston Harbor Islands National Park includes 34 islands, many of which are a haven for wildlife and a beautiful place to spend a day outdoors. One of the most popular islands in the area is Spectacle Island, which is accessible seasonally by ferry from Boston and from other islands. So named because the two landmasses that form the island resemble a pair of spectacles, it is one of the Boston harbor islands located in the inner harbor. Boasting the highest point in the harbor, Spectacle Island has some of the most impressive views of the city and the rest of the harbor, and its green hills and walking trails are an excellent place for a leisurely stroll. Its varied history includes such unusual sites as a smallpox quarantine hospital, a glue factory, resort hotels, and a garbage dump, but little of this history can be seen today in its tree-lined walks, pleasure marina, and other recreational amenities. Today the island is being developed as a recreational area for the public, with a lifeguard-patrolled swimming beach, a pier, and a visitor's center with various exhibits.
Another popular destination among the islands in Boston is George's Island, which is served by ferries from the city. The most famous landmark on the island is the historic Fort Warren. The pentagonal fort was constructed during the 1850s, and it was used to defend the harbor from 1861 through the Second World War, when it was used to defend against possible U-boat attacks. The fort was named for Dr. Joseph Warren, the Revolutionary hero who send Paul Revere on his historic ride, and who was eventually killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Today visitors can see the restored grounds of this National Historic Landmark, the cannons at the fort, and various exhibits in the stone and granite fort. Visitors should keep an eye out for the legendary Lady in Black, a ghostly apparition reputed to haunt the fort's corridors. Legend has it that the Lady in Black was a Confederate prisoner's wife who was sentenced to death for helping a convict escape and who was hanged while wearing a black robe made out of the mess hall drapes from the Fort. Whether you glimpse her ghost or not, it is certain that a trip to Fort Warren is one of the most memorable destinations at the Boston Harbor Islands.
The Boston Light located on Little Brewster Island was the first lighthouse built in the United States, with the first lighthouse built on the site in 1716. The current lighthouse on the grounds dates from 1783 and is the second oldest lighthouse in the US that is still in operation. Held by turns by the British and then by the Americans during the Revolution, the lighthouse has been burned and rebuilt several times during its long lifetime as guardian of the islands in Boston. In 1859 it was raised to its current height of 89 feet and equipped with a twelve-sided Fresnel lens. The light can still be seen from a distance of 27 nautical miles. If you are interested in visiting this historical landmark, guided tours of the lighthouse and island are available at reasonable prices.
The islands are particularly easy to reach if you're staying close to the water, such as the Boston Harbor Hotel, but the compact city makes it easy to get around, so even if you're seeking cheap hotels on the outskirts of the city, a trip to the harbor islands is not out of reach. If you're looking to complement the city's historical attractions with time spent outdoors, the harbor islands are the perfect destination.