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Home for the Holidays: Things to do with loved ones this holiday season in Boston

Map of Boston with pins for things to do this holiday seasonThis December, loved ones gather to celebrate the holidays, indulge in delicious winter treats and enjoy time away from work and school. Many travel to see far-away family, take a trip into the city for a show or make time to visit the restaurant or museum at the top of their list.

The Liberty Hotel Lobby decorated with hanging upside-down Christmas trees for the holiday season
Upside-down Christmas trees immerse guests in a festive holiday stay at The Liberty.

Here at CambridgeSeven, we’ve got our own list of local favorite, must-see spots and events for visiting with friends and family. Boston and environs offer both classic venues and hidden gems to entertain holiday houseguests and interest local residents of all ages.

The historic Liberty Hotel has decked out its central lobby for the Christmas season and is always a celebratory destination during the holidays. Though the building was once the Charles Street Jail, which held some of Boston’s most notorious criminals, the contemporary boutique hotel is now home to a very different vibe.

As you sip a cocktail at the lobby bar, surrounded by covert details of the old prison, you can enjoy the unique, upside-down Christmas trees suspended from the atrium ceiling. The iconic annual holiday décor is unlike any other in the city. The inverted trees certainly make a festive, enchanting backdrop for photos!

After warming up a bit, try your curling skills at the hotel’s seasonal rink in the patio courtyard. Often dismissed as an odd use of a broom, curling is better described as ‘chess on ice’ requiring strategy and skill. Competition is best enjoyed with hot chocolate.

With children on winter break, many parents plan something fun to fill the days. With plenty of kid-friendly spaces in the city, visitors of all ages can find holiday fun in the various attractions throughout Boston and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Before a filling up on a delicious Italian dinner in the North End, take a trip to the New England Aquarium, which is teeming with aquatic animals and sea life. If you’re just passing through, make sure to say hello to the Atlantic Harbor seals, whose exhibit is in the front plaza on Central Wharf. Inside, a colony of African and southern rockhopper penguins help visitors forget the blustery winter outside.

The penguin exhibit and Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium
A colony of penguins lives inside the New England Aquarium, at the base of the Giant Ocean Tank, which has been home to Myrtle the Green Sea Turtle for over 50 years.

About 50 of the birds live at the base of the four-story Giant Ocean Tank, which can be seen from all levels and angles thanks to the spiraling ramps around the enclosure. The tank is home to hundreds of Caribbean reef animals, including eels, barracuda, sea turtles, cownose rays and hundreds of colorful fish. The tank itself is so big that it was constructed first, and the rest of the aquarium was built around it!

Just across Boston’s inner harbor, the Snowmazing Polar Playground at the Boston Children’s Museum will make you wish that you were a kid again so that you can try sock skating with Jack Frost and friends, building an igloo out of ice-blue blocks and curling up to read in a miniature cozy, winter cabin-style reading nook. And don’t miss your chance for a photo-op with the giant snowman that has taken over the museum’s lobby (no kids required)!

Continue the seasonal fun with a winter wellness walk or a winter guided tour at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The seasonal tours travel through the 281-acre preserve that holds one of the world’s most comprehensive and best documented collections of temperate woody plants. The wellness walks, though similar to the tours, move at a faster pace that keeps feet warm and blood pumping during the chilly New England winter. Beyond the outdoor collections, there are libraries and archives to support the ongoing research on campus and around the world.

Exterior of the Charles Hotel, where your loved ones may stay for their holiday season trip
The Charles Hotel is warm and inviting after shopping with local vendors at the Charles River Farmer’s Market.

No matter how you get there, be sure to catch “Getting Around Town: Four Centuries of Mapping Boston in Transit” at the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center. This exhibit maps the evolution of Boston’s public transit (horse-drawn omnibuses, anyone?) including an extraordinary collection of maps both aspirational and remarkable in their detail. We’re partial to the 1960s binder of MBTA graphic standards, a detailed “how-to” for all system signage still guiding the way today.

Noir Bar at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge is hosting Maccabee Bar for the sixth year in a row. The Hanukkah-themed pop-up is serving holiday cocktails and snacks surrounded by fun and festive décor through the end of December. With traditional items added to their regular menu, including latkes, grilled scallion hummus and craft cocktails made with Manischewitz feta, this is the perfect place to celebrate the holiday all month long!

Just outside the Charles Hotel, the Charles River Farmer’s Market takes place every Friday and Sunday year-round and s a popular weekend spot in Cambridge. Though the winter air may be chilly, local vendors are there waiting to help visitors warm up with a fresh loaf of bread and handmade pasta. The holiday season is all about giving back, and this is a great opportunity to support some New England small businesses.

Man viewing the exhibit at the New England Sports Museum at TD Garden
Fans are surrounded by larger-than-life images of the most memorable moments in New England sports at The Sports Museum at TD Garden.

Fans of winter sports will enjoy catching a centennial season Bruins game at TD Garden. Before heading to their seats, visitors can pop into the New England Sports Museum, which highlights memorable moments in Boston sports such as Bobby Orr’s iconic flying goal and championship-winning Celtics lineups, and may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the much-anticipated Bruins Heritage Hall, opening in 2024. Fans can catch up on holiday shopping at the TD Garden Pro Shop, stocked with fan- favorite merchandise.

After a long day, the Four Seasons Hotel One Dalton Street, Boston is festive and welcoming; transformed into a winter wonderland for the holiday season. The lobby features a whimsical chocolate bar fully stocked with colorful bonbons, cookies and a hot chocolate/coffee bar. Or really treat yourself and book a weekend holiday afternoon tea, with pomegranate profiteroles, white chocolate mocha opera cake and perfectly paired liqueur tastings.

Of course, we’re full of ideas if you’re headed out of town. Northern lights on your bucket list? Head to Iceland and stay at the Edition Hotel in Reykjavik. Who can resist the winter wonderland of the Berkshires? After a day of snowshoeing or skiing, head back to the Williams Inn and take a break by the cozy fire. Not a fan of snow? Then leave your parka home and head to New Orleans and explore the vibrant waterfront, featuring the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium and Vue Orleans, the city’s newest experiential cultural attraction. Who says palm trees can’t be festive?

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