Lisa Poole  /  AP
The USS Constitution "Old Ironsides" passes Boston, Saturday, June 10, during Boston Navy Week activities. The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.
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Special to msnbc.com
updated 9/6/2006 8:34:27 PM ET 2006-09-07T00:34:27

For the legions of college students who have called Boston home (in this, the world’s biggest college town), it’s always been known as the “hub”. But that term actually came from writer and jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes who wrote in 1858 that Boston was “the hub of the solar system”. Whether or not you buy into that grandiose vision of Boston’s importance, there’s no denying that it’s one of America’s most cosmopolitan and sophisticated cities, and a delight to visit. Hopefully, the 24-hour itinerary below will prove the point.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Start the day with a trip back in time, to 1927 to be precise, when Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe first opened. Though its name suggests lunch, the low-key Charlie’s, with its old-fashioned vinyl stools and formica countertops, has long been famous for its breakfasts, served until 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. Most popular is the turkey hash, a huge disc of potatoes and turkey topped with eggs; but there are also a variety of griddlecakes stuffed with decadent treats like chocolate chips, raspberries or banana and pecans. Beyond keeping customers satisfied for decades, Charlie’s has a proud ethical history: back before the civil rights movement, Charlie’s was one of the few diners in this area to serve customers of all races.

9 a.m. - noon: Walk the Freedom Trail . You won’t be able to traverse the entire trail in just a morning—this line of red paint (or red brick) that leads strollers to most of Boston’s most important Colonial and Revolutionary War sites is almost three miles long---but you should be able to take in a central chunk of it, from Boston Commons to Faneuil Hall. If you’d prefer to have a guide with you, stop at the Boston National Historic Park Visitor Center which offers free tours several times daily from mid-April to November. If you decide to go it on your own, be sure to build in time to fully explore such stops as Faneuil Hall Marketplace , Boston’s #1 tourist site and a prime spot for foodies (you may want to lunch here); and Paul Revere’s House . And remember: Boston is a living, breathing city, so look up from the plaques and Federalist homes every once in a while and take in the ever-changing cityscape.

MORNING ALTERNATIVE
Join the hunt---the hunt for great shoes, that is. Head to Newbury Street , Boston’s low-key answer to Rodeo Drive in LA or the Ginza district in Tokyo, for its tempting mix of chain stores and unique, only-in-Beantown boutiques. Whether you need clothing or housewares or  artworks or books or toys or…well, you get the picture…you’ll find it here. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Newberry Street offers some of the best shopping in New England, and that goes as much for window shopping as wandering around (admiring the goods and architecture can be as engrossing as actually buying).

Noon-2 p.m.: Lunch: Chef Todd English may now be an international culinary superstar, but he returns to his fishy Boston roots at Kingfish Hall . If you’ve done the Freedom Trail, you can simply double back to Faneuil Hall to eat here. And then you take in a real show. Tired of Boston’s stodgy old fishhouses, English has glitzed up the formula, with chic, non-nautical décor, and as part of that decor a “dancing fish grill” that twirls the fish over the flames; and a huge, steaming lobster pot that’s bathed in what I can only call “stripper-lights”---it’s a hoot. All of this wouldn’t matter a whit, of course, if the food wasn’t top quality, which it is, whether you order the smoky house chowder, the opulent shellfish platter or the Thai-spiced bouillabaisse, a masterful rethinking of that old standard.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: You may have visited Paul Revere’s Home in the morning; now take a look at some of the silver wares he created. They’re housed, along with thousands of other masterworks (over 450,000 in all), at the Museum of Fine Arts . Whatever your artistic tastes, they should be sated here. Like Impressionism? The MIA has one of the largest collections of Monets outside of France. Interested in American history (and why are you in Boston if you’re not?) The museum displays some of the finest and most famous Yankee portraits anywhere, including Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 George Washington and John Singleton Copley’s 1768 rendering of Paul Revere. Fascinated by Japan? You’ll view samurai arms and armor, 14th century Buddhist statues, famous prints and more, in what is arguably one of the finest collections of Japanese art in the US. Free guided tours offered throughout the day offer a superb overview of the collection, so inquire about them when you pay your admissions fee.

AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVE
Or walk another trail. One of the greatest delights of Boston is simply ambling about, and the Black Heritage Trail , a 1.6 mile trek through Beacon Hill, offers a fascinating look at the history of African-Americans in this area. Along with stations on the Underground Railroad and the first integrated public school, you’ll be able to go inside both the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School, which are part of the Museum of Afro-American History. Guided tours are available free, year-round (either scheduled or by request); or you can walk the trail on your own using a brochure picked up at the Visitors Center.

5:30 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.: If you thought New England cuisine was all chowders and roasts, you’ll learn otherwise with a meal at the oh-so-gourmet Lespalier . Here chef Frank McLelland takes the fruits of the area—fiddlehead ferns, locally raised rabbit, lamb or squab, wheatberries and halibut from Maine—and constructs a meal that’s simultaneously French (you get a lot of geles, meunieres and paves), proudly all-American and downright delicious. A great place for that special occasion meal, it’s in the Back Bay, set in an 1886 townhouse.

7:30-10 p.m.: What better way to follow a refined meal than with a concert by one of the best symphonies in the United States. Whether it’s in its all-out classical mode (from October-April) or its Boston Pops, light and fun season (May-July), the Boston Symphony Orchestra never fails to delight. Currently under the baton of world-famous conductor James Levine, its concerts often sell out far in advance, so be sure to get a ticket as soon as you know the dates you’ll be in town.

10 p.m. - 2 a.m.: In Beantown, the nightclubs close at 2am by law, but you can get a good amount of partying done in those four hours. Head to Avalon , where you’ll groove on the history as much as the dance tunes. In the 60’s this club was known as the Ark, and it was here that the infamous Boston “tea” parties of that era took place. When disco came in so did Steve Rubel and Ian Schraeger, and their success with their club 15 Lansdowne spurred them on to open their even more famous Studio 54 in New York City. In 1999, after a multi-million dollar renovation, Avalon was born and today, this huge club (it can hold up to 2000) is known for attracting some of the best DJ’s in the biz (especially on Friday nights when a squadron of costumed dancers take to the stage).

Charlie’s Sandwich Shop, 429 Columbus Ave at Pembroke Street; 617/536-7669. Open Mon-Fri 6 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and Sat 7:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.

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For complete information on the Freedom Trail, contact the Freedom Trail Foundation (617/357-8300; www.thefreedomtrail.org/).

Free, 90-minute ranger-led tour are available for the central part of the trail, leaving from the  Boston National Historic Park Visitor Centerat 15 State St. (tel. 617/242-5642; www.nps.gov/bost). Go to the website for information on hours.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace,Dock Sq. (Congress St. and North St.); phone 617/242-5675. Open daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., admission is free.

Paul Revere’s House, 19 North, phone 617/523-2338, www.paulreverehouse.org/. Open daily Apr 15-Oct 9:30 a.m. - 5:15 p.m.; daily Apr 1-14 and Nov-Dec 9:30 a.m. - 4:15 p.m.; Jan-Mar Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m. - 4:15 p.m.Admission $3 adults, $2.50 seniors and students, $1 children 5-17, free for children under 5.

Newbury Street is located in the Back Bay area of Boston. There’s no sales tax on clothing priced below $175 or on food items. All other items are taxed at 5% (as are restaurant meals and takeout food).

Kingfish Hall, 188 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, SouthMarket Building; phone 617/523-8862; online at www.toddenglish.com/

Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave, phone 617/267-9300, www.mfa.org. Admission $15 adults, $13 students and seniors when entire museum is open; or $13 and $11, respectively, when only West Wing is open. Children under 18 $6.50 on school days before 3 p.m., otherwise free. Admission good for 2 visits within 10 days. Voluntary contribution ($15 suggested) Wed 4-9:45 p.m.  The hours are a bit daffy: the entire museum is open Sat-Tues 10 a.m. - 4:45 p.m., Wed 10 a.m. - 9:45 p.m., Thurs-Fri 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; West Wing only on Thurs-Fri 5-9:45 p.m.

Free, 2-hour guided tours with a ranger from the National Park Service's Boston African American National Historic Site (phone 617/742-5415; www.nps.gov/boaf) are available Monday through Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and by request at other times. You’ll need to call ahead for a reservation in either case. A brochure, that can be picked up at the Museum of Afro-American History and the Boston Common and State Street visitor centers, will give you a map to use, should you decide to take a self-guided tour.

Lespalier, 30 Gloucester Street (in the Back Bay), phone 617/262-3023, http://www.lespalier.com/ Open Mon-Sat 5:30-10 p.m. 

For complete information on the Boston Symphony Orchestra season, go to www.bso.org

Avalon, 15 Lansdowne St, phone 617/262-2424 or 617/423-NEXT (for tickets); www.avalonboston.com. Cover $5-$20

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which debut in bookstores this summer.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Bustling 'Beantown'

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  1. Boston skyline

    A view of the Boston skyline. Founded on Sept. 17, 1630 by Puritan colonists from England on a peninsula called Shawmut by its original Native American inhabitants, it is one of the oldest and most culturally significant cities in the United States. (Bob Krist / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Faneuil Hall

    Located near the waterfront and today's Government Center in Boston, Faneuil Hall, has been a marketplace and meeting hall since 1742. It was the site of several speeches by Samuel Adams, James Otis and others encouraging independence from Great Britain, and is now part of Boston National Historical Park and a well-known stop on the Freedom Trail. It is sometimes known as "The Cradle of Liberty." (Charles Krupa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Get your clam chowder!

    Clam chowder and other seafood dishes fill the bars and tables of popular eateries like the Union Oyster House, established in 1826. (Karen Kasmauski / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Paul Revere statue and Old North Church

    This Paul Revere Statue in North End, Boston was made by Cyrus Dallin and unveiled on Sept. 22, 1940. In the background the Old North Church, officially called Christ Church, is the location of the famed "one if by land, and two if by sea" phrase related to Paul Revere's midnight ride on April 18, 1775 that preceded the Battles of Lexington and Concord. (Julia Malakie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Old Granary Burying Ground

    A marker, part of which reads "Paul Revere buried in this ground," is seen on the fence at the Old Granary Burying Ground in Boston. Founded in 1660, the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street is the city's third oldest cemetery, and serves as the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War-era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence and many victims of the Boston Massacre. (Chitose Suzuki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Paul Revere House

    The Paul Revere House (1680), was the colonial home of American patriot Paul Revere during the time of the American Revolution. It is now operated as a nonprofit museum by the Paul Revere Memorial Association. (Chitose Suzuki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Old Ironsides

    USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides," is a wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate of the United States Navy. Named after the United States Constitution, she is the oldest commissioned ship afloat in the world and is still in service in the U.S. Navy. The USS Constitution is one of the sites along the Freedom Trail and is part of Boston National Historical Park, better known as the Charlestown Navy Yard. (Lisa Poole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bunker Hill Monument

    The Bunker Hill Monument, commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill, is the first public obelisk erected in the United States. The 221 foot granite obelisk was erected between 1827 and 1842 in Charlestown, Mass. with granite quarried in Quincy, Mass. and conveyed to the site by the first railway in the United States, built specially for that purpose. There are 294 steps to the top. (Chitose Suzuki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Boston Duck Tours

    A red Boston Duck Tours boat cruises the Charles River with the city skyline in the background. (Kevin Fleming / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Fenway Park

    Steven Tyler of Aerosmith sings the National Anthem before game one of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 23, 2004 at Fenway Park. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. New England Aquarium

    Located by the Boston Harbor, the New England Aquarium's colorful & educational exhibits feature more than 8,000 aquatic creatures, a four-story glass ocean tank housing a coral reef display with an outstanding variety of fishes, sharks & sea turtles. The Aquarium's mission: "To present, promote and protect the world of water." The New England Aquarium is also home to the Simons IMAX Theatre. (New England Aquarium ) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Museum of Science

    The Museum of Science is a Boston landmark, with over 500 interactive exhibits; the Museum features a number of live presentations throughout the building everyday, along with shows at the Charles Hayden Planetarium and the Mugar Omni IMAX Theater, the only domed IMAX screen in New England. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

    The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library is the presidential library and museum of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. It was designed by the architect I.M. Pei. The building is the official repository for original papers and correspondence of the Kennedy Administration. The library and museum were dedicated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and members of the Kennedy family. (Michael Springer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Franklin Park Zoo

    Patrons view giraffes at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston. The 72-acre site nestled in Boston's historic Franklin Park, is the largest zoo in New England. (Winslow Townson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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