date published: January 14, 2008

Bostonians have a lot to be proud of—from the city’s long and storied history, to their beloved Red Sox and Patriots, to (perhaps most impressively) their inherited ability to shrug off the harsh winter months and rattle off folklore about the Blizzard of ’78 at the drop of a hat. Given such intestinal fortitude, Boston isn’t a city that closes up shop and hibernates when winter comes—Hub residents know there’s still plenty of fun to be had when the mercury drops and the snow starts to fall. With that in mind, here are 12 ways to enjoy the best of winter in Boston, whatever the temperature.

So far, we’ve had all the earmarks of an abundantly arctic Hub winter, but that hasn’t stopped folks from indulging their Currier & Ives side by strapping on some skates and gliding around gracefully (or not so gracefully) on the ice at the Boston Common Frog Pond—where a pleasant skating experience can be had even on warmer days, since the Pond is equipped with an underground refrigeration system. If you prefer skating where there’s slightly less hustle and bustle, try the ice at Brookline’s Larz Anderson Park (considered by some to be one of the Boston area’s most romantic destinations) or the Charles Hotel Skating Rink in Cambridge, which offers upscale, rink-side refreshments. Refer to sightseeing listings.

If there does happen to be a ton of snow, forget the MBTA—the best way to travel is by sleigh. A trip roughly 45 minutes west of Boston will earn you a ride in a horse- driven sleigh at Old Sturbridge Village (weekends only, refer to excursions listing), the popular attraction that brings an 1830s rural New England village to life, right down to the smallest detail. For the more adventurous, head even further west and try a dog sled ride at Northern Exposure Outfitters in Brookfield (508-867-4396). Tours are $250 for two adults, with group tours running $800 for up to 15 riders—and unlike T conductors, your canine guides may even let you scratch their bellies.

Many outdoor leisure activities become a bit unpalatable once winter hits, but luckily it’s never too cold to laugh. Get yourself overheated with a good guffaw or two taking in stand-up comedy, the perfect cure for the wintertime blues. Boston has some of the best comedy clubs in the country, including The Comedy Connection in Quincy Market. In addition to appearances by nationally known acts like Mike Epps on January 20 and Colin Quinn on January 25 & 26, every Thursday the Connection hosts Frank Santos, The R-Rated Hypnotist, who might be able to make you believe that it’s already June. Or take a hysterical look at what makes Bostonians tick with Improv Asylum’s acclaimed show Lost in Boston, or How I Learned to Love that Dirty Water on January 16. Refer to comedy listings.

Sure, Boston’s got some amazing buildings—but it’s much warmer to check them out from the inside. Luckily, you don’t always have to be outside to enjoy good architecture. Visitors are invited to take free guided tours of venerable Symphony Hall (home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) on January 16 & 23 at 4:30 p.m. William Tudor called Boston the “Athens of America,” and the grand music venue is lined with Greek and Roman statue replicas to prove it. If you like what you see, you can come back between January 24–26 to lounge in Symphony Hall’s original leather seats from its opening in 1900 and listen to the BSO perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 and Piano Concerto No. 23. Refer to classical listing.

Mingle with those who love the cold at the New England Aquarium. There, the staff lets animal lovers play with the harbor seals behind the scenes, or even be a seal trainer for the afternoon (call 617-973-5206 for reservations). Or just watch those always well-dressed centers of attention—the penguins—march about their famous exhibit, which holds 143,000 gallons of chilled and filtered Boston Harbor seawater. Refer to wildlife listing.

Nothing makes a cold day better than a delicious cup of hot chocolate. But forget Swiss Miss—get an exotic blend of rich chocolate and spice at acclaimed Mexican eatery Tu Y Yo (858 Broadway, Somerville, 617-623-5411), where they serve authentic chocolate caliente de Oaxaca. Popular bakery Flour (1595 Washington St., 617-267-4300; 12 Farnsworth St., 617-338-4333) serves up hot chocolate infused with housemade bittersweet chocolate ganache as an accompaniment to their full menu of delicious baked goods. And on the off chance it’s too warm a day for your chocolate to be hot (figure that one out), try the oxymoronic frozen hot chocolate (regular or white) at L.A. Burdick’s in Harvard Square (52-D Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-491-4340).

Ever since caveman days, sitting down to dinner before a roaring fire has been a can’t-miss way to shake off the cold. Options in the Boston area include The Fireplace (634 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-975-1900), which serves classic New England cuisine and Hungry i (refer to restaurant listing), which takes it to the next level with fireplaces on all three floors to go with its haute French dishes. And if you must have steak in addition to the fire, to warm your bones, try Smith & Wollensky’s (refer to restaurant listing), located in the Castle near the Park Plaza Hotel.

Replace your scarf with a bib at Redbones BBQ (55 Chester St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-628-2200). They’ll make you forget what it’s like outside with down-home Southern cooking and 24 fresh microbrews on tap. Popular Allston barbecue joint Soul Fire (182 Harvard Ave., 617-787-3003) conjures up memories (real or imagined) of summers in Kansas City, Louisiana and other BBQ hotbeds with flavorful ribs, chicken, fried catfish, sweet cornbread, fried macaroni and cheese and other treats. And if you like your BBQ rowdy, check out Boston’s famed dive bar, Dick’s Last Resort (refer to restaurant listing), for raucous service and buckets of tasty ribs.

Winter in Boston is definitely nothing like the Serengeti, but some zoo animals were made to handle it, like the reindeer at the Stone Zoo. Others, like Christopher the lion at the Franklin Park Zoo, need the help of a heated rock to encourage them to stay out and mingle with visitors. On a guided tour of Arnold Arboretum, you can see hardy flowers like the winter witch hazel and white willow. And even though the Public Garden isn’t in bloom, it’s still good for a winter stroll. Geese are still in the pond, just waiting (like the rest of us) for spring to arrive. Refer to sightseeing listings.

Tea is intrinsically linked with Boston history in addition to being a hot and delicious winter refreshment. At the Boston Athenaeum (refer to sightseeing listing) you can take in early Boston newspapers, George Washington’s book collection and portraits by Boston-bred artist John Singer Sargent—and, on January 23 at 3 p.m., wash it down with the tradition of Athenaeum Tea, which was revived in 1984. Or live it up like the high society types do, with afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (10 Avery St., 617-574-7184, reservations recommended), Saturdays and Sundays at 1, 1:30, 3 and 3:30 p.m. A harpist plays while you sip on your tea and watch the shivering masses on Tremont Street walk by.

We’re not trying to rub it in, but for a sports fan, things don’t get much better than what’s happening in Beantown right now. Our boys of summer, the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series in ’07, and are on a well-deserved hiatus—but the winter sports scene in Boston is rocking again thanks to the resurgence of the Boston Celtics. Led by Paul Pierce and new acquisitions Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics are off to their best start ever and are absolutely demolishing the competition—which this month includes the Philadelphia 76ers (January 18) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (January 25). Also showing signs of emerging from a long period of doldrums, the Hub’s beloved Boston Bruins are hitting the boards and firing in goals left, right and center. They reignite the Boston-New York rivalry with games against the Rangers (January 19) and Islanders (January 24). And, we certainly don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but should the New England Patriots—they of the 16-0 undefeated regular season—advance to the AFC Championship Game, said game would be taking place January 20 at Gillette Stadium, and would, no doubt, be the hottest ticket in town. Refer to sports listings.

If you don’t want to just watch sports, but partake in a game yourself, why not enjoy a New England tradition? The skinny pins, small balls and the fact that no one has ever gotten a perfect score make candlepin bowling interesting and unique. Go into a time warp and play at The Milky Way Lounge & Lanes (403-405 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-3740)—originally the JP Bowl (founded in 1914), now a retro/sci-fi/outer-space basement fully equipped with a 1950s wooden ball return and the Alley Cat Lounge. Or check out Sacco’s Bowl Haven (45 Day St., Somerville, 617-776-0552), where the balls may be small, but big fun is a certainty.

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