date published: January 12, 2009

11 ways to make winter in Boston delightful
by Nicole McGovern and Josh B. Wardrop

While many of us are inclined to take refuge in a cozy, warm blanket and pair of fuzzy slippers when the winter weather hits, Boston is hardly a city that closes up shop when the temperature drops. Hardy souls know that from engaging in outdoor activities to watching Beantown’s beloved sports teams, fun never hibernates in the Hub. Here are a few of Panorama’s top suggestions for beating the winter blues.

Blades of Glory
Whether you’re perfecting that double axel or just trying to stay on your feet, ice skating is a favorite winter pastime for young, old and all ages in between. Lace up your skates and head over to Boston Common Frog Pond, where outdoor skating is guaranteed even on milder winter days thanks to the rink’s underground refrigeration system. For a quainter, more old- fashioned ice-skating experience, try the ice at Brookline’s picturesque Larz Anderson Park, or hit the rink at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, where you can skate up a storm then hit Henrietta’s Table for hot chocolate or grab a cocktail at Noir to warm up afterwards. Refer to skating listings.

Green & Gold
Boston’s Boys of Summer—the Boston Red Sox—may be more than a month away from spring training action, but the Boys of Winter have kept the local sports scene red hot. The Boston Celtics have been annihilating the competition all season long, with record-setting win streaks propelling them to the top of the Eastern Conference, and it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon. Cheer on Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and the rest of the team as they take on the New Jersey Nets (January 14), Phoenix Suns (January 19) and their bitter rivals, the L.A. Lakers (February 5) at TD Banknorth Garden. And on the nights the parquet floor is getting a rest, the ice is down and the Garden’s other residents—the resurgent Boston Bruins—are taking care of business, having also spent much of the season in first place. Watch the B’s try to keep it up on their mission to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup as they take on the Montreal Canadiens (January 13), the Washington Capitals (January 27) and the New York Rangers (January 31). Refer to sports listings.

Fine Food Amid Festive Flames
Ever since Neanderthal days, mankind has known that there’s nothing more satisfying than dining on a scrumptious meal while a fire crackles in the background. This winter, savor the romance and rustic charm of fireside dining at restaurants like The Red House (98 Winthrop St., Cambridge, 617-576-0605), Stephanie’s on Newbury (190 Newbury St., 617-236-0990) and (duh) The Fireplace (1634 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-975-1900), all top-notch eateries that offer innovative dishes along with charming ambiance. Meanwhile, The Hungry I (pictured above, refer to restaurant listing) takes dining by the hearth to the next level, serving delicious French Country cuisine in a converted brownstone with exposed brick walls, embroidered throw pillows and a fireplace in each of its three dining rooms.

It’s Lovely Weather for a Sleigh Ride Together
When the snow falls heavily this season, forget scraping off your car or hailing a cab—the best way to travel is Santa-style. Experience the joys of an old-fashioned sleigh ride at Old Sturbridge Village (refer to excursion listing) during its Fire and Ice event (January 31), which includes sleigh rides through the commons (weather permitting) and horse-drawn wagon rides around the Mill Pond. Further west, Hollow Brook Farms in Brimfield (413-245-9325) offers sleigh rides over an old covered bridge and through a Christmas tree plantation. For another quaint, relaxing experience, head over to Bobby’s Ranch in Acton (978-263-7165) and snuggle under a warm blanket during a horse-drawn carriage ride. Or for something truly off the beaten path, adventurous types can unleash their inner Eskimos and go dog sledding at Northern Exposure Outfitters in Brookfield (508-867-4396).

Some Spots for Tea
This winter, have your own Boston tea party—though we strongly suggest refraining from tossing any tea into the Harbor. Sip a piping hot cup of tea at Afternoon Tea at the Boston Athenaeum on January 28 at 3 p.m. (reservations required; refer to sightseeing listing), or visit The Lounge at the Taj Boston (15 Arlington St., 617-536-5700) for an elegant Afternoon Tea (Wednesday–Sunday from 2–4 p.m.) featuring a variety of international teas paired with platters of savory finger sandwiches and sweet treats while a harpist plays and you watch the passersby on Newbury Street.

Learn to Cook
If you’re looking to heat things up this winter, there’s no better place to do it than in a gourmet kitchen. Put your time indoors to good (and delicious) use by honing your culinary craft at Sofra Bakery’s winter cooking classes. The Mediterranean-influenced eatery offers Sunday afternoon cooking classes led by chef Ana Sortun and pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick. Learn to make delicacies like brown butter bread pudding and palace bread (January 25) or delicious Moroccan stews with couscous (February 8). Call 617-661-0505, ext. 17 for more information.

Hit the Slopes
Can’t make it to Aspen this season but still want to ski in a winter wonderland? Blue Hills Ski Area in Canton is the perfect alternative. It’s just 20 miles from Boston, which makes it an ideal day trip. You’ll have 60 acres of skiable terrain, eight trails and four lifts—and be sure to check out the Boston city skyline from the top of the hill. Refer to excursion listing.

A New Pair of Shoes
The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln (refer to museum listing) is one of the area’s most unique and lovely places to stroll and view amazing artwork. The sculpture park consists of 35 acres of green space and woodlands, sprinkled with contemporary American sculptures. Traversing the property gets a bit trickier in wintertime—unless, of course, you’re wearing snowshoes. On January 31, the DeCordova hosts snowshoe tours of the park at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., giving you a chance to exercise your body even as you fire up your imagination.

Star Light, Star Bright
There’s nothing so clear and crisp as a winter sky (well, when it’s not blizzarding down snow, that is). Every Wednesday night (weather permitting) Boston University hosts Public Open Nights at the Coit Observatory (725 Commonwealth Ave., fifth floor). Bundle up and utilize the University telescopes to observe the night sky, learn about astronomy and, if you’re lucky, maybe spot a new planet that you can name after yourself and further contribute to Pluto’s inferiority complex. Call 617-353-2630 for more information.

The Lion in Winter
Even though it’s cold out, not all animals are hibernating. In fact, now is arguably the best time to head over to one of the Boston area’s fine zoos—with crowds thinner than in spring and summer, you can get an even more up-close and personal look at the animals. Chessie, the female jaguar cub, is on exhibit at the Stone Zoo, along with other year-rounders like snow leopards, Mexican gray wolves and flamingos. At the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, check out Christopher the lion (pictured left) and visit the gorillas in their indoor (and heated) Tropical Forest. For those who are interested in aquatic life, the New England Aquarium is home to some delightful creatures—including penguins and harbor seals—who have no problems when the mercury’s low. Refer to wildlife listings.

Hunker Down with a Good Book
Incidentally, is it allowable to “hunker” in any season other than winter? Oh well, we digress—when the temperature is beastly out, there’s no better time to take the opportunity to start fulfilling that New Year’s resolution to read more. You can find tomes of all kinds—from today’s biggest best-sellers to obscure ancient academic texts—in Boston and Cambridge’s eclectic assortment of new and used bookstores. Harvard Square is a Mecca for bookworms, with the Globe Corner Bookstore (90 Mt. Auburn St., 617-497-6277), a top spot for non-fiction books, as well as maps, globe, atlases and everything else to help you plan your next trip; The Grolier Poetry Book Shop (6 Plympton St., 617-547-4648), celebrating its 76th year as one of the area’s best sources for volumes of vibrant verse; and Schoenhof’s Foreign Books (76A Mt. Auburn St., 617-547-8855), the nation’s oldest foreign-language bookstore (founded in 1856), boasting volumes in literally hundreds of tongues. If your taste is a bit less esoteric, check out Barnes & Noble and Borders (refer to shop listings) where you can find pretty much anything for which you’re searching. If you want a really large selection of reading material, it’s pretty hard to top the Boston Public Library (refer to sightseeing listing), home to more than five million books and where they tend not to care if you loiter in the name of fine literature.

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