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Beautiful Boston Views From Skywalk Observatory
I was about 11 or 12 when, on a family day trip to Boston, I first experienced a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of a skyscraper. We’d gone to the observation deck of the 60-story John Hancock Tower, and I was awestruck at the vast panorama of streets and buildings that spread out below. Something about the experience affected me deeply, and I still remember it vividly over 25 years later.
The Hancock observatory closed right after 9/11, but the Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center has taken its place where Boston’s visitors go to experience the thrill of the city laid out at their feet. “The Pru,” as it’s known, is easily recognizable in the city skyline; even though it was Boston’s first skyscraper, built in the 1960s, it’s still the second-tallest building in the city today. Having never been to the Prudential, and wanting my kids to experience the city as I did at their age, my sister Lisa and I planned to visit with our combined brood of four kids, ranging in ages from 6 to 11, as part of a day trip into the city this past July.
As it turned out, the Pru was the last destination of the day for us. Lisa and I debated the pros and cons of walking there versus taking the T (Boston’s subway system); we opted to walk, seeing as it was only about 2.5 miles from where we were at Quincy Market. In hindsight, covering that distance was asking a lot of the kids, who were dragging their feet after having visited the Museum of Science, Quincy Market, New England Aquarium and Quincy Market (again). Between a few rest stops and some piggyback rides, though, we made it there, and as a bonus, we were able to see a lot of the city on our route. We passed through the financial district and downtown and cut up to Boylston Street, which then brought us along the southern perimeter of Boston Common and the Public Gardens, and finally along Boylston Street to Back Bay. It was a great opportunity to point out numerous landmarks to the kids, like the Old South Church and the Swan Boats; that said, taking the T definitely would have been faster and less whine-filled, and there’s a T stop (Green Line) right in the Prudential Center.
Upon entering from Boylston Street, we found ourselves in the Shops at Prudential, a beautiful, modern shopping mall with lots of upscale retailers, including L’Occitane, Kate Spade, lululemon and Free People. After crossing through the mall (now it was MY turn to reluctantly drag my feet as my practical-minded sister towed the group through), we found the tower’s lobby and took the elevator to the 50th floor.
After a day filled with the loud chaos of the science museum, Quincy Market, the aquarium, and the city streets, it felt like a considerable – and welcome – change when we stepped off the elevator into the hushed, removed-from-it-all atmosphere of the observatory. At the welcome desk, we exchanged our CityPASS tickets for audio tour handsets. And then we were free to wander throughout the four sides of the observatory, taking in the sweeping panoramas of the city, which, even on a not-quite-clear evening, stretched for miles and miles around us.
There were two versions of the audio tour – one for adults, one for children. Our group split up, each of us following the audio tour, or just walking and looking, at our own pace. I thought the audio tour was a great enhancement to the experience; each station described the buildings and neighborhoods you could see below and gave some of the history of each of them. Among the notable ones, we saw the John Hancock Tower, the Christian Science Plaza with its reflecting pool, Back Bay, Fenway Park, the Boston Common and Public Garden, Logan Airport, the Esplanade and Hatch Shell, the Charles River, Massachusetts General Hospital (with its famous “Ether Dome”), MIT, Harvard University, and many other landmarks. There were high-power binoculars – always a favorite with the kids – stationed around the observatory. We looked, meandered, listened, and took it all in.
Even though it was the last experience of an incredibly busy and site-filled day, there was something very peaceful and fitting about the Skywalk. For me, it was a sense of coming full circle; it had to do with seeing the places we’d visited and the streets we’d traveled from 750 feet in the air, and it gave me a sense of how all of the various pieces – the buildings, the monuments, the neighborhoods, the stories – fit together to form a larger tapestry of the city.
The Skywalk Observatory is located at 800 Boylston Street, Boston. They occasionally close for private events, and hours change depending on the time of year. Please visit www.skywalkboston.com for more information.