Fall is a wonderful time to visit Boston’s sister city Cambridge, with cool, crisp days and the excitement in the air that comes with thousands of students returning to campus. It has a completely different feel than the more touristy areas of downtown Boston.
My family enjoyed a weekend stay in at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge this past summer and although my nine- and twelve-year old sons were utterly unimpressed with our visit to the Harvard campus, they did love the restaurants, shops, and general humming vibe of the area around it.
From the outside The Charles isn’t much to look at — just a stacked series of brick boxes — but once you step into the lobby you realize it has it’s own understated décor that’s very much in keeping with its New England academic surroundings even if the building is modern.
Quilts and original art decorate the walls, grandfather clocks and Windsor chairs are tucked into corners, and shelves of books line the back wall of the lobby.
My family of four stayed in an executive deluxe King Charles Suite with two double beds. We had a dining area, some comfortable chairs, and plenty of room to spread out.
Although the area surrounding the hotel could not be described as quiet (it is in the heart of what is probably one of the largest concentrations of college students in the United States after all) our room certainly was. There was no ambient noise from the street or the hallway.
And while I was very happy about this, the feature of the room that probably excited my children the most was the bathroom mirror television. TV in the bathroom! What can be better than that?
At 12 and 9, my boys are a bit old for some of the kid-friendly perks offered by The Charles, including their welcome bag, which is meant for younger children. But they felt completely comfortable and welcome at The Charles, I think because the staff there knew how to talk to them and also because it’s elegance was both casual and comfortable.
I also had a chance to observe the staff work its wonders with the younger set. I was on a deadline one evening and descended to the lobby to do some work after the rest of my family had gone to bed. A family of four arrived around 11 p.m. in a state I recognized perfectly – their journey had clearly taken longer than they planned, mom and dad were bickering and tired and wanting a drink, their toddler was crying, and her older sister was spinning like a top. Within five minutes of arrival the front desk staff had worked soothing magic – both girls were smiling and engaged with their welcome bags, a bellhop had whisked their luggage up to their room, a bottle of wine was soon to follow, and harmony was completely restored.
And I’m guessing that it is this attention to what families want and need – like a kids’ room service menu – that Preferred Hotels Group has certified The Charles Hotel as family friendly in its Preferred Family program; see a full list of their kid-friendly amenities.
One thing on offer that we didn’t try were the Kid Swim Hours at the Wellbridge Athletic Club indoor pool next door to the hotel. The Charles also offers seasonal activities for families including summer jazz concerts and an outdoor ice rink in the winter.
Henrietta’s Table should be a dining destination for any family visiting Cambridge, whether or not they are staying at the hotel. You’ll find pigs everywhere at Henrietta’s – on the walls, and on the plates. The food is New England farm-to-table, hearty, and absolutely delicious. We enjoyed a large breakfast that included my husband’s favorite comfort food, cream chipped beef on biscuits.
I’m dying to go back for “supper” (as it is called on the menu). The menu changes seasonally, but I’m hoping to someday try their Yankee pot roast and see if it matches my grandmother’s.
There are also numerous places to eat in the immediate vicinity of the hotel. For a snack or casual breakfast, check out Crema which has to-die-for pastries and sandwiches as well as artisanal coffee. Foodie kids will love Alden & Harlow, a very of-the-moment small plates restaurant offering treats like house made burrata and heirloom pickled eggs.
The Charles is located just minutes from the Harvard University campus. It’s the perfect home base from which to explore. Our stroll included a trip to the famous Harvard Coop bookstore, which has a large children’s section. We also made sure to stop by and rub John Harvard’s foot, as so many scholars before us have done.
Another must-see in the neighborhood is the world’s only Curious George store. Its connection to Cambridge is that the husband-and-wife author team who wrote the original books moved here after fleeing the Nazis in France. On Fridays and Sundays from June to November the Charles Square Farmer’s Market sets up in the plaza that fronts the hotel. The produce and flowers were certainly tempting and my kids gobbled up an entire pint of fresh raspberries as a morning snack.
Rent bikes in from the Cambridge Bicycle Exchange in Porter Square (or do what we did and bring your own – the valets let us leave them on the rack on our car and graciously brought our vehicle out when we wanted to use them) and ride along the nearby Charles River. Ask at the front desk and they’ll give you a map of the path that includes the distances between bridges.
You could easily use this as your method to get to the Museum of Science (an 8.5-mil, ride round trip) or just enjoy a scenic ride with great view of the Boston skyline on one side and the Harvard campus on the other. There are several playgrounds along the way, including the awesome Esplanade Playspace, which in addition to a zipline and climbing structure has some pretty cute turtles on display.
I love Boston and on previous visits have walked the Freedom Trail with my kids, visited the New England Aquarium, and explore the North End. It wouldn’t be hard to do any of those activities while staying at The Charles – a quick walk over to Harvard Square T stop and you’re about a 15-minute ride from downtown Boston. But I’ll admit that we were perfectly happy sticking close to the hotel. I think that’s because it felt like a luxurious home away from home.
Ciao Bambino’s Family Travel Consulting Team can help. Request room rates using the Check Availability button on The Charles Hotel’s family-friendly review page in the CB! Hotel Collection; the request will go directly to the hotel for the best available pricing and a Ciao Bambino trip planner will follow up to answer questions and provide guidance (a free service). Ciao Bambino consultants can also plan full itineraries to Boston that include vetted activity and guide recommendations. Request assistance on our Connect with a Travel Advisor page.
Mara Gorman is the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook. She also covers her family’s adventures on her website The Mother of all Trips.
Editor’s Note: The Charles Hotel provided a media rate to give Ciao Bambino the opportunity to review the hotel for families. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Mara Gorman except where noted.
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