Exploring Boston’s Emerald Necklace? From Newbury Guest House, it’s a walk in the park.

The Emerald Necklace. It may sound like the title of a mystery novel, but it should never remain a secret to Back Bay visitors. One of the oldest and most beautiful greenspaces in the nation, the Emerald Necklace is a chain of parks linked by parkways and waterways. The 1,000-acre (that’s 800 football fields!) outdoor marvel gets its name from the way each jewel of a park appears to be a pendant on the "neck" of the Boston peninsula. The Emerald Necklace brings one million visitors to Boston’s Back Bay each year – and no doubt sends them away more relaxed and refreshed than when they arrived.

The start of this seven-mile stretch of glorious nature is just 10 minutes on foot from Newbury Guest House’s front door; and the Emerald Necklace is always open, and always free. Here’s what else to know: 

A Brief History 

In 1870, Boston was a crowded, dirty, and noisy place. City officials worried about the wellbeing of their fellow citizens and hired the renowned landscape architect Frederic Law Olmstead to design a park system. Today the Emerald Necklace represents half of Boston’s park acreage and is the only remaining linear park designed by Olmstead, the first landscape architect in America. Its lovely botanical gardens, enchanting waterways, sweeping meadows and tree museums provide Bostonians and visitors alike a vital connection to nature in the heart of the city. 

Park-By-Park Highlights

Boston Common

America’s oldest park had humble beginnings as a cow pasture. Now it’s a place to discover historical monuments, a centuries-old graveyard, and a charming frog pond. Ice skate on it in winter and catch plays and concerts nearby in the summer. Tip: Boston Common is also the start of Boston’s Freedom Trail. 

The Public Garden

Surround yourself with lush florals, stately trees, and impeccably groomed hedges as you take in the Garden’s reflecting pool, Victorian boathouse, swan boats and the famous “make way for the ducks” sculpture. Tip: It’s an idyllic place for a picnic, but bring your own, as there are no restaurants in the parks.

Commonwealth Avenue Mall

Commonwealth Avenue runs the length of the Back Bay neighborhood and is the best place to take in its celebrated 19th-century brownstones, historic trees and statues honoring prominent Boston historical figures.

Back Bay Fens

The Fens combine community and formal gardens, baseball fields, walking paths and a playground in one child-perfect mix. And in summer, its Keheller Rose Garden is an Instagrammer’s dream. Tip: The Fens houses the Emerald Necklace Shattuck Visitor Center, so stop here to pick up a map, learn about bike and walking tours, talks, exhibits and other free events.

The Riverway

The paths of this 34-acre park follow the meandering Muddy River and wind past several internationally recognized medical, cultural, and educational institutions. It features more than 100,000 plantings and some of the most beautiful bridges in the Emerald Necklace chain. The Riverway walking path connects the Newbury Guest House to famed museums such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. Tip: Don’t miss the wonderful stone gazebo at the Chapel Street Bridge.

Olmsted Park

Olmsted Park is a large open meadowland surrounded by lush forest and dotted with two large ponds. A favorite of runners and cyclists, it’s also a great spot to relax and take in a Sunday concert or one of the many games on its athletic field. 

Jamaica Pond

The largest water feature in the Emerald Necklace is also one of its biggest recreational draws for joggers, as well as sailors and fishermen (you can even check out a rowboat and join them). If you’re here in the fall, watch the fiery canopy of trees turn the pond beneath bright orange and red. Tip: Don’t miss October’s magical Lantern Festival, which brings thousands of people – many in Halloween costumes – out to walk around the pond holding lights aloft.

Arnold Arboretum

If being the oldest arboretum in North America isn’t impressive enough, the Arnold Arboretum is more than 200 acres and home to more than 15,000 individual plants – one of the largest and best documented collections in the world. Its visitor center hosts a changing roster of art exhibits and a vast horticultural library. And if you want to get in some hiking, head up Peter’s Hill to the highest point in the Emerald Necklace for fantastic views of the Boston skyline.

Franklin Park 

The final pendant in the Emerald Necklace, Franklin Park is its true – and at 527 acres, its largest – jewel. Olmsted himself considered it one of his greatest achievements (and coming from the designer of New York’s Central Park, that’s saying something). Its stunning natural features include bucolic vistas, magnificent rock outcroppings, and a woodland preserve. But if your idea of recreation is more active than taking in the views, you can ramble its 15 miles of pedestrian and bridle paths, visit the century-old Franklin Park Zoo to pay your respects to the gorillas, play a round on the second oldest 18-hole public golf course in the nation, attempt the “99 Steps”, view historic structures like Ellicott Arch, and even watch a cricket match. 

The only remaining mystery about the Emerald Necklace is why you’d ever miss it on your next visit to Boston’s Back Bay. And the only crime would be to stay anywhere but Newbury Guest House, just steps from all its wonders.