So, you've decided to pay New England a visit for the Winter Classic. Good choice! For many fans, the Winter Classic will be a day-trip from around the New England area. For some of you, however, this is probably a mini-vacation of sorts. Whether you're coming from Canada and staying in the area for a couple days, or coming from the western US and staying for a week: welcome to New England.
Canadiens fans should know, however, that the game has actually been moved to Connecticut. Seriously. Don't go to Gillette Stadium on Friday because uh...yeah, it's in Connecticut instead. I swear.
(Kidding. Bienvenue, Habs fans,)
First things first: The Winter Classic is not in Boston. Gillette Stadium, Bob Kraft's own personal Disneyland, is in Foxboro, some 30 miles outside of the city. Sure, it's a Boston suburb, but the game's location presents unique challenges in actually getting there.
Getting to the 2016 Winter Classic
As I said, 30 miles. The easiest (though probably most stressful) way to get to the game is going to be driving. Gillette is right off of a major highway, making it easy to get NEAR the stadium from pretty much anywhere.
Getting TO the stadium is a bit different. Traffic flows off of I-95 onto Route 1, and there will be back-ups getting into the stadium's parking lots. If you're driving, leave early. I asked a friend who's attending what time he was leaving at, and he said 7:30 AM. "Early," I thought, until I remembered how bad Gillette traffic can be.
If you want time to tailgate and party with your fellow hockey fans, leave yourself plenty of time to sit in traffic. It'll make that cold parking lot beer all the more worth it.
Parking will be $50 per car (ugh). Lots open at 9 AM, giving you two good hours to do nothing but tailgate prior to stadium gates opening at 11 AM. Things are a little different for the alumni game (though that may change as well, with the Women's Winter Classic being added to the docket).
For Patriots games, businesses along Route 1 offer their own lots for parking. Rates vary, but most of them are a little cheaper than the actual Gillette lots. I don't know for sure that these lots will all be open, but chances are several will be. Pros: cheaper, slightly less traffic getting out. Cons: less of a crowd to party/tailgate with, longer walk to the stadium.
If you're not driving, the T is running commuter rail service to the game. However, tickets must be purchased in advance, and the last train home leaves 30 minutes after the final buzzer, leaving no time for post-game festivities.
Drinking at the 2016 Winter Classic
What's a hockey game in the cold without a few pops, right?
Gillette's alcohol policy is more liberal than the TD Garden's, which is borderline draconian when it comes to out-of-state IDs. Gillette requires a valid driver's license or passport, though it also mentions a Mass. state ID (what about the other states?).
Also, bring copies of your tax returns for the loan you'll need to buy a few rounds of $15 Bud Lights.
Around the 2016 Winter Classic
Kraft has done a great job turning Gillette into a mini-destination with the addition of Patriot Place. Patriot Place has over a dozen places to grab a quick bite, a sit-down meal or a beer. You'll find smaller places scattered along Route 1 as well.
Ah, so you're sticking around for a little while, or maybe you came into town a little early. There's plenty to do in Boston, from food and drink to outdoor and indoor activities.
- If you're in the hockey mood, give outdoor ice skating a try. The Frog Pond on Boston Common and the Community Ice Skating Rink at Kendall Square are both open for the season. Both places offer reasonably priced admission and skate rentals.
- The Freedom Trail is essentially a "must do" for any Boston tourist. It's not really that cold here yet, so throw on a hat and gloves and learn something while you're here. Impress your friends when you get back home.
- If you're from Quebec, you've probably already gone a day or two without poutine. You must be dying! The Lower Depths, just outside of Kenmore Square, serves poutine tater tots that get the Chowder EIC Cornelius Stamp of Approval.
- Check out the TD Garden if you want, though there won't be much going on. The Bruins recently renovated the pro shop, and it's worth a trip if you've got some money in your pocket. While you're in the area, go get the Bobby Orr at The Four's, once named the best sports bar in America.
- Faneuil Hall is worth the trip, just to walk around. The Christmas lights are still up, and it's beautiful at night if you can look past the drunk 20-something's stumbling out of bars. Don't buy anything down there though, it's all overpriced.
- Pizza: You'll get a million different opinions, but I'm writing this, so I'll be the authority. In town, Ernesto's on Salem Street is the best. Regina's is overrated. If you're willing to travel a bit, people swear by Santarpio's in East Boston.
- Bars: You'll find a million. Don't be afraid to venture into the more divey places, like Sullivan's Tap and The Red Hat. If you're out of your 20's, you'll probably prefer them to the EDM-filled bars surrounding Faneuil Hall and the Garden.
New Year's Eve
If you're coming into the city today or tomorrow, there will be plenty to do on New Year's Eve. Boston's New Year's Eve shenanigans are known as First Night. Highlights include ice sculptures, performances, fireworks and more. Most of the stuff is free, and most takes place in and around Copley Square. First Night stuff isn't really wild parties, but it's fun if you're looking to stay low-key.
If you're interested in going to a bar or club on New Year's Eve, beware: most places have ticketed events on New Year's Eve. There are a few bars that treat it like any other night, with general admission and a cover charge. However, don't be surprised if you visit a few places and are told you need a ticket (anywhere from $20 to +$100, believe it or not) to get in.
This Google results listing will give you a better idea of what places around the city are doing and what they're charging.
Last-minute plans? Consider staying elsewhere.
If you got last-minute tickets and need a place to stay, consider looking outside of the city itself. With New Year's Eve coming up, hotels downtown are probably pretty pricey. Don't be afraid to grab a hotel outside of the city (particularly south of town, since it'll be closer to Gillette). Quincy, Waltham and other suburbs have several hotels that are as nice as downtown spots at a lower price.
Also: Providence, Rhode Island's capital, is only a half hour (without traffic) from Gillette. Providence is cool city, with an up-and-coming food scene and great nightlife. It's also got an enormous mall. It's worth considering if you'd rather stay in a city, as opposed to a suburb.
- ...take a cab or Uber to the game (if you can avoid it). It'll cost you hundreds of dollars and will probably ruin your time. Yes, I've heard people float the idea of doing this. People are nuts.
- ...try to talk with a fake Boston accent. Please. Just leave it alone.
- ...be afraid to venture out of downtown Boston. If you're staying for a while, check out Boston's neighborhoods and surrounding cities. Hyde Park, Dorchester, South Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, etc. All offer something different, most without the price tag you'll find downtown.
- ...bring a selfie stick to Gillette. Not only will it rob you of your dignity, it's on the list of prohibited items.
- ...bring a backpack to the game. People parking at the stadium would be fine, as they could just run back to the car and leave it. But Gillette's bag policy prohibits large bags, so leave it at home.
- ...go to Cheers. It's a tourist trap. There are better places to eat.