A Guide to Boston

The most European of American cities, Boston will charm even the most discerning traveler. Perfect to be explored on foot, from the Freedom Trail to Faneuil Hall. Visit this ethnic melting pot of diversity.

By the numbers

Population: 667,000 (city); 4,628,900 (metropolitan)

Elevation: 10 feet / 3 meters

Time Zone: GMT -5 (GMT -4 daylight saving time); Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Weather

Average Annual Precipitation: 44 inches / 112 centimetres

Average January Temperature: 28°F / -2°C<

Average July Temperature: 75°F / 24°C

Did you know?

Boston is home to the nation’s first public park (The Boston Commons 1640), the first public library (1653) and the first subway (1897).

On January 15, 1919 the Great Molasses Flood occurred in the North End of Boston – a tank burst at the Purity Distilling Company, dumping over 2 million gallons of molasses into the streets and killing 21 people.

District Guide

One of the oldest cities in America, Boston evokes a distinctly European feel. The charming town is lined with ivied brick buildings and sprawling parks, lending it a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Once considered a conservative destination, Boston has developed quite the progressive attitude over the years, becoming one of the most exciting places in New England. You’ll find culinary treasures, shopping havens, and lots of youthful energy alongside national landmarks and historic sights that define this dynamic capital.

Acorn Street, Boston, Massachusetts, America

Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill is where the Boston elite live. Elegant houses stud cobblestone streets in the upscale neighbourhood, making its residential zip code one of the most sought after in the city. Perhaps the best part of Beacon Hill is its prime location, which sits nearby the Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, and Charles River Esplanade. Also found at the top of the hill from which this quaint quarter takes its name is the Massachusetts State House.

North End
More than anything else, the North End attracts the hungry, specifically those craving Italian cuisine. The neighbourhood has housed generations of Italian-American families and boasts some of the finest restaurants anywhere in the city. The oldest residential community in Boston, the North End also plays host to must-see historic sites like Paul Revere House and Old North Church. For the best tour of the neighbourhood and one of the best ways to see the city at large, follow the Freedom Trail through the venerable North End.

South End
Hip and trendy, the South End is where visitors head for art galleries and boutiques, Champagne cocktails and charcuterie boards. It is also known for welcoming the LGBTQ scene at its many gay bars. At first glance, the neighbourhood catches the eye with its stunning Victorian facade, comprised of family homes and young professional apartments. To get to the heart of the action, walk down Tremont or Washington Street and soak up the South End in all its modish glory.

Back Bay
Back Bay is a central neighbourhood located right on the Charles River. It houses landmarks like the Prudential Center and Copley Square, where you’ll also find the Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. Home to famed Newbury Street and its designer digs, Back Bay is also a prime shopping destination. Whether you follow Newbury Street through central Back Bay, picnic on the grassy mall between the Commonwealth and Massachusetts Avenues, or head to the Esplanade for panoramas of the Charles River, this dynamic neighbourhood has something to offer absolutely everybody.

Jamaica Plain
Jamaica Plain has been described as a suburban neighbourhood inside the city. It originally attracted wealthy Bostonians who wished to escape the grime and bustle of downtown Boston. Although many of the beautiful Victorian houses found in the area have fallen into disrepair over the years, Jamaica Plain is quickly being renovated to its former splendour, aiming not only to restore its shiny exterior but also preserve the character it has developed. While visiting, take a walk around Jamaica Pond or wander through the botanical gardens at the Arnold Arboretum.

Brookline
Brookline is a wealthy suburb just west of Boston. It has bars, movie theatres, shops, Jewish delicatessens, and restaurants that attract a mix of families, students, and professionals who all enjoy the quiet yet lively neighbourhood. Coolidge Corner is particularly bustling, housing most of the entertainment options in the area.

Cambridge
Cambridge is a city unto itself. Located opposite Boston along the Charles River, it is best known as the home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two of the most prestigious American universities. It is more liberal than Boston proper, and most would argue much funkier, perhaps in part because of its student population. Central Square is one of the livelier corners of Cambridge, overflowing with cheap and tasty food, dance and live music clubs, and a high concentration of bars. Just outside iconic Harvard Yard, Harvard Square is home to fine restaurants, including many that challenge the student budget. You’ll also find fun shops like specialty bookstores and vintage clothing outlets scattered about the area. Before you leave Cambridge, be sure to check out the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Somerville
Somerville is north of Cambridge and home to its own acclaimed university: Tufts. Its lively bars and restaurants are frequented by young, hardworking students and professionals, and its outskirts predominantly feature family residences. Offering a fun mix of urban sophistication and suburban energy, Somerville may not be on the top of our list of places to see, but it has more than enough to offer a good time.

Dining and drinking

Seafood is a Boston favorite, as is the traditional Yankee boiled supper, but this ethnic melting pot has an eclectic selection of menus.

Close-Up Of Hands Using Pliers For Seafood

Waterfront
Seafood rules the dining scene here, enticing visitors with clam chowder and lobster. Legal Sea Foods is a local chain that is popular with residents and tourists alike, and has served their clam chowder at several recent presidential inaugurations. The Barking Crab has beer and crab cakes galore, and the Daily Catch will entice you with its specialties from the sea.

Faneuil Hall
You can find Yankee suppers, Irish fare, seafood and pub grub in this historic downtown marketplace. Durgin-Park has pot roast and boiled dinners. The Black Rose is a good spot for a pint of Guinness. There are also food courts for a quick bite.

Beacon Hill
This beautiful, old-fashioned neighbourhood is known for its intimate and romantic places, including The Hungry I. Although there is often a wait for a table, the inviting cobblestone streets and gas-lit alleyways are perfect for a pre-dinner walk.

North End
The North End is home to historic landmarks and the best Italian food in Boston and perhaps in all of New England. Hanover Street is packed with such popular establishments as Mamma Maria, Mike’s Pastry and Caffe Vittoria.

Chinatown
With the highest concentration of late-night dining options in the city, Chinatown eateries are crowded well into the night. Among the best are Hei La Moon and Dumpling Cafe.

Newbury Street
Fusion restaurants and countless cafes line this busy Back Bay street. Stephanie’s on Newbury and Sonsie Bistro & Cafe are swank spots for the dining elite. Davio’s has great Italian food and a cozy atmosphere. For special occasions, L’Espalier is a truly romantic French restaurant.

South End
The South End, with its quaint row houses and manicured buildings, has a variety of dining options to choose from. On a walk along Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street in this neighbourhood, you will encounter restaurants offering modern French and American food, Ethiopian cuisine and down-home southern cooking. Tremont 647 and Mistral are two hotspots in this area.

Cambridge
On the other side of the Charles River, Cambridge has many hidden jewels, many of which are priced out of the student budget range and offer a fine dining experience in this cosmopolitan little city. The Border Cafe is the place for margaritas and quesadillas.

Often the best way to find a good meal in Boston is by exploring on foot. Every neighbourhood in Boston has interesting choices, from gourmet to pub grub.

Entertainment

Boston is a world-class metropolis filled with endless ways to educate, enthrall, entice, and entertain visitors. Its thriving arts scene balances top museums, theaters, and galleries with the inexhaustible talents of the Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory communities. The city offers a constantly evolving culinary landscape, albeit one that holds on tight to its New England roots, and a nightlife scene active enough to entertain throngs of students. Of course, part of what makes Boston so magical is its pristine setting, and visitors can also take easy advantage of the scenic city’s outdoor opportunities while exploring Beantown.

Young woman dancing on quayside, portrait, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Museums & Galleries
Boston has a magnificent selection of art complexes, ranging from large to small, American to Asian, local to national. The enormous Museum of Fine Arts and spectacular Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are the most popular in town, followed by the Children’s Museum for families and Museum of Science with its planetarium. Please note that many of the museums in Boston offer specials and student discounts. Regarding galleries, both Newbury Street and the South End boast a diverse array of art galleries, many of which focus on the area’s up-and-coming artists. Though smaller and quieter, Brookline also houses a handful of galleries.

Theater & Music
Chief among the dozens of theatres in Boston are the Wang Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, and Charles Playhouse. Each offers an inviting ambiance, and together, the venues stage everything from regional theatre to touring Broadway shows. You can also check out the events schedule at the Boston Opera House for premier performing arts.

Boston also boasts a healthy music scene, led by stars like the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which performs at Symphony Hall. For mainstream music, try a concert at TD Garden, the largest music and sporting events venue in the city. Otherwise, jazz clubs in Boston range from sleek hotel venues like Scullers and the Regattabar to lively, standing room-only favorites like Wally’s Café. To really celebrate the city, you can also enjoy live Irish ‘seisiuns’ almost nightly at the Brendan Behan Pub or the Burren.

Free concerts are held fairly frequently in Boston, particularly during summer. Head to the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade for gratis classical, jazz, or rock shows in the warmer months. And if you spend the Fourth of July in Boston, make sure to catch the beloved Boston Pops show also on the Esplanade.

Parks
Many of the beautiful parks you’ll see scattered throughout the city belong to Boston’s “Emerald Necklace,” a park circuit that comprises a large part of what makes the city so delightful. Runners, cyclists, and skaters flock to the Charles River Esplanade in summer; the Public Garden and Boston Common fill up with picnickers in the spring, around when the famous Swan Boats reappear; and the Commonwealth Mall, which runs parallel to Newbury Street, teems with dog walkers year round. One little known outdoor oasis in Boston is the Back Bay Fens, home to gorgeous rose and community gardens. Stretching 256-acres (104-hectares) in Jamaica Plain, the Arnold Arboretum serves as another horticultural treasure.

Sports
Fans of the Celtics and Bruins will enjoy game night at TD Garden, and all visitors to Boston should experience a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, which many consider the finest stadium in the country. Regarding annual events, the Boston Marathon and Charles Rowing Regatta draw thousands of spectators and top athletes from all over the world. Boston is a city of sports enthusiasts, so whether or not you take in a game while you’re in town, be ready to root on the home team with the locals.

Nightlife
Boston is full of varied crowds, lending to an eclectic nightlife scene. Student hubs like Allston and Back Bay are lined with bars and clubs, similar to popular tourist areas like Faneuil Hall and Lansdowne Street near Fenway Park. For hipper nightlife venues, take the party to Cambridge, and for classier evenings out, opt for the South End or the cosmopolitan Leather District.

Recommended Tours

Boston is not a city where you take a tour merely out of a sense of obligation. You may find yourself simply inspired to wander around this architectural theme park of cobblestone paths, antique brownstones and 18th century buildings. Explore quaint neighbourhoods and discover quiet corners within the city.

Early Morning, Bunker Hill Memorial, Charlestown Navy Yard, USS Constitution, Boston, Massachusetts, America

Freedom Trail
Visitors to Boston take a walk down Freedom Trail to explore 16 of the city’s most important historical attractions and monuments. Among them are the Bunker Hill Monument, Boston Common, Granary Burying Ground and Copp’s Hill Burial Ground.

Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts opened in 1876 and is considered one of the best in the country. Behind the Museum, is a secluded park, Back Bay Fens, which is convenient for taking a stroll. Walk over to Copley Place or the Shops at Prudential Center, two large malls that have hundreds of stores and restaurants to explore.

Boston Common
Located in the historic neighbourhood of Beacon Hill is Boston Common, the country’s oldest park, which also contains a public garden and frog pond. Also in this area is the Old State House, Boston’s oldest public building. Stop into the nearby Museum of Science, which contains hundreds of educational and interactive exhibits, or shop at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which also offers many unique dining options.

Back Bay
Back Bay is a neighbourhood filled with brownstones and tree-lined streets. The Boston Public Library can be found in this area. The nearby Fenway Park is home to the Boston Red Sox. The Brown Sugar Cafe is just a few blocks away as is the Boston University Observatory, where you can look through professional-grade telescopes and learn about the history of space.

Franklin Park Zoo
With animals from all over the world, the Franklin Park Zoo is a popular attraction for families. The nearby Forest Hills Cemetery is filled with beautiful Gothic architecture. The Arnold Arboretum is just a few steps away, and contains hundreds of plant species. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum contains many documents and artifacts from Kennedy’s life and the Cold War era.

North End
The North End neighbourhood is a largely Italian community that is filled with history. The Old North Church is the oldest religious building in Boston. Drop into Gelateria for some traditional, Italian gelato. Just up the road is Christopher Columbus Park, which features stunning views of the harbour. Lucca Restaurant & Bar is a nearby dining option where guests can enjoy some rustic Italian dishes.

Whether you travel by foot, trolley, bike or car, you are sure to bump into a museum, historic site or architectural gem at almost every turn in Boston and Cambridge. From Paul Revere’s ride to John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Boston has long been a place where history is made, and its popularity as a tourist destination attests to the ease with which you can explore it.

Self-Guided Tours
Freedom Trail ( +1 617 242 5642 / +1 617 242 5689 / http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/ )
Beacon Hill Walking Tour ( +1 617 523 9490 / http://www.beaconhillonline.com/ )

Guided Tours
Freedom Trail Players ( +1 617 357 8300 / http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/ )
Boston By Foot ( +1 617 367 2345 / http://www.bostonbyfoot.org/ )
Boston Duck Tours ( +1 617 267 3825 / http://www.bostonducktours.com/ )
Black Heritage Trail ( +1 617 742 5415 / http://www.nps.gov/boaf/ )

Culinary Tours
North End Market Tour ( +1 617 523 6032 / http://www.northendmarkettours.com/ )

Trolley Tours
Discover Boston Multilingual Trolley Tours ( +1 617 742 1440 / http://www.discoverbostontours.com/ )
Old Town Trolley Tours ( +1 800 868 7482 / http://www.historictours.com/boston/ )

Boat Tours
Boston Harbor Cruises ( +1 617 227 4321 / +1 877 733 9425 / http://www.bostonharborcruises.com/ )
The Charles Riverboat Company Tours ( +1 617 621 3001 / http://charlesriverboat.com/ )

History

Native Americans had been living on the Boston peninsula for more than 2,000 years when Captain John Smith, famous for helping lead the settlement of Virginia to the south, sailed into the harbour in 1614. Smith mapped the area between Cape Ann to the north and Cape Cod to the south and called it New England. He named the largest river in the area the Charles, after the British prince. In 1620, the Puritans, chased out of England for their religious beliefs, landed in nearby Plymouth, and founded the first permanent European settlement in the Boston area.

Captain with navy telescope

A few years later, William Blackstone, a scholar and clergyman from the Plymouth settlement, set out in search of solitude. He found himself, his bull and several hundred books at the foot of Beacon Hill. In 1630, Blackstone lured other Puritans to Boston with promises of ample fresh water. He soon was in the middle of a bustling community that included the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop.

The town was named Boston (Native Americans had called it Shawmut) after the town of the same name in England, which had been named after St. Botolph, the patron saint of fishing. From the beginning, the growing town used the Atlantic Ocean as its lifeline, and over the next 40 years, Bostonians built more than 730 ships. As Boston became a center for publishing, education and trade, the strict moral teachings of the Puritans clashed with the zeal of the emerging merchant class. By 1680, the once independent colony was firmly under British control. As Paul Revere’s famous engraving of 1768 shows, British warships conveyed troops to the city in response to protests over the Stamp Act of 1765, which required tax stamps to be placed on any published materials. The act was later rescinded after protests by the “Sons of Liberty,” who included Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Adams, Patrick Henry and James Otis.

But the British Crown issued mandates that imposed additional taxes on the colony. By 1770, there was one British soldier in town for every four colonists. The powder keg exploded on March 5, 1770, with the Boston Massacre. The site where British troops fired into a crowd of colonists, killing five people, is marked today by a ring of cobblestones at Congress and State Streets.

On December 16, 1773, a mob led by Samuel Adams boarded three ships and dumped their cargoes of tea overboard in “The Boston Tea Party”. The British parliament responded by sending even more troops to close off Dorchester Neck, the only land entrance to Boston. The “shot heard ’round the world” was fired in Lexington on April 19, 1775, when a group of colonial militiamen engaged in battle with British regulars. The American Revolution had begun.

The tide turned for the Bostonians with George Washington’s first major victory on March 16, 1776. Using the cover of night, the rebel army moved much of their artillery to the top of Dorchester Heights. British troops awoke to find enough cannon staring down at them to destroy their fleet anchored in Boston Harbor. On March 17, Evacuation Day, they fled the city, and the date has been a city holiday ever since.

Post-Revolutionary Boston had a population less than a third of what it had been just prior to the war. But the early years of the 19th Century were boom times for Boston, which added thousands of new residents every 10 years, along with mills, tanneries and factories. Eventually annexed by the city were fast-growing suburbs: Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester. Landfill was another way to meet the ever-increasing demands for more space: Mount Vernon gave up tons of dirt and gravel to form Charles Street at the base of Beacon Hill. The Back Bay, once a soggy bank along the Charles River, was built on top of landfill.

It was during these prosperous times that Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the nation’s foremost landscape architects, designed the “Emerald Necklace.” This is a series of green spaces that connects the Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall to parks of Olmsted’s design like the Arnold Aboretum, Franklin Park and the Back Bay Fens.

The end of the Civil War signalled an end to Boston’s booming economy. Newly constructed rail lines eliminated trade from Boston’s waterfront. Factories around the country produced goods more cheaply than in Boston, and the shoe and textile industries vanished by the 1920s. With the arrival of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Boston’s economy seemed doomed. The renovation of Boston finally came at the hands of Mayor John Collins, who undertook a massive restructuring of the city in the 1950s. Many old landmarks were destroyed, but he also created many jobs and helped pump dollars into the slowly reawakening economy.

The John Hancock Tower, designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, soared skyward in 1975 as Boston’s tallest building. In 1978, renovated Quincy Market symbolized a new period of growth. The 1990s saw the beginning of the giant urban renovation program known as the Big Dig, designed to bury Interstate 93.

Boston, now one of the country’s major centres of high-tech development and a popular tourist destination, brims with an the energy, perseverance and heady spirit that has always been the city’s trademark.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport
Public Transit: Ground transportation options abound starting with the wonderfully efficient Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (+1 800 392 6100/ http://www.mbta.com/) train system. Locally known as “the T,” it operates daily from 5:30a-12:30a, exiting the airport about every ten minutes. Fares start at $1. For added convenience free Massport shuttles scoot passengers between the terminals and trains.

Taxi: A fleet of taxis can be found outside every terminal. Depending on traffic rides to downtown last 15-20 minutes. Taxis charge a flat rate for all destinations exceeding a 12-mile downtown radius. Should you be traveling beyond 12 miles be sure to agree to an exact rate before entering the cab. The Boston Police Department posts a list of flat rates at: http://www.massport.com/logan/getti_typeo_taxis.html#ratechart. If you opt to rent a car be advised that downtown is not conducive for driving, especially if unfamiliar with Boston’s maze of narrow one-way streets.

Shuttle: For a shuttle bus/van, call the reputed Back Bay Coach (+1 617 746 9909) which provides a shared van service to most downtown hotels.

Bus: Free bus service from the airport terminals to the Logan Boat Dock on the south side, makes the water shuttle service efficient and conveniently quick. Boats exit at regular intervals for a seven-minute ride to Rowes Wharf.

By Bus
The main bus terminal is located on Atlantic Avenue, adjacent to the train station. Passengers can then access downtown via MBTA’s Red Line subway. Greyhound ( http://www.greyhound.com/), Bonanza (http://www.bonanzabus.com/) and Concord Trailways (http://www.concordtrailways.com/) all service Boston.

By Train
South Station on Atlantic Avenue, Back Bay Station on Dartmouth Street, and North Station on Causeway Street make train travel into Boston extremely convenient. All three stations are linked to the MBTA subway allowing for easy downtown access. Amtrak (http://www.amtrak.com) is the chief carrier. The Acela Express links with Washington DC, the Lake Shore Limited with New York City, and the Downeaster with Portland, Maine.

By Car
I-90, or as locals call it the “Mass Pike,” a state-long toll road, funnels traffic in from all points west. I-93, downtown’s main artery, runs north/south. I-93 north combines with US-1 making it the main thoroughfare for traffic approaching from Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I-93 south joins with Route 3, connecting Boston with Cape Cod. I-95 south connects Boston with Providence and the Connecticut Shoreline.

Getting Around

The T
The MBTA’s (+1 617 222 3200/ http://www.mbta.com/) bus system services all of downtown and beyond. Most are wheelchair accessible. Family passes are available. Boston’s subway system (+1 617 222 3200/ http://www.mbta.com/), the oldest in the nation, rates as the fastest way to scoot around. The colour-coded lines are easy to decipher. The Red Line slices through downtown in a northwest/southeast direction servicing Harvard Square, MIT and South Station. The Green Line wanders in a west/east direction accessing the Boston Common, Copley Square and Fenway Park. The Blue Line juts in a northeast/southwest direction stopping at Logan Airport, Suffolk Downs and the New England Aquarium. And the Orange Line drifts in a north/south direction depositing passengers at such noted stops as North Station, the Fleet Center and Chinatown.

Taxi
Taxis are readily accessible, yet expensive when compared with other forms of public transportation. Cab stands can be found at most major hotels and at busy visitor points such as Faneuil Hall, South Station and Harvard Square. Metro Cab (+1 617 787 5438) and Town Taxi (+1 617 536 5000) are two of Boston’s bigger cab companies.

Car Rental
Another attractive ground transportation option is Zipcar, which operates in certain cities in Canada and the U.S. This new breed of rental car allows you to rent on an hourly basis rather than a daily basis. Be sure to register online before your trip. Zipcar (+1 866 404 7227 / http://www.zipcar.com)

Ferry
The inner harbor ferries offer a refreshing alternative for city commuters. Long Wharf (New England Aquarium), Lovejoy Wharf (North Station), Rowes Wharf (Boston Harbor Hotel), Courthouse, and World Trade Center Boston are the main drop-off and pick-up points.

Bicycle
Bicycling is not recommended for downtown Boston. There are no bike lanes and drivers tend to scoff at the idea of sharing the road. Cambridge, however, is very bike friendly.

On Foot
Walking is Boston’s best mode of travel. The downtown area is inordinately compact making it possible for one to walk from North End to Back Bay in less than half a day.

Traffic Information For up-to-date traffic information, go to: http://www.smartraveler.com/scripts/bosmap.asp?city=bos&cityname=Boston/