Boston is a city of neighborhoods, many of which were originally towns in their own rights, but were assimilated into the city. These neighborhoods still go by their original names and people will often tell you they are from "JP" (Jamaica Plain) or "Eastie" (East Boston) rather than from "Boston." Alternatively, people from the suburbs will tell you they are from Boston when in fact they are not, but live in one of the nearby (or even outlying) suburbs. If in doubt, you can look for "Resident Parking Only" signs which will tell you what neighborhood you are in.
Boston neighborhoods (a/k/a):
There are also several "districts" you might hear mentioned. "Districts" are generally areas of common interest:
Amtrak arrives at South Station, which intersects with the MBTA Red Line. You can take the Amtrak Northeast Corridor or Acela Express from South Station all the way to DC and beyond. Average Acela time from Boston to Philadelphia is about 5 hours, New York City in 3.
Boston has two major highways entering it, I-93 and I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike, or Mass Pike, or Pike, or that f'ing Pike). I-93 enters the city from the north and the south; the Pike enters Boston from the West. The Mass Pike is a toll road - expect to pay $1.00 to enter the city via the Pike. There are minor roads, of course, that enter Boston as well, including Route 9 (Old Worcester Turnpike).
There are many car rental places around Boston, but one of the most unique is Zipcar, an hourly car rental service. If you don't plan to do much driving, this may be an economical alternative to owning a car.
Boston is one of the most difficult cities in North America to drive in. The many one-way streets, the haphazard street layout, horrible winter weather, narrow lanes dating to the Colonial era, and aggressive -- near suicidal -- driving style of the natives combine to make the roads a dangerous place for the visiting driver. In addition, a gargantuan construction project to build an underground freeway bypass, known locally as the Big Dig, has kept traffic snarled in the city center since 1991.
Actually, the native Boston drivers aren't too bad. It's mainly out of towners and college kids that contribute to most of the driving misery.
Another fun facet of Boston is that roads very often have two or three names. Locals will talk about 128, which is also I-95 for a considerable bit of time. The best site to visit for Boston travel on the roads is http://www.SmarTraveler.com, which gives semi-real-time updates about traffic.
Fortunately, considering the hostile driving conditions, there is an adequate mass transit system in place, known as the T. The T consists of several components: subway, bus, water shuttles, and commuter rail.
The subway is composed of four color-coded light rail lines: orange, red, blue, and green. The Red and Orange lines travel generally north-south; the Blue and Green lines travel generally east-west. The Green Line splits into four branches going west and are known as the B, C, D and E lines; the Red Line splits in two directions going south and are known as the Braintree and Mattapan branches. Going west on the Green Line, the E line branches off at Copley Square station, the other three split at Kenmore Square station. Going south, the Red Line splits at JFK/UMass station.
The subway system is a hub-and-spoke layout with the hub centered around downtown crossing, the main shopping district. From there you can change from one line to the other at no additional fare.
Boston is a very compact city, given that walking was the predominant form of transportation for most of the city's history. Most of the major attractions can be visited on foot, although the climate is rather cold from December to April.
Within intersections, mob rule is generally observed, and pedestrians rarely wait for the "walk" signal. Be careful when crossing the streets.
Love sticker shock? Walk along Boston's Newbury Street for some of the local flavor, as well as insanely expensive boutiques, such as the Armani Exchange, where you can buy a cotton t-shirt for $130.
Boston has excellent seafood from the nearby New England coast. Local specialties include baked beans, cod, and clam chowder.
With a large Irish population, Boston has a number of very good Irish pubs.
There are definite areas of Boston to avoid without accompaniment or heavy armor, particularly at night. Roxbury, Dorchester, Charlestown, and parts of Jamaica Plain have historically been very dangerous. Police response times in some areas are as high as 15 - 20 minutes from the time a 911 call is initiated until a responder arrives.
The MBTA has had a fair share of its problems with personal safety. Late at night, steer clear of almost empty cars if possible. Be sure to stand away from the tracks, as there have been incidences of lunatics shoving bystanders in front of oncoming trains.
Boston has some of the world's finest martial arts instructors. If you plan to live or stay in Boston for an extended period of time, consider taking classes. Most instructors are listed in the Yellow Pages.
Boston makes an excellent starting point for any tour of New England.