Boston is a city of neighborhoods, many of which were originally towns in their own rights before being assimilated into the city itself. 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.
Each neighborhood and neighboring city has more specific listings than what's on this page.
City of Boston
The official limits of the city, or "Boston Proper" as it is sometimes called. It is here where most of the buildings that comprise the city's skyline are located.
Boston neighborhoods (aka):
Allston and Brighton are very small and abutting; you will often hear it called Allston-Brighton. They are connected to the rest of the city by a narrow neck of land between the Charles River and the City of Brookline.
East Boston is on a peninsula across Boston Harbor from the main bulk of the city; it's next to Logan Airport.
Charlestown is across the Charles River, on the part of the mainland where Cambridge and Somerville are located. It's where you'll find the Bunker Hill Monument.
The South End, North End, South Boston, and the West End are not the neighborhoods farthest in these respective directions.
The Back Bay is one of the few neighborhoods with a grid-like street network. The cross-streets are named after Massachusetts towns and arranged in alphabetical order: Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester (pronounced gl-OWW-ster), and Hereford. After Hereford is Massachusetts Avenue (or Mass Ave, as it is commonly known) and then Charlesgate, which marks the boundary of Back Bay. (Trivia fact: the alphabetical streets continue on the far side of Massachusetts Avenue in the Fenway neighborhood, with Ipswitch, Jersey, and Kilmarnock -- but at that point, it's no longer a grid.)
There are also several "districts" you might hear mentioned. "Districts" are generally areas of common interest located within a larger neighborhood:
Though technically speaking not Boston, these cities are in many ways a part of the city and are an essential component to any visit to Boston.
American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes once called Boston "the hub of the solar system", but common usage has expanded to the now-current Hub of the Universe. This half-serious term is all you need to know to understand Boston's complicated self-image. Vastly important in American history, and once the seat of the USA's social elite, Boston has in the last century been sidelined by other cities in the West and South. Yet it still remains important economically, culturally, and politically. Is it the center of everything? Don't expect a straight answer from a wry Bostonian.
The city was founded in 1630 by members of the Massachusetts colony, Puritan religious dissidents who had fled England to find freedom in the New World. It rapidly assumed a leading role in the fledgling New England region, with a booming economy based on trade with the Caribbean and Europe. The devastating Fire of 1760 destroyed much of the town, but within a few years the city had bounced back.
Boston was the center of unrest during America's Colonial period, and many of the early battles of the Revolutionary War were fought here, including the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The residents' ardent support of independence earned the city the nickname The Cradle of Liberty.
Throughout the 19th century, Boston continued to grow rapidly, assimilating outlying towns into the metropolitan core. Its importance in American culture was inestimable, and its economic and literary elite, the so-called Boston Brahmins assumed the mantle of whatever passes for aristocracy in the United States. Harvard College in nearby Cambridge became, and in many ways remains, America's premier center of learning.
At the same time, the city's working class swelled with immigrants from Europe. The huge Irish influx made Boston one of the most important Irish cities in the world -- in or out of Ireland. Gradually the Irish laborer population climbed into city's upper class, evidenced no better than by the continued importance of the Kennedy family in national politics.
As the 20th century advanced, Boston's importance on the national stage waned. Cities in what was once the frontier, like Chicago and later Los Angeles, shifted the nation's center of gravity away from liberty's cradle. An economic slump at mid-century was turned around by growth in health care, financial services, and high technology, driven by the nearby Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
From Logan: The MBTA Blue line is reasonably convenient and inexpensive provided that you are not carrying much luggage. Several free Massport shuttles provide connectivity to rail, water transit, and parking. For the Blue Line, look for the one with the electronic sign that says "SUBWAY". After about midnight, you'll need to take a cab or have someone pick you up.
Driving to Logan, take the Callahan Tunnel. Driving to Downtown Boston, take the Sumner Tunnel (toll). The new Ted Williams Tunnel (Massachusetts Turnpike Extension / Interstate 90) is also now open to two-way traffic; it connects with the Central Artery (Interstate 93) downtown; check the Big Dig site for details on the new interchange and construction detours.
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.
Some trains also stop at the Back Bay Station (MBTA Orange Line).
Arriving by train has the advantage of putting you within easy reach of most downtown destinations by public transit.
Boston has two major highways entering it, I-93 and I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike, or "Mass Pike", or "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.
The Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90) is a toll road, as is the Sumner Tunnel (coming from the airport only), the Ted Williams Tunnel, and the Tobin Bridge (southbound/from the North Shore only).
Navigation on city streets is very hard if you're not familiar with the area. There are many one-way streets, usually arranged haphazardly and poorly marked for drivers. Parking is expensive, and traffic can be slow - watch out for lots of double-parked vehicles. The drivers are also notorious for being aggressive. Especially avoid driving during Rush Hour on weekdays; the streets become extremely crowded. Avoid the Central Artery (I-93 downtown) during the day and especially at rush hour - Big Dig construction there is ongoing.
For most tourist destinations in Boston and Cambridge, it's usually advisable to leave your car behind and take the subway. You'll do a bit more walking, but that will give you a chance to see the sights.
Visit http://www.SmarTraveler.com for semi-real-time updates about traffic.
Public transit in Boston is generally adequate and relatively inexpensive, and can take you directly to most points of interest. A single public transit agency serves the Boston Metro area, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority ("MBTA", or "the T" for short). For complete schedules, maps, and other information, see their official website at http://www.mbta.com.
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. Subway maps usually also include the Commuter Rail (long-distance heavy rail) which is color-coded purple, and the Silver Line, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line currently under expansion. Collectively, the light rail and Silver Lines are known as Rapid Transit, and they all converge downtown.
Note that subway and light rail service generally stops between midnight and 1am, though Owl bus service is available on these and certain other routes until 2:30am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Unlimited-ride passes are available from the T for short periods of time. If you're going to be riding a lot around town, these are worth investigating. See http://www.mbta.com/traveling_t/passes_index.asp for complete fare information.
The cost of a single ride on the T is $1.25. Buy a token from the booth to go through the turn stiles. This will get you to most destinations, although if you are going to the outskirts of Boston, an extra charge may apply. You might as well get two tokens if you are planning a return trip as their can sometimes be long lines at the token booth. Parking at the Alewife station on the Red line is ample but will cost you $4.50 no matter when you come and go (for each 24 hour period).
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.
The biggest shopping areas in the inner Metro are the indoor malls in Cambridge and the Back Bay. Both have ample parking and a wide variety of restaurants, from fast food to classy sit-down.
The Cambridgeside Galleria is accessible by T from Lechmere Station (Take the Green Line D or E or one of many buses, cross under the tracks, then go straight ahead) or by free shuttle ("The Wave") from just outside the Kendall/MIT station on the Red Line. Restaurants include the Cheesecake Factory and a food court; shopping includes a convenience store, Best Buy, department stores, lots of clothes, bookstores, and everything else, at mainstream retail prices.
Prudential Center is accessible on the Green Line from Hynes Convention Center/ICA/Auditorium (B/C/D), Prudential (E), and Copley (all branches).
Copley Place connects with Prudential Center via an overhead pedestrian walkway. It houses a movie theater, lots of upscale shopping (including Nieman Marcus and Tiffany's), restaurants, and connects with several large hotels. Accesible via Copley (all Green Line branches) and Back Bay (Orange Line, some Commuter Rail lines) Stations.
Newbury Street: Bay Bay, Boston. A wonderfully dense avenue colored by historic brownstones and lots of shops and restaurants. Extremely expensive near Boston Common, but gradually becoming more affordable as you move toward Massachusetts Avenue. One block north from Boylston Street (Arlington, Copley, Hynes Convention Center stop on the Green Line) which is similar but less so. Traffic can be very slow on Newbury Street itself; take parallel streets unless you have time to see the sights from your car.
Downtown Crossing: Downtown Boston. It is obligatory to visit the world-famous Filene's Basement. Unlike most other stores of the same name, this flagship outlet is actually underground. Bargain Alley has the distinctive feature of the Automatic Markdown plan - every week, the items in this area get 25% cheaper, until they are either sold or donated to charity. Many excellent deals can be found on merchandise floating down from the larger department store upstairs. The aisles here are narrow, and the store is usually busy, so avoid bringing lots of shopping bags in by stopping here first. The rest of Downtown Crossing features large Macy's and Borders, music stores, souvenirs, general retail, and lots of street vendors and quick food. Accessible from Downtown Crossing (Red and Orange Lines) or a short walk from any other downtown T stop. An underground passage exists for free transfers between Park Streer and Downtown Crossing stations, but there is shopping above-ground on Park Street as well.
Harvard Square: Cambridge. Take a tour of the University and the Yard, visit the historic cemetery, shop around. Several excellent bookstores, plenty of restaurants and cafes. See the famous chess tables outside Au Bon Pain where a scene in Good Will Hunting was filmed. Walk past the offices of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, and say hello to the punks. A short walk down to the scenic Charles River. Street musicians often play near the famous Out of Town News. Accessible from Harvard Station (Red Line, many buses).
Coolidge Corner: Brookline. A little less urban, more like your local village shops. Take the C Branch of the Green Line. Beacon Street has interesting shops along most of its length.
Boston has excellent seafood from the nearby New England coast. Local specialties include baked beans, cod, and clam chowder. Another local specialty is ice cream.
A variety of excellent ethnic restaurants can be found in Chinatown and the North End (Italian).
The best sit-down restaurants can be quite crowded in the evenings on weekends. Unless you have a reservation, be prepared to wait anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on how refined your tastes are.
If you are indecisive, visit one of the outdoor commercial areas listed in the previous section (or the Prudential) and walk around until you find something that sounds tasty and in your price range.
The North End is full of Italian eateries, and it's certain that you'll find something here to your liking. Take the Green or Orange Lines to the Haymarket T, follow the pedestrian passageway through the Big Dig, and then follow the signs to Hanover Street, the main commercial thoroughfare. Most of the good restaurants are on this street or on side streets. While you're here, may we recommend:
Outside the North End:
With a large Irish population, Boston has a number of very good Irish pubs.
Crime and other hazards in Boston are fairly typical for a large American city. Some neighborhoods (Roxbury, Dorchester, Charlestown, and parts of Jamaica Plain - all of which are off the beaten tourist path) are more dangerous than average, and extra care should be taken. Avoid walking in these areas at night if possible. Also avoid public parks after dark (unless there's a special event), especially the Fens.
Dial 911 from any telephone for emergency police, medical, and fire services.
Greater Boston uses 10-digit dialing. This means you need to include the area code whenever you are making a call.
Boston makes an excellent starting point for any tour of New England.