Boston Aerial View
Boston from above (Photo credit: Monica Volpin)

Boston Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • The capital of Massachusetts, Boston has a population of ~626,000.
  • Founded in 1630 by Puritan colonists, Boston is the oldest city in New England.
  • Many crucial events of the American Revolution happened in the city, including the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and Paul Revere’s “midnight ride.”
  • Known for its baseball and football teams, the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots, as well as its Italian and Irish neighbourhoods.
  • Nicknames: Beantown, Hub of the Universe, Athens of America, The Walking City, The City on a Hill, The Puritan City, America’s College Town. Locals are called Bostonians.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: US Dollar (USD)
  • Spoken languages: English.
  • Best time to visit: it has been said that Boston’s four seasons are “pre-winter, winter, post-winter, and sweaty.” While the weather can be hit-or-miss anytime of the year, your best bet is to visit in May, or between September and November.
  • Arriving via airport: the MBTA offers Blue Line Subway and Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit between Logan Airport and Downtown Boston. The Blue Line goes to the Back Bay, Fenway, Downtown, Boston College, and Boston University. The Silver Line goes to Harvard, Cambridge, MIT, and downtown Boston. The trip will cost you under $3. Taxis from Logan to Downtown Boston average $25.
  • Wireless Internet is available at most cafés and coffee shops, though often for a fee, and is free at many hotels.

WHERE TO STAY

Great areas to stay in include: the Back Bay, Boston Common, downtown, North End, Financial District, and the waterfront. Located right across the Charles River (easily accessible from downtown via subway), Cambridge is also a popular spot (home to world renowned institutions Harvard University and MIT). Another option is to check Craigslist for short-term apartment rentals, which are particularly plentiful during the summer.

GETTING AROUND

  • Boston has the oldest subway system in the country, and it is still in operation.
  • The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority is responsible for running all the buses, trolleys, subways, ferries, and the commuter rail (which provides services as far down as Providence, Rhode Island). Boston bus fares are $1.25 with a Charlie Card, and $1.50 with a Charlie Ticket. T Fares are $1.70 with a Charlie Card, and $2 with a ticket.
  • Taxis are available almost everywhere. The main taxi companies are: Top Cab (617-266-4800), Boston Cab (617-536-3200), I.T.O.A. Cab (617-825-4000), City Cab (617-536-5100), and Metro Cab (617-782-5500).
  • Drivers in Southie are pretty aggressive, and double-parking is very common. If you’re parked in Southie, give yourself a little extra time to make sure you can get your car out.
  • Be careful of the Commercial Street, Washington Street, Causeway Street, and Charlestown Bridge intersection. Endicott Street is just off the side of this intersection, and has a stop sign and not a stop light. Drivers do not know how to act at this stop sign and will often pull right out in front of traffic.
  • Boston is also something of a biking city, though good urban biking skills are a must. Many bikers take the Southwest Corridor Bike Path, which connects Forest Hills to the Back Bay. Hubway offers bike rentals at dozens of kiosks throughout the city.

BOSTON NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 21, and last call is 1 AM (a few bars serve alcohol until 2 AM).
  • Mainstream scene: Charles Avenue, Downtown, Kingston.
  • Upscale scene: Central Square, Cambridge, Financial District, Beacon Hill.
  • Check out Boylston Street in the Back Bay, which boasts a large assortment of popular restaurants, bars, and clubs.
  • For the student crowd, check out the areas around the main universities (Boston University, Harvard, MIT, and Tufts) have many bar and restaurant options.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Tip: If you’re planning on seeing a number of museums, it’s worth looking into the City Pass
  • The Paul Revere House in the North End was built around 1680, and owned by Paul Revere from 1770 to 1800. Revere owned the house at the time of his famous midnight ride.
  • Make sure to check out the Arnold Arboretum. Harvard University was given a thousand-year lease on the land (a portion of James Arnold’s estate) in an agreement with the City of Boston. As trustee, Harvard is directly responsible for the development, maintenance, and operation of the 281-acre Arboretum. There are a number of events, tours, and art shows that happen in the Arboretum regularly.
  • The Nichols House Museum is located on Mount Vernon Street, and is the former home to suffragist Rose Standish Nichols. Built in 1804, this four-storey townhouse is one of the earliest Beacon Hill houses.
  • Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor holds the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. Boston Light was originally constructed in 1716, and was the site of a conflict during the American Revolution. Boston Light is the only lighthouse maintained by the United States Coast Guard.
  • Faneuil Hall, possibly the best-known stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail, historically served as a marketplace and a space for town hall meetings and was frequently a site of protests against taxation on the colonies. Today, the shops on the building’s first floor, as well as the nearby conglomeration of restaurants and bars, are very popular with tourists.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Disasters, Dirty Deeds, and Debauchery is a self-guided walking tour of Boston organized by Walk Boston. Tracing the legendary happenings of the Great Molasses Flood, the Common’s 17th century Hanging Tree, and the Brinks Robbery, the walk starts in Chinatown and ends at the Boston National Park. You will pass by the New England Holocaust Memorial.
  • Go for a stroll through the Financial District to check out the Government Center, the Old State House, the Stock Exchange Building, the Grain and Flour Exchange, and the Old Corner Bookstore.
  • Enjoy historic Beacon Hill. One of the most desirable and expensive neighborhoods in Boston, Beacon Hill is full of Federal-style rowhouses, narrow streets, brick sidewalks, and gas lamps. Beacon Hill has been home to several famous people including: Louisa May Alcott, Sylvia Plath, and David Lee Roth. The Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association has organized a fabulous self-guided walking tour.
  • Charlestown is the oldest neighborhood in Boston, and its residents maintain a strong Irish-American identity. Walk through Charlestown and take in a number of sites of historical interest including: Bunker Hill, the Charlestown Navy Yard, and Warren Tavern.
  • Walk along the Charles River Esplanade, a park situated in Boston’s Back Bay area. The park’s trails include an 18-mile loop along the basin on both sides of the river.
  • A walk through Cambridge’s Harvard and Central Squares will take you past dozens of shops, cafés, and bookstores, while letting you bask in the intellectual atmosphere of the Harvard and MIT campuses.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Tip: If you ask for a “coffee regular” or “regular coffee” you’re likely to get a caffeinated coffee with cream and sugar. If you want it with nothing added, order a black coffee.
  • Boston is a year-round walking city, so be sure to bring comfortable and appropriate footwear for whatever time of year you’re visiting.
  • Where to find good cheap eats: Dorchester has just about every kind of cheap food you could want. Chinatown is the place to go for Asian cuisine of all kinds, and Roxbury is where you want to go for African American, Soul Food, and Hispanic food.
  • Something you may hear about is American Chop Suey. Not in any way related to Chinese food, this is a concoction of elbow macaroni with hamburg (ground beef), tomato sauce, and some green pepper and onion. This dish is called “goulash” in Rochester, NY.
  • Dangerous areas: avoid Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, The Combat Zone (Boylston/Chinatown), Roxbury, and the South End (past Columbus, near Mass Avenue) at night.

Recommended Boston Guide Books

Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days


SEE ALSO:
Boston Travel Guide was last modified: September 23rd, 2016 by Nick
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