Inspiration for your next holiday
Inspiration for your next holiday
Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the oldest cities in the United States with a prominent history in forming modern America. The revolutionary landmarks are dotted around the city and cleverly joined together by a freedom trail, which connects the main tourist districts.
Despite its heritage, Boston feels every bit the modern American metropolis with a fanatical sporting culture, world renowned colleges, great shopping, and a thriving culinary scene.
Often overshadowed by New York as the number one East Coast destination, Boston has a universal appeal and feels much more manageable for those who want a holiday with some relaxation.
This guide will detail each of the main districts in Boston and help you choose the best area for your trip.
Boston lies along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and is divided by the mighty Charles River, which separates trendy Cambridge and the other must-see districts.
Unlike other cities of its size, Boston's Downtown and surrounding districts are green, pedestrian-focused, and family-friendly. There is also limited traffic due to an expansive underground transport system.
If you are new to Boston, the best districts to stay in are: 1) Downtown 2) Back Bay 3) Beacon Hill 4) North End 5) Cambridge districts.
The map below shows the main tourist areas of Boston and the three MBTA subway lines (orange, green and blue)
The central districts of Boston: 1) The Greenway (Downtown) 2) Downtown 3) China Town (Downtown) 4) Beacon Hill 5) Seaport 6) North End 7) West End 8) The Fenway 9) South End 10) Back Bay 11) Cambridge
The map below shows the location of hotels and rental rooms in Boston. By altering the date of your trip, the map will display current prices and availability:
If you've never visited Boston before, it's recommended to stay in the Downtown or Beacon Hill districts. Both locations are central, well-connected by the T metro and have all the amenities, restaurants, and must-see sights nearby.
Downtown Boston appeals to those who want a luxury or good quality hotel within the bustle of shops and markets and feel like they are in the city. In comparison, Beacon Hill's red brick streets make it feel more historic, relaxed, and calm.
Top tip: For those visiting from Europe, it is vital to ensure that your hotel is easily accessible via the T-metro after a long flight. Early check-in and 24-hour receptions are also a great advantage for those with flights arriving at unsociable hours.
Downtown is the beating heart of Boston's centre, with great shopping options, an enormous number of restaurants, and cultural sights that merge with modern skyscrapers. Downtown is also home to the famous Celtics Basketball and Bruins Ice hockey teams.
The Downtown area is close to everything and is often subdivided into interesting neighbourhoods such as Waterfront, Financial, Faneuil/Haymarket and the open leafy area of the Greenway.
Downtown accommodation options are mostly made up of luxury hotel chains that are continuously busy and expensive. Last-minute deals are rarely available, and it is worthwhile either booking far in advance or staying mid-week to get the best prices. To be at the heart of everything day and night, it is wise to be located around Faneuil Hall, as this makes everything walkable.
For those arriving by car, it is vital to choose a hotel with parking included as this is extremely expensive; those wanting to drive into central Boston are recommended instead to park in Cambridge and take the T into Downtown.
Downtown has an endless array of sights for everyone and must-see attractions include:
• Visiting the famous Aquarium to see a host of Atlantic and tropical fish from around the world.
• Book in advance to watch a Celtic or Bruin home game at TD Garden stadium to see the locals go wild.
• Roaming the food halls at Quincy, Faneuil and the Haymarket and trying fresh seafood and the local lobster roll
• Roaming the Harbour walk to see Boston's coastline of islands and heading into the North end for food.
• Getting an original Boston Cream Pie at the Omni Parker Hotel.
For those with more time and energy to roam, it is also well worth exploring the financial district area of Downtown, which has many sights, such as the Old State House, which is surrounded by modern architecture.
By night, Downtown separates into smaller areas worth exploring, including Chinatown and the Theatre District. However, our top recommendation is to head to Quincy Market and the streets surrounding which are filled with Irish bars and nightclubs. For a special speakeasy experience, also try the 'Wig shop' in Downtown Crossing.
Beacon Hill is easily one of Boston's most picturesque areas: This neighbourhood is the colonial heart of the city and is filled with 18th and 19th-century buildings housing the best brunches in town, boutique shops and artsy cafes.
There are only a few boutique hotels in Beacon Hill, but these are amongst the most unique in the city and are perfect for those that want to avoid large chains and get more of a personalised experience. Prices in Beacon Hill are expensive, and this area must be booked well in advance. However, it is a great option for tourists who want a quieter, more cultural experience.
Beacon Hill has some of the most iconic sights of Boston, and must-see attractions include:
• Spending a morning roaming the quirky shops and having the best brunch in town at the famous Paramount.
• Relaxing in the Public Gardens and Boston Common
• Exploring the historic buildings along the cobbled streets of Louisburg Square, Mount Vernon, Acorn, and Chesnut streets.
• Visiting the state house and starting the freedom trail to learn about Boston's revolutionary past.
For those visiting with young children, Beacon Hill is a good place to take a Duck tour of the city on board a submersible bus that finishes with a ride down the Charles River, or on a serene swan boat in Boston Common.
The nightlife in Beacon Hill feels very trendy and sophisticated. Locals tend to head to fine restaurants and small cocktail bars. Our top recommendation is to head to the Liberty Hotel. Alternatively, visitors can also have more of a tourist experience at the famous 'Cheers' bar.
Back Bay is one of the most well-known districts in Boston and is home to Newbury Street. The area features a variety of shops, restaurants that serve high-quality cuisine, outdoor cafes covered by flowering trees, and several museums. Back Bay is one of the best areas for shopping in Boston.
Hotels in Back Bay are typically 4 or 5 stars and still considered expensive. Booking early is again vital to ensure the best deal and hotel options. For visitors with children, this area is a wise option as all the Hotels within Copley Mall are connected to air-conditioned shops and have swimming pools: This is vital for those visiting in the hot summer months.
Must-see attractions in Back Bay include:
• Taking the lift to the top of the Prudential building, which has spectacular Skyline views of the city.
• Exploring the trendy and boutique shops of Newbury Street.
• Eating Alfresco along Newbury Street and people watching
• Spending a peaceful afternoon exploring the collections at the Boston Public Library
By evening, Back Bay continues to be a family-friendly and welcoming neighbourhood, and the red brick side streets are beautiful to roam in 'golden' hour. For those looking for a drink, heading to Boylston Street as the locals do is worthwhile.
The famous North End is home to attractions such as the Paul Revere House and the Harbour Walk. You'll also find plenty of history here thanks to its rich culture and colonial architecture, including several notable churches. Visitors will often refer to this district as "Little Italy" due to the numerous amounts of Italian restaurants and bakeries.
Despite its welcoming and family-friendly atmosphere, the North End has very few accommodation options: For those wanting to stay in this neighbourhood filled with Italian warmth, it is wise to book extra early or to be located nearby in Downtown.
While the North End does not have the abundance of sights that other neighbourhoods have, it is a wonderful area to roam, explore shops and eat red sauce Italian dishes and feel completely absorbed into Italian culture. For those with a sweet tooth, it is wise to get a cannoli at Mike's Pastry.
Cambridge is on the western side of the Charles River and is the setting for Boston's famed universities, Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). There is a trendy multi-cultural vibe among the quiet streets and pretty parks. Because of the universities, there is a blossoming arts scene and a diversity of restaurants and evening hangouts.
Generally, for a trip to Boston, it's better to be based closer to the city centre and visit Cambridge as a day trip. However, if you've been to Boston before, this is a trendy and alternative neighbourhood to be based in. Cambridge also has more affordable hotel options near Kendall Square for those visiting Boston on a budget. We recommend the Hyatt or Royal Sonesta.
Cambridge is easily accessible via the Metro Red Line, with stops at either Kendall (for MIT) or Harvard.
Must-see attractions in Cambridge include:
• Roaming Harvard Yard and taking a tour of the iconic buildings.
• Exploring MIT and its famous museum.
• Visiting the renowned Harvard Museum of Natural History.
• Roaming the shops and new eateries at Harvard Square
• Having an evening drink at Kendall Square.
Other interesting neighbourhoods
While Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox baseball team, is still the main draw to Fenway, it is certainly not the only thing worthwhile exploring within this District.
The wider Fenway area also has a Timeout Food Market with a host of local and exotic culinary delights, a collection of top US colleges and two of the city's finest Art establishments, The Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum).
Boston has a strong sporting culture, and it is highly recommended to catch a home game if you get the chance between April and September. On visiting a baseball game, tourists will discover that the game is only half the entertainment, and the fanatical fans, big screen entertainment and food/beverages all make it worthy of the ticket price.
Seaport is an up-and-coming District. The area feels industrial chic, as its name suggests, and is developing all the time into a hub for modern living and nightlife. There are hotels in this area, but for the majority of tourists, this area is still slightly off the beaten path and best explored on an evening.
Seaport is worthy of an excursion for the popular Children's Museum, Harpoon Brewery and general trendy start-up eateries and bars.
North of the Charles River is the historical neighbourhood of Charleston and the monument of Bunker Hill. This district is bypassed by many but is worthy of exploring at the end of the freedom trail for its picturesque streets and peaceful red brick buildings.
The Greenway Walk is one of the most unique areas in Boston and is located Downtown near Beacon Hill and the North End. Here you can find miles of walking and cycling paths that follow extinct rail lines. You'll also find a variety of murals as you explore between parks such as Memorial Park, Piers Park, and Constitution Beach, offering a plethora of playgrounds, gardens, dog parks, and outdoor activities.
Always choose the location in Boston you want to be based in, before looking for accommodation. This may sound obvious, but it is all too easy to be sucked in by an amazing discount or outstanding reviews, without really considering which area you will be staying in.
Also consider your needs before booking accommodation. Do you need car parking with your accommodation or do you want to be close to a 'T' subway station.
Despite its size, the main tourist areas of Boston are packed closely together and connected by an unattractive, yet efficient metro system named the 'T'. This system is easy to navigate by coloured lines and negates the need for bus or car transport. Many of the main stops are self-named, but all stations have staff who are usually more than happy to give directions.
For couples wishing to spend quality time together away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Beacon Hill is a picturesque neighbourhood to start the day, brunch and then return to after sightseeing for a romantic cocktail and quiet meal.
For anyone planning a romantic getaway to Boston, it is highly recommended to plan far in advance to be able to stay in this small neighbourhood, as there are limited boutique hotels.
For those visiting on business, Downtown is by far the easiest neighbourhood to get to, be easily connected to great food, entertainment, and sights, all accessible in a short stroll after a day in the office. Hotels within Downtown are high-end, designed for business travellers, and many have dine-in options for ease.
If you're visiting Boston for a relaxing vacation, Beacon Hill or Charleston are great laid-back options with wonderful brunch spots and boutique shops. These picturesque neighbourhoods are wonderful to roam at a relaxed pace and are easily connected to the centre by the T metro.
Boston is a great city for families as it is easily explored on foot, has a wide host of activities and is relatively calm due to the lack of traffic. We highly recommend staying within one of the Copley Mall based hotels in Back Bay: These are close to shops, quick-eat restaurants and have great amenities.
For those travelling with children, it is highly recommended to take a Duck bus tour of the city (from Beacon Hill), visit the Aquarium and spend time at Quincy Market watching the street performers, visit the dinosaur exhibition and dining at one of the many family-friendly restaurants.
As far as partying goes, there are a few districts that have the most nightlife and entertainment. The first is Back Bay or Downtown since they're known for their lively bars and nightclubs. P For a unique nightlife experience, head over to Seaport District. Here, you'll find a variety of laid-back bars and lounges that have a more relaxed atmosphere. If you're looking for a more chill night out, this is where you'll want to go.
It's best to avoid the Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roslindale neighbourhoods. These areas are on the outskirts of Boston, far from most tourist attractions and top hotels. Not only are they primarily residential and not well-known to visitors, but there aren't many options for entertainment or dining in these districts.