boston neighbourhood guide
Named for the once-backwater tidal flat of the Charles River upon which the neighbourhood sits, the Back Bay is famous for its excellent shopping, dining, and characteristic brownstone apartment buildings. The neighbourhood was created atop a land reclamation in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, and quickly became the home for affluent Bostonians who wished to escape the bustle of the old city. Because it was conceived on a flat surface (unusual for Boston), the streets of the Back Bay are arranged on a grid pattern. The neighbourhood is bound by Beacon Street and the Charles River to the north and the Mass. Pike to the south, and beginning at the Public Gardens to the east, its streets progress alphabetically from Arlington Street to Hereford Street in the west.
The Back Bay is bisected by Commonwealth Avenue — a stately linear park — and has two main shopping streets: the swanky Newbury Street, with its many cafés, high-end art galleries, and designer clothing stores; and Boylston Street, with larger department stores and the Prudential Center, the city’s largest mall. Back Bay is also home to a number of cultural attractions, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Copley Square, Trinity Church, and Symphony Hall.
Perhaps Boston’s most famous neighbourhood, Beacon Hill sits atop the remnants of the old Trimountain — the large hill that defined the Bostonian landscape before it was reduced for the city’s landfill projects. The small district is famous for its Boston Brahmin culture, its narrow cobbled streets, and its Federal-style rowhouses. The north side of the hill historically contained a large African American community and the neighbourhood was an important centre for the Abolition movement.
Beacon Hill is primarily a quiet residential area, but its streets are popular amongst visitors, who marvel at the district’s architecture and its functional gas streetlamps. The Massachusetts State House enjoys a position at the crest of the hill, and overlooks the Boston Common and Beacon Street. Beacon Hill is centred upon the north-south Charles Street. The street is home to some of the city’s finest restaurants and is widely considered to contain one of the highest concentrations of antique stores in the country.
Located across the Charles River from downtown Boston, Charlestown was established two years earlier than Boston, in 1628. Most famous for being the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, Charlestown is today the permanent home of the U.S.S. Constitution. The Freedom Trail crosses the Charles River to Charlestown, where it encounters the Constitution before continuing to the grand obelisk of the Bunker Hill Memorial. Its red-brick colonial housing vernacular is not dissimilar to that of Beacon Hill.
Boston has one of the most vibrant Chinatowns in North America. The first Chinese immigrants arrived in the city in the late nineteenth century and began congregating to the south of Downtown along Washington Street and the surrounding sidestreets. The region also became the city’s garment district, and several fabric manufacturers and stores remained open until the 1990s. Today, Chinatown is more renowned for its excellent Asian cuisine and its small family-run shops.
Downtown Boston encompasses the districts of Downtown Crossing, the Financial District, and Government Center. Its main streets include Summer Street, Washington Street, Franklin Street, and Congress Street. Boston’s Downtown is also its main shopping district. At Downtown Crossing, visitors are greeted with many department stores, including Macy’s and the flagship Filene’s, as well as an assortment of street vendors and smaller merchants. Nearby Government Center is Fanueil Hall Marketplace, site of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. These important colonial buildings are now incorporated into a larger civic facility, with excellent shopping, dining, and often lively entertainment from street buskers and artists.
Famous for its most famous attraction, Fenway Park — the home of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway-Kenmore sits at the west end of the Back Bay over former swampland once known as the Back Bay Fens. The district is home to a number of restaurants and bars that cater to the stadium crowd, as well as two universities, Northeastern and much of Boston University. There are also several art colleges in the neighbourhood, and the district is home to some notable small galleries, including the Isabella Stuart Gardiner Museum.
The North End
The North End is Boston’s oldest and densest residential neighbourhood. It has variously been the home of Irish, Jewish, and most recently, Italian immigrants to the city, but it was also central to Bostonian civic life during the Colonial era and was a key district to the efforts of the American independence movement. The street pattern of the North End is more akin to a Mediaeval European city than a modern American one, and the neighbourhood is characterized by nineteenth century tenement apartment buildings. Several significant Federal sites dot the landscape of the North End, including Old North Church, the Paul Revere Statue, Paul Revere’s House, Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, and the Pierce-Hitchborn House. The Freedom Trail takes visitors to the North End to all of these sites.
The North End is today most famous for its vibrant Italian community. The district’s main arteries, Hanover, Salem, and Prince Streets, contain numerous family-operated Italian restaurants, bakeries, and cafés that serve specialties in the old world style. The neighbourhood also plays host to a number of Italian festivals, and is considered to be one of the best people-watching locations in Boston.
The South End
The South End lies to the south of Back Bay, and like its neighbour, it lies mostly on reclaimed land from the Charles River. The neighbourhood’s main thoroughfares are Washington Street and Tremont Street, where visitors can find a diverse mix of restaurants from many different cuisines on what is considered Boston’s “Restaurant Row”. The also contains some of Boston’s most prestigious housing, with characteristic mid-nineteenth century bowfront houses dominating the local vernacular. The South End is North America’s largest district of intact housing from the Victorian era.