Boston: a neighbourhood guide

By Jen Rose Smith, USA-based journalist and writer.

Photography by Getty Images

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December 2017

Whether you’re a history buff, a dedicated shopper, a baseball fan or simply in search of the perfect clam chowder, Boston has you covered. There’s a reason locals have the confidence to nickname their city the ‘hub of the universe’.

Downtown Boston

This is the city’s historic heart, where gleaming skyscrapers jostle for space with colonial-era landmarks.


Among Boston’s best-known historic hotels, the Omni Parker House is famous as the birthplace of the Boston cream pie. It’s even been claimed that future revolutionary Ho Chi Minh whipped up hundreds while working as a baker in the hotel’s kitchen. Save room for a slice of the sweet treat after a day of exploring the nearby Boston Common, the very first city park in the United States.


Sidle up to the bar at Union Oyster House for a meal of traditional New England fare, from creamy clam chowder to fresh molluscs from Katama Bay. This is one of America’s oldest restaurants, and the menu includes throwbacks like gingerbread and oysters Rockefeller. Eat at the raw bar to watch the lightning-fast oyster shuckers, or request the ‘Kennedy Booth’, the former President’s favourite spot.


Trace the history of the American Revolution on the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile route stretching from Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. It’s easy to explore on your own, but for the full colonial-era immersion, opt for a walking tour led by the costumed Freedom Trail Players.

Rows of Victorian brownstones make Back Bay one of Boston’s most elegant neighbourhoods, and the chic shops of Newbury Street are ideal for an afternoon of browsing.

  • Catch a Red Sox game at iconic Fenway Park © Alamy.

    Have a ball

    Fenway Park was built in 1912, with the first baseball game taking place on 20 April between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Highlanders – the Red Sox won. The Park has since hosted the World Series ten times.

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  • Enjoy a night at the slick XV Beacon Hotel.

    Shining beacon

    This luxury boutique hotel – housed in a turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts building in the heart of the city – offers up a distinguished art collection and extraordinary interiors.

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  • Try the Blackened Mahi Mahi tacos at Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar © Adam DeTour.

    Dinner date

    From Mexican-inspired eats washed down with tequila to late-night bowls of Ramen, the culinary scene in Boston is flourishing. For drinks with a twist, head to the avant-garde ArtScience where each cocktail is named after an exotic animal.

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Back Bay

Rows of Victorian brownstones make this one of Boston’s most elegant neighbourhoods, and the chic shops of Newbury Street are ideal for an afternoon of browsing.


The view from the Fairmont Copley Plaza makes it hard to leave the glittering comfort of the hotel, which looks out over the historic Trinity Church and Boston Public Library. But don’t miss the chance for a stroll with the Fairmont’s ‘canine concierge,’ a friendly black Labrador named Carly Copley.


After a day of exploring, enjoy a shot and a taco from Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar, a moody, Gothic-style bar which offers fresh takes on Mexican classics. Start by trying to choose between the hundreds of tequilas, before moving on to the innovative cocktail list, or vice versa.


The Boston Public Library is a grand space with halls adorned with paintings by John Singer Sargent. The gorgeously vaulted main reading room is a sublime place for an afternoon read. Meanwhile, just beyond Back Bay, head to the baseball diamond at Fenway Park to catch a Boston Red Sox game, best accompanied by a cold beer and a ‘Fenway Frank’: a hot dog with mustard, relish, and chopped onions.

  • Boston Public Library is a sight to behold and contains over 1.2 million rare books © Alamy.


    The city’s public library is much more than a place to borrow books. Built in 1895, the Renaissance Revival building contains many art gems including paintings, tapestries and sculptures – don’t miss John Singer Sargent’s murals on the third floor.

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Beacon Hill

Cobblestoned streets lead to cute parks and chic cafes in a neighbourhood that’s framed by the Charles River and Boston Public Garden.


The XV Beacon is a luxurious, cosy hotel with impeccable guest rooms. Artworks chosen to complement the Beaux-Arts building include works by American portraitist Gilbert Stuart.


In keeping with the Beacon hill neighbourhood’s romantic feel, Grotto offers tables for two in a dimly lit (in a good way) dining room that’s sunken below street level. The prix fixe menu is a great introduction to Grotto’s refined, Italian-inspired dishes, which include butter-poached New England lobster with linguine and a fiery tomato sauce.


Head to the Boston Public Garden to ride one of the iconic Swan Boats – an Instagram photo waiting to happen. When evening falls over Beacon Hill, continue to the Charles River for some open-air music at the Hatch Shell, an outdoor concert venue at the water’s edge.

  • Explore the pretty cobblestone streets in the historic Beacon Hill area © Alamy.

    Up your street

    With its pretty terraced houses, narrow streets lit by antique Victorian lanterns, red brick sidewalks, chic boutiques and antiques shops, Beacon Hill is one of the most desirable (and Instagram-worthy) neighbourhoods in Boston. 

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  • With an emphasis on New England culinary traditions, Loyal Nine does a great line in seafood.

    Chow down

    New England cuisine has an emphasis on seafood and dairy thanks to its history of fishing and dairy farming, with clam chowder being one of the region’s most famous dishes.

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  • The 80-mile Charles River in Massachusetts flows through many cities and towns before reaching Boston © Alamy.

    Go with the flow

    The Charles River is not only home to acres of wetlands, but is also a magnet for outdoorsy types who like watersports, both recreational and competitive. From rowing and kayaking to paddle boarding and dragon boating.

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Just across the Charles River from the heart of Boston, Cambridge is the ultimate American university town, anchored by the heavyweights of Harvard and MIT – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


With views of the river and the Boston skyline, Hotel Marlowe is well positioned between the student haven of Cambridge and the hectic heart of the city. It’s perfect for active travellers, who can snag one of the hotel’s fleet of kayaks for a morning paddle or borrow a bicycle for a trip along the riverside cycle path.


Serving ‘East Coast Revival’ cuisine in a space that’s all unfinished wood and polished concrete, Loyal Nine puts the spotlight on local fish and farm produce, with plenty of foraged ingredients from the New England forest and coast.


Go back to school at a pair of vibrant campuses: Harvard and the MIT both offer student-led tours of their sprawling grounds, which include first-class art, science, and history museums. For something less highbrow, catch a few sets at the Comedy Studio on Harvard Square, where you might see America’s next big stand-up comedians perform – on the third floor of a Chinese restaurant.