Boston is the largest city in New England, the capital of the state of Massachusetts, and one of the most historic, wealthy and influential cities in the United States of America. Its plethora of museums, historical sights, and wealth of live performances, all explain why the city gets 16.3 million visitors a year, making it one of the ten most popular tourist locations in the country.
Although not part of Boston, the neighboring cities of Cambridge, Brookline, Somerville, Quincy, Malden and Revere are functionally integrated with Boston by mass transit. Cambridge, just across the Charles River, is home to Harvard, MIT, local galleries, restaurants, and bars and is an essential addition to any visit to Boston. Brookline is nearly surrounded by Boston and has its own array of restaurants and shopping.
Neighborhood nicknames are in (parentheses).
Boston is a city of diverse neighborhoods, many of which were originally towns in their own right before being annexed to the city. This contributes to a strong pride within the neighborhoods of Boston, and many people will often tell you they are from "JP" (Jamaica Plain), "Dot" (Dorchester), "Southie" (South Boston), or "Eastie" (East Boston), rather than that they are from Boston. Alternatively, people from the suburbs will tell you they are from Boston when in fact they live in one of the nearby (or even outlying) suburbs. If in doubt, you can look for "Resident Parking Only" street signs, which will identify what neighborhood you are in.
Another consequence of this expansion is that the neighborhoods, in addition to their cultural identities, also retained most of their street names, regardless of whether or not Boston -or another absorbed town- already had a street with the same name. According to a survey by The Boston Globe, there are at least 200 street names that are duplicated in one or more neighborhoods in Boston. For instance, Washington Street in Downtown Boston, is different from Washington Street in Dorchester and another Washington Street in Jamaica Plain. This can play havoc with web-based mapping and direction services.
Be aware that geographic references in district names tend to mean little. For example, South Boston is different from the South End, which is actually west of South Boston and north of Dorchester and Roxbury districts. Some other confusing notables: East Boston and Charlestown are further north than the North End. The West End is in the northern part of town (bordering the North End and Charles River).
Among Boston's many neighborhoods, the historic areas of Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, Downtown, Fenway-Kenmore, the Financial District, Government Center, the North End, and the South End comprise the area considered "Boston Proper." It is here where most of the buildings that make up the city's skyline are located. The term "Greater Boston" originally referred to the new city boundaries established in the late 19th century as Dorchester, Brighton, Charlestown, and so on were annexed to Boston Proper. Nowadays however it is more apt to refer to the larger area consisting of Boston and its suburbs, particularly those that belong to the same public transit system (the MBTA).
The Back Bay is one of the few neighborhoods with streets organized on a grid. It is so named because it used to be mud flats on the river, until the city filled in the bay in a land-making project ending in 1862. It is now one of the higher-rent neighborhoods in the city. The north-south streets crossing the axis of Back Bay are organized alphabetically. Starting from the east, at the Public Garden, and heading west, they are: Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester (pronounced 'gloster'), and Hereford. After Hereford Street is Massachusetts Avenue, more commonly known as Mass. Av., and then Charlesgate, which marks the western boundary of Back Bay. The alphabetical street names continue a little way into the Fenway neighborhood on the other side of Charlesgate, with Ipswich, Jersey, and Kilmarnock, but the streets are no longer arranged in a grid.
There are also several "districts" you might hear mentioned. "Districts" are generally areas of common interest located within a larger neighborhood:
New England is unpredictable and becomes very cold in the winter and is prone to mild bouts of humidity in the summer. The vast majority of tourism in Boston takes place in the summer, from late May through late September, when the weather is ideal and the most attractions are open. Boston summers are quite comfortable, with sunshine 60-65% of the time and highs in the mid 70s to low 80s F (mid to upper 20s C).
When the heat does start, there are some beaches within the city, and many beaches outside of it, for swimming. The Standells classic "Dirty Water" doesn't apply any more as the water is safe to swim in thanks to the Boston Harbor Cleanup project. Beware that no matter how hot it is outside, the ocean water will not be warm.
Early and late summer tends to be nice, but this varies by year. In that time, the temperature will be perfect, and there will be no humidity. The city does have unpredictable stretches of heat between late June and early August when low 90s and high humidity are expected. All public transit options, including cabs, buses, and the subway system (called the "T") are air-conditioned.
Boston's fall foliage is at or near its peak beauty in mid-October, which also normally offers the advantage of many crisp sunny day (outside the city itself, peak foliage timing depends on how far north or south you venture from Boston.)
If you visit during the less busy wintertime, the Atlantic Ocean has a large moderating effect on temperatures. The average low in January is 22F/-5C, so as long as you dress appropriately, you should be fine.
Massachusetts' first governor, John Winthrop, famously called Boston a "shining city on the hill," a reference to Jerusalem and a declaration of the original settlers' intent to build a utopian Christian colony. From the very beginning, the people who lived there declared their home to be one of the most important cities in the world. Considering that the American Revolution and modern democracy got their start thanks to Bostonians, and that Winthrop’s quote is still used in modern political speech, one could argue that they were right!
The father of American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes) once called the Boston statehouse "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 for centuries the seat of the USA's social elite, Boston lost prominence in the early twentieth century, largely to the cities of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Over the past two decades, Boston has regained political, cultural, and economic importance.
In 1629, English Reverend William Blackstone was the first English immigrant to arrive in the city. A year later, John Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay Colony had followed. The Massachusetts Bay Colony were Puritan religious dissidents who had fled England to find freedom in the New World. At the time the city was called Shawmut, a name coined by Native American settlers, however now a new settlement, Winthrop had decided to rename the city Boston after his hometown in England. Because of its easily-defended harbor and the fact that it is the closest port to Europe it rapidly assumed a leading role in the fledging 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 also a city of great intellectual potential. Many statesmen had emerged in Boston along with prestigious Schools such as Harvard and the first public school in America, Boston Latin. With the founding of these schools as well as the first printing press in New England, Boston was becoming more of a colonial society.
Bostonians were the instigators of the independence movement in the 18th century and the city was the center of America's revolutionary activity during the Colonial period. Several of the first Revolutionary War skirmishes were fought there, including the Boston Massacre, The Boston Tea Party, and the battles of Lexington and Concord -which were fought nearby. Boston's direct involvement in the Revolution ended after the Battle of Bunker Hill and, soon afterwards, the ending of the Siege of Boston by George Washington. For some time afterwards the city's political leaders continued to have a leading role in developing of the new country's system of government. 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 aristocracy in the United States. Their patronage of the arts and progressive social ideals was unprecedented in the New World, and often conflicted with the city's Puritan foundations. They helped drive unprecedented scientific, educational and social change that would soon sweep the country. The Abolitionist movement, anesthesia and the telephone are a few examples of this.
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.
From the early twentieth century until the 1970s, Boston's importance on the national stage waned. Cities in what was once the frontier, like Chicago, San Francisco, and later Los Angeles, shifted the nation's center of gravity away from liberty's cradle. In the past two decades, Boston's importance and influence has increased, due to growth in higher education, health care, high technology, and financial services. It remains America's higher educational center; during the school year, one in five Bostonians are university students. There are more college students per square foot in Boston than any other city in the Western Hemisphere.
Boston's nicknames include "Beantown", "The Hub" (shortened from Oliver Wendell Holmes' phrase 'The Hub of the Universe'), "The City of Higher Learning" (due to the plethora of universities and colleges in the Boston area) and - particularly in the 19th century - "The Athens of America," on account of its great cultural and intellectual influence. If you don't want to stand out as a tourist, don't refer to Boston by any of these nicknames. Locals generally don't use any of them, except the heavy use of "Hub" in journalism (Boston takes up more headline space).
The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau maintains two visitor centers:
The National Park Service also maintains two visitor centers as many of the historic sites in Boston are considered part of the Boston National Historical Park:
Boston Logan International Airport, +1 800-23-LOGAN (56426), () is the main gateway to Boston and New England. It is in East Boston a few kilometers from downtown. It is the major airport for New England and provides non-stop service to most major cities in the United States. Boston is a hub for low cost carrier JetBlue Airways, and is also served domestically by Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, United, and US Airways. Many European carriers also fly to Boston from their hubs including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic (London), Air Canada (Toronto, Montreal), Air France/KLM (Paris, Amsterdam), Alitalia (Rome), Lufthansa (Frankfurt, Munich), Aer Lingus (Dublin, Shannon), Swiss (Zurich), Icelandair (Reykjavik), SATA (Azores, Lisbon) and Iberia (Madrid). Getting to Boston from mainland Asia and South America will usually require at least a one stop connection, although JAL now flies non-stop to Boston from Tokyo-Narita.
Public Airport Transportation
The MBTA Blue Line and Silver Line go to Logan. The Silver Line is a low-floor articulated bus that stops at each terminal every 10 to 15 minutes, from 6AM to 12:45AM every day (5:35AM start M-Sa). From the airport, the bus travels along the South Boston waterfront and terminates at South Station. Convenient transfers are available to the Red Line, south-side commuter rail trains, and southwesterly Amtrak trains. Tickets are $2, and can be purchased in each airport terminal.
To get to/from the Blue Line Airport station from the airport itself, you need to take a free Massport shuttle (check the signs outside the terminals to see which ones to take). As with the Silver Line, tickets are $2: tickets can be purchased using the machines at the station. The last Blue Line train leaves Airport station shortly after about 12:30AM. Unless your final destination is a Red Line subway stop, this is the easiest way to get into the city. To connect to the Red Line, use the Silver Line instead.
Private Airport Transportation
Taxis are more expensive than in many other cities. Fortunately, the airport is very near the city so the fare is not extremely expensive, if your driver is honest. It would be about $25 for fares to Boston, and less if you are staying downtown in the financial district. If you're not driving or being picked up, you'll need to take a taxi if you are at the airport when the T is not running. A number of travelers have reported taxi drivers taking longer routes on purpose, falsely claiming a $40 flat fare to downtown Boston (there are no flat fares from the airport—insist on the meter), or falsely claiming the often more-direct Sumner Tunnel to be closed and taking the much longer Williams Tunnel route instead. You should research your route and inform your driver what route you want to go, or look up the traffic conditions on your smartphone if possible, to avoid being cheated. Note that a $7.50 origination surcharge from the airport is lawful and permissible (including tolls).
Other shuttle services that go to the airport include:
If you're driving to Logan from the north, take the Callahan Tunnel; from the south or the west, take the Ted Williams Tunnel. Routes are well marked, and there is no toll in this direction. Driving from the airport to downtown Boston or to points north, including Interstate 93 northbound (as long as it is at exit, take the Sumner Tunnel; for points south and west, including Interstate 93 southbound (or northbound for exit 23) and Interstate 90, take the Ted Williams Tunnel. There is a $3.50 toll for either tunnel. Routes are well marked, but the airport road system is complex. Read the signs carefully and be sure you're in the correct lane, or you may be forced to swerve across several lanes of traffic to catch an unexpected off-ramp.
You may also consider flying into nearby airports which sometimes offer less expensive fares: Manchester-Boston Regional Airport () (50 miles north of Boston, accessible via Interstate 93) or T.F. Green Airport () (60 miles south of Boston, accessible via Interstate 93 then Interstate 95). Public transportation from these airports to Boston is infrequent, so if your final destination is Boston, renting a car is the best option. The cost of getting from these airports into central Boston often negates any savings on lower airfares.
General Aviation traffic is mostly served by Hanscom Field () off Interstate 95 near Bedford, Lexington and Burlington, northwest of Boston.
Amtrak, +1 800 872-7245, , the national passenger rail service, serves Boston. Boston has three intercity rail stations, which serve both Amtrak and MBTA commuter rail trains.
The following Amtrak routes serve Boston:
There is no direct train service between Canada and Boston. The Amtrak schedule is arranged such that transfers are impractical, especially going from Canada to Boston. You can do it if you're willing to stay overnight in New York City, Albany, Syracuse, or Rochester, but you'll pay for two trips.
The local regional rail system is the MBTA Commuter Rail . If you are coming from Providence, the Commuter Rail is significantly cheaper ($7.75 versus $16) and more frequent than Amtrak. Remember, the North-South rule applies to which station you use. Trains to Plymouth, Worcester, Providence and the South Shore leave from South Station (note, Plymouth trains do NOT service Back Bay). North Station will get you to Rockport, Gloucester, Salem and all other points on the North Shore.
Arriving by train has the advantage of putting you within easy reach of most downtown destinations by public transit. Remember, Boston for the most part is NOT a city for cars!
Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus serve many cities from South Station but are generally much more expensive than the so-called Chinatown buses, with Greyhound and PPB averaging $30 to the Port Authority bus terminal in midtown Manhattan (New York City). However, eSaver fares available online make the Greyhound fare between Boston & NYC as low as $15 each way. The Chinatown buses, along with low-fare competitors Megabus and BoltBus, specialize exclusively in nonstop express service between Boston's South Station and various points in NYC from Chinatown to midtown Manhattan. Some Chinatown buses average $12.50 one way. BoltBus and Megabus also include free WiFi aboard most buses to New York City.
If you are driving in, you may seriously want to consider dropping your car at a lot and taking the "T" in. If you're heading downtown for the touristy sites, you will consider having a car a curse rather than a blessing. Parking at MBTA commuter rail and terminal subway locations is usually cheaper than parking in the city. In particular, the Riverside (Grove Street) stop at the end of the Green D line is right off I-95, and is $5.75 to park ALL DAY. You can even park overnight for $6.75 each extra day. Commuter rail stations are even cheaper. See the Public Transit section in the "Get around" section below.
Boston has two major highways entering it, I-93 and I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike, or "Mass Pike", or just "the Pike"; locals do not usually call it "I-90", though they will typically know what you are referring to). I-93 enters the city from the north and the south; the section running from Boston southward is usually referred to as the "Southeast Expressway" (or just "the Expressway") but the northern section is just "93" (sometimes called the Northern Expressway, although this is much less frequent than I-93 south of Boston's tunnels) The Pike enters Boston from the west. The Mass Pike is a toll road - expect to pay $1.25 to enter the city via the Pike, in addition to the tolls charged when arriving at the I-90 / I-95 interchange in Weston, just outside the city (variable based on distance travelled, max price is $3.85 if you drive all the way from the automatic ticket machines near the New York border). Also, if you enter The Pike in East Boston (at Logan Airport) the toll is $3.50. There are minor roads, of course, that enter Boston as well, including Route 9 (Old Worcester Turnpike), Route 2, and US 1. Another major highway, I-95, encircles the Boston area. Be aware that the vast majority of locals refer to I-95 as "Route 128", which is I-95's former name, so they may not know what is being referred to. Route 128 is still reflected to on signs with I-95 and its signage only due to public pressure on MassDOT. It is rare for traffic reporters to not omit the I-95 and I-93 designations from this stretch. Past Canton and I-93's southern end signs no longer reflect the 128 designation, although traffic reporters and much of the public still call it 128. North of I-95's departure from the half-beltway in Peabody on the North Shore the road is still designated as 128 to its ending. Adding to this mass confusion U.S. 1 follows the southern part of the road, and only white roadside signs indicate the old 128 designation.
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. If you want to use Zipcar, you should try signing up in advance (students of universities in Boston may be able to get a discount). Rental fees and taxes differ between Boston and Cambridge, but the rental agencies at Logan Airport (in East Boston) are still usually less expensive and have a greater fleet of cars available.
In addition to the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), the Sumner Tunnel is a toll road (coming from the airport only), along with the Ted Williams Tunnel (from airport only), and the Tobin Bridge (southbound/from the North Shore only).
If driving on a major highway during rush hour, do not be surprised to see cars driving in the breakdown lane on the shoulder. This is permitted in certain areas, at certain times, as indicated by signs along the road.
As a general rule, especially as a tourist unfamiliar with the city, alternatives are favored over driving - even when just getting in or out of the city. Boston is one of the densest major cities in the U.S. - perfect for walking, biking, or using the collection of mass transit systems known as the T. Driving can be confusing and dangerous with numerous one way streets, narrow roads, and continuous road construction. Driving conditions have improved after the completion of the infamous Big Dig, but it is still not recommended to those unfamiliar with the area.
Navigating the streets of Boston is difficult if you are not familiar with the area. While other American cities have their streets laid out in a grid (New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix), or along a river, lake, or other geographical feature (New Orleans, Cleveland), the modern streets of Boston are a twisty and seemingly incomprehensible maze. Boston in the 1600s was a narrow peninsula surrounded by farmland and distant settlements. Landfill, urban expansion, waves of radical economic change, and new technologies have seen sensible street patterns added on to and collide in less sensible ways. Due to dense development, the older street patterns have largely remained in place without being adapted to their modern surroundings. In this way, Boston is more similar to old European cities than most typical large American cities that were geometrically planned, expanded into unsettled land, or were mainly settled in the late 20th century.
Driving is to be avoided if possible, due to traffic congestion, poor parking options, high driving-associated costs, the complexity of navigation, notoriously aggressive drivers, and difficult-to-follow city rules and signage.
As an alternative (in fair weather), walking is usually preferable in terms of ease, cost, and comfort. Boston is known as an excellent walking city, since it is clean, historic, and generally-safe. It also has excellent public transportation available in the metropolitan area and suburbs, to complement foot travel. Most tourist attractions are readily accessible by foot from the "subway" (the inter-connected, color-coded subway/trolley and hybrid-electric bus lines of the MBTA). Transfers between lines at connecting stations within the "subway" system are free.
Signage is generally poor, and the names of major streets are usually unmarked when crossing minor streets. There are many one-way streets, which may be difficult to identify when turning. Street names are duplicated in different neighborhoods (due to municipal consolidations in the 1800s and early 1900s). Even Bostonians who lived there all their life can easily get lost. Navigating from "square" to "square" (major intersections but rarely actually square or really any consistent shape) is one navigational technique. Some parts of the city are difficult to reach from other nearby parts, prompting the local expression, "Ya cain't get theyah from hee-ah!" ("You can't get there from here!")
Avoid driving at morning or evening rush hour; highways and streets can become quite congested. Peak times vary, depending on relative distance from downtown. Public transit also becomes very crowded during rush hour, and just before and after major sporting events and public celebrations. Baseball games, other major sporting events, and graduations may also cause significant driving congestion.
If you do choose to drive, be prepared to avoid double-parked vehicles or poorly parked vehicles blocking lanes, and be wary of lanes which may suddenly become parking lanes or shift or disappear entirely as you cross intersections. "Left lane must turn" and other traffic directions are often written only on the road itself and therefore may be routinely blocked from sight by other vehicles in heavy traffic, thus last-second lane changes are unavoidable without foreknowledge of the roads. Such changes may be the cause of anger or disputes, so it may be good to wave or request a lane change politely.
When changing lanes, be wary of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as other drivers, since they may cross, split lanes, or even run lights unexpectedly. Massachusetts law requires vehicles to yield to pedestrians, whether or not they're crossing legally. Bicycles are treated as vehicles, and may occupy an entire lane if there is no bike lane. As in any city, be prepared to stop when following a taxi driver, and look for pedestrians to anticipate taxi behavior: taxis will not only stop at fares but also stop at nothing to get to them first. When stopping yourself, use your hazards to clearly indicate that you are stopping as a courtesy to other drivers, many of whom are young students and may be inexperienced with city driving themselves. In terms of the law: if you encounter a rotary, remember that Massachusetts state law gives the right of way to traffic in a rotary, also known as a roundabout in other parts in the world.
Do not pass stopped trolleys on the right; do not try to squeeze past a bus without changing lanes entirely to avoid sharing their lane (you should not pass any vehicle while sharing a lane and buses have large blind spots); and be wary that the law may require you to come to a complete stop and wait for the pedestrian to finish crossing entirely. Be careful also not to pass a yellow school bus with red flashing lights as passing before or after may still draw you a citation (this rule may be ignored, even by police, if due caution is observed by the driver, but those who ignore it may still draw a serious citation). Finally, since you may cross train tracks in Boston, be aware that they may be particularly slippery and icy, possibly dragging you off course as you cross them if you do not grip the steering wheel firmly.
The only toll road in the area is the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90), with various prices depending on entrance and exit points. Other tolls include the Ted Williams and Sumner Tunnels, each of which charges $3.50 when coming back from Logan Airport into downtown. The Tobin Bridge on Route 1 headed southbound toward downtown charges $3. Have cash on hand for these roads as checks and credit card are not accepted there. FastLane and E-Z Pass are also accepted.
Parking can be expensive, up to $40/day downtown on a weekday, though $20 and $7 deals can be found if you are willing to walk. Most cheap or free street parking is permitted as resident only and requires a special sticker, or is metered and has a 2-hour time limit.
Parallel parking is a necessary skill for street parking. Believe it or not, you can park in a space that is only a few inches larger than your car, if you don't mind scrapes on your bumpers and take advantages of the bounciness of cars' suspensions.
Garages are located at Quincy Market, the Aquarium, the new State Street Financial Center, the Theater District and the Boston Common. There are three levels of parking under the Common. The garage is very clean and its central location makes it a good starting point for a day trip in the city. To get in and out of the garage, there are four pavilions on the Common; each has stairs and an elevator. Once out of the garage, the Park Street and Boylston Street subway stops are only a two or three minute walk away.
As a rule, if you think you may be illegally parked, you probably are. Read the street signs very carefully. Watch for street cleaning, resident-only parking zones, and commercial parking zones - all of which will vary depending on the day and time. Parking meters are enforced heavily throughout the city. Meters in different parts of the city will turn off at different times (i.e. 8PM downtown or 6PM in many other neighborhoods). A broken meter entitles you to the posted time limit without having to pay.
Public transit in Boston is convenient and relatively inexpensive, and can take you directly to almost everything. A single public transit agency serves the Boston Metro area, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ("MBTA", or "the T" for short). The MBTA is the fourth-largest transit system in the U.S. For complete schedules, maps, and other information, see their official website at .
It is important to note that "Inbound" means toward Park Street or State and "Outbound" means away from Park Street or State.
After decades of using tokens for fare payment, the entire MBTA system was converted in 2007 to an electronic CharlieCard and CharlieTicket system. Dispensing machines at all stations accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards. If you go straight to a dispensing machine, you'll get a paper CharlieTicket with magnetic stripe. If you have time, first ask an attendant at any underground station for a plastic CharlieCard, which is a contactless "smart card". The Card is free and will give you a discount on all subway and bus fares, and it's the only way to get free transfers to and from buses. If you think you'll be boarding the T many times you may wish to purchase a day or week LinkPass (Sold at standard machines for $11.00 and $18.00, respectively). Note that these do not allow rapid repeated use at the same station, for a group, for instance. In general, a CharlieCard should be considered a must for its convenience (you can leave it in your wallet), decreased fares, and free or discounted transfers. Most passes can be loaded onto a CharlieCard.
Bicycles are sometimes welcome on the MBTA. Bikes are allowed on the Blue, Red, and Orange subway lines except at peak hours, but are not allowed on the Green and Silver lines. Bikes are always allowed on MBTA buses that are equipped with bike racks. The MBTA is currently installing bike racks on many bus routes - check the MBTA website for the latest updates. Bikes are allowed on MBTA boats and ferries at any time. On commuter rail trains, they are allowed anytime except weekday rush hours, as noted on individual train line schedules.
The T consists of several components: subway, bus, water shuttles, and commuter rail.
Full-color system maps are available at major stations; you may need to ask an agent if you would like one. They are extremely useful for locals and travelers getting a bit off the beaten track, because they show all bus, rapid transit, commuter rail, and boat lines. Most of the T maps you will see only show the rapid transit lines, which are identified by color. If you have a color printer, you can even make one yourself by printing the PDF version online. (Front , back .)
The subway is composed of four color-coded rail lines, the Red Line, Orange Line, Green Line, and Blue Line. Short of particular non-touristy spots in the suburbs, the subway can get you anywhere.
The Green Line splits into four branches going west that are known as the B, C, D and E lines (from north to south). Going west on the Green Line, the E line branches off at Copley Square station, the other three split at Kenmore Square station. Just after the lines split, these lines all run above ground and become "streetcar" lines.
The B branch is a service to Boston College via Commonwealth Avenue (locally referred to and sometimes marked as Comm Ave). It services Boston College and Boston University, along with the neighborhood of Brighton. Many of the stops are dangerously close to the road; some are just painted yellow lines in the middle of Comm Ave and the right of way. Its long distance and frequent grade crossings cause dispatchers to express trains frequently. Make sure to press the stop tape to request your stops, as many drivers wont stop unless they are requested past Boston University or even past Kenmore.
The C branch is a service to Cleaveland Circle via Beacon Street. This line is primarily in Brookline, MA. Its right of way is mainly surrounded by local businesses and residential structures.
The D branch is a service to Riverside Station, an inter-model station in Newton, MA, via the Highland Branch. A former street care right of way from the 1800s. The right of way is completely grade separated (does not intersect or run along streets) making transportation faster, with stops being further apart.
The E branch is a service to VA Medical Center and Heath Street, via Huntington Avenue. This line services The Prudential Center, and Bostons Symphony Hall. Along with many universities along the right of way, including the world famous Longwood Medical Area, which is a commercial and education complex offering some of the most advanced health care in the world, along with research centers. Also the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is accessible via the Museum of Fine Arts stop, sometimes announced as MFA or Museum on the trolley.
The letters are not assigned to coincide with any particular reference to the route of the branch. It is labeled A-E (A disbanded, now the 57 bus) from north to south. Cleveland Circle (C), Reservoir (D), and Chestnut Hill Ave (B) stops are all in walking distance and provide a convenient spot to switch between the lines; however a second fare is required.
The Red Line splits in two directions at the JFK/UMass station going south that are known as the Braintree and Ashmont branches, the latter of which connects to a streetcar line to Mattapan.
The Orange Line, the eldest of the rapid transit lines in Boston, is service from Malden, MA to Jamaica Plain. It services the City of Malden, Charlestown, Bunker Hill Community College, North Station, the Haymarket area, the Financial District, Downtown Crossing, New England Medical Center, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain.
The Blue Line, named as such because it crosses under the Boston Harbor and goes to Revere Beach, is a former street car line converted to rapid transit. It services East Boston, the Airport, and Revere.
When Bostonians say that they use the T, they're almost always referring to the subway, though the other modes of mass transit (bus, commuter rail, etc.) are still technically part of the T. While the MBTA refers to the Silver Line as a rapid transit line (BRT or Bus Rapid Transit) route (it appears on subway maps), most Bostonians consider it part of the bus system.
The subway system is slightly confusing in that directions are often marked "inbound" and "outbound", rather than with a destination. "Inbound" means "into the center of Boston", where all four lines converge at four stops: State (Blue and Orange), Park Street (Red and Green), Government Center (Blue and Green), and Downtown Crossing (Orange and Red). "Outbound" means "away from the center of Boston". Once one is in the center, signs generally give the direction ("eastbound") or the last stop on the line in that direction ("Alewife"). All trains are signed with the last stop in the direction they are headed, and this is the best way to know if you are going in the right direction.
Note that most Green Line trains do not go all the way to the end of the line at Lechmere; most turn around either at North Station or Government Center. If you are traveling farther than Government Center, your best bet is to get on the first train that comes, and then wait on the platform at the stop where you are forced to leave the train until the next Lechmere or North Station train arrives. (Depending where you are, Lechmere trains might not stop there.) Only trains coming from the E Branch will proceed to Lechmere, unless otherwise noted.
Subway and light rail service generally does not run between 1 AM and 5AM. (The same goes for the commuter rail lines - usually midnight or before.) Each line (Green, Blue, etc.) has a "last train" time, starting at one end of the line and going to the other. Check the schedule in advance if you are going to be out late. Sometimes the last train is delayed due to passenger load or the need to wait for the last connection from another line, so you might get lucky if you are running late. Check with a T employee near the fare gates to see if you've missed the last train or not. A general rule of thumb is to be in the station by midnight to safely catch the last train. A consequence of this is that taxis can be extremely difficult to hail after 2AM when most of the bars close, especially in touristy areas such as Fanueil Hall.
Unlimited-ride subway and bus passes are available from the T. If you're going to be riding a lot around town, these are worth investigating. See the link for complete fare information on passes. Buy a CharlieCard 1 day pass for $11 or a 7 day unlimited pass for $18. The 7-Day LinkPass is valid for 7 days from the date and time of purchase. The LinkPass gives you unlimited travel on Subway, Local Bus, Inner Harbor Ferry, and Commuter Rail Zone 1A. (Note that Commuter Rail and boats do not accept CharlieCards, so you must use a CharlieTicket for these services.)
If using a CharlieCard, the cost of a one-way ride on the MBTA Subway is $2.00 plus FREE subway and local bus transfers. Otherwise, it costs $2.50 per ride if done on a Charlie Ticket or paying by cash. This will get you to most destinations. Parking at the Alewife station on the Red line is ample but will cost you $7 each time you park, and $8 overnight. Riverside Station just off I-95 has plentiful parking for $6 all day. Additional suburban parking is available in Quincy, Braintree, and many Commuter Rail stops.
Regular bus service (the vast majority of buses) is usually slower than rapid transit, but is also cheaper and may take you closer to your final destination. Express buses are faster, more expensive, and travel longer distances. CharlieCard users get free transfers and pay $1.50 for regular bus, $3.50 for Inner Express, and $5 for Outer Express (check the schedule to know which line is which). Charlie Ticket or cash customers pay $2.00 for regular bus, $4.50 for Inner Express, and $6.50 for Outer Express, with no free transfers.
Note that the Silver Line bus rapid transit line is split into discontinuous segments. Routes SL1 and SL2, departing from South Station, are considered part of the subway system (though their vehicles are dual-mode electric/diesel buses) and have free underground transfers to the Red Line. Routes SL4 and SL5 are considered part of the bus system, and have the lower local bus fare fare. Although Route SL4 also stops at South Station, it stops outside the station complex, and transfers between SL4 and the other Silver Line routes or the Red Line are only free with a CharlieCard.
The MBTA runs a number of water shuttles , but the most useful for tourists is the shuttle from Long Wharf to Navy Yard , which costs $1.70. This provides a convenient connection between the USS Constitution Museum and the area around Faneuil Hall and the New England Aquarium. There's also a shuttle from Long Wharf to Logan Airport, but it runs relatively infrequently, so the Blue Line is your best bet for getting between these two destinations.
There are also non-MBTA public ferries available from several ports, notably the Aquarium and Long Wharf, and a water taxi service on the waterfront.
Commuter rail in Boston is primarily used for traveling to towns outside of the city. Due to its limited frequency compared to the subway, it is not generally recommended for travel within the city itself. An exception is travel between Back Bay Station and South Station, which is served by 5 commuter rail branches on weekdays and is free one way. Commuter rail fares range from $1.70 to $7.75 one way, although any ticket to or from the city is at least $4.25. Tickets can be bought on board trains, but at a slight surcharge. Passengers can ride for free from Back Bay to South Station, but must buy a ticket for $1.70 to travel from South Station to Back Bay.
Trains heading north of the city leave from North Station, while those heading south or west leave from South Station. Both stations have connections to the subway: North Station is on the Green and Orange Lines, and South Station is on the Red and Silver Lines. The two stations are not directly connected: you cannot board a train north of the city and take it to a point south of the city. Such a journey will require a subway ride in-between train trips to make the connection.
Your current alternative to late-night public transit is a taxi. Taxis can be hailed at any significant street corner, such as Kenmore Square or Copley Square. Expect to spend at least $5 and possibly up to $30 in the immediate surroundings (this includes the initial fare, a small tip for the driver, small one-way streets, bad traffic, construction, tolls for bridges, tolls for tunnels, tolls for the Mass Pike, and any wait time). To get further out of Boston, expect to spend much more (for example, from the airport to Wellesley, a Boston suburb, would be around $80, which includes the actual driving and tolls along the way). Fun fact, as of summer 2009, Boston has the most expensive taxis of any major American city.
Boston's downtown core is compact and easily walkable. Most tourist attractions can be visited on foot, although some neighborhoods require rail and/or bus connections. Take note that while jaywalking is technically illegal, the fine is $1 and tickets haven't been issued for decades. However, if you cross against signals just remember to watch out for stray bikes, cars, and some unusual traffic patterns you won't be used to.
The climate is cold from December to April, and the city is the most windy in America. Snow can also be an obstacle.
If it's late at night, or you feel you cannot deal with the cost of a taxi or the wait involved with the MBTA, then Boston is a relatively small, relatively safe city and walking is an option. Just remember to use the same sense you would in any other city.
Many Boston residents use bicycling as their primary mode of transit all year round, and Boston's small size and relative flatness make biking an appealing way to get around. Boston lacks many amenities for bicyclists, however, as the roads are covered with potholes and frequently absent of designated bicycle lanes or bicycle racks, so visitors wishing to travel by bicycle should have excellent urban riding skills prior to renting a bicycle. Cambridge tends to have more bicycle lanes and racks, though many streets still lack them. Riding on the sidewalk is illegal in the city of Cambridge, and frowned upon in Boston, and being well-lit in the evenings is important both for following regulations and for being safe. Recent efforts by Mayor Thomas Menino promise increased city investment in bicycling as a viable mode of transportation, and the mayor himself has taken up biking around town.
A central transit for bikers in Boston is the Southwest Corridor Bike Path, a major park/bike way placed along a route once slated for a major freeway system. This runs parallel to the T's Orange Line and connects Forest Hills to the Back Bay. This is an excellent means of transit if you intend on staying in Jamaica Plain.
On July 28, 2011, Boston launched New Balance Hubway, a bike sharing system with 61 stations and 600 bicycles. The cost is $5/day, $12/3 day pass, and $85 for a yearly membership.
There are several visitor pass programs that offer discounted or free admission to a number of the sites listed below, among them the GoBoston Card and the Boston CityPASS . Depending on the length of your stay and what you want to see, either program could potentially save you quite a bit of money.
A good resource for daily and nightly event listings of all sizes and interests can be found by picking up a free Weekly Dig or The Phoenix newspaper from one of the many free newspaper vending boxes located at most major busy intersections.
Boston is a sports town, and its professional teams are much-loved. These include the Red Sox (baseball), Celtics (basketball), Bruins (hockey), New England Patriots (football), and New England Revolution (soccer). Another professional team, the Boston Breakers (women's soccer), is less well established.
The Greater Boston area has some 65 accredited institutions of higher learning, including many world-renowned colleges, universities, conservatories, and seminaries. The metro Boston area has something of around 250,000 students living in the area at any given time.
The biggest shopping areas in the inner Metro are the Back Bay and Downtown Crossing. In addition, there are two large malls in and near the center of the city.
More local color can be experienced outdoors at any of several popular commercial areas:
Boston has excellent seafood from the nearby New England coast. Local specialties include baked beans, cod, and clam chowder. For dessert you'll have no trouble finding good ice cream. Boston (and New England as a whole) are one of the top per-capita ice cream consuming regions.
A variety of excellent ethnic restaurants can be found in neighborhoods such as the North End, Chinatown, Allston, or Coolidge Corner.
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.
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 station, cross the Greenway park(what used to be Interstate 93 pre-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. If you visit the North End on the weekend in the summer you may encounter one of many saint's festivals. Streets are closed off and there are music, food, and parades of the saint's statues. The Bull & Finch Pub in Beacon Hill was the inspiration for the hit television show "Cheers." Very pricey for bar fare, but an essential part of the Boston tourist experience. The Beacon Street address is the original and does not look much like the set of the show. There is another Cheers at Faneuil Hall which is more of a replica of the TV set. If you ask a local for directions to Cheers, you may be directed to Faneuil Hall. The Beacon Street bar is referred to by its original name. Both locations are very touristy complete with souvenir shops.
Legal Sea Foods is a Boston original - well, technically Cambridge, since it started as a fish market in Inman Square, Cambridge. Legal Seafood is known for its New England Clam Chowder. Expect to pay between $25-30/person at dinner at one of their multiple locations.
Despite having a huge student population, the political clout of residential neighborhood associations who value late-night peace and quiet has historically kept Boston from offering many options for late-night dining. Most restaurants close by 10 or 11pm, even in college neighborhoods such as Allston and Brookline. Bars stay open till 2am for drinking but their kitchens usually close at midnight or earlier. Exceptions are found in Chinatown, where several eateries serve their full menu till 2AM or later, and in the South End, where dining until midnight is possible even early in the week. If you're planning a long night, though, it's probably best to plan ahead and buy some snacks in advance.
Boston has a thriving nightlife and is known to be a 'drinking' town. There are many venues that cater to college students, businesspeople, sports fanatics, and many others. There is NO happy hour in Massachusetts. Bar Hopping is very easy and commonly done.
That said, if you're taking the subway or buses back to your hotel, you may have to call it a night early lest you miss the last train by mistake. And if you have people under 21 with you, you're going to have trouble finding a place that will let your group in; pretty much every bar/club in and around town is 21+.
With a large Irish population, Boston has a number of very good Irish pubs. Many tourists look for an authentic "Boston Irish Pub". A good rule of thumb is if the establishment has a neon shamrock in the window, it is not an authentic Irish pub. For nightlife and club listings look for "Stuff @ Night" or "The Weekly Dig" in the free boxes on the street. The annual "Best of Boston" issue of the free Improper Bostonian is always a good bet for finding the kind of establishment that you are in the mood for.
Places densest in bars include:
There are many dive bars in Boston.
If you are in the North End or near the Banknorth Garden, go to Sullivan's Tap. Ask for the Brubaker - a $2 beer in a recycled bottle (sadly, Brubaker's is no longer manufactured, try a Naragansett tall boy for $3). ESPN's Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, rated it "The most depressing bar in Boston."
In Davis Square, Somerville you can find Sligo's Pub, a similar hole in the wall serving cheap beer in plastic cups.
The Cantab Lounge near the Central Square subway station in Cambridge features local music.
If you're off the beaten path in the neighborhoods outside downtown (Dorchester, South Boston, East Boston, Hyde Park, etc.) in search of some real Bostonians, look for any tavern with a cheesy old lamp light out front. Be ready for an in-depth conversation about the "Red Sawx" or the Bruins back when Bobby Orr played.
Samuel Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain and Harpoon Brewery in South Boston both offer tours and tastings.
GrandTen Distilling in South Boston and "Bully Boy Distillers" offer tours and tastings.
You should be able to stand on any corner in the city and see at least two Dunkin' Donuts stores. The commercials should really be "Boston runs on Dunkin." Every Bostonian knows that "Dunks" is for coffee, not donuts - trust us. Dunkins is very popular, but coffee aficionados will consider it little more than coffee flavored sugar water, and will want to look elsewhere. Quality and service at a Dunkin' Donuts is really hit or miss depending on the location. Au Bon Pain's 200 stores began in Boston and are also common. Starbucks are, of course, plentiful.
Boston does, however, have some outstanding independent coffee shops as well, including the Boston Common Coffee Co. with multiple locations including one near Boston Common. Also, Pavement Cafe.
All hotels are listed in the individual district articles.
Crime and other hazards in Boston are low for a major American city.
Some neighborhoods (especially Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester) are more dangerous than average, and extra care should be taken there. It is even better to avoid walking in these areas at night if possible. Also avoid public parks after dark (except for special events).
Dangers related to alcohol consumption are not uncommon, such as fights and drunk driving. Be especially careful when there is a Red Sox and New York Yankees baseball game in progress. Wearing Yankees gear in any part of town (even if you're not from NY), especially in the Fenway area, is invitation to be verbally harassed by the locals. For example, instead of the usual "Yankees Suck" phrase, you might be told that you suck!. Although generally harmless and in good fun, it is not unheard of for these encounters to escalate into physical altercations, especially when there is excess alcohol consumption involved. If you find yourself in this situation, you might find it wise to walk away and/or leave the area rather than try to hold your ground.
Care should be taken as well if you decide to go clubbing on Landsdowne Street, the Theatre District, Chinatown, or Faneuil Hall. As mentioned above, the more dangerous parts of Boston are generally not visited or even seen by tourists, but there are a few mildly dangerous locales that you should be aware of if you plan on enjoying Boston's nightlife. In Kenmore Square, be especially careful on Landsdowne Street as muggers and pickpockets are becoming more common and also eat in the darker areas near Ipswich Street at the end of the strip. In Chinatown, be very careful if you wander off Kneeland Street. There are a plethora of little alleyways and inlets where muggers operate. Faneuil Hall is generally safe, but not without its share of fights and petty robberies.
The safest place to have a night on the town in Boston is definitely Boylston Street in the Back Bay, around the Prudential Center area. There are plenty of bars, pubs, clubs, and restaurants that cater to the college, professional, and upscale crowd, greatly reducing the likelihood of crime. Also, this area is within short walking distance from most of the major hotels in the city.
Still, Boston is a reasonably safe city known more for its schools and history than for its crime, petty or otherwise.
Boston's subway system, the MBTA, is generally safe compared to other major cities. Green Line trains and the northern half of the Red Line are mostly used by college students and young professionals moving to and from the immediate suburbs. Caution is still advisable late at night, especially when leaving the station or the train.
If there is an emergency, dial 911, a free call, from any telephone for 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. The standard area code is 617, but some phone numbers, especially cell phones, use the new 857 overlay.