Beacon Hill neighborhood guide

Get to know Boston area by area—the best local restaurants and bars, arts and entertainment and things to do in Beacon Hill

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Beacon Hill: Side street

Beacon Hill: Side street Photograph: Shutterstock


Boston's most exclusive niche, Beacon Hill is synonymous with wealth, lineage, the FFBs (First Families of Boston) of old Brahmin money. The area is almost unfeasibly picturesque, with its red-brick row houses and mansions, gas lanterns and steep, narrow streets—some still cobbled. A short stroll here unveils centuries-old architectural treasures that require a pirate's ransom to afford. You can, however, tour a couple of historic houses—and the sumptuous private library of the Boston Athenæum—to get a sense of how the other half lived during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some of the grandest houses are on Chestnut and Mount Vernon Streets—on the latter, look out for the splendid, Bulfinch-designed residence of prominent Bostonian Harrison Gray at no. 85. Former and current residents amount to a who's who of cultural and political heavyweights, from Louisa May Alcott to John Kerry.

In the 19th century, the North Slope of Beacon Hill was home to a large portion of Boston's free black community. The Black Heritage Trail explores this community and the abolitionist movement through the area's historical sites; together, the African Meeting House and the adjacent Abiel Smith School form the Museum of African American History.

Charles Street, at the foot of the hill to the west, is lined with antiques shops, restaurants and, increasingly, chic boutiques such as Holiday and Wish. Nearby on Beacon Street is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions, Cheers, the bar credited with inspiring the long-running TV sitcom. While the exterior is satisfyingly familiar—it featured in the opening shot for Cheers—the interior looks nothing like the show's set. A more authentic bet for sampling the Boston neighborhood bar experience is the unpretentious Sevens Ale House on Charles Street.

Restaurants and bars in Beacon Hill

No. 9 Park

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 4/4
  • Critics choice

Although the word "timeless" is much bandied about by No.9's admirers, Barbara Lynch's flagship can also (despite its head-on view of Boston Common) seem oddly placeless, thanks to its sleekly cosmopolitan air. The former mansion's good looks demonstrate how 'smooth' and 'sharp' can be synonyms; the service—from the remarkable bartenders to the splendid sommelier, Cat Silirie—hits the heights of professionalism. And the French/Italian-based cuisine? Rarely less than luscious, for all its elegance—especially the finely wrought pastas.

  1. 9 Park Street, at Beacon Street
  2. Main courses $32-$45.
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Grotto

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 2/4

Sink below street level in Beacon Hill for a cozy and decadent Italian meal surrounded by exposed brick, shelves of wine and locally sourced artwork. Tables are crowded close (but not too close) and lights are turned down low, and the menu is classic Italian with a creative twist. For a place the just begs to be at the top of your date night destination list, a three-course prix fixe menu of sizeable portions (available seven days a week) is almost too good to be true. Ask the friendly, knowledgeable staff for suggested wine pairings.  

  1. 37 Bowdoin Street, between Beacon & Cambridge Streets
  2. Main courses $31-$50.
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Carrie Nation Cocktail Club

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

If the main bar is too full or brightly lit, head past the shoeshine stand and up the back stairs to the “speakeasy,” with pool tables and intimate seating. No matter which corner you choose to imbibe, you can select from offerings ranging from punches and barrel aged cocktails to well-crafted classics. 

  1. 11 Beacon Street, at Somerset Street
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Things to do in Beacon Hill

Boston Athenæum

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Founded in 1807 as a literary society, the Boston Athenæum published America's first literary magazine and acquired an extensive library of books and works of art. It moved to its current home, an imposing purpose-built structure, in 1847. The two upper floors, including the beautiful fifth floor reading room that featured in the Merchant Ivory film adaptation of Henry James's The Bostonians, were added in 1913-14, followed by further expansion and renovation at the turn of the century. Among its collections are books from George Washington's library and those given to the King's Chapel by William III in the 17th century.The Athenæum helped to establish Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in the early 1870s in two of its four galleries, and much of its art collection moved with the museum. However, there are still some notable works on site, including busts of Washington, Franklin and Lafayette by Jean Antoine Houdon, and portraits by John Singer Sargent, Mather Brown and Thomas Sully. Although much of the library is accessible only to members or scholars, the ground floor gallery is open to the public, and free guided tours are conducted twice a week (call in advance to reserve a place).

  1. 10½ Beacon Street, between Bowdoin & Somerset Streets
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Museums and galleries in Beacon Hill

Boston Athenæum

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Founded in 1807 as a literary society, the Boston Athenæum published America's first literary magazine and acquired an extensive library of books and works of art. It moved to its current home, an imposing purpose-built structure, in 1847. The two upper floors, including the beautiful fifth floor reading room that featured in the Merchant Ivory film adaptation of Henry James's The Bostonians, were added in 1913-14, followed by further expansion and renovation at the turn of the century. Among its collections are books from George Washington's library and those given to the King's Chapel by William III in the 17th century.The Athenæum helped to establish Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in the early 1870s in two of its four galleries, and much of its art collection moved with the museum. However, there are still some notable works on site, including busts of Washington, Franklin and Lafayette by Jean Antoine Houdon, and portraits by John Singer Sargent, Mather Brown and Thomas Sully. Although much of the library is accessible only to members or scholars, the ground floor gallery is open to the public, and free guided tours are conducted twice a week (call in advance to reserve a place).

  1. 10½ Beacon Street, between Bowdoin & Somerset Streets
More info
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Hotels in Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill Hotel

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 3/4
  • Critics choice

The location for this charming hotel couldn't be lovelier: on Beacon Hill's pretty main drag, steps away from the Common and Public Garden, and a short stroll to Back Bay. Rooms are airy, decorated in an unfussy, updated New England style to maximise space, and equipped with flatscreen TVs and free wireless internet. The busy ground floor French bistro and tiny, popular corner bar are open to the general public, but only guests can relax in the simple but comfy second-floor lounge or out on the private roof deck.

  1. 25 Charles Street, at Branch Street
  2. Rates (incl breakfast) $285-$305 double
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Beacon Hill Bed and Breakfast

Located a 9-minute walk from Boston Common, this charming Beacon Hill property provides easy access to a variety of local boutiques and restaurants. All guest rooms feature free Wi-Fi.The spacious rooms at the Beacon Hill Bed and Breakfast include cable TV. Featuring a unique blend of comfortable furnishings and antique accents, the bright rooms provide a sofa bed and work desk.Built in 1869, the Victoria townhouse serves homemade breakfast in a room featuring a chandelier preserved from a French chateau and views of the Charles River. The Massachusetts Beacon Hill Bed and Breakfast features a luggage elevator for added convenience.Freedom Trail is a 15-minute walk from this property. The Public Garden is a 7-minute walk away. Charles/MGH underground station is 10 minutes' walk away.

  1. 27 Brimmer Street, 08
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Beacon Hill Hotel

Set in the heart of Boston's Beacon Hill district, only steps from the Boston Common and the Theatre District, this hotel offers contemporary guestrooms and an award-winning bistro.Beacon Hill Hotel features unique guestrooms with plantation shutters and photography by Daniel Jones. Guests will enjoy the in-room flat-screen TV with satellite channels as well as free high-speed wireless internet access.The hotel's Beacon Hill Bistro serves American and international dishes for breakfast and lunch, while dinner offers a French-style menu. In the evening, the fireplace bar is the perfect place for a drink with a late night snack.

  1. 25 Charles Street, 14
  2. $245.00 to $265.00 per night
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Shopping in Beacon Hill

Wish

Looking for the perfect little retro-styled dress? This jam-packed boutique is a good bet, with an almost overwhelming array of frocks in various prints and cuts by Milly, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Taylor and Tibi, as well as separates, jeans and T-shirts from Vince, Velvet and Splendid. The house style is somewhere between well-groomed preppy and urban sophisticate.

  1. 49 Charles Street, at Mount Vernon Street
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