Downtown Boston neighborhood guide

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

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Downtown Boston

Downtown Boston Photograph: Shutterstock


Downtown is the best place in Boston for people-watching: Find a bench and a takeout lunch for a break between Freedom Trail tours and visits to historic landmarks, and watch the street performers and passers-by. Or, for quieter companionship, visit one of America's earliest cemeteries. The sprawling Boston Common and the more formal Public Garden form the city's central green space. By contrast, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are among its most-visited landmarks, replete with shops flogging kitschy gifts, and eateries catering to tourists. Avoid the latter, and head to Chinatown for some of the city's best Chinese food.

Boston Common
America's oldest public park, the 48-acre Boston Common marks the beginning of the Freedom Trail and the center of the Emerald Necklace. Its colorful history as a military training ground and political rallying point is hardly in evidence today: occasional public gatherings aside, Bostonians mostly flock here to sunbathe in summer and ice-skate on Frog Pond in winter. The neighboring Public Garden, America's first public botanical garden, is home to numerous rare species of tree and a fleet of its famous Swan Boats, which have glided gracefully on the Public Garden Lagoon since 1877. They operate from mid-April to mid-September; a 15-minute ride costs $2.75 ($1.25 reductions).

Faneuil Hall
The vast paved sea of brick that is City Hall Plaza has two principal draws: the colonial Faneuil Hall (the seat of the American Revolution, though little more than part of a glorified mall today) and the adjacent 19th-century Quincy Market. Across Congress Street is one of the most significant historical sites in the area: the spot where the Boston Massacre took place. In typical Boston fashion, however, even this building is not sacrosanct (its basement serves as an entrance to the T). Nearby Blackstone Block is an agreeable place to recover from a long afternoon's sightseeing: the cobblestoned area is lined with cozy pubs, along with one of the city's most famous restaurants: the Union Oyster House.

The Financial District
Heading south from Faneuil Hall brings you to the city's compact Financial District, whose labyrinth of one-way streets and featureless skyscrapers conceals some notable architectural curiosities. Check out, for example, the Custom House (now a Marriott hotel), an extraordinary marriage of the original 1847 neoclassical structure and a tower stuck on top in 1915—which made it the city's tallest building at the time.

The Ladder District & Downtown Crossing
Downtown Crossing is essentially a ragtag mass of various discount and chain stores, cheap jewelers and electrical goods emporia. The area has long had a gritty, run-down feel to it-further south on Washington Street is the last remnant of the once-notorious red-light district the Combat Zone, which now consists of a couple of strip clubs. A few years ago, there was a flurry of regeneration in the area: Hip hangouts such as the retro Silvertone Bar & Grill started cropping up, and the old appellation "the Ladder District" was resurrected to reinforce the impression of an area on the up.

Chinatown & the Theater District
Toward the end of the 19th century, Chinese immigrants began arriving in the city to work on the railroads and provide cheap labor in factories. By the mid-20th century, the Asian population had skyrocketed; today, the thriving Chinatown is contained within a few blocks around Kneeland, Essex, Beach and Tyler Streets. It's still the best place in the city to get a taste of authentic Asian cuisine. Next to Chinatown is the compact Theater District, Boston's hub for everything from cabaret to serious drama.

Restaurants and bars in Downtown Boston

Silvertone Bar & Grill

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Forward-thinking in its backward-looking ways, subterranean Silvertone was a local pioneer of the trend for classic cocktails and American comfort food—and the long wagon train of regulars it immediately formed remains firmly hitched. The owners' good-natured commitment to a bygone era manifests itself in everything from the old prom pictures and liquor ads that line the walls to the confoundingly low prices charged for smart wines by the glass, served alongside much-loved staples such as macaroni and cheese, quesadillas and meatloaf.

  1. 69 Bromfield Street, at Tremont Street
  2. Main courses $7-$14.
More info

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
More info

Marliave

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

Though the current iteration is only five years old, the Marliave has occupied its back-alley location since 1885. The top floor offers white tablecloth dining, but more casual imbibers can grab a bar stool or large booth in the main bar area. One or two of selections from the extensive list of Prohibition-era cocktails are usually a welcome relief from the commotion of downtown.

  1. 10 Bosworth St, at Province St
Book online
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Things to do Downtown Boston

Faneuil Hall

  • Free

Built for the city by the wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil in 1742, the hall was later remodeled by ubiquitous Boston architect Charles Bulfinch. It had a dual function as a marketplace (on the ground floor) and a meeting hall (upstairs). During Revolutionary times it became known as the "Cradle of Liberty", as colonial heroes such as Samuel Adams regularly roused the Boston populace against the British here—it still hosts the occasional political debate and symposium as a nod to its history. The building is part of Boston's National Historic Park, and rangers provide brief historical talks in the Great Hall every half hour. The ground floor is given over to gift shops and, surprisingly, a branch of the post office.

  1. 15 State Street, at Congress Street
More info

Quincy Market

  • Free

Built in the mid 1820s, when Boston's population was rapidly outgrowing the smaller marketplace in Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market was originally right on the harbour (the shoreline has changed over time). Today, the neoclassical Colonnade building is lined with fast food stands. On either side of the central hall, rows of carts loaded with souvenirs and crafts lure tourists to part with still more dollars, as do the street performers who flock to the place. Flanking the Colonnade are the North and South Markets, which are likewise filled with shops. Old-time Boston restaurant Durgin Park is touristy, but still retains an air of basic authenticity with dishes such as scrod and Indian pudding on the menu. The first stateside outpost of noodle chain Wagamama has also arrived at the complex, drawing long lines. One of the city's top comedy clubs, the Comedy Connection, is also based here.

  1. 15 State Street, at Congress Street
More info
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Museums and galleries in Downtown Boston

Faneuil Hall

  • Free

Built for the city by the wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil in 1742, the hall was later remodeled by ubiquitous Boston architect Charles Bulfinch. It had a dual function as a marketplace (on the ground floor) and a meeting hall (upstairs). During Revolutionary times it became known as the "Cradle of Liberty", as colonial heroes such as Samuel Adams regularly roused the Boston populace against the British here—it still hosts the occasional political debate and symposium as a nod to its history. The building is part of Boston's National Historic Park, and rangers provide brief historical talks in the Great Hall every half hour. The ground floor is given over to gift shops and, surprisingly, a branch of the post office.

  1. 15 State Street, at Congress Street
More info
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Hotels in Downtown Boston

Archstone Boston Common

Located in Boston’s Theater District, this property is 3 minutes’ walk from Boston Common and features an indoor swimming pool and on-site café. The Chinatown underground station is steps away.Archstone Boston Common offers apartments with a fully equipped kitchen and living room with sofa. They are furnished in modern décor and include a flat-screen TV and in-unit clothes washer and dryer.Free Wi-Fi is available in the Boston Common Archstone apartments. There is an on-site fitness centre, conference room, and security access. A parking garage is available.Hynes Convention Center is 15 minutes’ underground journey. South Station rail service is half a mile away.

  1. 660 Washington Street , 11
Book online

Milner Hotel Boston Common

Built in 1877, this boutique Boston hotel is less than 2 blocks from Boston Common. It features free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour reception and a daily continental breakfast buffet.The Milner Hotel Boston provides classically decorated rooms with extended cable TV, a coffee maker and air conditioning. Free toiletries and a hairdryer can be found in the en suite bathroom.Guests of the Boston Milner can plan their day with the help of the desk staff. On-site laundry facilities are also available.The Milner Hotel is a 5 minutes' walk from the Boylston Rail Station.The property is located in the Boston Theater District. The Hynes Convention Center is within 1 mile of the hotel.

  1. 78 Charles Street South, 16
  2. $107.10 to $229.00 per night
Book online

Courtyard Boston Downtown

This historic Boston hotel is located in the Back Bay Theater District.The hotel features a gym, business center and free Wi-Fi.Courtyard Boston Downtown/ Tremont rooms include flat-screen TVs. The rooms are also equipped with a coffee maker.Courtyard Boston offers a breakfast buffet in the café daily. The hotel also has laundry services for guests.The hotel is 2 miles from the Prudential Center, which features shopping and dining. Fenway Park is 2 miles from the Courtyard Boston Downtown.

  1. 275 Tremont Street, 16
  2. $119.00 to $219.00 per night
Book online
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Downtown Boston music and nightlife

Bijou

  • Price band: 3/4

Catering to an upscale, international crowd, Bijou draws dance DJs with the same kind of cache. Arrive early (around 10 or 11pm) if you don't want to wait in line—or worse, not get in at all. The space is small and intimate, but often loud and crowded. Go for the dancing and, if you're feeling spendy, reserve a VIP table ahead of time to really live it up among the posher set.

  1. 51 Stuart Street, at Tremont Street
More info

The Estate

The name has changed, but the song remains the same. The cul-de-sac of clubbery that is Boylston Place is a reliable hot spot on weekends, and the Estate (formerly Mansion) holds its own as the strip's largest space. Hip hop and mashups make up the bulk of the playlist, and the interior boasts lots of leather, fireplaces and balconies.

  1. One Boylston Place, at Boylston Street
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Good Life

One of several spots that have helped to drag downtown Boston out of late-night wasteland, Good Life caters to many different scenes. On a given night, the DJs may be spinning top-40 hits, underground hip hop, Latin remixes or cutting-edge electro music. Don't like the scene upstairs? Head down to the more intimate subterranean lounge area.

  1. 28 Kingston Street, at Summer Street
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Shopping in Downtown Boston

Amazing Intimate Essentials

Amazing is for those who disdain subtlety. If the merchandise doesn’t overwhelm you, with the shop’s massive numbers of films, toys and fetish items, perhaps the star power of the visiting porn starlets will. This shop is not for novices. 

  1. 57 Stuart Street
More info

Haymarket

The history of Boston's iconic open-air market goes back nearly two centuries. Haymarket's prices are as low as they go, but local produce is less the focus here than at some other markets in the city, so be prepared to paw through the stacks for the best-looking fruits and veggies. For those seeking a taste of the sea, you'll find fish here as well, and the experience of haggling and comparison shopping among the dozens of stands is a tourist attraction in itself.

  1. Blackstone/North/Hanover Streets
More info

Brattle Book Shop

  • Critics choice

Established in 1825, this highly regarded antiquarian bookshop in the heart of downtown Boston has amassed around 250,000 books, maps, prints and other collectible items; the abundant stock spills over into a substantial outdoor space, so you can browse alfresco.

  1. 9 West Street, at Washington Street
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