Back Bay neighborhood guide

Discover the best local restaurants, bars, shops, and things to do in the Back Bay
Back Bay, Area guides, Boston
Photograph: Shutterstock Trinity Church
By Eric Grossman and Time Out contributors |
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One of Boston’s most visitor-friendly neighborhoods, the Back Bay is a mix of affluent residential streets and commercial attractions. Although it contains some of the city’s most important architectural sights, it’s also Boston’s main shopping destination, where you’ll find everything from global mega-chains to cutting-edge designer boutiques. But it wasn’t always so—roughly 150 years ago, the entire area, from the Public Garden to the Fens, was submerged in swampland; a massive landfill project to meet the needs of a population surge made the area what it is now. Though the neighborhood has a conservative "old Boston" reputation, there’s a number of funky businesses, not to mention a visible student presence. Once youve had your fill of the South End, find more to do by checking out our guides to the best restaurants in Bostonbest live music in Boston, and best museums in Boston. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Boston

Where to go in the Back Bay

1
Trinity Church
Photograph: Shutterstock
Attractions, Religious buildings and sites

Trinity Church

icon-location-pin Back Bay

The unabashedly ornate Trinity Church is the visual centerpiece of Copley Square. The church is known for its extensive murals—almost every inch of wall was handpainted by a team led by American artist John La Farge. The impressive stained-glass windows include four that were designed by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and made by Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris.

2
L'Espalier
Photograph: Courtesy L'Espalier
Restaurants, Contemporary American

L’Espalier

icon-location-pin Back Bay

It's fair to say that Boston’s dining scene would look a whole lot different without LEspalier, which first opened (two locations ago) in 1978. This special-occasion bastion of the Back Bay, which enjoys a second-floor perch above bustling Boylston Street, continues to push the culinary envelope thanks to a steady stream of creative, highly-trained kitchen talent. While chef-owner Frank McClelland’s prix-fixe menus of sophisticated New England-French cuisine change constantly, his masterly imprint endures.

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3
Boston Public Library, Sights and attractions, Boston
Photograph: Shutterstock
Attractions, Libraries, archives and foundations

Boston Public Library

icon-location-pin Back Bay

The BPL regally sits across from Copley Square, attracting scores of student groups, visitors, and casual book-browsers to its multi-faceted complex. The labyrinthine structure is a joy to get lost in; be sure to visit the cloistered courtyard, a most tranquil place to linger. Join a free tour covering the library’s art and architecture, or check out one of the talks and readings that are regularly offered.

4
Uni Sashimi Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Uni/Eric Roth
Restaurants, Japanese

Uni

icon-location-pin Back Bay

Chef-partners Ken Oringer and Tony Messina wow Back Bay diners with an assortment of global street food-inspired small plates, as well as innovative makimono, nigiri and sashimi. The best seats in the house are at the sushi bar, where you can watch the magic happen. On weekends, the late-night menu lures foodies looking to check one of the city’s most in-demand ramens off their culinary bucket list.

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5
Bukowski Tavern, Bars, Boston
Photograph: Courtesy Bukowski Tavern
Bars, Beer bars

Bukowski Tavern

icon-location-pin Back Bay

If you dont mind a backdrop of loud rock or the cash-only policy, the beer selection (more than 100 choices including several hard-to-find, local options) in this tiny bar is fit for the most advanced of beer geeks. If your taste runs to spirits, go elsewhere. It's all about the beer here, and for hopheads this perch above the Massachusetts Turnpike is heaven in a shoebox.

6
Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center, Things to Do, Boston
Photograph: Courtesy Skywalk Observatory
Attractions, Towers and viewpoints

Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center

icon-location-pin Back Bay

This glassed-in walkway high atop the “Pru” offers a 360-degree perspective from a height of 750 feet; on a clear day, you can see as far as 80 miles in any direction. While kids will initially marvel over the height and views, it’s hard not to get sucked into the history laid out before them, at least a little. (Audio tours that pick out the Hub’s many historical sites are available.)

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7
The Bristol
Photograph: Courtesy The Bristol
Restaurants, American

The Bristol

icon-location-pin Back Bay

Tucked into the first floor of the Four Seasons, with plate-glass views of the Boston Public Garden, this refined spot serves three ample meals a day, starting with a full power breakfast and concluding with hearty American dinner fare (oysters, rib eye, scallops). Sunday brunch service draws in well-heeled Back Bay families; the renowned Bristol Burger also wins accolades. 

8
Barneys New York
Photograph: © Michael Ascanio Peguero
Shopping, Department stores

Barneys New York

icon-location-pin South End

This two-level branch of the super-chic New York department store within the citys premier mall thrills style-conscious shoppers looking for contemporary designer fashion. The expert staff impresses, as does the slection of hard-to-find brands. Expect to come across shoes, accessories, and cosmetics not available elsewhere in town.

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9
Mapparium, Sights and attractions, Boston
Photograph: Mark Thayer
Attractions, Libraries, archives and foundations

The Mapparium

icon-location-pin Fenway/Kenmore

The Mapparium, the worlds largest walk-in globe, is among the citys quirkiest landmarks. Essentially a three-story model of the globe built to scale, the perfect sphere runs 30 feet in diameter, and can be crossed by means of a glass bridge that bisects its interior. The 608 stained-glass panels recreate the world as it was in the mid-1930s, when the project was completed. (Geography aficionados will notice the outdated borders and names.)

10
Select Oyster Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Select Oyster Bar/James Rose
Restaurants, Seafood

Select Oyster Bar

icon-location-pin Back Bay

Chef Michael Serpa—formerly of Neptune Oyster—opened his first solo venture in a townhouse-like enclave in the heart of the Back Bay. Serpa marries New England seafood with Mediterranean techniques, exemplified by the signature blue prawns a la plancha. While some diners enjoy a multi-course feast, others stop in for a quick oysters-and-wine fix.

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11
Tico
Photograph: Courtesy Facebook/Tico
Restaurants, Latin American

Tico

icon-location-pin Back Bay

From the local culinary stalwart Michael Schlow, Tico sits in the heart of the Back Bay, right around the corner from Trinity Church. The large, welcoming bar is a favorite of nearby office groups; the festive atmosphere pairs nicely with colorful cocktails and a lengthy tequila list. American at its core, the menu is influenced by Schlow’s travels to and love for Spain, Mexico, and South America.

12
Photograph: Courtesy Grill 23
Restaurants, Steakhouse

Grill 23 & Bar

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Perhaps the citys most famous steakhouse, Grill 23 has hosted countless business dinners and special occasions. High ceilings, marble columns, white tablecloths, and white-jacket clad waiters all contribute to the big-ticket atmosphere, as do the lawyers and brokers whooping it up over pricey wines and steaks that very nearly cost their weight in gold. The wine program has won national awards, as have the perfectly-prepped steaks.

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13
Champions
Photograph: Courtesy Boston Marriott Copley Place
Bars, Sports Bars

Champions

icon-location-pin Back Bay

Every day, thousands of passers-by breeze through the Boston Marriott Copley Place only to stop and check out some of Champions’ 40-plus flat screens. The TVs line every available inch of wall space—snag a bar seat for maximum plasma overload. The beer list includes 16- and 23-ounce drafts from local craft breweries. Nachos, sliders, burgers, wings—the greasy gang’s all here. There’s even a breakfast buffet for NFL fanatics looking to make a full day of it.

14
Trident Booksellers & Café, Cafés, Shopping, Boston
Photograph: Courtesy Trident Booksellers & Café
Restaurants, Coffee shops

Trident Booksellers & Café

icon-location-pin Back Bay

In a sea of chains, Trident remains a tried-and-true standby for the more indie-minded of Boston’s over-caffeinated literary nerds. The magazine selection is peerless—art zines, obscure trade publications… and is that a Spanish edition of Foreign Affairs? The food and drink is solid; if you’re bummed about not being able to order a single-origin pour-over, the atmosphere will make up for it.

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15
Casa Romero
Photograph: Courtesy Casa Romero
Restaurants, Mexican

Casa Romero

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This Back Bay mainstay has hosted thousands of dinner dates in its cozy environs, filled with bold-colored walls and tiled tables. The signature puerco adobado en chipotle y naranja—tenderloin of pork marinated in oranges, tamarind and smoked chipotle peppers—and a tangy margarita is good place to start. In the summer, the serene back patio, decked with hanging plants, is an intimate retreat.

16
Bodega
Photograph: © Michael Ascanio Peguero
Shopping, Shoes

Bodega

icon-location-pin Fenway/Kenmore

At first glance, it looks like any other convenience store, the window lined with faded bleach bottles and paper towels. But behind the hidden sliding door is the secret store within a store; an ultra-modern interior containing Bostons flyest sneaker shop—carrying rare kicks from Nike and Adidas, as well as deluxe streetwear and books on art and design.

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17
Deuxave
Photograph: Courtesy Deuxave/Andy Ryan
Restaurants, French

Deuxave

icon-location-pin Back Bay

The glamorous, chic dining room creates a special occasion-feel, but there isn’t a hint of stuffiness thanks to the friendly vibe at this Back Bay eatery. The contemporary French fare is complemented by an exceptionally strong wine list, including more than 20 options by the glass. Chef and co-owner Chris Coombs’s talent for hospitality and sumptuous dishes translates to a sophisticated yet relaxed tryst with champagne, caviar, and spiced duck breast.

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