Best things to do in Boston
The city lives and breathes through its sports teams, perhaps none more so than the local nine. Opening day is always a big party, and Fenway gets extra-packed in summertime. The general diehard home-team pride for which the city is notorious makes every victory that much sweeter—ask any local in one of Lansdowne’s many pubs to tell you all about the 2004 World Series win if you need a refresher.
More than 80 African, rockhopper and little plue penguins live in the New England Aquarium’s first-floor display, which surrounds the Giant Ocean Tank, a gigantic coral reef exhibit that's home to myriad marine creatures—including sharks and loggerhead sea turtles. The building is designed in such a way that the penguins can be seen from multiple vantage points. If you skim your hands over the water, they may even play with your shadow. There are also several penguin feeding sessions and presentations daily.
At nearly 1 million square feet, the BPL impresses like few libraries can. The original structure, designed by Charles McKim and completed in 1895, is now the research library, while an extension (opened in 1972) functions as the general library. Talks, performances, and tours delight culture vultures (call for times), and recent renovations have introduced interactive elements to the complex. At the center of the building is the cloistered courtyard, one of the city's most beautiful, tranquil places to read a book.
Founded in 1870, the MFA's globe-spanning collection encompasses more than 500,000 objects. The museum offers one of the city's best freebies on Wednesdays after 4pm, when admission is by voluntary contribution. Culture hounds come from far and wide to check out a steady stream of concerts, screenings, talks, and performances. A variety of food and drink outlets allows visitors to linger longer.
Some say Boston is most impressive in the springtime, when flowers awaken all around the city. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Arnold Arboretum are beloved for their annual springtime floral celebrations. Every April and May, the Gardner Museum's garden atrium explodes with color, highlighted by the famous nasturtiums. If lilacs are more your style, head to Jamaica Plain where the Arnold Arboretum boasts one of the world's oldest and largest collections of lilac bushes. A highlight is the annual lilac festival on the second Sunday in May, when thousands of people come to view the fragrant flowers in full bloom.
The Mapparium, the world's largest walk-in globe, is among the city's 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. (Keen eyes will note the outdated borders.)
The South End's SoWa Open Market runs every Sunday from May through October. The area erupts into a weekly street fest that draws visitors from all over the city and beyond. Roughly 200 makers and vendors sell their wares, and there's also a farmers' market, food truck bazaar, and a beer barn housed in the imposing SoWa power station (complete with lawn games and live music). And there's more inside the market building—the SoWa Vintage Market offers stall after stall of quirky vintage clothes and housewares. Both kid- and pet-friendly, the market is a favorite area pastime among young families.
While independent boutiques are becoming an endangered species on Newbury Street (if you're focusing on unique finds, head to the South End), Boston’s premier retail strip wins for sheer volume and variety. Between Arlington Street and Massachusetts Avenue, there are eight blocks of bow-fronted brick townhouses stuffed with everything from ultra-luxe designers like Chanel and Burberry to chic boutiques (Intermix, Rag & Bone) and international chains. With a never-ending assortment of galleries, salons, cafés, bars and eateries to explore, you can easily spend an entire day browsing, relaxing and indulging here.
Whale-watching isn’t just for school field trips. Hop on one of the boats departing Boston Harbor daily and rediscover how awesome it actually is to be within spitting distance of the largest mammals on earth. Bring a sweater and park yourself at the hull of the boat for the day and keep your eyes on the water. Just don't make the rookie mistake of shunning sun protection, or you'll join those who resemble lobsters after picking up a wicked sunburn.
While the seemingly never-ending Big Dig was no picnic for the City of Boston - the massive construction project ending up costing around $15 billion, making it one of the most expensive in American history - the spoils of that battle dramatically increased the quality of life in Downtown Boston. Nothing better represents the changes than the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway; the linear park covers an expansive 15 acres that connect the Chinatown Gate with the iconic Zakim Bridge. During the day, people stroll, bike and lounge along its length, which is dotted with fountains and serviced by food trucks, making the area the perfect warm-weather hangout.
There’s a lot more on the grounds of Harvard Yard than elite pupils and posing tourists. The iconic redbrick walls have contained some truly stunning stories, and a visit serves as a Who's Who of American history—alumni include John Hancock, JFK and Barack Obama, while Matt Damon, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are among the famous dropouts. The campus also features striking architecture designed by such luminaries as Bulfinch, Le Corbusier (his only U.S. building) and Sert.
Ever since the Union Oyster House opened in 1826, raw oysters have been integral to Boston’s culinary scene. Today, the briny bivalves grace a wide array of restaurant menus, and star in buck-a-shuck nights up and down the coast. In-the-know types seeking locally-sourced shellfish swear by the city's boutique oyster bars and upscale seafood spots. Island Creek Oyster Bar and its newer sibling, Row 34 (named for oysters cultivated from the 34th row at their Duxbury oyster farm) are two of the city's best, usually offering more than a dozen kinds of oysters, plus sinful warm lobster rolls. Other notable options: Select Oyster Bar and Neptune Oyster.
Locals sometimes forget about the 1850 granite bastion known as Fort Independence, poised at the ocean end of South Boston on Castle Island. There's also Pleasure Bay, which offers 22 acres of beach, bike paths, fishing grounds and picturesque spots ideal for an all-day picnic. Leave room for lobster rolls and fried clams at Sullivan’s, a Castle Island institution open from the end of February until the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Every first Friday of the month, the SoWa Art + Design District opens its doors to the public from 5pm to 9pm. With more than 200 artists, galleries, shops and showrooms to choose from, this creative hub offers a variety of options: steampunk sculptures, stunning photography, contemporary takes on famous paintings, and more. Once you've had your fill of art, follow the other culture vultures by grabbing a bite at one of the neighborhood's inviting restaurants.
Symphony Hall opened its doors in 1900 as the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Expanded and updated over the years, the venue continues to draw music aficionados from around the globe. Still, it's the all-important acoustics of the original interior design that have made it one the country's top auditoriums. Special, collaborative performances with contemporary artists help to bring in new generations of patrons.
Even during the peak of winter or dog days of summer, the deCordova Museum & Sculpture Park lures art lovers to its a 35-acre spread out in leafy Lincoln. Open year-round, the region's premier outdoor sculpture park is the perfect place to get some fresh air while checking out world-class art. The ever-changing indoor exhibits provide shelter from the sometimes-fickle elements.
Boston’s favorite way to see Shakespeare is in the park, sitting on a blanket while (discreetly) enjoying treats from home. So claim a grassy spot on the Boston Common and check out the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's productions of the Bard’s best works, with performances taking place during some of July and August. All performances are free, making for a perfect summertime date or relaxing literary outing.
The stacked calendar for one of the area's best locations for live music includes a kaleidoscope of genres and styles. Most nights of the week, the Middle East will host a show on each stage—upstairs, downstairs, and the corner. Weekends are especially busy, with frequent matinee concerts. Each Saturday night, the complex’s fourth branch—the bar and restaurant ZuZu—hosts "Soulelujah," a funky throwdown fueled by classic soul tracks.
No matter how you’re feeling, Boston’s famed Improv Asylum will give you an excuse to laugh your face off. With shows offered nightly, including multiple offerings (some R-rated) on weekends, this North End laugh factory is a favorite among couples and groups needing to add some levity to their nightlife. Longtime fans love the fact that it’s never the same show twice.
As one of the city's most densely-packed and exotic neighborhoods, Chinatown thrills adventurous gourmands. Rather than sticking to one spot and doing a big meal, pace yourself by walking around the neighborhood, snacking along the way. Gourmet Dumpling House is a smart place to start; enjoy some house-made dumplings with spicy dipping sauce to fire up your palate. Next, stamp your culinary passport by trying a few Taiwanese specialities at Taiwan Cafe. Take a break by strolling down Kneeland Street, checking out the multitude of Chinese vendors that spring up on the corners. Finish off with a bang at Peach Farm, where you can select seafood straight from the tanks.
Following a lengthy expansion project, Harvard’s three art institutions—the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum—were united under one Renzo Piano–designed glass roof. Visitors are able to peruse highlights from the university’s collection of roughly 250,000 pieces, from Neolithic sculpture to 21st-century conceptual installations. Also try to visit the Museum of Natural History, home to one of Harvard's most famous treasures, the acclaimed Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants.
According to some studies, New Englanders eat more ice cream than just about anyone - locally, there's no need to limit cold treats to the summer months. J.P. Licks is a local institution, with branches scattered all over the city serving creamy, crowd-pleasing flavors. A bit tougher to get to—but worth the trek—is Christina's Homemade Ice Cream in Inman Square. It’s a favorite among local restaurateurs looking to amp up their dessert menu with the shop's painstakingly-crafted, seasonal flavors such as fresh rose, burnt sugar and ginger molasses. Toscanini's is another Cambridge spot with offbeat ingredients. The staff constantly labors to come up with new and interesting varieties like salty caramel or green tea.
Stretching from Cambridge to Bedford, this 11-mile path is a great way to check out some of the area's most scenic communities. Built on a former railway, it’s open to biking, rollerblading, jogging, walking and more—anything sans motor, basically. There’s also plenty to see along the way, including Alewife Brook Reservation, Spy Pond and Arlington’s Great Meadows.
A far cry from the Top 40 club-banging hotspots on the other side of the river, Central Square offers an eclectic assortment of places to shake it like there's no tomorrow. Popular options include house DJ nights at the Middlesex Lounge, the eclectic throwback and hip-hop parties at Phoenix Landing, or the live soul and funk performances at the Cantab Lounge.
Every Wednesday night (weather permitting), Boston University's Coit Observatory opens up its facilities for free public viewings of the stars. The program starts at 7:30pm in fall/winter and 8:30pm in spring/summer. For around an hour, visitors use telescopes and binoculars to see the great beyond. Over at the Museum of Science, the Astronomy After Hours program is offered for free on select Thursdays and Fridays from April through October (call ahead for details). Located on the museum's parking garage rooftop, the Gilliland Observatory is equipped with a powerful computer-controlled telescope, and when it's cloudy there are hands-on astronomy and space science activities.
Celebrate your right to thumb your nose at frustrated motorists as you blithely cruise down the double yellow on your in-line skates or sprint down the middle of the street pushing your baby carriage. From the last Sunday of April until the second Sunday of November, the city of Cambridge shuts down Memorial Drive to automobile traffic along the Charles River, providing locals with the epitome of a relaxing Sunday stroll. Expect to share the pavement with lots of bikers, rollerbladers, and fitness enthusiasts.
An impressive list of Broadway musicals - Once, Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess - began life at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater. And a large part of their success is thanks to the A.R.T.’s innovative artistic director Diane Paulus. Since taking the reins in 2008, the Tony-winner hasn’t dumbed down the institution, which has had a reputation for staging complex, serious-minded plays since its founding in 1980, but she also relishes comedies, musicals, acrobatics and interactivity.
The Freedom Trail isn’t the only historical walk in town. While the self-guided, 2.5-mile tour provides a useful sightseeing starting point for newcomers, there are specialized tours that will help you dig deeper. The Black Heritage Trail traces the history of the African-American community in Boston in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Women’s Heritage Trail comprises 10 separate, self-guided walking tours flung across various neighborhoods, and the Irish Heritage Trail takes in museums, statues and memorials celebrating one of the city's most important cultural groups.
Get your fill of fried goodness at some Boston’s top donut shops, spanning the latest cult bakeries and under-the-radar mom-and-pops. The antithesis of mass production (sorry, Dunkin’!), the treats are lovingly made by hand, satisfying even the most discerning sweet tooth. Stick with the classics if you must - cake donuts and honey glazed are local favorites - but we recommend tearing into exotic options such as sea salt bourbon caramel or blackberry lavender.
For a city that’s often hamstrung by booze-related blue laws, Boston sure has a fine collection of breweries. Historically, the city’s most famous brewer was Samuel Adams, the Revolutionary and “maltster” for whom the city's most famous beer is named. Tours of the Samuel Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain are as affordable ($2 suggested donation) as they are entertaining. But recent years have seen a craft brewery boom across the city. Taste small-batch farmhouse-style ales at Fort Point’s Trillium Brewing Company, or experimental suds at Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewing Company, founded by a science-focused trio with MIT connections. The taproom has a neighborhood block party vibe, often enhanced with live music and food trucks parked outside.
After nearly collapsing during the darkest days of the Big Dig, Boston’s historic open-air market bounced back thanks to the tenacity of the vendors and customers who continued to show up for the heavily discounted wholesale fruit, vegetables and fresh fish. Even if you're not in the market for a pallet of produce or a bunch of bananas, the people-watching is among the best in town, and you're guaranteed to hear both the thickest of Boston accents as well as voices from around the world. If the crowds get too intense, you can always escape to the Greenway, which is just steps away.
As fascinating as lions and tigers are on the TV screen, they’re far more impressive in the flesh. The Franklin Park Zoo - whose mission is to inspire people to protect and sustain endangered species - has them all, as well as zebras, gorillas, giraffes and a host of other exotic animals that wouldn’t normally be seen in the wilds of New England. Little visitors are well-served at the children's zoo, which features everything from a prairie dog neighborhood to a grass maze.
Visionary landscape architect Frederick Olmsted liked Jamaica Pond, the centerpiece of the Emerald Necklace, for its "reflections and flickering half-lights." A stroll through the woods around the pond will clue you into what he was talking about. The best place to relax, though, might be on the water itself: rowboats, kayaks and sailboats are all available for rent.
Why merely go out for a meal when you can embark on an immersive sensory trip? The brainchild of Harvard University professor David Edwards, Café ArtScience is the food and beverage arm of his adjacent art/design/scientific innovation hub, Le Laboratoire. Creative bartenders whip up some of the world's most inventive cocktails; the staff extracts “alcohol paints” with a fractional distiller to add flavor and color to libations. The kitchen churns out intricate, eye-catching plates of modernist fare - sea urchin panna cotta or foie gras in a jar, anyone?
Chic wine shops like Brix Wine Shop and the Wine Bottega (selling only natural wines) offer regular tastings of new and/or notable bottles. Budding oenophiles won't be intimidated, with helpful staff on hand to guide customers through the tasting experience. There's always something interesting on offer for less than $20, so pick up a bottle of something sure to impress your next dinner party. Tasting times vary, so check online for the latest event listings.
Whether you're a lifelong Bostonian or you've just disembarked at Logan, the city offers plenty of offbeat tours that go beyond the standard sightseeing route. Take a tour of Fenway Park or the Samuel Adams Brewery, get to know Boston’s darker side by hearing about tales of malevolence and murder, or set sail on an eat-what-you-catch purview of the local lobster scene. Or if the weather allows, get out on the water for a historic Boston Harbor cruise.
Compulsive garage sale browsers, jewelry collectors, interior decorators and treasure-hunters of all kinds love the Cambridge Antique Market for its five floors of vintage and antique finds, not to mention its T-accessible location. Most of the dealers specialize in specific items and eras, so ask around if you’re looking for something in particular. There's also an entire basement of refurbished vintage bicycles.
In Boston, there’s a whole world of food truck cuisine just waiting to be devoured. The self-explanatory Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese has received national attention for its sinful sandwiches. There are plenty of healthy options such as, Momogoose / Saté Grill, which offers health-minded Asian cuisine (including an impressive list of curries, some vegan). Bon Me is perhaps the city's most prolific option, with multiple trucks (and storefronts) selling its fresh take on Asian fare (rice bowls, noodle salads, bánh mì). Check the city's official food truck site for additional options.
Remember when being able to jump the highest was a badge of honor? Rediscover your inner child at Sky Zone, a 10,000-square-foot indoor trampoline park hiddden away near Dedham. It’s not just about getting air but also a cool way to hop out of that fitness rut via open jumps, “SkyFit” classes, “SkyHoops,” or 3D dodgeball. What’s more, the park offers plenty of slots in which adults can bounce about freely without having to worry about landing on a kid. Saturday night’s “SkyJam” is reserved for 18+ and includes pizza, soda and 90 minutes of jump time for just $20. (We recommend consuming the pizza and soda post-bouncing.)
Best restaurants in Boston by cuisine
Boston has a great selection of restaurants for vegetarians, and many of the best Boston restaurants offer vegetarian options or are happy to modify their dishes for the meat-free. (The best Italian restaurants in Boston are usually a safe bet.) Vegans, however, have been underserved in the past. Fortunately, all across Boston you can now find a wealth of restaurants that are geared primarily towards those who eschew meat and dairy. More than your standard tofu and soy cheese afterthoughts, you can get your fix of ice cream, pizza, nachos, and even fine dining fare at the best vegan restaurants in Boston. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Boston
A fresh lobster roll is a beloved culinary treat anytime of year in Boston. Sourced from cold waters along the New England coast, chunks of sweet lobster meat are removed from the shell, allowing diners to enjoy all of the flavor with none of the messy work. Several of the best seafood restaurants in Boston serve up a killer lobster roll, and across the region there are dozens of friendly eateries serving the classic variety, adorned with a touch of mayo and served on a humble hot dog bun. Meanwhile, some of the city’s newer seafood entries offer a modern, upscale spin, thrilling gourmands who always wanted to know what a lobster roll on a Chinese-style bun might taste like. Sure, Boston knows a thing or two about burgers and Italian food, but it’s the city’s culinary expertise when it comes to the always in-demand lobster roll that sets it apart. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Boston
It’s a subject as hot as a wood-fired oven: Who bakes the best pizza? Boston has countless no-frills places serving deliciously greasy slices, and many of the best Boston restaurants offer twists on the perennial favorite (and not just Italian restaurants).
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Sin in style at one of these superior donut shops, spanning the latest cult bakeries, pop-ups and under-the-radar mom-and-pops
Boston has been a hotbed of ice cream innovation since the ’70s when Steve Herrell began mixing Oreo shards into freshly churned batches in his (defunct) Somerville shop
Read our essential guide to Boston's best vegetarian and vegan restaurants—with insider tips and recommendations, written by local experts
It gets cold here—real cold. Give the snow the finger with these deliciously warming bowls.
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Boston has an array of excellent Japanese restaurants and sushi joints—some of which made it into our list of the best Boston restaurants
It may have been christened "Beantown" on account of the baked variety, but Boston can't get enough coffee beans