Just about every Bostonian ends up spending some recreational time in and around the Back Bay. As one of the Hub's most centrally-located commercial neighborhoods, its streets are frequently packed with lots of foot traffic and prime people-watching opportunities. And every night, a mix of tourists, business travelers and locals pack the best restaurants in the Back Bay to eat and drink the night away. Once you’ve had your fill of the Back Bay, check out our guides to the best restaurants in Boston, best live music in Boston, and best museums in Boston.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Boston
Things to do in the 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.
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.
If you don’t 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.
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.)
This two-level branch of the super-chic New York department store within the city’s 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.
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. (Geography aficionados will notice the outdated borders and names.)
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.
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.
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 Boston’s hottest sneaker shop—carrying rare releases from Nike and Adidas, as well as deluxe streetwear and books on art and design.
This massive food and drink complex takes up a grand, multi-floor space in the Prudential Center. Enjoy a stroll through the retail maze, stopping to look at surprisingly affordable luxuries from near (local cheesemakers) and far (every Italian product imaginable). There are multiple places to eat and drink; from full-service, high-end dining to quick sandwiches and gelato.