An ideal neighborhood for a stroll, the North End sports a distinct character that combines Italian heritage and a traditional New England setting rich in history and atmosphere. The old-school, red brick buildings yield gastronomic treasures around seemingly every corner; small cafes, bakeries, and pastry shops border fine dining destinations. But the neighborhood holds several non-edible treasures as well. Once you’ve had your fill of New England’s most famous Italian neighborhood, 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
Best things to do in the North End
Built in 1680—making it the oldest surviving structure in downtown Boston—the Paul Revere House was the colonial home of Revere during the time of the American Revolution. A National Historic Landmark, it is now operated as a nonprofit museum (open daily to visitors) by the Paul Revere Memorial Association.
Modern Pastry is an iconic North End pastry emporium with a loyal following. This family-owned spot has been in operation for decades, offering old-world cakes, cookies, pizelles, and chocolates. Try the flaky sfogliatella (lobster tail) and a coffee for a sweet finish after a meal. Check out Modern Underground where you can get a cocktail with your dessert.
This tiny, Italian-owned coffee-seller doesn’t actually serve java to go, but you can’t beat its charm, friendliness and amazing variety of high-quality roasts. Original owner Mr. Polcari and his son Bobby consider themselves museum owners more than baristas, dedicated to preserving the mantle of the neighborhood corner store. Also for purchase are fresh spices, quinoa, bulk Nutella and, in the summer months, tasty lemon slush. Be aware that with its quaintness come some limitations, like being cash-only and closed on Sundays.
One of the beloved rival pastry shops on Hanover Street in the North End, Mike’s is best known for its cannoli. Stop by Mike’s after dinner for one (or a few) of its 19 flavors, including plain, Nutella, Oreo, limoncello, and more. Fun date night idea: get the cannoli package and make your own at home. If you’re not into cannoli though, you can’t go wrong with any of the biscotti, cookies, lobster tails, cream puffs, or macaroons at Mike’s.
Originally called Christ Church, the city's oldest church was built in 1723, its design inspired by Sir Christopher Wren's London churches. It played a critical role in the earliest days of the American Revolution: it was from Old North's steeple that lanterns were held aloft to warn the Minutemen of the movements of British forces. (One lantern was to be displayed if the troops were seen moving by land, two if they were coming in by sea.) Today, the church's rich history attracts a steady stream of visitors, and the converted chapel next door houses a tasteful gift shop.
The final resting place for around 10,000 early Bostonians, this cemetery was created on the northernmost hill of the Shawmut Peninsula in 1659. Perhaps the most famous Bostonians to be interred here are the Puritan preachers and arch-conservative theologians Cotton Mather and his father, Increase. Also buried here is the slave and soldier Prince Hall, an early black leader in Boston. Hall lived in the free black community that originally settled the hill, and earned fame for his valour in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
For more than two decades, Improv Asylum has hosted both improv and sketch comedy shows in the heart of the North End. Additionally, the staff hosts classes for local aspiring performers, as well as special custom shows and corporate training programs. Shows usually take place seven nights a week, with multiple offerings on Fridays and Saturdays. Midnight shows, regularly offered on weekends, see the kid gloves removed in favor of risqué, R-rated fare.
As the most noteworthy wine shop in the North End — a neighborhood renowned for its food and drink — the Wine Bottega does its part by only selling natural wines. Local residents stop in for Friday night tastings (free) and monthly classes (for a fee). An articulate staff with a passion for the innovative and the undiscovered guarantees that the range of its inventory surpasses the shop’s actual size.
Shake the Tree delights with its highly browsable combination of clothing, accessories, unusual toiletries, stationery, and decorative homewares. With its assortment of locally-made jewelry and gifts, the shop is a favorite option among local residents.
This cute shop in the North End has a huge selection of buttercream-frosted cupcakes (s’mores, chocolate cherry bomb, lemon curd, and red velvet to name just a few). House-made ice cream flavors include Thai tea coconut, Purple Cow, pistachio with port wine, chocolate fudge brownie, and more. Pick up a few vintage candies to complete the old-timey dessert shop feel.
An imposing presence on Hanover Street, this Bulfinch-designed church wasn't built from scratch, but remodeled from an existing structure in 1804. Shortly thereafter, the church's congregation purchased a set of bells cast by Paul Revere's foundry for $800. The church also has a part in the history of the Kennedy clan — JFK's mother, Rose, was baptized here, and it was also the site of her funeral.
Bova’s opened in the North End in 1932 and has remained a family-owned business since then. Baked goods include a wide range of breads (including seasonal varieties such as Easter bread), pastries, cookies, tarts, cakes, and pies. For something more substantial, try fresh-baked calzones, subs, or Sicilian pizza. Best of all, Bova’s is open 24 hours a day.
This indoor rink—owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)—is a North End staple. It is open seasonally, November through March, and offers water views. There is on-site skate rental and a snack bar serving the usual contenders to keep skaters fuelled. As it is a community hockey arena, check ahead to make sure it isn’t booked for a game or private event. While skating is free, there is a $5 charge for skate rentals.
This old-time, family-run North End bakery is often overlooked by tourists heading to the more popular spots nearby, but Maria’s makes some of the best cannoli around. Other fresh-baked Italian treats include baba rum cakes, sfogliatella, torrone, and marzipan. Holidays are big at this bakery, as Maria’s has a specialty for all of them, including Thanksgiving pies, Christmas panettone, Ash Wednesday pignole, and All Souls Day Ossa di Morti.