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Where to stay in Boston

Wondering where to stay in Boston? We've got you covered with the best ’hoods and the best things to eat and do in each.

By Time Out Boston Staff and Gerrish Lopez |
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Charles River sailboats, Back Bay
Photograph: Courtesy GBCVB

While it's a pretty accessible city, choosing where to stay in Boston can be a big decision. Depending on what kind of action you're looking for, there's likely a neighborhood for you. We've covered the best hotels, best restaurants and best bars in Boston for you, but here's our list of the best places to stay, eat, and drink in each of the best neighborhoods. From bustling Back Bay and cobblestoned Beacon Hill to student-heavy Harvard Square, each area has unique options. Whatever your angle, this guide will have you rolling like a local in no time.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best hotels in Boston

Where to stay in Boston

Back Bay, Area guides, Boston
Photograph: Shutterstock
Things to do

Back Bay

The Back Bay is one of Boston’s most visitor-friendly neighborhoods. A mix of affluent residential streets and commercial attractions, it contains some of the city’s most important architectural sites. It’s also a major shopping destination, where you’ll find everything from big chains to cutting-edge boutiques. It still has a bit of a conservative, "old Boston" reputation, but you’ll find a number of funky businesses and a large student presence.

EAT

Uni

Uni is known for its standout sashimi program and inventive Japanese creations. Chef-partners Ken Oringer and Tony Messina wow diners with global street food-inspired small plates, as well as innovative makimono, nigiri and sashimi. Grab a seat at the sushi bar to watch the experts at work. On weekends, the late-night menu draws hungry devotees to sample a small menu of creative dishes and one of the most in-demand ramens in the city.

DRINK

Bukowski Tavern

Small, loud, cash-only, and beer-focused, Bukowski Tavern might not be for everyone, but for beer aficionados (and fans of dives), it’s the place to be. From appearances, you might think you’d only find PBR and High Life, but the beer list features more than 100 choices, including several hard-to-find options. Bartenders are knowledgeable, and there’s always the Wheel of Beer to help you make a selection.

DO

Boston Public Library

This multifaceted complex is more than just a library. You can get lost wandering its labyrinthine halls, or join one of the free tours covering the library’s art collection and mix of 19th-century and modern architecture. Curl up with a book, spend time in the tranquil courtyard, or attend one of the frequent author talks and book readings.

STAY

Fairmont Copley Plaza

The Fairmont opened in 1912, and the grandeur of the era is still visible in the ornate marble lobby. Rooms are beautifully-appointed and feature commissioned, Boston-themed art. Guests can dine at OAK Long Bar and Kitchen, an elegant bar and brasserie. Be sure to say hi to Carly, the hotel’s canine ambassador—guests can even take her for walks around the city.

Polcari's
Photograph: Michael Ascanio Peguero
Things to do

North End

The distinct character of the North End — a.k.a. Boston's Little Italy — stems from the combination of its rich Italian heritage and traditional, historic New England setting. Old brick buildings house cafes, bakeries, red sauce gems and beloved pastry shops. Dine at one of the dozens of cozy Italian joints or tiny restaurants serving fresh seafood, or pick and choose from different purveyors to create a custom picnic basket to enjoy in one of the neighborhood squares. There are several options, but whatever you choose, don’t leave the North End without a cannoli.

EAT

Neptune Oyster

Tiny and lined with pressed tin, subway tiles, and etched glass, the retro-charming Neptune Oyster is exactly what a classic East Coast raw bar. There’s always a wait for a marble-topped table during peak hours, but grab a seat at the bar if you can. Here you can sample fresh, local oysters such as Wellfleet, Cotuit, Island Creek, and Glidden Point. A chilled glass of wine pairs perfectly. Don’t miss the lobster roll, one of the city’s most lauded.

DRINK

Ristaurante Fiore

An old-school haunt in the heart of the North End, Fiore’s rooftop bar feels like a European café crossed with a small sports bar, with wrought-iron seating and an exposed-brick bar. Over at the sit-down tables, an enormous wine list joins forces with a classic Italian menu, though a glass of prosecco and a margherita pizza are all you need to complement the breezy atmosphere.

DO

Walk the streets

In a city full of scenic, strollable neighborhoods, the North End might just be the most enjoyable for a walk-through. You’re likely to encounter colorful locals, international tourists, and more Italian restaurants than you’ve ever seen. For a sense of the neighborhood’s history, stop by the Paul Revere House.

STAY

Boston Marriott Long Wharf

Just a short walk from the North End, this large, waterfront property is ideal for first-time visitors to the city. Guests enjoy easy access to numerous popular destinations, and can even pop outside in their PJs to say goodnight to the New England Aquarium’s resident seals. During warmer months, Tia's bar and patio is one of the most popular after-work spots in the city.

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Fenway Park, Sights and attractions, Boston
Photograph: Elan Fleisher
Things to do

Fenway

When you hear Fenway, you think Fenway Park. But the Fenway neighborhood is much more than that. Ask any local and they’re likely to have a story about a big night out there. Popular bars have been joined by a plethora of notable businesses around America’s most beloved ballpark. Students, young professionals, and out-of-towners flock to the Fenway every night to eat and drink year-round.

EAT

Time Out Market

The Hub's first curated food hall, Time Out Market Boston, features 15 enticing food offerings, plus two bars and lots more. Choose from a range of delicious dishes served up by some of the biggest culinary names in Boston, including Tony Maws, Tim and Nancy Cushman, Peter Ungar and Michael Schlow. The market is housed in the revitalized 401 Park Drive building, an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1929 as a Sears, Roebuck and Company warehouse. Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating makes this a prime, all-purpose destination in the Fenway.

DRINK

Eastern Standard

The bar program at Eastern Standard — located in the Hotel Commonwealth — may have kicked-started Boston’s cocktail scene. With a commitment to the finest ingredients and techniques, it sets the standard for high quality cocktails. Fresh juices, house-made infusions, and impeccably sourced liquors and bitters appear on the seasonally-inspired menu of reinvented classics and unconventional offerings. The wine and beer lists are equally expansive and impressive.

DO

Fenway Park

Fenway Park, which opened in 1912, is the oldest ballpark in the MLB. Seeing a Red Sox game there, especially versus a rival, is one of the most exciting experiences in all of Boston. But Fenway is also one of the smallest ballparks, so tickets to a big game can be hard to come by. Fortunately, public tours are offered year-round, so fans and non-baseball types alike can learn about the park's colorful history. Big-name concerts and other sporting events are held at Fenway throughout the year.

STAY

The Verb

The Verb is a former motor lodge reborn as a trendy boutique hotel. It has brought a bit of an LA vibe to Boston, with mid-century furniture, Mondrian stained glass windows and a poolside scene in good weather. The rooms are simple yet fun and funky—the decor includes rotary phones, vintage speakers, and local music ephemera. The lobby and the pool area host live music regularly. Hojoko, the hotel’s izakaya and tropical drink den, dishes out hip Asian fare and strong drinks. Bonus for Red Sox fans, The Verb is just around the corner from Fenway Park.

Beacon Hill, Area guides, Boston
Photograph: Shutterstock
Things to do

Beacon Hill

Iconic Beacon Hill is synonymous with wealth, lineage and old Boston Brahmin. It’s a picture-perfect backdrop, with red brick row houses and mansions, gas lanterns and steep, cobbled streets. Despite being Boston’s most exclusive neighborhood, it’s accessible and welcoming to all. Stroll the neighborhood to view centuries-old architectural treasures and tour historic homes. Stop in quaint shops and cafes, then chill in Boston Common.

EAT

No. 9 Park

Housed in a former Beacon Hill mansion across from Boston Common, No. 9 Park remains the crown jewel of Barbara Lynch’s culinary empire. One of the best fine dining establishments in Boston, this sophisticated restaurant offers expert service alongside its regionally-inspired Italian and French dishes. The welcoming lounge area offers one of the city’s most decorated wine lists, plus well-made cocktails and a more affordable menu. Dining tables by the windows, with views of the Common, are perfect for a special occasion.

DRINK

The Sevens Ale House

Sitting in the heart of Charles Street, this unpretentious Beacon Hill pub is a popular local hangout where the veteran barkeeps seemingly know everyone's name. You're likely to encounter hospital workers and nearby residents co-mingling over stiff drinks and pints of Guinness or Bass.

DO

Boston Common

Boston Common is a lunchtime hangout for students, families, and downtown office workers. In the winter, ice skating on Frog Pond is a must-do Boston experience. In warmer seasons, you can play softball or tennis, or lounge with a book on one of the grassy knolls. There's even free wi-fi for those who must remain connected, or tune out to enjoy some people- and dog-watching.

STAY

The Liberty Hotel

The Liberty Hotel was once the Charles Street Jail, housing the likes of Malcolm X and Sacco and Vanzetti. Cell bars are still embedded in the walls, and guests can enjoy drinks on the side patio that was previously the jail's exercise yard. Rooms, many with views of the Charles River, are well-appointed. The hotel's restaurants, including Lydia Shire's Scampo, are highly regarded. For guests and locals alike, The Liberty hosts regular after-work events like fashion shows, happy hours, and Yappy Hours for dog lovers.

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The South End, Boston
Photograph: Shutterstock.com
Things to do

South End

The South End houses a thriving culinary scene between its two parallel arteries of Tremont and Washington Streets. Restaurants and bars range from casual, low-key hangouts to high-end destinations. The neighborhood is also home to cultural centers like the Boston Center for the Arts and the Boston Ballet headquarters. The area south of Washington Street, known as SoWa, is rich with showrooms and artist studios as well as a seasonal artists market. Small shops, selling everything from kids clothing and pet accessories to chic home accessories and the latest fashions, are dotted throughout the neighborhood.

EAT

Toro

Rustic and convivial, this diminutive spot for tapas is always packed with regulars and first-timers. The atmosphere encourages revelry, as porróns of Cava are passed around and beloved dishes such as grilled street corn and quince-glazed duck drumsticks are served. Chef-partners Jamie Bissonette and Ken Oringer have gone on to open an offshoot in New York and an equally celebrated South End trattoria, Coppa, but Toro still shines.

DRINK

Delux Café

Delux is a favorite with locals, but this laid-back, kitchy treasure welcomes all. Record sleeves adorn a wall, restrooms are covered in grafitti, and most everything else inside is low-budget (including the drinks). Friendly bartenders are as eclectic as the decor.

DO

SoWa Artists Guild

The 450 Harrison building is the city's premier artistic hub. It contains a veritable hive of artistic activity in the back of the South End. Don't miss the chance to see artists in their natural habitat during open studios events, held a few times a month. First Fridays, held monthly, feature more than 200 artists, galleries, shops and showrooms welcoming everyone from art aficionados to afterwork activity-seekers for an evening of art, wine and mingling.

STAY

The Revolution Hotel

Ever lacking in hotel options, the South End is one of the nicest places to stay in the city, and The Revolution Hotel puts visitors right in the heart of the brownstone-packed neighborhood. The hotel — which resides within an adaptive reuse of one of the first YWCAs in the nation — offers Conspire, a modern co-working space that is free for guests and available to non-guests for a daily or monthly fee. The property also features engaging art and objects that display Boston’s many innovations.

Harvard Square
Photograph: chensiyuan
Things to do

Harvard Square

Cool Cambridge is all about squares, and Harvard Square is one of the best known and most popular. Always bustling, you’ll see everyone from studious foreign coeds to punks, tourists and business types in this colorful square, all being courted by various street performers. The beautiful university campus anchors an array of restaurants, bars, shops and museums. Visitors can have a full range of experiences in this one square alone.

EAT

Alden & Harlow

This subterranean hideaway resides in the former site of Casablanca, a Harvard Square institution. Exuding a laid-back vibe with an industrial edge, Alden & Harlow is just the spot for drinks and dining in eclectic Harvard Square. The modern menu is extensive, with inventive dishes like morels stuffed with pork and snail sausage. The multi-room restaurant features a bar area with high-tops, a small atrium dining room, and a main dining room where diners can watch the action in the open kitchen.

DRINK

Charlie's Kitchen

This Harvard Square stalwart has remained steadfastly old school as the surrounding area becomes more chic. Known as the "double cheeseburger king," it feeds students, professors, and even local rock luminaries cheaply. But the upstairs bar and popular, seasonal outdoor beer garden make Charlie's the go-to spot for drinks and more drinks. Plus, the jukebox is one of the best around.

DO

Visit Harvard

Visitors come from around the world to visit prestigious Harvard University. Parts of the historic campus reminds some of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts; many of the new buildings, such as the Smith Campus Center feature world-class architecture. Take a tour of campus and be sure to visit the Harvard Art Museums.

STAY

Charles Hotel

Modern yet refined, the Charles Hotel is a perfect match for its smart surroundings. Simple guest rooms feature Shaker furniture and handmade quilted comforters, enhanced by modern amenities. The hotel's impressive lineup of restaurants is popular with guests and locals alike: sophisticated Italian spot Benedetto, local and organic-focused Henrietta’s Table, seductive Noir bar, and nationally-recognized jazz bar Regattabar.

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MIT Campus
Photograph: Shutterstock
Things to do

Kendall Square

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Cambridge's other top university — is located in Kendall Square. The campus boasts diverse and striking architecture, including buildings by I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry. A buzzing collection of restaurants, bars and shops has bloomed amidst science, tech and research offices, making Kendall Square one of the hottest neighborhoods in all of the Boston area.

EAT

ArtScience Culture Lab and Café

Surrounded by world-class research and scientific offices, ArtScience Culture Lab and Café is one-of-a-kind. It’s part restaurant, part sensory experience. Harvard University professor David Edwards created this food and beverage concept inspired by his adjacent art/design/scientific innovation hub, Le Laboratoire. Cocktails are works of art, featuring beautiful colors and textures; some even change appearance before your eyes. Equally attractive dishes are cutting-edge without sacrificing flavor. 

DRINK

Cambridge Brewing Company

The oldest brewery/restaurant in the city, Cambridge Brewing Company is a well-oiled machine. They produce a range of crowd-pleasing beers in different styles — ambers, porters, English-style ales — as well as some unusual brews like a corn lager or a gin barrel-aged sour with cucumber. There’s plenty of seating inside (it’s great for groups), but when the weather allows get a flight and grab a seat on the patio.

DO

The Garment District

To get a sense of Cambridge’s eclectic side, spend some time exploring The Garment District. A source of second-hand and vintage threads since the 1980s, The Garment District shares its crumbling warehouse premises with a costume shop. Check out offbeat, vintage finds, crazy costumes, and more. Fearless bargain seekers can pick though the By the Pound piles — literal piles of clothes, shoes, bags, and more, unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Browse the vintage aisles with a keen eye — some items are unworn and immaculate.

STAY

The Kendall Hotel

This appropriately-named hotel is housed in an old firehouse just steps from the MIT campus and world class research facilities. With its Queen Anne-style architecture, it’s one of the area’s only 19th century buildings. The decor and the restaurant pay homage to The Black Sheep, the legendary firemen of Engine 7. Many of Cambridge’s most popular attractions can be reached on foot from the hotel, and the Kendall T stop is across the street. Be mindful of graduation and key dates on the academic calendar, which can affect occupancy.

Downtown Boston, City guide, Boston
Photograph: Shutterstock
Things to do

Downtown Boston

Downtown is one of the best places in The Hub for people-watching. Between visits to historic sites and landmarks, take a break to watch street performers and passers-by. Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are among the city’s most-visited landmarks, with chain stores, shops full of kitschy gifts, and eateries catering to tourists. There’s also Chinatown, a bustling enclave that’s home to some of Boston’s best cheap eats.

EAT

Yvonne’s

Splurge at one of the city’s trendiest, most stylish eateries. Set in the space that formerly housed the historic Locke-Ober, Yvonne’s retains the 19th-century mahogany bar and the clubby ambiance of its predecessor. Creative small plates include crispy tater cubes and chicken quinoa meatballs. Head to the Library Bar in back and you’ll find comfy banquettes, chandeliers, shelves full of books, quirky portraits of celebrities, and a roaring fire.

DRINK

J.J. Foley’s Bar & Grille

Low-lit and low-key, this Boston institution is a hangout for bike messengers, buttoned-up businessmen, and everyone in between. Anyone who's lived in Boston has met someone at Foley's for a drink from the well-stocked bar. Hearty pub grub keeps patrons going from lunchtime to the wee hours.

DO

Rose Kennedy Greenway

The Greenway is one of the most celebrated outcomes of the infamous Big Dig. Formed when I-93 was sunk underground, this mile-long ribbon of parks is the perfect spot for tired tourists and weary office workers to rest and enjoy the fresh air. Restaurants and cafes offer options to refuel, and — depending on where you are — you can pick up a few treats for a picnic. Keep an eye out for seasonal offerings like festivals and an outdoor beer garden.

STAY

Kimpton Nine Zero Hotel

This downtown hotel is a boutique haven for business travelers and those seeking central access to the city. The architectural elements blend classic and modern, from the wood-paneled lobby to the opulent, urbane rooms. Many rooms have excellent city views. For pet lovers, the Nine Zero is tops, with complimentary dog beds, pet sitting, and other amenities; your pup is even welcome at the nightly wine reception.

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