Where to stay in Boston – An Insider’s Guide
Welcome to Boston – America’s birthplace, home of the world’s best accent, seriously educated folk, and sports fanatics. The best area to stay in Boston depends on your interests, but getting around is easy, so you can soak up all the sights in a couple of days.
Boston locals are obsessed with many things. Sports being number one – the city is home to the New England Patriots, the Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, some of the most successful teams in history, and they won’t let you forget it. The city also boasts an incredible 35 colleges and universities, which basically guarantees that anyone you share a drink with is seriously brainy. Bostonians also take their food very seriously – whether its chowder, $1 oysters, donuts, or their many, many food trucks, the quality of food you’ll sample in Boston is the stuff dreams are made of. Whether you’re in town to party, to soak up some sporting atmosphere or to learn about the birth of America and the American Revolution, Boston and its friendly residents will more than deliver.
Getting around Boston
Boston is a ‘city of neighbourhoods’, and there are 23 to explore. Unlike other US cities, Boston’s streets follow no logical grid system. In fact, they are so higgledy-piggledy, urban legends says they were originally paths used by the cows of the first settlers. Whether that’s true or not, the unruly streets are simple enough to navigate. Boston is an easily walkable city, so wear comfortable shoes and clock up your daily steps. Or, you can hire bikes via the city’s Bluebikes bikesharing programme. A day pass is $8 or three-days for $15. The first 30-minutes of your journey are free, but after that you start getting charged, so when cycling around, be sure to stop off at a bike hub every 30 minutes to switch your bike and avoid paying.
If walking is not for you, the easiest way to get around is using the T – Boston’s simple, colour-coded metro system. Tickets are nice and affordable. A single bus ticket is just $1.70 and a single subway ticket is $2.40. As a visitor, your best bet is to get a CharlieTicket. A one-day pass is $12.00 and gives you unlimited travel for 24 hours on buses, subways and the Charlestown Ferry. A seven-day pass is $21.25.
The Silver Line Route SL1 of the T transports people from Logan Airport to South Station. When heading to the airport, this high-speed bus stops outside each terminal. The line runs from 05:30-12:30am seven days a week. It might be more convenient to catch the Blue Line subway if you’re staying close to Brookline, Fenway Park, Back Bay or Downtown Boston.
Photo by Osman Rana
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North End – Best area in Boston for history (and pizza) lovers
North End is where settlers first lay down their hats when they arrived in Boston. It’s the city’s oldest residential neighbourhood, and home to a significant portion of the Italian-American community. The cobbled streets are peppered with historically-significant locations, as well as a sensational line-up of Italian eateries. Getting here is easy as (pizza) pie, given it’s on the T and close to North Station. It’s right on the waterfront, so be sure to enjoy a walk by the water, plus it’s a good jumping off spot for The Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile route, painted or paved with red bricks, which guides tourists around Boston’s 16 most important historical sites, including the Bunker Hill Monument, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Old North Church. To join a Freedom Trail tour, sign up for the decent freebie they offer at Faneuil Hall. Alternatively, you can book a tour with the Freedom Trail Foundation, and be guided from site to site by some sporting 18th century costume. If you’d like to do things on your own time, download your own map, and follow the red brick road.
Bunker Hill Monument by Monica Volpin
What to do in North End
Definitely check out Faneuil Hall Marketplace while in North End, but be warned, it can be offensively busy. There are hundreds of shops to walk around, lots of restaurants – mostly chains – although that can be handy if you want to grab something on the run. This is a great spot for people watching – there’s always street performers, musicians, and dancers doing their thing. Plus, there’s an excellent variety of events taking place here from morning yoga classes, to cinema nights.
Faneuil Hall is just around the corner from the New England Aquarium. From here you can go on a whale watching tour of Boston Harbour.
Boston Public Market is a year-round indoor market where you can find the freshest, seasonal food from exclusively New England farmers, fishers, and food entrepreneurs. We’re talking artisanal cheeses galore, local wines for days. This is a perfect spot for lunch, to stock up on ingredients if you plan on making the most of your hostel’s kitchen facilities, or to take a cooking class. The market hosts classes for the public every day, some of which are free of charge.
If you’re a sports nut, swing by the sports museum at TD Garden, which is dedicated to Boston’s sporting history and is packed full of so much sporting memorabilia it will make your eyes water. TD Garden is home to Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins, the ice hockey team, so it’s worth checking if you can get tickets for a game – although, don’t expect them to come cheap. You can take a tour of the arena for more insider intel on the greatest sporting moments to have occurred under their roof.
Come night time, hit up Improv Asylum, which is always a hilarious night, plus it’s great for encountering up and coming talent that will soon be all over our silver screens. There’s a comedy show every night of the week – both improv and sketch comedy. You might get lucky and catch one of their Dirty Disney nights. Hit up the weekend midnight shows, but maybe give it a miss if you’re easily offended.
Places to eat in North End
If you’re feeling peckish in North End but you don’t know where to eat, listen out for a Boston accent and then ask that person to recommend their favourite local restaurant. For great coffee (and grappa), Caffe Vittoria is an authentic Italian café. Modern Pastry and Maria’s Pastry Shop are widely thought of as the best places for cannoli – Sicilian tube-like pastries, filled with sweet, creamy fillings. Forget the Freedom Trail, if you’re on the Boston donut trail, be sure to swing by Union Square Donuts to sample their sugary wares. They do a great vegan selection.
If pizza and pasta is your bag – prepare to carb up. You’re in Little Italy now, which means everywhere you look there is something delicious. Join the regulars who start queuing outside Galleria Umberto as early as 10:30am every day. The same family have been running this joint since 1965, and they only have five items on the menu – cheese pizza, arancini balls, calzones, paninis and panzarottis – breaded potato with mozzarella cheese and parsley, for the uninitiated. A slice or a panzarotti is just $1.85. A calzone is $4.75. Artu is an Italian trattoria favoured by North End locals, so you know the food’s decent, plus it won’t break the bank. L’osteria is a great shout for a filling and inexpensive lunch. Their pasta portions are colossal.
For a hearty (and sizeable) dose of New England grub, head to Boston Sail Loft, where you can get a lobster roll or a bowl of seafood chowder for $7.50. Saus is a great option if you’re craving street food style grub. The owners ‘believe in the power of the condiment’ and have created 15 unique sauces. Their ‘Beast Mode’ poutine will fill you up for days.
Best hostels in North End
For a truly unique experience, stay aboard The Liberty Clipper – a historic Tall Ship moored up in the North End, on Boston’s waterfront. You sleep in a cabin, hang out on the deck and generally get to feel like a pirate. Book ahead to avoid missing out – they only make a few cabins available each day and people snap them up fast.
Beacon Hill – Best area in Boston for architecture
So-named because of the beacon that once stood atop the hill to warn the city of incoming invaders. This is another of the oldest neighbourhoods in Boston, and it’s ruddy gorgeous. Chances are if you’ve poured over pics of the city, the most picturesque feature streets in Beacon Hill. It’s a trendy area, but also rather upmarket, so food and drink tend to err on the wallet-worrying side. Many a famous American has resided in these colonial homes, and it’s often referred to as Boston’s ‘Royal neighbourhood’ because of how downright swanky it is. This is a great spot for a walk – explore the streets, marvel at the architecture and stand outside designer shops forlornly. On a warm day, relax in Ashburton Park or Louisburg Square – a leafy square surrounded by million-dollar townhouses.
What is the area best for?
Beacon Hill is the best-looking neighbourhood in Boston, so walk around and soak it all in. Swing by Acorn Street to snap the obligatory picture all tourists seek – that of a 19th century cobblestoned street, lined with the original gas lamps, that looks straight out of a Hollywood movie. There are also some lovely green spaces in this corner of town. You absolutely have to visit Boston Common and Public Garden – America’s first botanical gardens, and oldest public park, dating way back to 1634. This 24-acre park in the centre of the city, to the south of Beacon Hill, is great place to enjoy food truck grub. Long before Taylor Swift was cavorting around on swan-shaped inflatables, Bostonians were floating on swan boats. Since 1877 these have been a favourite of summertime visitors to Boston, but don’t worry…the captain does the pedalling. If you happen to be in town when it’s freezing, the Frog Pond ices over and you can go ice skating.
Acorn Street by Tiffany Chan
What to do in Beacon Hill
There’s a couple of fantastic museums in Beacon Hill. The Museum of African American History on joy street, and the Museum of Science, which straddles the Charles River and connects the West End with Cambridge. If you get lucky and the sun is shining, have a walk along the Charles River Esplanade to the Back Bay neighbourhood. During summer, check out the events programme to see if anything is going down. The Massachusetts State House is worth a visit too. It’s one of the most significant spots on the Freedom Trail, is filled with art and artefacts, and is seen as a symbol of democracy. For the best views of the building’s golden dome, head to Boston Common. Also, you could opt to take an Old Town Trolley Tour, which you can hop on and off as you please.
Places to eat in Beacon Hill
Tatte Bakery and Café is the perfect place to start the day if you’re in the market for something sweet and buttery. Their pastries are sensational. They also do a great breakfast, tasty tarts, and have a sizeable salad and sandwich menu. For burgers and boozy milkshakes that could make you fall off your stool, head to JM Curley – one of Boston’s most infamous establishments. Named after James Michael Curley, Boston’s Mayor during the depression, this is a favourite late-night spot which is open until 2am. Fill your boots with fried pickles, Mac & Cheese or something from their late night ‘Stuff Your Pie Hole’ Menu, including tacos, grilled cheese, or nachos. They have a great selection of beers and cocktails that won’t break the bank. Most dishes are under $15, and you can get a pint for $6.
Downtown – Best area in Boston for cheap eats and dancing until dawn
A whole load of districts make up Boston’s Downtown area – there’s Chinatown, the Leather District, the Financial District and the Theatre District. This is where you’ll find some of the best cheap eats in Boston and some of the most banging clubs. During the day you can check out the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum and learn all about how a tax on tea by us Brits basically sparked off the American Revolution.
What is the area best for?
This area has the best cheap food in the city, and with so many options lining the streets it’s difficult to know where to begin. If you want to sample the best, a Chinatown food tour could be a great shout. The tour costs $75 for three-hours, but a whole lot of food is included, and you’ll be taken to many a spot that hasn’t yet made it onto Google.
What to do Downtown Boston
For outdoor lounging and a bit of fresh air right in the heart of Downtown, head to The Greenway in the Financial District. This linear park cuts a 15-acre line through the city from Chinatown Gate to Zakim Bridge. There are murals, art installations, and seven snazzy water fountains. Be sure to hunt down the Harbor Fog Sculpture, which emits noise and mist when anyone approaches. The Greenway is also a prime location for food truck treats, and a decent beer garden opens up during warmer months. The Greenway hosts festivals, events and the odd parade so always check what’s occurring when you’re knocking around Bean Town.
Come night time, have some drinks, belt out your favourite karaoke classic or just mingle with the local clientele at The Bell in Hand. This tavern dates back to 1795 and is said to be the oldest in the US. DJs blast tunes from Tuesdays to Saturday, so it’s a good shout if you’re in the market for a mid-week party. Nick’s Comedy Stop is a comedy club that’s birthed some of stand-ups biggest names. Friday and Saturday nights are the best nights, and the bar is nice and cheap. Or, if super clubs are your bag, ICON plays Latin, house and hip hop, or Good Life is a banging Downtown option, which mixes up their music every night, from Top 40 to techno. Bijou is a classy affair with big name DJs, but get there by 10:30pm if you want a chance of getting in. Jacque’s Cabaret is slammed seven nights a week, particularly for their raucous drag cabaret nights. There are two shows on Saturdays, but book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Places to eat in Downtown Boston
Boston’s Chinatown is the third largest Chinatown in the USA – so grab your opportunity to fill your boots with world-class Chinese grub while you’re here. Ho Yuen Bakery is the best of the city’s Chinese bakeries. Most of the sandwiches and cakes are just $1, so fill your backpack and you’ll be set for a day of exploration. The pork buns are sensational, as are their taro, coconut cream buns and moon cakes. There are Bon Me food trucks and restaurants all around Boston nowadays, but head to Park Street to locate it if you’re Downtown. Their selection of ramens, salads, sandwiches and noodles are all big and cheap. Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Café is another must-visit for cheap eats. Most dishes are under $10, whether that’s their hand-pulled noodles, spicy soups or famous flatbread sandwiches. Be warned – this is popular hangout for the hungry masses, so prepare to wait for a table, or get takeout. For the best budget sushi in Boston, head to Avana Sushi on Beach Street. They do a $7.50 lunch special that will set you up for the day. For the best dim sum in the city, you should check out Winsor Dim Sum Café or China Pearl. For day time dumplings, head to the Gourmet Dumpling House – but be prepared to queue, and for your late night dumpling fix, the Dumpling Café is open until 2am and is superb. For the best apple pie in the city, South Street Diner is open 24-hours a day.
Best hostels in Downtown Boston
HI Boston Hostel is in the middle of all Boston’s action. It’s ideally located between Boston Common and the Freedom Trail, just a short walk to the waterfront, or train ride under the Charles River to Cambridge. Plus, Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall and Boston Public Library are all close by. To see all the sights and soak up the kind of insight only a local can offer, sign up to one of the hostel’s free walking tours. Also, Boylston metro station is one block away, making hopping around the city nice and easy.
Back Bay – Best area in Boston for shopping
Boston’s Back Bay neighbourhood is slap bang in the middle of the city, close to Beacon Hill, Fenway, the South End, all the delights of Downtown, plus it’s on the Charles River. Transport links here are top notch, there are a number of stops on the T, and the number 1 bus whisks you out to Cambridge. This is the ideal place to locate yourself if you’re planning on sightseeing like a champ, but also want to indulge your inner shopaholic. The best restaurants and bars are on Tremont Street. If you’re in town in summer, have a picnic or burn off some street food with a run along the Charles River, or see if you can catch an alfresco concert at the Hatchshell.
What is the area best for?
For the best retail therapy in the city, hit up Newbury Street – Boston’s far more photogenic equivalent of NYC’s Fifth Avenue. There’s the big names, boutiques galore, and many a café to refuel in. Check out Bodega at 6 Clearway Street. While it may look like your average convenience store, head for the vending machine and you’ll find the entrance to Boston’s coolest skate shop. Boylston Street, Copley Plaza and the shops at the Prudential – one of New England’s tallest buildings – are great for big brands. For aerial views of the city, head to the Skywalk Observatory at the top of the Prudential Centre. It’s $19 for the best views of Boston, plus there’s a fantastic exhibit outlining Boston’s history on the observatory floor.
What to do in Back Bay
Boston Public Library is an impressive building to visit and perfect for those writing memoirs of their travels who are in need some peace and quiet. They host talks and performances most evenings, and offer free art and architectural tours of the site. During the summer, head to Boston Common for free performances of Shakespeare. Take a stroll down Newbury Street, to Copley Square – the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Within Copley Square, you’ll find a number of Boston’s architectural highlights, should that float your boat. There’s the Old South Church and the Trinity Church, both of which date back to the 1870’s. You’ll also spot the John Hancock Tower – the tallest building in New England. Right next door, is the old John Hancock Building, featuring an illuminated beacon, the colour of which forecasts the weather for the day. If you’re keen to check out Boston’s LGBTQ scene, hit up Club Café for their Broadway singalong nights, Drag Bingo and dance parties.
Trinity Church by David Mark
Places to eat in Back Bay
For something sweet, Flour Bakery has got you covered. They have a huge range of pastries, scones, cookies, cakes and brownies all made with wholegrain flower…so really, they are good for you! For bargain sushi and yakitori Ichiban Yakitori Sushi House is a tasty choice. This Japanese/ Korean fusion joint also boasts a really great Happy Hour every day between 4-6pm where you get one dish and a drink for $10 or less. If you’re in the market for cheap and delicious Mexican, Anna’s Taqueria is said to be the best burrito place in the city. There are sites in Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Cambridge, and you can order a full-to-the-brim super tortilla for just $7.
Fenway – Best area in Boston for sports fans
In a city that lives and breathes sports, there is nowhere more iconic than Fenway. This corner of Boston is home to Fenway Park – America’s oldest ballpark. Even if you don’t have a clue about baseball, or even know who the Red Sox are, taking in a game or a tour of the stadium is an interesting dose of Americana than shouldn’t be missed.
What is Fenway Park best for?
If you like sport, this is the neighbourhood for you. Not only are you close to the 38,000 capacity Fenway Park, which offers really interesting tours into the history of the Boston Red Sox, but there are plenty of places to rub shoulders with sports fans on Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way, at numerous sports bars and restaurants. Tours of the stadium start from $20. Top tip – if there’s a game on, and you can’t stretch to a ticket – head to Bleacher Bar, which offers views of the field, but is open to those without a ticket.
Fenway Park by Michelle Maria
What to do in Fenway?
When all the sports fans have packed up and headed home, there is a whole load of culture to lap up in Fenway. There’s the Museum of Fine Arts, which is home to more than 500,000 objects. Admission is via voluntary contribution on Wednesday’s after 4pm. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which features a sensational collection of Italian art housed within an impressive Venetian style home, is one of Boston’s best museums.
Best places to eat in Fenway Park
How would you like some musical accompaniment with your brunch? Well, if you’re in Boston on a Sunday don’t miss the Gospel Brunch at House of Blues. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy musical performances from the best gospel choirs in the state. Did I mention that it’s all-you-can-eat comfort food? For a lighter breakfast and a thoroughly decent cup of coffee, head to Neighbourhoods. Check out their range of breakfast crepes, especially the tofu scramble.
For lunch, check out Saloniki – a farm-to-table Greek affair. Choose from plates or pitas stuffed with grilled meat or souvlaki, salads, meze or soup. They also have a superb range of Greek yoghurts and Greek donuts, which are made to order. Try the Nutella and baklava crumbles and dream of them for weeks to come. The most expensive dish on the menu is $12. Should you fancy something with a bit more kick, head to the Mei Mei on Park Drive. These guys began life as a food truck, and scooped numerous accolades for their locally-sourced Chinese-American food. Their scallion pancake sandwiches filled with beef or pulled pork, sweet potato or roasted beetroot, are ridiculously delicious. They have a whole range of tasty side dishes for around $5 too, from parsnip fries, to dim sum turnip cakes. Their dumpling and fritter selection is sublime, and should you fancy washing it all down with a craft ale – they have some carefully curated options on draft.
If you and your travelling companions are finding it completely impossible to decide where to eat, check out the brand new Time Out Market Boston. This is the latest of Time Out’s carefully curated international food halls. Under one convenient roof, you can sample food from the best restaurants in the city. Also, a trip to Boston is incomplete without a trip to Tasty Burger. The bargain retro burger chain will fulfil all your American diner fantasies in one fell swoop. Burgers are all $6.75, and their beef hotdogs, and milkshakes aren’t half bad either. As it’s around the corner from Fenway Park, it’s a popular hangout post ball game – but fear not, one of the joys of Tasty Burger is their speedy service.
Best hostels in Fenway Park
The Farrington Inn is a guesthouse located two blocks away from the Green line of the T, which is an excellent shout if you need to keep things super low cost. There are dorm beds or air-conditioned private rooms, and some even come with their own kitchenette, which is handy if you don’t want to eat out for every meal.
South End – Best area in Boston for foodies
Boston’s South End is a beautiful neighbourhood close to Downtown and Back Bay, that boasts all the historic charm of the rest of the city…without all the tourists. There aren’t loads of tourist hotspots, so hanging out here really just gives you a chance to see how Boston locals live – whether that’s in brownstone houses, converted warehouses, or in the neighbourhood’s quirky shops, cafés and dive bars. This corner of town is known for its food. So, if you wear your ‘foodie’ status proudly, you’d do well to direct breakfast, lunch and dinner in the direction of the South End. This is also a popular part of town with the city’s artists and LGBTQ community. The neighbourhood isn’t on the metro, so you’ll have to hop on the silver bus line.
What is the area best for?
This is a great corner of the city once the sun goes down, and you’ll be able to find plenty of low budget, laid back bars with cheap drinks and friendly bar tenders. Delux Café is one such dive bar. Kitschy as hell, the bar is decorated with Elvis memorabilia, vinyl and cheap and cheerful Christmas lights. Head to Wally’s Café – a jazz bar with free entry, and open mic jam sessions almost every night of the week, which could be a living nightmare if the prestigious Berklee College of Music wasn’t nearby. For a speakeasy experience and superb cocktails, check out Wink & Nod – their Monday night Tiki nights are particularly fun. Over in South Boston, the GrandTen Distillery is open from Thursday to Sunday, and found behind a garage door. It’s fun for tipsy trivia, table football and shuffleboard. If you’re looking to boogie on down on a sweaty dancefloor – head to The Brahim for live music, or Royale for EDM from big name DJs.
What to do in South End
SoWa – the South of Washington area – is home to art studios, apartments and stylish bars and restaurants. If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, the local artists at the SOWA Artists Guild building at 450 Harrison Ave open their studios to the public and between 5-9pm you can check out the art, listen to live music and tuck in to free wine and cheese. If you’re visiting in spring there’s also a free SoWa Art Walk, which gives you another glimpse into Boston’s artiest corner of town. From May to October, Sundays should be spent at The SoWa Open Markets, which is essentially one enormous street party complete with beer barn, food truck bazaar, over 200 market stalls selling local arts, crafts, delicious treats, and vintage clothing. Frankly, you had me at beer barn.
Once in South End, it’s easy to pop east to South Boston where you’ll find the Institute of Contemporary Art. These guys pride themselves in displaying challenging, occasionally controversial works, and hosting poetry performances. Admission is free on Thursdays from 5pm-9pm.
Should art not be your ‘thing’ how about some friendly competition? At the Lawn on D, you can play ping pong, Jenga, bocce, corn hole, or take a ride on their glow swings – all for free. There’s always something going on at this great outdoor space, whether it’s movie screenings, live music or interactive art installations. Plus, there’s very reasonably-priced beer and wine. Before you go, check the lawn hours to ensure you’ll be able to play. Should you enjoy a brewery tour, or beer-centric events, check out what’s happening at Harpoon Brewery near the Seaport, where they host a number of festivals, such as St Patrick’s Day, Octoberfest, and BBQ’s.
For more outdoor fun, walk The Emerald Necklace, a string of six green spaces and parks that run from one end of the city to another. Designed by the same chap that designed Central Park in NYC, the 1,100 acre ‘Necklace’ is made up of the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway, Olmstead Park, Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park. You don’t need to walk the whole thing, but if you’re looking for some fresh air in the city, this could be your dream hang spot. Needless to say, it’s particularly photogenic during the fall. For maps, tours et al, head to The Shattuck Visitor Centre in the Back Bay Fens.
Places to eat in South End
Not only are you on holiday, but you’re also in a city known for its donuts, so the right thing to do is start the day with something glazed. One of the most experimental places in Boston, is Blackbird Donuts. Their flavours change all the time, but if you’re lucky you’ll be able to try blackberry lavender, sesame sriracha or – their masterpiece – the Everything Bagel Donut – a brioche donut filled with whipped cream cheese and topped with toasted garlic, onion, sesame and poppy seeds. These guys also have premises in Harvard Square, Fenway and Brighton. Feel fancy (and fill up for the day) at Aquitaine with their fixed price brunch, which is served on Saturday and Sunday from 9am-3pm. For $11.95 you get bottomless coffee, fresh orange juice, a glazed cinnamon bun and your choice of omelette or French toast.
For brunch, lunch and dinner Anoush’ella is a fab ‘fine casual eatery’ serving up quick, healthy and reasonably-priced Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern fare. Plus, added bonus, all dishes are made with locally-sourced organics ingredients. For brunch, the shakshuka is not-to-be-missed. They serve a fab range of salad, meze, and dips, but they are most known for M’anoush – super thin flatbreads topped with your choice of sweet or savoury ingredients and hand-rolled. Should you be committed to filling yourself with lobster rolls while you have the chance, check out Lobstah on a Roll, which also has a great range of cheap and enormous) sandwiches. For tasty, great value pizza, and friendly curb-side alfresco dining, check out Piccos on Tremont Street. In fact, Tremont Street in general is great for food and drinks. Enjoy a wander, browse the menus, check out the vibe and see what grabs you.
Image by skeeze
Allston – Best area in Boston for live music
If you’re looking for Boston’s hipster neighbourhood, look no further. Allston is where the cool kids (and many of Boston’s students) hang out, lured in by cheap rent and banging nightlife. Forbes ranked Allston 18th on their list of Best American Hipster Neighbourhoods, due to factors including its coffee shops, farmers markets, how easily walkable it is and the sheer volume of bars, clubs and restaurants, most of which are independently-owned by locals. Getting there is simple enough – it’s just a half hour journey from Downtown on the T.
What is the area best for?
This is the place to come to catch live music, as there are number of excellent music venues hosting local and international acts. Check out Paradise Rock Club for big names, but you’ll need to buy tickets in advance. O’Brien’s Pub is decent if you like things loud and punky. Brighton Music Hall is another great venue, hosting international artists. Great Scott is arguably Allston’s best music venue, hosting mostly rock, folk, indie and the odd bit of electronica. Aerosmith, Boston’s most famous rock band, once resided in a flat in Allston before they made it big. It’s now commemorated with a big green plaque – a perfect photo opportunity for all you rock fans.
What to do in Allston
Once you’re full to the brim with delicious food, it’s time to get your party on, and you are spoilt for choice in Allston. Model Café is a good place to drink cheap lethal drinks and dance to tunes from the jukebox. Head to the Silhouette Lounge for darts or a game or two of pool, cheap beer and a soundtrack of rock music. Plus, they hand out free popcorn like no one’s business. Deep Ellum offers good vibes, and a great beer and cocktail list. Wonder Bar is a fun place to dance until 2am.
Places to eat in Allston
For grilled cheese so good it will haunt your dreams, swing by Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. These guys were the first food truck to ever be on Boston’s streets – and they certainly started a trend. They now have locations all around the city, and if you love cheese with a furious passion – don’t miss out. As well as grilled cheese sandwiches, they do mean burgers and poutine. Lulu’s is a great low-cost spot, open until 1am that’s got a wide range of veggie and vegan options, as well as tacos, mac and cheese and ravioli. Super 88 (aka Hong Kong Supermarket) on Brighton Avenue is basically Asian street food heaven. Dim sum, noodles, bibimbap, sushi, ramen, if it’s Asian cuisine, it’s here, it’s cheap and it’s guaranteed to be delicious. Pho Viet is kind of the star of the show.
In true hipster style, Allston knows it’s important to cater to the veggie and vegan market. The Grasshopper wheels out decent Asian dishes, with loads of veg as well as tofu, seitan, tempeh and their mates. Their vegan cakes and milkshakes are a triumph. Whole Heart Provisions, has been dubbed ‘Chipotle for vegetarians and vegans’ – their signature bowls, are the way to go, most of which are under $10 – unless you go bonkers on the add-ons. They also have kombucha on tap. Save some room for FoMu vegan ice cream.
For something sweet and serious 1950s vibes, head to Twin Donuts, where their donuts are only 85 cents apiece.
Cambridge – Best area in Boston for intellectuals
Now, if you’re going to be picky, Cambridge technically counts as an entirely different city to Boston. But, we’re not one for technicalities – especially when there’s so much going on in Cambridge and Somerville, it’s hipster neighbour, that you mustn’t miss out on. Cambridge is located north of the Charles River, and is well connected to all corners of Boston by the red line of the T. This neighbourhood is home to Harvard and M.I.T – so, your I.Q basically shoots up the minute you emerge from the Metro. Head to Cambridge to explore these world-class universities, to take in the sights, sounds, shops and street performers of. There is a selection of cheap and delicious cafés and restaurants, serving up healthy food and great coffee. It’s also an excellent spot for those wanting to indulge in a little retail therapy – as well as big high street names, there’s independent boutiques and vintage stores where you can find some absolute gems. To break away from the tourists, head to Central Square, for cool bars, live music and lots of quiz nights…although, it’s probably safer not to pin too much on victory.
Harvard University along the Charles River
What to do in Cambridge
Take a stroll around Harvard Square and Harvard Yard (try saying that in a Boston accent!) wander through Harvard’s red brick buildings, sit for a while in the leafy courtyards that surround the many, many, many libraries, or take the Harvard Tour and learn everything there is to know about The Ivy League. Walk in the footsteps of a who’s who of the USA’s most influential figures, from JFK and Obama, to the many famous drop outs, including Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. You can also take campus tours of M.I.T, which are hosted by current students.
For a spot of serenity come lunchtime, head to Cambridge Centre Roof Garden, a secret garden on top of a parking garage in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, which is free to enter. Wander amongst the flowers, take a yoga class, play lawn games, or have a game of ping pong. Central Square, Inman Square, Union Square and Davis Square are all worth some exploration. Somerville, the neighbourhood next to Cambridge is far less touristy, and has a super cool selection of independent shops and healthy cafés that serve up the grub and coffee that fuels the brains of the USAs brightest boffins. Somerville is also home to the Aeronaut Brewing Company, which was founded by a science-focused trio with MIT connections, so you can guarantee their beers are experimental. You should check out the Museum of Bad Art in the basement of The Somerville Theatre if you’re up for some belly laughs.
If you’re blessed with good weather, enjoy a walk along the Charles River. You might also like to take to the water – you can canoe, kayak, take a Venetian gondola ride, or join a Duck Boat tour. Also, you can learn to sail or stand-up paddleboard, or, if that all sounds too much like hard work and you’re stuffed full of donuts, just take a relaxing riverboat tour and have Boston’s landmarks and architecture explained you.
At night, head to A4cade to play some old school arcade games or visit Middle East – one of Boston’s premier venues. Inside, there are lots of different venues hosting music acts, club nights, quizzes, boozy painting classes and comedy open mics. Another night time option is Sacco’s Bowl Haven in Somerville, where you can enjoy a spot of candlepin bowling. Yep – you heard me right, candlepin bowling…just like tenpin bowling only with longer, thinner pins and a smaller ball. Should the bowling make you peckish, they do a good line in organic flatbreads. A large is around $20 and is perfect for sharing between two or three. If you fancy catching some improv comedy, head to Improv Boston in Central Square. There are several shows most days of the week. For the rudest and most raucous, take in the 11:30pm show. The Comedy Studio is near to Harvard Square, tickets are never more than $15, and any one night you can encounter new talent, or big names trying out new material. The Burren in Somerville is banging option if you want to mingle with students and dance to loud roots rock music or Phoenix Landing in Central Square is a soccer bar by day – old school dance party by night, playing hip hop reggae, 80s tunes and dubstep.
Places to eat in Cambridge
For a filling brunch for under a tenner, or a bargain lunch or dinner head to Loan Star Taco. Sapporo Ramen is a cash-only spot, serving up lashing of delicious Japanese noodle soup for $10.50. Visit for lunch because they close early on weekdays. If you’re in the market for something spicy, Punjabi Dhaba in Inman Square specialises in all your favourite Punjabi dishes, from curries and bhajis to tandoori and pakoras. This is also cash-only. If you’re knocking around Harvard Square and need a late-night feed to soak up some beer, head to Charlie’s Kitchen for affordable pub grub. A stonking great double cheeseburger will set you back $11. Charlie’s has a great beer garden and hosts live music, karaoke, trivia and every last Wednesday of the month is Wu Tang Wednesday – a night dedicated to the hip hop legends. Did we mention they also have 22 beers on tap? You should also check out Mr. Bartley’s for their politically-themed burgers. Anyone for a Brexit burger?
About the author
Amy Baker is the author of Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America, and founder of The Riff Raff, a writers’ community that supports aspiring writers and champions debut authors. You can follow Amy on Twitter here.