I moved to Boston in 2008 and started guiding tours in 2015. I've talked with thousands of people about this city, giving suggestions and directions. I thought I'd summarize some of what I often share into one handy dandy guide to Boston.
What to Do
I wrote a recent post about this, which is especially helpful if you’ve only got 72 hours (or less) in Boston. That said, keep an eye out for a future post of my picks of things you absolutely must do; the things that make Boston the place it is.
Best Neighborhoods to Explore
Boston has 23 different neighborhoods. Some, like Bay Village, are tiny and easy to miss. Others, like Dorchester, are enormous and comprise many smaller neighborhoods within it. I’m someone who loves nature and you’ll find the most amount of it in Jamaica Plain. There is Jamaica Pond, the Southwest Corridor Park, Forest Hills Cemetery, Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park. Too, there are some great restaurants like Tres Gatos (tapas), Blue Nile (Ethiopian), Chilacates (Mexican) and The Haven (Scottish). It’s also home to my favorite bar in the city, The Brendan Behan.
Where to Eat
I recommend any of the places I mention in the post about restaurants in the North End. Also, all the restaurants in Jamaica Plain mentioned in the last section are great!
Where to Drink
Of course, there are plenty of options in and around the North End, which I recounted here. I also recommend Yvonne’s and The Last Hurrah for cocktails. If you’re downtown, check out Democracy Brewing. It's a small, local brewery with some good food and an atmosphere reminiscent of a German beer hall.
Where to Drink with the Locals
If you want to get down and dirty, try Biddy Early’s. They’ve got the grossest bathroom in the city but the drinks are so cheap it’s hard to believe. The food is so-so, but the staff is nice. It’s a slice of life place and I love it for that.
Where to Stay
Boston has very pricey hotels. But if money isn’t an issue, I recommend Marriott Vacation Club’s Custom House. It’s an urban resort right in the heart of the city located in an almost 200-year-old building. It has great amenities and awesome views from most of the suites. The Liberty Hotel is another option. It’s built in the old city jail but is pure class. There are several bars and restaurants inside including Clink and Alibi. (Do you see what they did there?)
Best Markets & Shopping
I love the Haymarket for cheap fruits and veggies. You can read more about it at the post about things to do around the North End. Right next to it is the Boston Public Market, which I wrote about in the same blog post. It also comes recommended for its unique New England foods and goods.
As for shopping, your best bet is Newbury Street. As comedian Marc Maron once said, “It’s the Rodeo Drive of Boston.” You’ll find everything from Tiffany and Co. to Urban Outfitters. The stores stretch for blocks and there are cafes and restaurants to grab a bite to eat.
Events & Festivals
Most weekends in August and September in Boston’s North End there are feasts for different Catholic saints on the weekends. These include Fisherman’s Feast, Madonna Della Cava, St. Agrippina di Mineo, San Gennaro, and others. The biggest, though, is St. Anthony’s, called the “Feast of all Feasts” by National Geographic. Many of these feasts are over 100 years old. What they amount to are huge block parties. Thousands of people come out for the energy, food, and entertainment. Dozens of Italian food vendors descend upon the streets. There are marching bands, fireworks, processions, musical artists, games, and an air of fun throughout the neighborhood.
Best Area for a Night on the Town
If you’re into live music, check out the further-out neighborhood of Allston. There you’ll find O’Brien’s Pub, Paradise Rock Club, and Brighton Music Hall. If you want to hit the big dance clubs, head straight for the Theatre District or the Seaport. If you’re looking for some jazz, check out Wally’s in the South End. It's a hole-in-the-wall that showcases some great musicians. This sometimes includes students from the nearby Berklee College of Music.
Tours, Sightseeing & Passes
Obviously, you need to take a tour with Historic Boston Crime Tours! But outside of that, if you’ve never been to the city, Old Town Trolleys will give you a good overview. If you’re interested in hitting up the main attractions in town, the Go Boston Pass will give you the best bang for your buck.
Boston is America’s walking city. It’s very easy to get around on foot and the T (the subway). A 7-day pass costs $22.50 for unlimited rides on the subway or bus. A 24-hour pass is $12.75 for unlimited rides. A one-way ride will run you $2.40.
Traveling to Boston
It’s rare for someone to say they like an airport, but my experiences in and out of Boston's Logan Airport have always been pleasant. It’s near downtown and I’ve never had to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes in line for security. There are many food options (some of which are very good), and several are Boston-based. Logan has direct flights to Europe, Asia, and throughout North and South America.
If you’re coming from somewhere in the Northeast, taking a bus is an option. I like Megabus but I’ve taken everything from the cheap Chinatown buses to and from New York City to the Greyhound.
Amtrak is also a possibility, but can be pricey, especially if you’re coming from New York City.
Drive if you must, but Boston is best appreciated by walking around. Not to mention, parking is expensive. Besides, our mass transit system is robust and affordable.
Favorite Side Trip
Salem. It’s accessible on the Commuter Rail Line and the price for a round trip ticket is reasonable. The train station in Salem is a ten-minute walk from all the action. Like Boston, the city is quite walkable. While Salem has thrown their lot (haha) in with the whole witch theme, it has a lot of other great things to offer. The Peabody Essex Museum always has great art exhibits. There are some restaurants making delicious food including Life Alive and Jodi Bee Bakes. Salem is also home to Notch Brewing and Far From The Tree cider. Finally, if it’s the summer, get a rideshare service to take you a few miles up the road to The Willows. It’s a throwback to the old arcades of yesteryear, with boardwalk food options. It’s also located right on the water, which creates a nice setting.
Best Time to Visit
All the seasons have their pros and cons as a time to visit Boston. However, I’d argue fall is the best time to see the city. While the weather is hit and miss as far as rain, most tourists have left by September. I’m one who likes cooler temps and even early November can be a good time to experience Boston. You can take in the historic sites, walk the city, and spend time at one of our many museums if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Best insiders tip
I have a few:
1. Don’t drive. Take the T, walk, or use a rideshare service.
2. Don’t call it Little Italy. It’s the North End.
3. Go to the Harbor Islands.
I Love Boston because...
there's so much history. Don’t be fooled, though. There’s way more to Boston history than just the Colonial tales we're taught in US History classes. In fact, I talk about some of them on the North End Tour!
Boston is a city that deserves at least five days for a visit. If you want to do a day trip to Cape Cod or the North Shore, you may want to add a few more days. Yet, I come across people who say they are only in Boston for 24 or 48 hours, or even a long weekend of 72 hours. And those visitors ask me: what are the things that are must-see in the city? Many of these individuals spending limited time here may never have visited before, either.
This blog post will cover things you should do if you’ve never been to the city and want a good overview of what Boston is about. This is through the lens of what I see as important, so your opinions may vary. Yet, I’ve spoken to hundreds if not thousands of visitors to Boston in the past five years, so I’m also taking into account what I’ve heard from them. I also want to throw in some hidden gems that many guests miss.
Start off with a trolley tour from Old Town Trolleys. There are a few ways to get a broad overview of the city. But I prefer Old Town Trolley because they cover a wider area, including going to the Seaport neighborhood and MIT in Cambridge. Your ticket also gets discounts at the Old State House and the Tea Party Museum, which are both worth hitting up. They’re also both on the trolley tour route. On your tour the driver will give you an overview of what you’re seeing, some history, and fun facts. Ride the entire route and then ride the trolley back to anyplace you want to visit again. All tickets are good for two days’ worth of rides, which makes this tour an even better deal.
For lunch hit up Boston’s North End, also known as our Little Italy (but only call it that if you want to out yourself as a tourist). There are more than 80 restaurants in this less than one square mile neighborhood. Most are open for lunch and offer specials. They’re also not as crowded then. Almost all the restaurants are solid choices, but check out my recommendations for some favorites.
In the afternoon, hop back on the trolley and go to Bunker Hill Monument. From there you can walk The Freedom Trail. This 2.5-mile brick path covers over a dozen historical sites that are important in our nation’s history. Feel free to take your time and go into the sites that interest you, or walk the trail and you’ll finish the route in as quick as 90 minutes. Don’t forget to check out some of the odds and ends on the Trail, which will add a little liveliness to this historic path.
If you have some time, check out the Boston Public Garden, located next to the Boston Common. (The Common is the oldest public park in the United States. The Public Garden is the oldest public garden in the US. We’re a city that’s big on history if you haven’t figured that out yet.) See the Make Way For Ducklings statues or rent a swan boat and paddle around the pond. Afterward, for dinner, make your way down the shopping-centric Newbury Street and see which restaurants suit your fancy. Along the way you can check out stores that range from Tiffany and Co. to Urban Outfitters.
Another option is to head to Charles Street on Beacon Hill. There you’ll find many boutique shops as well as plenty of food options. Afterward, walk around Boston’s richest (and one of the oldest) neighborhood. Make sure and see Louisburg Square and Acorn Street.
In the evening, head to the Theatre District to catch a show or head down to the Esplanade and stroll along the Charles River.
Grab breakfast at Friendly Toast, a diner in Back Bay (make sure to get there early), or Mike & Patty’s in Bay Village. The latter is a hole in the wall whose breakfast sandwiches are top notch. The former is a fun diner with a huge menu.
Today is a great day for a picnic, but not at any old location. How about having it at a 19th-century fort on an island in Boston Harbor? Grab some picnic foods and head to Long Wharf to board a ferry for Georges Island. Enjoy the breeze off the water and your lunch. Then explore Fort Warren and take a guided tour by a National Park Service Ranger. Make sure and bring a bag to carry back your trash, as all the islands are carry on, carry off with garbage.
Spend your afternoon hitting up some of the locations you may have missed on the Trolley Tour the day before. I can't recommend the Mapparium enough. It’s a 30-foot-tall stained-glass globe which you can walk into that depicts the world as it was in 1935. Afterward, head over to the Christian Science Church for a free tour and see the beautiful stained glass and architecture.
Walk down Huntington Avenue to the Boston Public Library and explore this wonderful building (both the old part and the modern one). If it’s possible, take the free tour to learn more about the art and architecture.
For dinner, check out Chinatown. If you’re vegetarian, I recommend My Thai Vegan Café, but in Chinatown you’ll find everything from dumplings to hot pot.
End the day with a drink at either Yvonne’s or The Last Hurrah (located in the Omni Parker House). Both are fine cocktail bars with class.
Today is the day to hop on the T, which is what Bostonians call our subway system. Buy a day pass from a kiosk at any subway station and take the Orange Line to the end at Forest Hills. If you're in town on a weekend, get brunch at The Dogwood, located right next to the station.
There are two things worth checking out in this immediate area: Arnold Arboretum and Forest Hills Cemetery. The Arboretum is a partnership between Harvard University and the city of Boston. It’s the oldest public arboretum in North America. At 281 acres it’s got a creek, hills with great views, a Colonial cemetery, and a bonsai garden. After that, check out Forest Hills Cemetery, located on the other side of the T station. Here you’ll find great sculptures, beautiful grounds, grand mausoleums, and the final resting place of a litany of famous people. It’s one of my favorite places to visit because of its mix of old and new, as well as how peaceful and beautiful it is.
Head back to the Forest Hills T station and walk up South Street (which will merge into Centre Street after a while). You’re in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, a hip but quaint residential part of Boston. As you walk up Centre Street you’ll find a bevy of cute shops and restaurants. Try one of them out for lunch. And then head to either JP Licks or FoMu for some ice cream!
Next, hop on the Route 39 bus and take it to the stop for the Museum of Fine Arts. While I do recommend a trip to the MFA, if you’re here for a limited time I actually prefer the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This building is a mixture of early 20th-century mansion and art gallery, with a beautiful courtyard to boot. You’ll find art from Ancient Greece up through the late 19th-century. This was also the site of the largest art heist in history: $500 million worth of items in 1990. The art is still missing and the crime remains unsolved.
From the Gardner head over to Fenway Park and get a tour of the stadium. I’m not much of a sports fan, but even I enjoyed my tour of the oldest professional baseball stadium in America. There’s some great history here and the tour allows you to go behind the scenes. There’s also a museum at the end of the tour. Boston is a sports town and it’s good to get a feel for that on your visit.
Many visitors come to Boston with an intention to eat seafood, especially lobster. And we’ve got more than enough places to please. Any of the following should meet your craving: Neptune Oyster, Sail Loft, James Hook, and of course any Legal Seafood location is a safe bet. In the evening head over to one of the best bars in the North End for a drink.
And most importantly, make sure you squeeze in a tour with Historic Boston Crime Tours!
This is the second part of some random locations along Boston’s Freedom Trail that you may miss if you weren’t aware of them. Thankfully, this post, as well as the one last week, will give you some insight into these places just off the beaten path.
Benjamin Franklin Birthplace
[Walk past the Old South Meeting House. Turn left on Milk Street. Stand across from 17 Milk Street. Above the second floor is a bust of Benjamin Franklin.]
Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in a small house at this location. He lived here for 6 years with his father Josiah, mother Abiah, and his 16 siblings. Benjamin was the 15th and youngest son.
The current building that stands on 17 Milk Street is not the original where Franklin was born. Fire destroyed the building in 1811.
Starting in 1718 at the age of 12 Benjamin began as an apprentice in his brother James’s print shop. In 1721 James started The New-England Courant. It was a pricey paper, but people enjoyed it because of its humorous essays and literary content. Right from the start The Courant showed it wasn’t opposed to causing a stir, as it began during a smallpox epidemic that hit Boston in 1721. Inoculation was a radical idea. At the time, one of the leading pastors in Boston, Cotton Mather, came out in support of it. The Courant printed articles against him and this hare-brained idea.
Benjamin wanted to write for the paper, but his brother wouldn’t allow it. So, over the course of many months in 1722 Benjamin wrote 14 letters to his brother’s newspaper, under the pen name Silence Dogood. These letters often poked fun at the rigid Puritan values of the town. Given that Boston was fairly small at the time (approximately 12,000 residents) these letters became the talk of the town. In fact, this character of Silence Dogood, who Franklin wrote was a widow, received marriage proposals. Yet neither the public nor even James Franklin knew the identity of Dogood. The reason is that Benjamin would slide the letters under the door at the print shop over the course of many months in 1722.
When Benjamin told his brother it was he who wrote the letters, they had a falling out. It didn’t help that James treated Benjamin as a regular apprentice, not cutting him any slack. And at times James, who was nine years older than Benjamin, would beat his younger brother.
In 1723, at the age of 17, Ben Franklin broke his apprenticeship and left Boston.
[Walk down Washington Street, past the Old Corner Bookstore. On the right is Spring Lane. Walk to the plaque that reads “Here was the Great Spring which for more than two centuries gave water to the people of Boston.”]
When the Puritans sailed into Boston Harbor in 1630 under the leadership of John Winthrop, they set foot first in what is now Charlestown. This area had only brackish water, though, which made it unsuitable for building a town. A spring located near the tide line caused illness amongst hundreds of settlers upon their arrival.
Fortunately, Winthrop encountered Rev. William Blaxton (or Blackstone). He was an English immigrant who arrived in Weymouth in 1623 and migrated to Boston. He lived alone on the western slope of Beacon Hill. Rev. Blaxton told Winthrop the Shawmut Peninsula had excellent water and offered to share it with them. In fact, one meaning of the Indian name “Shawmut” is “place of clear waters.” This water was so important that the Puritans under Winthrop crossed the Mystic River and relocated on the Shawmut Peninsula.
[Starting from the Washington Street side of the Old State House, look back down Washington Street in the direction by which you came.]
In the heyday of print newspapers, as many as seventeen publications lined Washington Street, from here to the Old South Meeting House. Many are unfamiliar and forgotten. Others, such as the Boston Globe, continue to publish today (though the Globe headquarters are now on State Street). Other major papers included the Post; the Journal; the Herald; the Traveler; the Daily Advertiser, and many more.
The area around Newspaper Row was famous at the time for being a mix of folks. It included politicians, lawyers, newspapermen, cops, bootleggers, and of course, the public.
These few blocks were also utilized for promotions, publicity stunts, and advocacy. People stopped to read headlines or listen to updates, and proponents of various causes would try to get their attention. In 1909, for example, supporters of giving women the right to vote sold copies of their pro-suffrage newspaper. They also engaged people in conversation about suffrage. Another example occurred in 1914, when the Boston Post raised enough money to buy three new elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo. The newspaper then held a parade and school children got the chance to meet the elephants.
With the growing popularity of radio and TV in the 1950s, many of the newspapers went under or moved out of the expensive downtown area.
[As you walk down Union Street, you’ll see six tall glass pillars on your left.]
Is it weird to say that the Holocaust Memorial is one of my favorite things in Boston? It’s one of my must-see sites because it’s so well done. It’s emotional and educational at the same time. It’s designed very well, with six glass pillars representing the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust. Yet, the site also recognizes the other groups persecuted by the Nazis. It gives facts along the ground between each pillar. There are also quotes from individuals who lived through that time. The subway line runs underneath the pillars. Steam escapes from the grates below each pillar, representing the gas chambers in which many persecuted people died. If it sounds macabre, it’s not; it’s sentimental without being hokey. It’s worth spending 10-15 minutes to contemplate one of the greatest tragedies in human history. And what we all have a responsibility to make sure never happens again.
[As you take a right on Marshall Street right after the Holocaust Memorial, about half a block down the street on the right is a street called Salt Lane.]
I’m asked if there is a street or part of Boston that remains from the time of the American Revolution. While there are buildings from that time, Salt Lane and its connecting streets will give you the best idea of the layout of Colonial Boston. Narrow streets with cobblestone (it’s not original though) that form no pattern show the layout of Colonial times. In fact, the waterfront was at one time butted right up against Salt Lane.
Thomas Hutchinson House
[When leaving North Square, take a right on Garden Court Street instead of heading down Prince Street.]
All that remains of former British Colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion is a plaque. But the story of what happened to his mansion in 1765 is pretty amazing.
Across the street from where Hutchinson once lived is the building where Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was born. She was the mother of future President John F. Kennedy, and matriarch of the Kennedy family.
[The skinny house is across from the main entrance to Copp’s Hill Cemetery.]
A skinny house (also known as a spite house) is a building made to irritate neighbors or to frustrate another party with land stakes. It may also block light or access to neighboring buildings. The origin of this skinny house is unclear. The legend says two brothers inherited land from their deceased father. One brother was away serving in the military during the Civil War and the other built a large home. He left the soldier brother only a shred of property that was certainly too tiny to build on. When the soldier brother returned, he found his inheritance depleted. He built the narrow house to spite his brother by blocking the sunlight and ruining his view. This is where the nickname “spite house” comes from.
This house is ten feet wide. At its narrowest point it is six feet; you can touch both walls. In total it’s 964 square feet of space. There is a total of five doors in the house. Floors separate rooms instead of doors. To get furniture into the house it may need dissembled and then reassembled once it’s inside. The house sold in 2017 for $900,000. When the family had a New Year’s Eve party for ten people, every time someone had to use the bathroom, everyone had to move to make a path.
And of course, you’ll get to see some cool, off the beaten path places in Boston’s North End when you come on the Historic Boston Crime Tour!
The Freedom Trail is one of the things that almost all those visiting Boston do at some point. It’s a two-and-a-half-mile trail that goes between Boston Common in downtown to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. Along the way it goes by 16 different historical sites (churches, houses, monuments, cemeteries, meeting halls). When guests come to Boston and tell me they are only there for one or two days, I tell them to walk The Freedom Trail. It covers all the basics of Boston history and gives a good overview of the downtown area. While there are a few hills on the route, I’ve seen people of all levels of fitness walk it. You can spend an entire day if you choose to go into the locations and take a tour of each. Alternately, if you just want to walk the route and not stop anywhere, you can do it in as little as 90 minutes.
I’ve highlighted a few things in this blog post that you may miss but are within a block or less of the trail. While some are minor, they add to the flavor of the city, especially once you know their back story. I had so many places to write about that this will be the first of two parts about unique, interesting spots along The Freedom Trail.
Mary Dyer Statue
[To the right of the front gate of the Massachusetts State House is the General Hooker entrance. To the right of that is the statue of Mary Dyer.]
Dyer came to Massachusetts from England with her husband in 1634. She fell in with Anne Hutchinson who critiqued the Puritan religious leaders of Boston. Anne believed a lot of things that were in opposition to the leaders of the time. This includes holding Bible studies at her house and critiquing the pastors’ sermons.
In 1637 Hutchinson got kicked out of Boston for her beliefs. Mary and her family followed her to Rhode Island. At some point Mary moved to England and joined the Quaker faith. In England, the Quakers and Puritans were enemies. Quakers believed God could speak directly to people without clergy. They also didn’t believe in paying tithes.
At first in Boston there were no laws against Quakers, but they faced banishment from the colonies. Puritans then passed laws setting fines for those who entertained Quakers. Finally, they established the death penalty for any banished Quaker who returned to the colony.
Mary Dyer returned to Boston in 1658 from Rhode Island. She wished to spread the message of her Quaker beliefs. Instead, she went to jail for doing so. Her husband posted bond on the condition he take her out of Massachusetts. Yet Dyer returned in 1659, accompanied by William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson. All three Quakers went to jail. They went taken to the gallows at Boston Neck. Robinson hanged first, then Stevenson. Finally, it was Dyer’s turn. The noose went around her neck, but the Governor granted her a last-minute reprieve based on a request from her son, William.
She was again banished that year, 1659, but returned to Boston in 1660 and hanged for the “crime” of being a Quaker.
Out of this comes some religious freedom for Quakers, though. King Charles II of England hears of these hangings and orders the Puritans to stop. Puritans still punished Quakers but with far less harshness. In the years following, religious persecution lessened for Quakers and those who weren’t Puritans. This established a strong example in North American British Colonies of freedom of religion.
Omni Parker House
[After leaving the Granary Burying Ground, follow The Freedom Trail to your left. Across the street is the Omni Parker House. Enter through the Tremont Street doors.]
Harvey Parker, a local businessman, built the Omni Parker House in 1855. He saved up his pennies and created this hotel and named it the Parker House. At that time, it was five floors. Today it is fourteen. Over the years there were many additions. It was also demolished and reconstructed. The Parker House served as a stark contrast to the boarding rooms of the day. They were dirty, loud, and smelly, but the Parker House was beautiful. Today it is the oldest continually operating hotel in the US.
From the start, the Parker House was popular. Four gentlemen soon became regular attendees on Saturday afternoons. They appropriately called themselves the Saturday Club. They were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. These men would discuss politics, literature, and religion. Their publisher, Ticknor & Fields, was down the block. The members of the club could thus get their earnings for the book sales and then stop here for a meal and drinks.
Many US Presidents have stayed here, too: Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton. And of course, John F. Kennedy stayed here. JFK has many other connections here. The Omni Parker House is the site of his first public speech at the age of six. He called grandfather John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a former mayor, “the best grandfather a child ever had.” JFK announced his first run for Congress in the ballroom on the second floor in 1946. He also held his stag party here.
There have been a few well-known individuals who have worked here, too. From 1911 to 1913 one of the bakers was future Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh. In the 1940s one of the busboys was Malcolm Little. He would later be known under a different name: Malcolm X. From 1979 to 1981 the sous chef was Emeril Lagasse.
Some famous food began here, too: Parker House Rolls and the Boston Cream Pie.
Finally, there was a very famous criminal who stayed here eight days before he committed his well-known crime. He came to Boston to see his brother perform in a play next door at Tremont Temple. But while here he spent time at the shooting gallery doing some fancy trick shooting including over his shoulder and between his legs. Then he left here and went to Washington DC. A few days later he went to the theater again, but this time it was to shoot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head. The staff was mortified to find out that John Wilkes Booth was in their midst a little more than a week before.
King’s Chapel Burying Ground
There are a few graves that are unique here and worth pointing out. Often visitors can miss the significance in the grave artwork. The first one to take note of is directly in front of you upon entering the burying ground.
The gravestone of Joseph Tapping (1678) is noteworthy for its elaborate carvings. Father Time, holding an hourglass, is behind Death, who holds a dart in his left hand and with his right puts out the candle standing on a globe. Death is trying to snuff out the life of the individual (represented by the candle). But Father Time is trying to hold him back, as though to say, “It’s not yet their time.” Included are the phrases Memento Mori, which means “Remember Death” and Fugit Hora meaning “Time Flies”.
Turn to your right. Rebecca Gerrish’s grave is a few yards down on the left and one row back. Her headstone has similar carvings like Tapping’s. Once again, Father Time is trying to stop Death from taking a life.
The monument to the Chevalier de St. Sauvier is at the end of the path. It’s the obelisk on the other side of the fence.
The Chevalier was the Chamberlain (house manager) to the brother of King Louis XVI of France. During the American Revolution, America received support from the French both in supplies and manpower. With Boston having gotten rid of the British early in the war, we had an open port. That was valuable since it provided a place for French ships to unload their goods and provide a place for sailors to rest. The Chevalier left his service for the King’s brother and joined the French Navy.
He received wounds during a scuffle between French sailors and some Americans in September 1778 and died 8 days later. To try and smooth things over with the French, whose help we very much needed, the Massachusetts General Court (our legislature at the time) agreed to pay for a monument. But it was never built. In 1905 the legislature once again brought up the issue but didn’t build it. Not until 1916 was the matter finally concluded and the monument seen here went up in 1917.
Old City Hall
The statue of the donkey in the courtyard has more of an interesting history than what gets noted in the plaque located here. While the donkey is the symbol of the Democratic party, it wasn’t put here precisely for that reason. The statue was the gift of Roger Webb, founder of the organization (Architectural Heritage Foundation) that purchased Old City Hall in 1969. He had it installed in 1998. He purchased the donkey in Italy for just under $10,000 in the early 1980s. He desired to have it serve the purpose of providing a respite for kids on the Freedom Trail. He masked it as being about the Democratic Party to make it more palatable to city officials. But he just liked the statue and he owned the land, so he had it installed. Read Webb’s full account of the tale here.
And of course, you’ll get to see some cool, off the beaten path places in Boston’s North End when you come on the Historic Boston Crime Tour! Book a tour today!
New England cemeteries are a unique breed. They're incredibly old with headstones that have what many consider to be ghoulish art: skulls and figures of death. While I’m not intrigued by the macabre, I do like the peaceful nature of cemeteries. So visiting some of the local cemeteries has been an interesting, educational experience. These sites have become places for me to wander and appreciate the artwork and history.
Before I proceed, some clarification is in order. In New England one will often see the phrase “cemetery” and “burying ground” attached to these places of final rest. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a burying ground as “an area of land where dead people have been buried.” The definition of a cemetery is “a burial ground.” As you can see, they’re interchangeable. For this blog post I’ll use the term for each place based on what they’re commonly referred to.
Below I’ve included four of my favorite cemeteries. They’re worthwhile for various reasons: the artwork of the headstones, the history, the individuals buried there, and other unique features. Many visitors will know the three burying grounds on The Freedom Trail: Copp’s Hill, Granary, and King’s Chapel. But I wanted to highlight a few others located throughout the city. Each are within either easy walking distance or accessible via public transportation. But let’s start with the biggest and most popular one first.
Granary Burying Ground
It surprises many people to learn that the historic burying grounds in Boston aren’t related to a church. In fact, they’re operated and maintained by Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department. The Granary is a closed burying ground in the sense that no more bodies are being added. Yet, it’s quite open to visitors. Since it is a public place, you can access it almost all year around from sunrise to sunset, although sometimes they close a bit early.
The Granary is the most well-known burying ground in Boston because of the folks whose bodies reside here. You have a lot of heavy hitters from the American Revolution: John Hancock, Paul Revere, James Otis, and Sam Adams. Also, there are the five victims of the Boston Massacre. Too, there are the parents of Benjamin Franklin, who strangely have the largest memorial in the grounds. But there are also lesser-known, but still important figures from our history. This includes Peter Faneuil; whose namesake is Boston's Faneuil Hall. Some early governors of Massachusetts are also buried here.
There are a couple of people who have fascinating stories. The body of Elisha Brown is here. He and other residents of the Manufactory House (which was right across the street from the Granary Burying Ground) held off British troops during a three-week siege in 1768. Also here is Benjamin Woodbridge, a nineteen-year-old who was the victim of the first duel fought in Boston in 1728.
Amongst the headstones one will also find great examples of colonial art. (I could write an entire post about the symbolism, but check out this page to get an understanding of what those skulls with wings mean.) Beyond the popular death’s head, there are a few other pieces of gravestone art. Jabez Smith was a marine who fought in the Revolutionary War. His headstone features a wonderful sailing ship with the words “Anchored in the haven of rest.”
Ruth Carter’s grave (located near Smith’s) showcases intricate stonecutting. It has two skeletons with one that is turning around. I also like Elizabeth Ireland’s headstone, which shows the Grim Reaper lounging.
What makes a lot of the art in these old burying grounds even more interesting is that the stonecutters remain anonymous. Early Bostonians were rather conservative folks; art was not important to them. You wouldn’t find art in their churches or their homes. But headstones were one place where an artistic soul could shine. Here he (it was a man’s realm in Colonial Boston) could showcase not only what we perceive to be the macabre, but also flowers, plants, and fruits.
If you can only see one burying ground or cemetery in Boston, I recommend this one.
Central Burying Ground
The Central Burying Ground is one of the four burying grounds in the heart of the city that is open to the public. Yet, because it’s not on The Freedom Trail, it’s the least visited. That said, there are some cool things here that make it worth checking out.
One reason this burying ground has few visitors is that it’s kind of hidden, tucked away on the corner of the Boston Common. Also, there aren’t many famous people buried here. I’d go so far to say there’s only one worth mentioning: Gilbert Stuart. While the name may not ring a bell, you know his work. Stuart painted the portrait of George Washington found on the one-dollar bill. In fact, he painted portraits of the first six US presidents. He's considered to be one of the foremost portrait painters in early American history.
So if there aren’t many famous people residing in this location, who are the folks buried here? There are some Catholics and immigrants. There are some British and American soldiers from the American Revolution. But when the Central Burying Ground opened in 1756, it was on the outskirts of the settled part of Boston. No one wanted their loved ones—even in death—so far away from where they lived.
In 1836 an extension of Boylston Street occurred. This street abuts against the burying ground. This extension removed a swath of the graves. Their reinterment was in the same burying ground in a unique feature called “The Dell.” It’s actually a free-standing grave with crypts for various family members behind each steel door.
The final unique piece of this burying ground is a big headstone under which are the remains of up to 1000 British soldiers. They died in Boston during the 1770s before the army retreated from the city. Their discovery in 1895 was due to the construction of Boston’s subway. Once discovered, they had a reburial in the burying ground.
Temple Ohabei Shalom Cemetery
While I knew of Jewish portions of private cemeteries, I never visited a cemetery that is exclusively dedicated to those of the Jewish faith. Temple Ohabei Shalom Cemetery (TOSC) is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts, founded in 1844. It’s still active, so one can see how headstones have changed in style from the nineteenth-century to today.
What makes a visit to TOSC unique is that for someone who isn’t Jewish, it was interesting to see the ways in which Jews memorialize their dead. I’ve never seen certain symbols in non-Jewish cemeteries that one finds here. There is also a lot of Hebrew on the headstones. Some of the pictures I've included showcase those unique differences.
Graves sit very close together over the two acres of land. The grounds aren’t elaborately sculpted and there aren’t any famous people buried here. But that’s not why I recommend this cemetery. For many people, they’ve only ever grown up around Christian graveyards and its iconography. Or they’ve seen a Jewish section of a cemetery. But to see an entire cemetery dedicated to Jews is a much different take to what many Americans know.
Even though TOSC is in East Boston, it’s not hard to get to. Take the blue line on the MBTA to the Wood Island stop and then it’s about half a mile walk from there. Note that it’s closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
Forest Hills Cemetery
Forest Hills Cemetery was one of the first cemeteries I explored in Boston, because I lived two blocks from it. It’s private, non-religious, and still active. It traces its roots to the garden cemetery movement of the 19th century. (In fact, Forest Hills’ sister cemetery, Mount Auburn, located in Cambridge, is the first garden cemetery in the US and worth a visit.)
Garden cemeteries are more in line with what people today picture as a cemetery. Graves spaced further apart, flowers and plants, and gone are the death’s heads and more macabre nature of the headstone art.
That said, Forest Hills has some great art that stands alone from the graves. Upon entering the main entrance, one sees Daniel Chester French’s bronze sculpture, Death and the Sculptor. Throughout the 275 acres there are other sculptures, many more of the modern variety. There are also monuments to firefighters and soldiers.
Many famous individuals find their final resting place here. This includes poet e. e. cummings (whose name is spelled out and in all capital letters on his grave), abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, playwright Eugene O’Neill, and poet Anne Sexton. Many more lesser-known, yet interesting folks are also at rest at Forest Hills. There is a map of the grounds one can pick up upon entering that shows who many of these individuals are, as well as where various artwork is at.
One of the enjoyable facets about Forest Hills is how much it acts like a park. There are beautiful flowers and trees. On my visits I’ve seen people jogging, riding their bikes, reading, having a picnic, walking their dog, and even doing yoga. The pond at the center of Forest Hills makes for a nice locale and there are benches and chairs spaced throughout.
Although Forest Hills isn’t in downtown Boston, it’s easy to get to on public transit. Take the Orange Line on the MBTA to the end at Forest Hills. Head up Tower Street to enter through the side entrance. (It’s much quicker than walking to the front). The cemetery is generally open sunrise to sunset, so hours change throughout the year.
And when visiting Boston, don’t forget to book a crime tour of the North End with us!
After visiting Naples, Italy, in the 1830s, Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, described pizza as “a species of most nauseating looking cake…it all together looks like a piece of bread that had been taken reeking out of the sewer.”
We’ve come a long way since the 1830s when it comes to pizza. Today everyone has an opinion about who makes the best pizza, especially when it comes to city or neighborhood favorites. So it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the subject is contentious in Boston’s North End, too. Some swear by Regina Pizzeria, others go for the Sicilian slices at Galleria Umberto. Some even suggest the best pizza is in East Boston at Santarpio’s (but that’s the subject for a different post). So, as promised a few posts ago, I’m going to delve into four of my favorite pizza joints in the North End. While I won’t declare one to be the best, they all make good pies and I am confident recommending any of them.
Galleria Umberto (or Umberto’s, as I like to call it) has a very small menu. They have a few calzones, arancini, some soda and beer. But the main draw is the $2 a slice Sicilian style cheese pizza. Open since 1974 and owned by brothers Paul and Ralph Deuterio, this is a family business. The owners are quite friendly; on one of my recent visits one of them asked a customer about how his grandkids were doing. It’s that sort of joint.
The inside is plain with a few maps and photos of Italy. There’s some indoor seating but you can also call in your order if you want to get it to go. While the space isn’t big, it’s almost always busy. The line is often out the door.
Umberto’s makes a set amount of pizza every day and they’re only open for lunch. While they say their hours are 10:45 AM to 2:30 PM, Monday through Saturday, they close when they’re out of pizza. So come early and bring cash; they don’t accept credit cards.
But what about the pizza itself? They only serve cheese and all the slices are Sicilian style, which means they’re rectangular shape. The sauce is sweet without being sugary and has a tiny amount of spice. The dough is soft and spongy while being a bit flaky on the bottom. The cheese is mild and overpowered by the sauce and dough, which isn’t a bad thing. One nice thing about Umberto’s is that because they’re so busy, the pizza you get is always straight out of the oven.
In 2018, the James Beard Foundation (is it too cheap to label them the Emmy’s, but for food?) awarded Galleria Umberto with their “American Classic” award. According to the Foundation, “This honor is given to regional establishments, often family-owned, that are cherished for their quality food, local character, and lasting appeal.” Umberto’s fits that description.
Haymarket Pizza traces its roots back to 1970. It's located right next to the Haymarket (which is open on Fridays and Saturdays) on Blackstone Street. They serve many types of pizza and offer it by the slice or the whole pie. A cheese slice will run you $2.50.
The shop is pretty small with limited seating. If the weather is nice I recommend taking your slice a block over to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Find a bench or one of the swings while you enjoy the scenery.
While Haymarket Pizza does offer Sicilian style like Umberto’s, most of their pizzas are a regular pie. I got a plain cheese slice on my recent visit. I liked that the sauce tasted as though it had some oregano or thyme in it. It had a slight spice but was generally sweet. The dough was soft with a thin crust but it wasn’t brittle. The cheese didn’t stick out much but that could be because my piece had to be put in the oven again since it had been out for a bit. Still, it’s a good slice and one of my favorites in the North End.
Ernesto’s opened in 1984 in the North End on Salem Street. They’re most well-known for their slices, which are huge. Each one is a quarter of a pizza. So you're getting two slices in one. The cost is a little more because of that ($4.75) but it still comes out to be a good deal. The other thing is that Ernesto’s offers a wide variety of pizza to buy as a slice. Most places will offer a slice of cheese or pepperoni, but at Ernesto’s you can get a buffalo chicken slice or even one of their “cheeseburger” pizzas. The latter is everything you’d find in a Big Mac but on a pizza.
The location is small, with six or seven tables. It’s pretty much the definition of “a hole in the wall” restaurant, but don’t hold that against Ernesto’s. That said, I recommend getting your pizza or slice to go and heading to the Rose Kennedy Greenway if the weather is amenable.
The pizza itself is a thin crust but not brittle. It’s soft and crisp on the bottom. The cheese is the perfect amount and taste. My favorite part about Ernesto’s pizza is the sauce. It’s sweet and not too acidic. It’s definitely my favorite sauce out of any of these four restaurants.
One note of warning; if you want your pizza fresh and hot, you’ll want to order a whole pie. Some of the slices may have been sitting for a while, although they always reheat them for you. That minor quibble aside, Ernesto’s is the place I’ve been to the most of any of these four featured pizzerias, so that should say how much I enjoy it.
Regina Pizzeria (translated from Italian, the name means Queen Pizza) can claim the title of the oldest pizzeria in Boston. Luigi D’Auria opened the North End location in 1926. It can also often claim the title of best pizza in Boston (if not the US), which it receives on frequent occasion from various press. The Polcari family purchased Regina’s in the 1940s. They continue to own it and have done so for the past three generations.
Today Regina’s is a chain with over a dozen locations in Eastern Massachusetts and Connecticut. That said, do not go to the other locations. Stick with the original in the North End. The reason? This location uses a brick oven imported from Italy and built in 1888. The other locations use traditional ovens you’d find in any restaurant.
The location in the North End isn’t large but has seating outside. There’s a small bar area (they serve wine and beer, including by the pitcher) as well as booths and tables. You’ll almost always find a line out the door (unless you go at lunch) but it’s so worth it.
The original location offers many types of pizza with toppings that include shrimp, broccoli, and goat cheese. Pizzas can have a pesto, garlic, or marinara sauce. While you can’t get individual slices here, you can get pies to go.
While I like a wide range of pizza, I’ve found their plain cheese to be great. It comes out piping fresh. The cheese is gooey and it has a crispy crust. The sauce is a mix of sweet and spicy. It finds that nice middle of the road spot. After having Regina’s once, you may not agree it’s the best pizza in America. That’s fine. But you’ll understand why it’s often considered the best pizza in the city.
In the course of my research on these pizzerias I came across some interesting pizza facts. Next time you’re eating pizza with friends or family (which odds say will happen this month) impress them with this knowledge.
· Pizzerias sell the most pies on Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Super Bowl Sunday.
· The Hawaiian pizza was invented in 1962 by Sam Panopoulos, a native of Greece who ran a pizza joint in Canada.
· In 1992, the owner of Little Caesar’s Pizza purchased the Detroit Tigers baseball team from the owner of Domino’s Pizza.
· The first pizzeria in America was Lombardi’s in New York City—originally a grocery store, Lombardi’s started selling pizza in 1905.
· Ninety-three percent (93%) of Americans have eaten pizza in the past month.
· Pepperoni is the most favorite topping in America; anchovies are the least favorite.
Don’t forget! Before you get a slice of pizza, make sure and go on our North End Crime Tour! Click the Book Now button on this page to purchase tickets.
After the most popular question I get on my tour, the second is: “Where’s a good bar to get a drink at around here?” Despite a dearth of great Italian restaurants, the North End is lacking in locations that focus on alcohol. Of course, most of the restaurants have a wine menu but the food is their emphasis.
Yet, there are some places in the North End or within short walking distance (10 minutes or less) where one can grab a beer or cocktail. All these serve food, too, some of which is quite excellent! Below I’ve included five of my favorites.
Saus began in the late 2000s with this tiny shop located on The Freedom Trail. Saus's notoriety is for their hand-cut fries and accompanying dipping sauces. The fries are some of the best in the city. They also do excellent poutine (at least for one that’s outside Quebec) and have some tasty sandwiches and Belgian waffles.
But, Saus also has a wide array of beers. What’s on tap is rotating so you never know what you might get (although they usually list it on their social media). All the beers are from New England, though, so you’ll get a taste of the local flavor. No Budweiser or Miller here—just some of the best of what the area has to offer in IPAs, sours, and ciders. (They also do some wine.) If you like craft beer, you’ll find something to enjoy to go with your steaming hot hand-cut fries paired with an array of dipping sauces.
I’ve been going to Caffe Paradiso almost every week for about two years now. But it’s not for espresso or a martini. I get cannoli there (it’s a long story, but they make some of the best in the North End). I love the vibe of the place. Caffe Paradiso is right on the main drag in the North End, Hanover Street, but it’s rare to find it inundated with tourists. Instead, it’s more of a locals' joint. I always hear people speaking Italian and it seems at least one of the TVs is playing an Italian station, especially if there’s a soccer match on.
Caffe Paradiso has been around since 1962 and is now operated by the third generation of a family from Italy. They’re open from 7 AM to 2 AM. So, you can come in early for a cappuccino and then end the night with a martini after your dinner at one of the nearby restaurants. Caffe Paradiso has a full bar and you can find everything from beer and wine, to over a dozen cocktails. Prices are reasonable and the staff knows their stuff.
As mentioned, they make some of the best cannoli in the North End and also offer well over a dozen gelato flavors. It's my recommendation of where to go if you want some of the delicious Italian dessert. A quick tip, though: Don’t ever refer to the gelato as ice cream. As in, “I’ll take a scoop of the strawberry cheesecake ice cream.” It’s gelato. There’s a difference. And the owner will let you know it. :-)
Sam Adams Taproom
Sam Adams couldn’t have picked a better spot for a taproom than the one at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Why? It is a few yards from the statue of Sam Adams that dates back to 1880. The company has their headquarters and another taproom in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston, so I wasn’t sure I saw the need for a second location. But, I found it a pleasant surprise when I visited after it opened in January of 2020. I didn’t know what to expect but the design is modern and spacious with both bar seating and communal tables. And they serve their well-known classics such as the Sam Adams lager and the Boston area favorite, Brick Red. From the front the space may not look that big but once inside there’s room quite a ways into the back. Too, during warmer months there is rooftop seating.
Sam Adams is a huge company. They market themselves as a microbrewery but they’re one of the largest in the category. So, as someone who usually sides with the little guy, I want to dislike Sam Adams, but I’ll be honest: they make pretty good beer. (They also do a lot to support smaller breweries.) The taproom allows Sam Adams to showcase some newer, smaller batches that you won’t find in stores or on tap much of anywhere else. I tried many different options when I went. I left surprised by how tasty they all were. I also saw the mayor there and he waved at me and I said, “Howdy!” Yes, I met the mayor of our large, industrious city and my greeting to him was to sound like a cowboy. I’m not sure what I was thinking.
Night Shift Brewery at Lovejoy Wharf
Night Shift is an up-and-comer in the microbrewery scene. The company started in 2012 by three friends who began brewing in their apartment. They are now based in Everett, Massachusetts, north of Boston. The location at Lovejoy Wharf is on the waterfront on the first floor of Converse Shoes' world headquarters. It’s also a couple of blocks from TD Garden, where the Bruins and Celtics play. At this location there is some brewing and you can see some of the equipment when you enter, but there aren’t any tours. Instead, there is a bar area, a restaurant area and a small shop where you can get Night Shift merchandise and beer. The space is industrial without being dark or lacking any feeling. The artwork on the walls is very cool and tells the story of the company.
I’ve been to the Lovejoy Wharf location many times and it’s always interesting to see what the brewery is doing. The company calls this location an innovation house and the brewers have permission to try new things. So some of the stuff on the beer menu may seem out there but it’s always fun to try these experiments. Night Shift brews a wide variety of beer: sours, darks, IPAs, wheats, and light ones, too (their Lime Light is probably my favorite).
Besides their beers, there is also a great food menu with something for everyone, including delicious hot pretzels. Some of the items on the food menu also have Night Shift beer worked into them, such as with sauces or dressings. It’s another way Night Shift is keeping things interesting.
The Ginger Man
The Ginger Man has over 100 beers between those on tap, in bottles, and in cans. They have over 100 whiskeys from all over the world. And you can drink in an old bank vault located downstairs. That’s really all you need to know. While the other locations on this list are great and highly recommended; The Ginger Man is one of a kind.
Don’t forget! Before you go out drinking, make sure and go on our North End Crime Tour! Click the Book Now button on this page to purchase tickets.
Let’s say you’re coming on Historic Boston Crime Tour’s North End tour. It starts at 5 PM, so what to do before then? Sure, there is always The Freedom Trail or plenty of Italian restaurants in the neighborhood. But what else is within half a mile of the starting location of the tour? Below I list five sites I like and think are worth a stop for any guests. You can find more info on them by clicking on their name. If you have a favorite activity in the area, feel free to leave it in the comments!
Paul Revere House
19 North Square
This house is the oldest structure in this part of Boston, dating back to 1680. (Fun fact: The oldest structure in Boston is the James Blake House dating to 1661 and located in the Dorchester neighborhood.) Revere and his family lived here from 1770 to 1800. Since his time, the building was a bank and grocery store, amongst other things. At one point, there was a third story, too. In the early 1900s, the Paul Revere Memorial Association renovated the building to get it to look more like it did at the time when Revere resided there.
Given how young much of the United States is, many visitors don’t have a chance to see buildings from hundreds of years ago. This makes the Revere house a unique site. (Meanwhile, European visitors shrug at its age as they have structures dating hundreds of years before Revere's birth.) The architecture is in a style called Elizabethan Tudor, unique in this part of the city.
The Paul Revere House is a quick visit since it consists of only a few rooms. Tours are self-guided and there are information plaques in each room, as well as staff who can answer questions. A visit to the house isn’t only about seeing the architecture, though. It’s also a chance to learn more about the life of Revere and his family (he had 16 children from his two marriages). Revere was much more than a man who rode a horse to warn colonists in Lexington and Concord of the approaching British army in 1775. He was also a silversmith, owned a foundry, and was the occasional dentist.
For a few dollars more, one can also visit the structure next door, the Pierce Hitchborn House. It’s one of the oldest brick structures in Boston, dating to 1711.
Rose Kennedy Greenway
Extends from the North End to Chinatown
Given that Boston is almost 400 years old, the Rose Kennedy Greenway is a very young part of the city. But it’s a welcome and vibrant change from what used to stand in its place. For decades in the twentieth century there stood an elevated interstate; an eyesore that cut the city in two. In fact, to get from downtown to the North End, one had to go underneath this elevated highway.
Starting in 1991 an almost twenty-year journey began to tear down the interstate and place it underground. It took much longer than expected and went way over cost. A complex array of MBTA tunnels, the interstate, and water and sewer lines had to be interwoven, all while keeping the city running. As an engineer who worked on the project once explained it to me, it would’ve been a lot simpler if they could’ve shut down the city for a couple of years. Instead, he said, it was like trying to do open heart surgery on a tennis player while he was playing a match.
Finally, by the late 2000s the project was complete. On top of the tunnel, in the space where the elevated roadway once stood is the Rose Kennedy Greenway. It’s a park that stretches for over one mile from the North End, where the crime tour starts, to Chinatown. Its namesake is the matriarch of the Kennedy family. Rose was mother to nine children. They include President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Massachusetts Senator, Ted Kennedy. His work helped secure a great amount of money for the Greenway's completion.
The Greenway is much more than a simple park, though. There are fountains, swings, an amazing carousel, and open green spaces to picnic and relax. Also, there are food trucks and a farmers market. The National Parks Service has an information station there. A range of public art installations are on the greenway every year, too. Being a greenway there is a wide range of flowers, trees, and plants to take in. It’s a real gem in the city. Although the process to get it completed was arduous, I’d like to think it was worth it.
Boston Public Market
100 Hanover St.
A place that’s even newer than the Greenway is Boston Public Market (BPM). Founded in 2016, this market took over an empty location on top of the Haymarket MBTA station. In its place is a lively gathering site for dozens of vendors from the New England area. The market is indoors and open seven days a week, all year long. The BPM also offers cooking classes in their kitchen.
At the BPM one can find for sale everything from coffee to Thai food to stonecraft. Some of the vendors sell food that’s ready to grab and go, but there are also ones who sell produce or seafood to take home. A great thing about the market is the opportunity one has to speak with some of the vendors. They can go more in depth about their products and explain where it comes from or how it’s made. Some even offer tastings or samples.
Some of my favorites include Red Apple Farms and Boston Beer Alley. The former has awesome cider donuts and the latter an amazing selection of New England beers. The BPM is a great option for those who want to try some local flavors. And given that it’s right on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, I recommend grabbing some food and taking it out there for lunch or dinner.
On Fridays and Saturdays, located right next to Boston Public Market, is the Haymarket. It dates back to 1820 and is one of the oldest open-air markets in the United States. The dozens of vendors located on this street sell produce of all kinds (although there is some seafood and flowers, too).
The prices are dirt cheap. We’re talking three apples for a dollar or a quart of blueberries for two bucks. How are they able to sell for so little? Much of the produce is what wasn’t able to sell in the past week at local grocery distributors. And with some fruits, especially, it’s gotta go before it rots. That’s not to say that these are rotten products, but you’re not going to find a green banana here. Heartier veggies such as potatoes are fine. And everything is a steal. You can’t find cheaper prices anywhere.
One thing I love about the Haymarket is the variety of sellers and shoppers. Vendors come from more than 20 nationalities. You’ll hear all kinds of languages spoken and see people of every background. The shoppers are here because they have one thing in common: they know a good deal.
Another reason to check out the Haymarket is that it is lively. Vendors are barking out prices. They’re not always the most patient, so you better know what you want instead of hemming and hawing over which apricot you wish to buy. Amidst all the selling, people walk around to see which vendor can undercut another by 20 or 30 cents on a product.
A couple tips to maximize your experience: bring cash. Nobody takes credit cards. Also, if you’re patient and wait until five or six PM on Saturday, vendors start cutting their already ridiculous low prices. They’re seeking to move this stuff before they close and they’ll take whatever they can get. In fact, every Saturday night a lot of the produce is left behind, especially if it’s already going bad. One of my favorite things I ever saw at the Haymarket was a Saturday night after the market closed. A bulldozer came and swept all the empty containers and rotten fruit down Blackstone Street and loaded it into a dump truck.
Old North Church
193 Salem Street
There are two great old churches in Boston: King’s Chapel and Old North Church. Both date back to the 1700s and both have crypts in their basements (with Old North being the larger of the two). Both also have boxed pews, which you'll find at few churches nowadays. Also, both are active congregations: King’s Chapel is Unitarian and Old North is Episcopalian.
Yet, I lean a little more toward Old North for a few reasons. First, the inside architecture is more elaborate and regal than King’s Chapel. Second, they’ve got the history of Paul Revere. This is the Church from which the lanterns hanged to warn Revere that the British soldiers were coming to Lexington and Concord by sea. (As you may remember from the line in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem: "one if by land, two if by sea").
Built in 1723, Old North is the oldest standing church in Boston. It is also the tallest structure in the North End. (I heard that a regulation exists that states no building in the North End can be taller than the church's 174 feet.) The steeple that exists today is its third. The other two fell down in hurricanes but the weather vane is original.
Another reason I enjoy Old North is the eight bells that ring before church services. They create some beautiful music. The Bellringers Guild at MIT oversee their care and play them. On Wednesday nights if you’re in the area the Guild practices so one can get a nice little concert.
And don’t forget, after visiting any of these sites, come on the crime tour of the North End. But make sure to purchase tickets in advance!
The most asked question I receive on my tour is, “Do you recommend any place to eat dinner?” My usual joke is: until one of the restaurants starts paying me to say otherwise, all the places in the North End are the same.
But here is my serious answer. All the restaurants range from good to great. Out of 5 stars, most have a ranking of 3.5 to 5 stars. (The reason they’re all so high ranking is that the competition in the North End is fierce—if you’re not good, you don’t survive long.) All the restaurants are a little expensive compared to other places you might eat in the city. In some cases, the difference between places comes down to service.
In this blog post, I’m not going to mention pizza joints, of which there are a number. I will focus on that in a separate post in the future. Instead, I’m going to write on a few of my personal favorite restaurants in the North End and mention others that receive rave reviews.
First things first—I’m a vegetarian and most traditional Italian food doesn’t mesh well with my diet. Locations in the North End use beef and pork in most dishes, or at least in the sauces. So for you carnivores out there, your options are pretty endless. As a vegetarian, I’m forced to be a bit pickier. That said, there are still a few solid options.
211 Hanover St.
You can’t get a better location than Mother Anna’s. Located at the front of the North End on the main street in the neighborhood, you can’t miss it. Opened since 1932, it’s one of the oldest (if not the oldest) restaurants still operating in Boston’s Little Italy. There is seating both on the main floor and in the basement, which has dimmer lighting and is more intimate. There’s also outdoor seating that looks onto the Rose Kennedy Greenway and is great for people watching. The menu is huge with everything from your basic kinds of pasta to dishes that come with seafood, veal, chicken, and steak. The prices are fair and the portions are generous. As a vegetarian, I found many options. There’s a reason Mother Anna’s has been around for so long—they serve good food with quality service in a pleasant atmosphere. Going here for a meal is always a sure bet.
241 Hanover St.
I share this one with a caveat; I’ve never eaten at Bricco. But, I have had their breads and cheeses around the corner, tucked down an alleyway at the salumeria and panetteria. (See the video below.) The cheeses I’ve had are some of the best I’ve ever eaten and the bread is out of this world, made even better with some olive oil. If they’re this awesome (and the bread is the same as you’ll receive at Bricco), I can’t help but think the actual food is even better. I need to get off my butt and get to Bricco. Or really, any of the other restaurants owned by Frank DePasquale in the North End. DePasquale has been running restaurants in the neighborhood since 1987 and has seen a lot of success, so he’s doing something right. I’ve had co-workers and guests tell me the Italian subs at the salumeria are phenomenal. Once again, I need to get off my butt and grab an eggplant parm and give it a shot. But if the cheeses and bread are any sign, I’m pretty confident about my suggestion here.
98 Salem St.
Terramia is a one-of-a-kind place for my vegetarian tastes. They’re the only restaurant I’ve found in the North End that has a special menu for vegetarians and vegans (as well as one for people who have a gluten-free diet). With most North End joints there is usually only one option for me; maybe two if I’m lucky. At Terramia there are five entrée options and soup, as well as vegan gelato. That said, there are still plenty of meat options: veal, beef, and seafood are all found on the menu. Once again, the ambience is intimate—there are about a dozen tables. The wine selection compliments the food well. This is my go-to place in the North End and not because of my diet. It’s got good service, great food, and the intimacy I’m looking for whether it’s a dinner amongst family or a romantic date. On a related note, the owners of Terramia also own Antico Forno, located right across the street. It’s a wood-fired pizza joint which guests have told me is excellent.
Some other recommendations and thoughts
This next suggestion may seem odd coming from a vegetarian. But given the lines I see outside Neptune Oyster every day before it opens (even in the winter), I can’t help but think they’re doing something right. Not to mention, they are up for a 2020 James Beard Award for best restaurant in the country. (If you don’t know what the James Beard Awards are, they’re kind of like the Emmys, Grammys, or Tonys, but for restaurants.) Neptune Oyster is also on just about everyone's best restaurants in Boston (or America) list and feedback from tourists I’ve sent there is that it’s excellent and not just for oysters. A common suggestion I’ve heard is that they make one of the best lobster rolls around. Given the fact there’s always a line, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn Neptune doesn’t take reservations.
Speaking of restaurants with lines, another very popular place in the North End is Giacomo’s. (It's pronounced Jah-co-moes—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people mispronounce it.) There is almost always a line there after 5 PM, especially in the summer. Giacomo’s focuses on seafood with their pasta, but has options for the meat eaters and vegetarians out there. Even though there’s a line, it moves quick. Giacomo’s isn’t the type of place where you go through many courses, have numerous bottles of wine, followed by an after-dinner cappuccino. They’re generally interested in getting people in and out. That’s not to say they do so in a rude way. But if you’re looking for a casual evening where you can relax and take your time in conversation and eating, this isn’t the place. Still, the vegetarian options available and the line tells me I should check this place out. Giacomo’s doesn’t take reservations and they are cash only. There’s also another location in Boston’s South End neighborhood.
A helpful hint: try out a restaurant in the North End for lunch. Many places offer a special lunch menu that although limited is cheaper and still has sizeable portions. Not every restaurant is open for lunch but the ones that are don’t require waiting in line. So while it may not be a romantic dinner, if you’re on the Freedom Trail and worked up an appetite, it’s an easy and cheap option.
One last note: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reservations. While some places don’t take them, check a restaurant’s website ahead of time to see if it’s an option. If you take one of my tours on a Friday or Saturday night in the summer, you’re going to need reservations at about any place since the tour ends around 6:30 PM.
If you don’t have a reservation anywhere but still want some Italian food, you won’t be entirely put out (unless you have a big group). In that case, I recommend walking down one of the two main streets in the North End, Hanover or Salem, and check out menus in the windows at restaurants. See what looks good, fits your price range, and doesn’t look like it has a two-hour wait. Keep in mind many of the restaurants only have 10-20 tables. But with dozens of restaurants and cafes in a neighborhood of less than one square mile, you’ll certainly find something that will give you a great meal.
And don't forget to book a crime tour with us before you go out to any of these great restaurants!
Travel is tough right now but for those who can’t make it to Boston, there are still some awesome ways to check out the sights of the city: virtual tours.
There’s something about seeing a hall filled with great works of art in person. But the depth of work put into these virtual tours gives more context to buildings and artwork than you might find were you walking down a street or strolling a gallery. Videos, historic photographs, background info, and more are in the virtual tours listed below.
The four sites included here aren’t an exhaustive list of virtual tours to take in Boston. Yet, as a fan of history and as a tour guide, I find them to be the best of the best. So, if you’re on a staycation but still want to see some great attractions in Boston, I recommend these.
The Museum of African-American History
This museum began in 1963. It covers life for African-Americans in Boston (and at a location on Nantucket, too) from colonial times through the 1800s.
When I moved to Boston in 2008, one of the first things I did was take a tour of Boston’s Black Heritage Trail (BHT). It’s a 1.6-mile route led by the National Park Service (NPS). The Trail takes the guest past houses of black citizens from centuries ago who were prominent in the city’s history. I was the only person on the tour and had an NPS ranger all to myself, so I had a great time. Although the NPS gives tours of the BHT, it’s actually overseen by the Museum of African-American History (MAAH).
An online tour of the BHT is available through the MAAH’s Google Arts & Culture site. Through a series of Google street view snapshots and historical photographs, the user follows the path of the Trail. They also receive a good amount of historical context about who the people were who comprised this community. Residences, schools, and a meeting house are all visited along the way.
Also, the MAAH has as part of its Google Arts & Culture site an exhibit called “Freedom Rising: Remembering the Abolition Movement and Campaign for Civil Rights in Boston, 1770s-1930s.” This exhibit contains great visuals including maps, newspaper articles, historic photographs, and flyers.
Before doing research into these virtual tours, I was unfamiliar with Google Arts & Culture, but it is very impressive. The user can zoom in on objects that comprise the exhibit and look at them on their own as part of a collection without needing to find them in the exhibit. The text is easy to read and the exhibits flow well. Using it is pretty straightforward with a clean, crisp design.
The exhibits on the MAAH Arts & Culture site aren’t a tour of the facility. But, they’re a great peek into the surrounding community of Beacon Hill (one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city). Too, the exhibits showcase a wide range of materials available in the MAAH’s collection.
Massachusetts State House
Located on Beacon Hill, a few blocks from the Museum of African-American History is the Massachusetts State House. In fact, the Black Heritage Trail begins right across the street from the State House. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that visiting this building was also one of the first things I did when I moved to Boston.
Completed in 1798 and designed by Charles Bulfinch, the Massachusetts State House is an impressive structure that overlooks Boston Common. (Bullfinch also designed the Maine State House, the addition to Faneuil Hall, and many other Boston buildings.) Since 1798 the State House received two additions due to more space needed.
The virtual tour takes the user through the second and third floors of the State House. It allows the user to not only see pictures of the internal layout of the public areas but also zoom in on some specific items. There are many sculptures and paintings of such individuals as Bullfinch, Charles Sumner, and John Hancock. (The State House is actually built upon land Hancock gave to Massachusetts.) Also, one can enter the Senate and House chambers. The latter also allows the visitor to see amongst our more celebrated items: the sacred cod.
There’s a lot of possibility for growth—for example, I’d love to see even more history of pieces in the collection. Yet the panoramic views of the Great Hall and legislative chambers and history of some state leaders make this a worthwhile tour.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
A wealthy socialite, Isabella Stewart Gardner founded her museum in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood in 1903. Over the decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she purchased art in Europe and brought it back to Boston. The collection is exhibited in her mansion.
The collection includes sculptures from Asia and Ancient Greece. Also, there are paintings from the Middle Ages up through the 19th century. There is ornate wooden furniture and tapestries from Europe. The museum has on display letters from famous individuals such as George Washington. Amongst the most stunning aspects of the museum is its courtyard that extends from the ground floor to the glass ceiling stories above. The flowers and plants rotate each season. (The Gardner has its own greenhouse which guests can visit.)
One of the primary reasons for the Gardner Museum's fame is that it was the site of the largest art heist in history. The 13 items taken from the museum in 1990 were worth $500 million. The pieces are still missing and the crime remains unsolved. Yet, the Gardner Museum's Google Arts & Culture site allows the visitor to explore this crime. There's also a closer look at one of those stolen pieces, Jan Vermeer’s painting, The Concert.
Guests can also explore a large part of the museum using Google street view. This allows the visitor to walk the rooms and zoom in on objects to get a better view. The Gardner Museum doesn’t have information about objects on the walls. (Gardner's will states that things stay as they were when she died in 1924.) Thus, some works are a focus on Google Arts & Culture. That said, what makes this museum unique is the large quantity and range of items.
Museum of Fine Arts
A few blocks from the Gardner Museum is the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), housing a collection that tops almost half a million pieces. It’s been around since 1870 and its current location in the Fenway opened in 1909. I know some may think I’m biased since I live in Boston, but it’s one of the best art museums I’ve been to in the United States. When people tell me they’re going to visit the MFA, I make it clear that if they’re serious about art and like to take their time, one day will not be enough. The MFA’s special exhibits are always top-notch, too. I’ve seen shows on everyone from Ansel Adams and Dale Chihuly to Frida Kahlo and Winnie the Pooh there.
When I went to the website, I figured the MFA would have something nice as it’s a big institution. Little did I realize I could explore almost the entire museum virtually. The MFA is another organization that has taken advantage of Google’s Arts & Culture platform. Using this I could walk the halls, zoom in on paintings, and check out their information signs. I try to go to the MFA once or twice a year and it’s been so long since I visited that I spent some time walking the halls because I miss the place!
Using Google it means that not only is the street view option possible to stroll the hallways of the MFA but there are also exhibits to view. There are 16 online exhibits; the primary areas of focus are fashion and conservation. Other exhibits explore specific pieces of art including one on art by African Americans in the MFA collection. It not only shows the art but also gives context and analysis by art experts that provide insight into the pieces. It’s like having a tour guide there with you!
On top of this, there is also the option to look at over 500 items in the collection. The organization of these items is by popularity, date of creation, and color. As is the case with visiting the MFA in person, I would encourage any fan of art who wants to check out the museum virtually to plan to spend some time digging in. I know I put in way more time than I thought I would.
Of course, the most important of all these tours is Historic Boston Crime Tours’ virtual tour. This is a live, online, 90-minute tour that takes you through the same stories as on the walking tour. Yet there's the added context of videos, historical photos, maps, and artwork. To read more about the tour, see this blog post. And to book, click “Book Now” at the bottom of the page.