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!