Downtown is reasonably compact. Boston Common sits at the center of the city, just a short walk from the main downtown commercial district, Downtown Crossing. Just north of the Common are the cobblestone, lamplit streets of Beacon Hill, and to the northwest of downtown is the North End, Boston's answer to Little Italy. Just south of the Common is Chinatown, a smorgasbord of dim sum restaurants and tchotchke shops to rival anything in New York or San Francisco. Back Bay, with its easy-to-navigate street grid, upscale shops and restaurants, and old-money brownstones begins at the west end of the Public Garden; the Esplanade, along the river, is a lovely spot for a walk. South of Back Bay is the South End, home to much of Boston's gay scene and growing numbers of art galleries.
WHEN TO GO
Boston is known for its cold winters (the average high is 39°F) and hot, often humid summers (the average high is 80°F), making late spring and fall the most pleasant times to visit. Summertime is worth considering for the sidewalk cafés, outdoor concerts, baseball games, and harbor cruises; winter is recommendable in the holiday season when decorations and maybe a fresh snowfall make the historic parts of town even more picturesque. In September, students flock back to the universities in Boston and Cambridge, creating something of a carnival atmosphere.
HOW TO GET THERE
Boston Logan International Airport, located within the city limits, is the main gateway for all of New England, and has direct flights to most major U.S. cities (800-235-6426; www.flylogan.com).
Taxis are plentiful at the airport. Meters start at $2.25 and charge $.30 per 1/8 mile, but a surcharge of $6.50 is added from the airport (expect the trip downtown to cost about $20–$45, depending on your destination). The airport is also accessible from the MBTA's Blue and Silver lines. (Note: The Blue line is a subway, while the Silver Line is actually a bus that runs on a set route like a subway). Consult an MBTA map to determine which is best for your destination.
You really can get around Boston on foot, but a good map is a necessity: Boston's street plan is as old as the colonies, and you may find it difficult to navigate without one.
The MBTA, known affectionately as "the T," runs throughout the city and north to Cambridge and other suburbs on five main lines between 6 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. Finally doing away with tokens in 2006, there are now two ways to pay your T fare: the plastic CharlieCard and the paper CharlieTicket. Both are good on MBTA trains and buses, but fares are lower when you pay with a CharlieCard. The catch? They aren't available at every stop, so order one online and have it delivered before you leave home. A single ride costs $1.70 with CharlieCard, or $2 with a CharlieTicket. Unlimited passes are available for $9 for one day or $15 for seven days. See www.mbta.com for complete T information.
Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau
Tel: 888 733 2678
147 Tremont Street
Prudential Center (Center Court)
800 Boylston Street