Boston is a city of neighborhoods, some of which are described in the section on the Freedom Trail, and under walking tours. Here are several other areas that are fun to explore. Bear in mind that many of the buildings you will see are private homes, not tourist attractions.
The original Boston settlers, clustered around what are now the Old State House and the North End, considered Beacon Hill far away. Today the distance is a matter of atmosphere; climbing "the Hill" is like traveling back in time. Lace up your walking shoes (the brick sidewalks gnaw at anything fancier, and driving is next to impossible), wander the narrow streets, and admire the brick and brownstone architecture.
At Beacon and Park streets is a figurative high point (literally, it's the high point): Charles Bulfinch's magnificent State House. The 60-foot monument at the rear illustrates the hill's original height, before the top was lopped off to use in 19th-century landfill projects. Beacon and Mount Vernon streets run downhill to commercially dense Charles Street, but if ever there was an area where there's no need to head in a straight line, it's this one. Your travels might take you past the former homes of Louisa May Alcott (10 Louisburg Sq.), Henry Kissinger (1 Chestnut St.), Julia Ward Howe (13 Chestnut St.), Edwin Booth (29A Chestnut St.), and Robert Frost (88 Mount Vernon St.). One of the oldest standing black churches in the country, the African Meeting House, is at 8 Smith Court.
These days, Alcott's neighbors on Louisburg Square (say "Lewis-burg") would include U.S. Senator John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. Twenty-two homes where a struggling writer would more likely be an employee than a resident surround the lovely park. The iron-railed square is open only to residents with keys.
Let your wandering take you down to Charles Street. A great stop for a drink and a pastry or snack is Cafe Vanille, 70 Charles St. (tel. 617/523-9200). After you've had your fill of the shops and restaurants there, investigate the architecture of the "flats," between Charles Street and the Charles River. Built on landfill, the buildings here are younger than those higher up, but many are just as eye-catching. MTV fans might recognize the converted firehouse at Mount Vernon and River streets as a former Real World location (it's also a one-time Spenser: For Hire set).
T: Red Line to Charles/MGH, Green Line to Park Street, or Blue Line to Bowdoin (weekdays only).
Welcome to the North End
The Paul Revere House and the Old North Church are the best-known buildings in the North End, Boston's "Little Italy" (although locals never call it that). Home to natives of Italy and their assimilated children, numerous Italian restaurants and private social clubs, and many historic sites, this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It was home in the 17th century to the Mather family of Puritan ministers, who certainly would be shocked to see the merry goings-on at the festivals and street fairs that take over different areas of the North End on weekends in July and August.
The Italians and their descendants (and the yuppie neighbors who have crowded many of them out since the 1980s) are only the latest immigrant group to dominate the North End. In the 19th century, this was an Eastern European Jewish enclave and later an Irish stronghold. In 1890, President Kennedy's mother, Rose Fitzgerald, was born on Garden Court Street and baptized at St. Stephen's Church on Hanover Street.
Modern visitors might be more interested in a Hanover Street caffè, the perfect place to have coffee or a soft drink and feast on sweets. Mike's Pastry, 300 Hanover St. (tel. 617/742-3050; www.mikespastry.com), is a bakery that does a frantic takeout business and has tables where you can sit down and order one of the confections on display in the cases. The signature item is cannoli (tubes of crisp-fried pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese); the cookies, cakes, and other pastries are excellent, too. You can also sit and relax at Caffè Vittoria or Caffè dello Sport, on either side of Mike's.
Before you leave the North End, stroll down toward the water and see whether there's a boccie game going on at the courts on Commercial Street near Hull Street. The European pastime is both a game of skill and an excuse to hang around and shoot the breeze -- in Italian and English -- with the locals (mostly men of a certain age). It's so popular that the neighborhood has courts both outdoors, in the Langone Playground at Puopolo Park, and indoors, at the back of the adjacent Steriti Rink, 561 Commercial St.
The South End
One of Boston's most diverse neighborhoods is also one of its largest, but fans of Victorian architecture won't mind the sore feet they'll have after trekking around the South End.
The neighborhood was laid out in the mid-19th century, before the Back Bay. While the newer area's grid echoes the boulevards of Paris, the South End tips its hat to London. The main streets are broad, and pocket parks dot the side streets. Late-20th-century gentrification saw many South End brownstones reclaimed from squalor and converted into luxury condominiums, driving out many longtime residents and making construction materials as widespread as falling leaves. Even on the few remaining run-down buildings, you'll see wonderful details.
Exit Back Bay Station and walk away from Copley Square down Dartmouth Street, crossing Columbus Avenue. Proceed on Dartmouth and explore some of the streets that extend to the left, including Chandler, Lawrence, and Appleton streets. This area is known as Clarendon Park. Turn left on any of these streets and walk to Clarendon Street. Its intersection with Tremont Street is the part of the South End you're most likely to see if you're not out exploring. This is the area where businesses and restaurants surround the Boston Center for the Arts and Hamersley's Bistro. The BCA's Cyclorama building (the interior is dome-shaped), at 539 Tremont St., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here you can see a show, have a meal, or continue your expedition, perhaps to do a little shopping on Tremont Street, Shawmut Avenue, or Washington Street. The 2 blocks of Union Park Street between Tremont and Washington streets are especially pretty, with some interesting shops and a good cafe, South End Buttery, at the corner of Shawmut Avenue. You can wander and explore all the way to Massachusetts Avenue. From there, take the no. 1 bus to the Back Bay or into Cambridge, or the Orange Line downtown.
T: Orange Line to Back Bay or Green Line to Copley.
You can combine a visit to the Arnold Arboretum with a stroll around Jamaica Pond or along Centre Street. Culturally diverse Jamaica Plain abounds with interesting architecture and open space. The pond is especially pleasant in good weather, when people walk, run, skate, fish, picnic, and sunbathe. Many of the 19th-century mansions overlooking the pond date to the days when families fled the oppressive heat downtown and moved to the "country" for the summer.
Another popular destination -- it's better for contemplation than for sun-worshiping -- is Forest Hills Cemetery, 95 Forest Hills Ave., off Tower Street (tel. 617/524-0128; www.foresthillscemetery.com). Consecrated in 1848, the beautifully landscaped cemetery exists in the shadow of Cambridge's Mount Auburn, another horticulturally notable institution known for its famous inhabitants. Forest Hills is the final resting place of Eugene O'Neill, e e cummings (whose gravestone reads EDWARD ESTLIN CUMMINGS), and the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, among others.
After you've had your fill of nature (or before you set out), Centre Street makes a good destination for wandering and snacking. The AIDS Action Committee's excellent resale shop, Boomerangs, 716 Centre St. (tel. 617/524-5120; www.aac.org), is worth a look for upscale merchandise and reasonable prices. A favorite among the neighborhood's countless dining destinations is JP Licks Homemade Ice Cream, 659 Centre St. (tel. 617/524-6740; www.jplicks.com). The Centre Street Café, 669 Centre St. (tel. 617/524-9217; www.centrestcafe.com), is the place for weekend brunch in this neighborhood, and there's a line outside for a reason. Across the street from the Forest Hills T is the Dogwood Café, 3712 Washington St. (tel. 617/522-7997; www.dogwoodcafe.com), a family-friendly bar and restaurant with plenty of beers on tap and tasty pizza.
T: Orange Line to Forest Hills or Green Street.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.