Copley Square: Landmark buildings occupy three sides of Copley Square, the heart of commercial Boston. Named for the celebrated artist John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), the square is a central locale for summer festivals, a farmers’ market, the October Boston Book Festival (tel. 857/259-6999), and the finish line for April’s Boston Marathon (where the city experienced a brutal bombing in 2013). A constant flow of pedestrians enlivens the area and it’s a visual treat year-round—it’s the hub of The Hub.
The gem of Copley Square is Trinity Church, on the east side of the square at 206 Clarendon St. (tel. 617/536-0944). While the prototypical New England church is simple—white with a towering steeple—Trinity is anything but. The 1877 building is granite and multicolored, trimmed with red sandstone, with a roof of red tiles. The 221-foot tower weighs 90 million pounds all on its own. It is architect H. H. Richardson’s masterwork—his style was so distinctive that it now bears his name: Richardsonian Romanesque. Inside, barrel vaults draw the eye up to the 63-foot ceilings, and murals and decorative painting by John La Farge make imaginative use of colored plaster that complements the hues in the stained-glass windows (look for La Farge’s window Christ in Majesty, in the west gallery). Among the regular events presented here are Choral Evensong on Wednesdays at 5:45pm and an Organ Recital Series Fridays at 12:15pm ($10 suggested donation). Admission to the church is free. Guided tours are available (generally one per day, at various times between 11am and 2pm; check website for calendar). The Sunday tour immediately following the worship service is free, others carry a fee. Church hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4:30pm, Sunday 12:15pm to 4:30pm.
Behind Trinity Church at 200 Clarendon St. is a giant skyscraper with sides of reflecting glass. Long called the John Hancock Tower for its prominent tenant, it was renamed 200 Clarendon in 2015 (though everyone stills calls it Hancock Tower). It’s not open to the public, but its flanks provide wonderful reflections of Trinity Church.
On the south side of Copley Square, the relatively austere facade of the 1912 Fairmont Copley Plaza conceals a wildly sumptuous interior that’s well worth a look. Its elegant OAK Long Bar + Kitchen serves swanky drinks and farm-to-table eats all day long.
On the west side of Copley Square, the main branch of the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St. (tel. 617/536-5400) is a modern public gathering space. A $78-million renovation completed in 2016 created an airy, light-filled front atrium with a welcome center, the vibrant Newsfeed Café, loads of cafe-style seating, and an open on-air radio studio for WGBH, one of the city’s two public radio powerhouses. A new children’s library section doubled the space for kids. The library’s calendar lists 5 to 10 events a day, including public lectures, Tinker Tots science activities for the 3-to-5 set, and free tours of the grand building’s art and architecture. (Check www.bpl.org/central/tours.htm for tour schedule and downloadable self-guided tours.) Overall, the changes are an architectural marvel and have brought a welcome energy to the public resource, which was built in 1895. On the library’s third floor, the Sargent Gallery houses a set of religious-themed murals by the celebrated portraitist John Singer Sargent, who worked on them from 1895 through 1916. Many visitors consider this gallery their favorite part of the library. There’s also an especially pretty interior courtyard designed in the manner of a Renaissance cloister, with a Roman arcade, fountain basin with water jets, and eternally peaceful atmosphere. The library is open Monday to Thursday 9am to 9pm, Friday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Sunday 1 to 5pm. Note: The Boston Marathon finish line is directly outside the Boylston Street entrance and stays painted on the street year-round.
Finally, for sky-high views, head 2 blocks west of the library to the Prudential Center, and then up to the Skywalk Observatory, 800 Boylston St. (tel. 617/859-0648). When the sky is clear, the 360 degree panorama from the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower affords views as far as New Hampshire to the north and Cape Cod to the south. Interactive audiovisual displays, including exhibits about immigration, trace Boston’s history. It’s generally open daily from 10am to 8pm (until 10pm mid-Mar to early Nov), but confirm that it’s open, especially on cloudy days, on the website. Entry fees will be listed there, too.
The Sights and Smells of the North End
The Paul Revere House and the Old North Church are the best-known attractions in the North End, Boston’s “Little Italy” (although it’s never called that). Home to Italian immigrants, their assimilated children, and newcomers from around the world, it’s dominated by festivals and street fairs on weekends in July and August.
Lively Hanover Street, the main artery of this harborside neighborhood, overflows most afternoons and evenings with locals and out-of-towners enjoying its restaurants and cafes. Increasingly sophisticated retail options include quirky boutiques both here and on parallel Salem Street, as well as the side streets that connect them.
Popular destinations for a cappuccino and cannoli (tubes of crisp-fried pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese) are Caffè Vittoria at 290–296 Hanover St. (tel. 617/227-7606) and Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover St. (tel. 617/742-3050). Around the corner, Salumeria Italiana at 151 Richmond St. (tel. 617/523-8743) is the best Italian grocery store in the neighborhood, with cheeses, meats, fresh bread, sandwiches, pastas, olives, olive oils, and more.
Arts, Crafts, and Lots of Food in the South End
In the South End neighborhood, “SoWa”—which stands for “South of Washington (street)”—vibrates with artistic energy. The SoWa Art + Design District is a cluster of warehouses that have been converted to contemporary art galleries, boutiques, design showrooms, and artist studios. The complex at 460 Harrison Ave. is home to 40-some spaces running along perpendicular Thayer Street. The neighborhood is a 15-minute walk from the Back Bay T stop.
On Sundays from May through October, the lively outdoor SoWa Open Market, 460 Harrison Ave., brings together a crafts market, a circle of food trucks, and locally made food. Look for Wild Pops, whose options include insanely good Dark Belgian Chocolate fudgesicles. A beer garden serves up local beers, ciders, and wines in a converted Trolley Barn at 540 Harrison Ave. There’s often live music, and the whole shebang is free and family-friendly (pets are welcome, too). It’s open 10am to 4pm.
Throughout the year, SoWa First Fridays brings a cocktail-party-like atmosphere to the galleries, shops, and showrooms. It takes place at 450-460 Harrison Ave. on the first Friday of every month from 5 to 9pm.
Open Studio Weekends: Strolling Artist Enclaves
Open Studio events are opportunities to visit artists in their work spaces and buy art from them directly. In Boston, 11 neighborhoods host open studio weekends, providing a unique way to explore new neighborhoods. Two of the most established are put on by Jamaica Plain Arts Council in September and Fort Point Arts Community in May and October.
CityPass (tel. 888/330-5008) is a booklet of tickets providing discount admission to New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, Prudential Skywalk Observatory, and Harvard Museum of Natural History or Boston Harbor Cruises. If you visit three or four attractions, the price ($64 for individuals 12 and older, $52 for youths 3–11) provides a decent discount on buying tickets individually. Passes are good for 9 consecutive days from date of purchase. They’re on sale at participating attractions or online. Tickets in hand means you can skip ticket lines, too.
Boston City Hall Plaza, at Government Center
Boston City Hall, located a block from Faneuil Hall Marketplace, is fronted by a large concrete-and-brick plaza. For decades it was rarely used—just a vast wasteland alongside the brutalist-style hall of local government. That has changed. In recent years, a concerted effort has put the space to creative use. A summertime series of patios (open 7 days a week) includes a beer garden, an ice cream area, and miniature golf. The plaza also is host to 1- to 3-day events such as Boston Pizza Festival, Caliente! Music Festival, GospelFest, the Puerto Rican Festival, and a Donna Summer Roller Disco Party. A $60-million plan to redesign the space calls for a new seasonal fountain and new trees. Find the event schedule at www.cityhallplazaboston.com.
The MFA: A Work of Art in Its Own Right
The MFA itself is an architectural landmark. The hub of the original building (1909) is the rotunda, accessed from a sweeping staircase. It holds one of the museum’s signature elements, John Singer Sargent’s Rotunda Murals, which depict mythological figures such as Apollo, Athena, the Muses, and Prometheus. Later additions to the facility were also completed with a splash: The Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, designed by I. M. Pei (1981), and the Art of the Americas wing (2010), the work of Sir Norman Foster and his firm, Foster + Partners. A central, glass-enclosed 63-foot tall atrium has a 42 1/2-foot-high lime green glass tower by Dale Chihuly, which has become a signature icon for the modern MFA.
Beacon Hill’s Black History
Though it’s best known for its quaint cobblestones, wrought-iron fences, and patrician air, Beacon Hill has a lesser-known but fascinating other side to its past. In the 1600s, before Brahmin Boston moved in, the north side of “The Hill” was home to free blacks from the West Indies and Africa, and in the 1800s and 1900s, men and women in Boston’s free African-American community were leaders in the national fight to end slavery and to achieve equality. During the Civil War, black Bostonians formed the core of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, fighting alongside white soldiers to preserve the country’s union and take down slavery. The Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial, at the northeast corner of the Boston Common, commemorates their service. The memorial is also the starting point for Boston’s Black Heritage Trail (, a 1.6-mile walking tour of important sites on Beacon Hill, developed by the Museum of African American History in partnership with the city of Boston and National Park Service. In summer, 90-minute tours of the Trail, led by National Park Service rangers, begin in Boston Common at the memorial and end at the museum. (Check the NPS website for schedules.) Self-guided tours are also available on the websites, or you can pick up a tour map at the museum’s Abiel Smith School or at Faneuil Hall.
Take a Ferry Ride
A fun way to return to downtown Boston from Charlestown is on the Boston Harbor water shuttle (10 min.). It connects the Charlestown Naval Shipyard Park, a 30-acre Boston National Historical Park, to Boston’s Long Wharf, near the Aquarium.
Tour the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery
In the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, an area known as the Brewery Complex is home to the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery, 30 Germania St. (tel. 617/368-5080). Though it’s the smallest of Sam Adams’ three beer-making locations, it’s the only one that hosts tours. The company’s suds started flowing in 1984—not in the revolutionary era as some suppose—but founder Jim Koch tapped into the patriotic fervor that Boston historically had for beer. Before Prohibition this stretch of Jamaica Plain and neighboring Roxbury boasted the most breweries per capita in the U.S. The free tours last about an hour and the visit can be extended to the taproom or beer garden. There’s a gift shop on site. Tours take place Monday through Thursday and Saturday 10am to 3pm, and Friday 10am to 5:30pm. Tickets are first-come, first-served. Take the T to Stony Brook, and then it’s a 10-minute walk—head for the tower that says “Haffenreffer Brewery.”
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.