Mass(achusetts) Ave(nue) -- One of the most important streets in Boston and Cambridge is Massachusetts Avenue, but almost no one calls it that. Bostonians -- who reputedly talk faster than any other Americans (including New Yorkers!) -- say "Mass. Ave." You might as well get into the habit now.
If you can manage a fair amount of walking, this is the way to go. You can best appreciate Boston at street level, and walking the narrow, picturesque streets takes you past many gridlocked cars.
Even more than in a typical large city, be alert. Look both ways before crossing, even on one-way streets, where many bicyclists and some drivers blithely go against the flow. The "walk" cycle of many downtown traffic signals lasts only 7 seconds, and a small but significant part of the driving population considers red lights optional anyway. Keep a close eye on the kids, especially in crosswalks. And you're all wearing comfortable shoes, right?
By Public Transportation
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or MBTA (tel. 800/392-6100 or 617/222-3200; www.mbta.com), is known as "the T," and its logo is the letter T in a circle. It runs subways, trolleys, buses, and ferries in and around Boston and many suburbs, as well as the commuter rail, which extends as far as Providence, Rhode Island. The automated fare-collection system is a bit involved, but getting the hang of it is easy, and T employees who staff every station can answer questions.
Ride & (Maybe) Save -- The MBTA's 1-day and 7-day LinkPasses (tel. 888/844-0355 or 617/222-4545; www.mbta.com) can be a great deal -- but only if you plan to use public transit enough. Passes cover unlimited travel on the subway and local buses, in commuter rail zone 1A, and on the Inner Harbor ferry. The cost is $9 for 24 hours, which translates to an awful lot of riding before you start to save money. The longer pass, which costs $15 for 7 consecutive days, is a more likely to pay off. At press time, passes must be loaded onto CharlieTickets. Check ahead to see whether you can put yours on a CharlieCard; that should be possible after the commuter rail and water transportation fare-collection systems are converted. You can order passes -- long-term visitors may find one of the numerous commuter passes a better deal than a visitor-oriented LinkPass -- in advance over the phone or the Web (minimum six; at press time, shipping is free), or buy them when you arrive at any kiosk or retailer that sells CharlieTickets and CharlieCards.
By Subway & Trolley
Subways and trolleys take you around Boston faster than any mode of transportation other than walking. The oldest system in the country, the T dates to 1897. Although it's generally reliable -- the trolleys on the ancient Green Line are the most unpredictable -- you should still leave extra time and carry cab fare if you're on the way to a vital appointment, because you may need to bail out and jump into a taxi. The system is generally safe, but always watch out for pickpockets, especially during the holiday shopping season. And remember, downtown stops are so close together that it's often faster to walk.
The Red, Green, Blue, and Orange lines make up the subway system. The commuter rail to the suburbs is purple on system maps and is sometimes called the Purple Line. The Silver Line is a fancy name for a bus line; route SL1 runs from South Station to the airport via the South Boston waterfront, including the convention center and the Seaport Boston World Trade Center (the SL2 stays on the downtown side of the harbor and serves the cruise ship terminal area). The fare on the subway and Silver Line routes SL1 and SL2 at press time is $1.70 if you use a CharlieCard (transfers to local buses are free), $2 with a CharlieTicket. Children 11 and under ride free with a paying adult. Route and fare information and timetables are available through the website (www.mbta.com) and at centrally located stations.
Service begins at around 5:15am and ends around 12:30am. (On New Year's Eve, or First Night, closing time is 2am and service is free after 8pm.) A sign in every station gives the time of the last train in either direction; if you're planning to be out late and don't see a sign, ask the attendant in the booth near the entrance.
The T's Fare-Collection System -- "Charlie," hero of the Kingston Trio song "Charlie on the MTA," is the face of the T's automated fare-collection system. Passengers store prepaid fares on one of two different reloadable passes: The CharlieTicket is heavy paper with a magnetic strip, and the CharlieCard is a plastic "smart card" with an embedded chip. What's the difference? (1) Fares are higher if you pay with a CharlieTicket than if you use a CharlieCard; and (2) the CharlieTicket goes into the front of the subway turnstile and pops out of the top (or in and out of the bus fare box), while the CharlieCard registers when you hold it in front of the rectangular reader on the turnstile or fare box. CharlieTickets are available from the self-service kiosks at the entrance to each subway station and in each terminal at the airport. To get a CharlieCard, ask a T employee, order one in advance, or visit a retail location (check www.mbta.com for a list of convenience stores, newsstands, and other outlets). In addition to dispensing CharlieTickets, kiosks allow you to add value onto CharlieTickets and CharlieCards, using cash or a credit or debit card. Consider ordering CharlieCards or CharlieTickets online before you leave home; at press time, shipping is free, and you won't have to buy one immediately upon arriving.
The MBTA runs buses and "trackless trolleys" (buses with electric antennae) that provide service around town and to and around the suburbs. The local routes you're most likely to use are no. 1, along Massachusetts Avenue from Dudley Square in Roxbury through the Back Bay and Cambridge to Harvard Square; no. 92 and no. 93, which connect Haymarket and Charlestown; and no. 77, along Mass. Ave. north of Harvard Square to Porter Square, North Cambridge, and Arlington. Two branches of the Silver Line run through the South End to Dudley Station in Roxbury and are part of the bus fare structure. Route SL4 serves South Station (Essex St. at Atlantic Ave.), and Route SL5 starts and ends on Temple Place, near Downtown Crossing between Washington and Tremont streets.
The fare on the local bus and Silver Line routes SL4 and SL5 at press time is $1.25 with a CharlieCard (transferring to the subway costs 45¢), $1.50 with a CharlieTicket or cash. Children 11 and under ride free with a paying adult. If you're paying cash, exact change is required.
The MBTA Inner Harbor ferry connects Long Wharf (near the New England Aquarium) with the Charlestown Navy Yard -- it's a good way to get back downtown from "Old Ironsides" and the Bunker Hill Monument. The fare is $3.50, or show your LinkPass. Call tel. 617/227-4321 or visit www.mbta.com for more information, including schedules.
Taxis are expensive and not always easy to find -- seek out a cabstand or call a dispatcher. Always ask for a receipt in case you have a complaint or lose something and need to call the company.
Cabs usually queue up near hotels. There are also busy cabstands at Faneuil Hall Marketplace (on North St. and in front of 60 State St.), South Station, and Back Bay Station, and on either side of Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square, near the Harvard Coop bookstore and Au Bon Pain.
To call ahead for a cab, try the Independent Taxi Operators Association (tel. 617/426-8700; www.itoataxi.com), Boston Cab (tel. 617/536-5010; www.bostoncab.us), Top Cab/City Cab (tel. 617/266-4800 or 617/536-5100; www.topcab.us), or Metro Cab (tel. 617/782-5500; www.boston-cab.com). In Cambridge, call Ambassador Brattle/Yellow Cab (tel. 617/492-1100 or 617/547-3000; www.brattlecourier.com) or Checker Cab (tel. 617/497-1500). Boston Cab will dispatch a wheelchair-accessible vehicle upon request; advance notice is recommended.
The Boston fare structure: The first 1/7 mile (when the flag drops) costs $2.60, and each additional 1/7 mile is 40¢. Wait time is extra, and the passenger pays all tolls. On trips leaving Logan Airport, you're on the hook for $10.10 in fare and fees, including the tunnel toll, before the cab goes an inch. Charging a flat rate is not allowed within the city; the police department publishes a list of flat rates for trips to the suburbs.
The city requires that Boston cabdrivers accept credit cards, and every vehicle has a card reader fastened to the divider. Drivers resisted the rule at first, and anecdotal evidence suggests that some "broken" card readers will suddenly come online if you say you don't have enough cash to pay up.
If you want to report a problem or have lost something in a Boston cab, contact the police department's Hackney Unit (tel. 617/343-4475; www.cityofboston.gov/police/hackney); visit the website for the list of suburban flat fares.
By Water Taxi
Three companies serve various stops around the waterfront, including the airport, in covered boats. They operate daily year-round, from 7am until at least 7pm (later in the summer). One-way fares start at $10. Reservations are recommended but not required; you can call from the dock for pick-up. The companies are Boston Harbor Water Taxi (tel. 617/593-9168; www.bostonharborwatertaxi.com), City Water Taxi (tel. 617/422-0392; www.citywatertaxi.com), and Rowes Wharf Water Taxi (tel. 617/406-8584; www.roweswharfwatertransport.com).
If you plan to visit only Boston and Cambridge, there's absolutely no reason to have a car. With its pricey parking and narrow, one-way streets, not to mention abundant construction, Boston in particular is a motorist's nightmare. If you arrive by car, park at the hotel and use the car for day trips. Drive from Boston to Cambridge only if you're feeling flush -- you'll pay to park there, too. If you're not traveling to Boston by car and you decide to take a day trip, you'll probably want to rent a vehicle. Here's the scoop:
Boston Drivers: Beware -- The incredibly sappy movie Love Story includes one hilarious observation: "This is Boston -- everybody drives like a maniac." And that was before cellphones. Boston drivers deserve their notoriety, and even though the truly reckless are a tiny minority, it pays to be careful. Never assume that another driver will behave as you might expect, especially when it comes to the rarely used turn signal. Watch out for cars that leave the curb and change lanes without signaling, double- and even triple-park, and travel the wrong way down one-way streets. And remember that most pedestrians and bicyclists are just drivers without their protective covering.
Rentals -- Seriously consider waiting to pick up the car until you need it, to save yourself the hassle of driving and parking. The major car-rental firms have offices at Logan Airport and in Boston, and most have other area branches. Note that the Enterprise and Thrifty airport locations are nearby but not on the grounds, and allow time for the shuttle-bus ride. Rentals that originate in Boston carry a $10 convention center surcharge -- you can get around it by picking up your car in Cambridge, Brookline, Somerville, or another suburb.
In general, Boston doesn't conform to the pattern of a big city that empties on weekends, when business travelers leave town and rental-car rates plummet. The parts of downtown Boston that aren't densely populated residential neighborhoods are near them, and at busy times -- especially on summer weekends and during foliage season -- you'll want to reserve a car well in advance or risk getting shut out.
Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise forbid smoking in their vehicles, as do corporate-owned Dollar and Thrifty branches. Hertz and National allow customers to request no-smoking vehicles. To rent from the major national chains, you must be at least 25 years old and have a valid driver's license and credit card. Some companies allow drivers aged 21 to 24 to rent, subject to a steep daily fee. And some chains enforce a maximum age; if you're over 70, check ahead to avoid an unpleasant surprise.
If you're visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, keep in mind that foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you may want to consider obtaining an international driver's license.
Money-saving tips: Rent the smallest car you're comfortable driving and you'll save on gas (petrol). The price per gallon at press time is more than $3; the posted price includes taxes. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons.
If you belong to Zipcar or another car-sharing service at home, check ahead to see whether your membership is good in the Boston area. And if you don't mind taking a short T ride to (potentially) save a bundle, check rates at Enterprise and Hertz neighborhood locations. Most branches will pick you up at the nearest train station or bus stop if the office isn't close to public transit.
Insurance -- If you hold a private auto insurance policy, it probably covers you in the U.S. for loss of or damage to the rental car, and for liability in case a passenger is injured. The credit card you use to rent the car may also provide some coverage, but don't assume -- check before you leave home.
International travelers should be aware that quoted rental car rates in the U.S. almost never include insurance and taxes. Be sure to ask your rental agency about these fees. They can add a significant cost to your car rental.
Car-rental insurance typically does not cover liability if you cause an accident. Check your own auto insurance policy, the rental company policy, and your credit card coverage for the extent of coverage: Is your destination covered? Are other drivers covered? How much liability is covered if a passenger is injured? If you rely on your credit card for coverage, you may want to bring a second card with you, because damages may be charged to your card, eating into your credit limit.
Car rental insurance from rental car companies starts at about $20 a day.
Package Deals -- Many packages include airfare, accommodations, and a rental car with unlimited mileage. Compare these prices with the cost of booking airline tickets and renting a car separately. Don't saddle yourself with a car for a long period if you won't be using it, though. And don't forget to account for parking fees, which can quickly wipe out any savings a package might represent.
Booking Online -- For booking rental cars online, the best deals are usually on rental-car company websites. Tip: Sign up for e-mail alerts before you book, and you may land a deal. You can always cancel the alerts after you return home.
Check out www.bnm.com, which offers domestic car-rental discounts. Also worth visiting are Orbitz.com, Hotwire.com, Travelocity.com, and Priceline.com, all of which offer competitive rates.
Parking -- It's difficult to find your way around Boston and practically impossible to find parking in some areas. Most spaces on the street are metered (and patrolled until at least 6pm Mon-Sat) or are open to nonresidents for 2 hours or less between 8am and 6pm. The penalty is a $45 ticket -- the same as a full day at the most expensive garage. Read the sign or meter carefully. Some areas allow parking only at certain hours. Rates vary in different sections of the city (usually $1.25/hr. downtown); bring plenty of quarters. On some streets, you pay at a nearby machine and affix the receipt to the inside of the driver's-side window. Time limits range from 15 minutes to 2 hours.
If you blunder into a tow-away zone, retrieving the car will cost well over $100 and a lot of running around. The city tow lot (tel. 617/635-3900) is at 200 Frontage Rd. in South Boston. Take a taxi, or ride the Red Line to Andrew and flag a cab.
It's best to leave the car in a garage or lot and walk, but be aware that Boston's parking is the second-most expensive in the country (after Manhattan's). A full day at most garages costs no more than $30, but some downtown facilities charge as much as $45, and hourly rates typically are exorbitant. Many lots charge a lower flat rate if you enter and exit before certain times or if you park in the evening. Some restaurants offer reduced rates at nearby garages; ask when you call for reservations. Regardless of where you park, visit the attendant's booth as you exit on foot to ask whether any local businesses offer discounted parking with a purchase and validation; you may get lucky.
Enter the garage under Boston Common (tel. 617/954-2096; www.mccahome.com/bcg.html) from Charles Street between Boylston and Beacon streets. Access to the garage in the state Transportation Building, 8 Park Plaza (tel. 617/973-7054; www.pilgrimparking.com), is from Charles Street South. The Prudential Center garage (tel. 617/236-3060; www.prudentialcenter.com) has entrances on Boylston Street, Huntington Avenue, and Exeter Street, and at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. Parking is discounted if you buy something at the Shops at Prudential Center and have your ticket validated. The garage at Copley Place (tel. 617/375-4488; www.simon.com), off Huntington Avenue, offers a similar deal. Many businesses in Faneuil Hall Marketplace validate parking at the 75 State St. Garage (tel. 617/742-7275; www.75statestreetgarage.com).
Good-size garage facilities downtown include the Government Center Garage, 50 New Sudbury St., off Congress Street (tel. 617/227-0385; www.governmentcentergarage.com); Parcel 7 Garage, 136 Blackstone St., entrance on New Sudbury Street off Congress Street (tel. 617/973-6954); and Zero Post Office Square in the Financial District (tel. 617/423-1500; www.posquare.com). In the Back Bay, there's a large facility near the Hynes Convention Center at 50 Dalton St. (tel. 617/421-9484; www.pilgrimparking.com). The lots off Northern Avenue in the Seaport District are among the cheapest in town, but downtown proper is some distance away. Allow time for the walk or Silver Line bus ride.
Driving Rules -- When traffic permits, drivers may turn right at a red light after stopping, unless a sign is posted saying otherwise (as it often is downtown). The speed limit on most city streets is 30mph.
Seat belts are mandatory for adults and children, children 11 and under may not ride in the front seat, and infants and children 7 and under must be strapped into car seats in the back seat. You can be stopped just for having an unbelted child in the car, though not for traveling with an unsecured adult. Text-messaging while behind the wheel is against the law for drivers of all ages, and cellphone use of any kind by motorists 17 and under is illegal except in an emergency.
And be aware of two other state laws, if only because drivers break them so frequently it'll take your breath away: Pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way (most suburbs actually enforce this one), and vehicles already in a rotary (traffic circle or roundabout) have the right of way.
This is not a good option unless you're a real pro or plan to visit Cambridge, which has a decent network of bike lanes. Despite a recent push to improve traffic conditions for cyclists, the streets of downtown Boston, with their bloodthirsty drivers and oblivious pedestrians, are notoriously inhospitable to two-wheelers. Visit www.cityofboston.gov/bikes for information about the city's efforts to boost its bike friendliness, which includes a European-style bike-sharing system that was in the works at press time.
If you bring or rent a bike, be sure to lock it securely when leaving it unattended, even for a short time.
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.