These are the areas visitors are most likely to frequent. When Bostonians say "downtown," they usually mean the first six neighborhoods defined here; there's no "midtown" or "uptown." Neighborhoods outside central Boston include South Boston, East Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain. With a couple of exceptions (noted here), Boston is generally safe, but you should still take the precautions you would in any large city, especially at night. Note: I include some compass points here to help you read your map, but that's not how the locals will give you directions: They typically just point you on your way.
The Waterfront -- This narrow area runs along the Inner Harbor, on Atlantic Avenue and Commercial Street from the Charlestown Bridge (on N. Washington St.) to South Station. Once filled with wharves and warehouses, today it abounds with luxury condos, marinas, restaurants, offices, and hotels. Also here are the New England Aquarium and embarkation points for harbor cruises and whale-watching expeditions. The Rose Kennedy Greenway roughly parallels the coast for a mile from South Station to North Station.
The North End -- Crossing the Rose Kennedy Greenway as you head east toward the Inner Harbor brings you to one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Home to waves of immigrants in the course of its history, it was predominantly Italian for most of the 20th century. It's now less than half Italian American; many newcomers are young professionals who walk to work in the Financial District. Nevertheless, you'll hear Italian spoken in the streets and find a wealth of Italian restaurants, caffès, and shops. The main streets are Hanover Street and Salem Street.
North Station -- Technically part of the North End but just as close to Beacon Hill, this area around Causeway Street is home to the TD Garden (sports and performance arena), North Station, and many nightspots and restaurants. The neighborhood -- sometimes called the West End or the Bulfinch Triangle -- gets safer by the day, but wandering alone late at night is not a good idea.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace -- Employees aside, Boston residents tend to be scarce at Faneuil Hall Marketplace (also called Quincy Market, after its central building). An irresistible draw for out-of-towners and suburbanites, this cluster of restored market buildings -- bounded by the Waterfront, the North End, Government Center, and State Street -- is the city's most popular attraction. You'll find restaurants, bars, a food court, specialty shops, and Faneuil Hall itself. Haymarket, a stone's throw away on Blackstone Street, is home to an open-air produce market on Fridays and Saturdays.
Government Center -- Here, stark modern design breaks up Boston's traditional architecture. Flanked by Beacon Hill, Downtown Crossing, and Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Government Center is home to state and federal offices, City Hall, and a major T stop. Its most prominent feature, the red-brick wasteland of City Hall Plaza, lies between Congress and Cambridge streets.
The Financial District -- Bounded loosely by Downtown Crossing, Summer Street, Atlantic Avenue, and State Street, the Financial District is the banking, insurance, and legal center of the city. Aside from some popular after-work spots, it's generally quiet at night and on weekends.
Downtown Crossing -- The intersection that gives Downtown Crossing its name is at Washington Street where Winter Street becomes Summer Street. The Freedom Trail runs along one edge of this shopping and business district between Boston Common, Chinatown, the Financial District, and Government Center. Most of the neighborhood hops during the day and slows down in the evening, but it's getting livelier thanks to the increasing presence of students from Emerson College and Suffolk University, and theatergoers heading to the Opera House, the Modern Theatre, and the Paramount Center.
Beacon Hill -- Narrow tree-lined streets, brick and cobblestone alleyways, and architectural showpieces, mostly in Federal style, make up this largely residential area in the shadow of the State House. Two of the loveliest and most exclusive spots in Boston are here: Mount Vernon Street and Louisburg (pronounced "Lewis-burg") Square. Bounded by Government Center, Boston Common, the Back Bay, and the river, Beacon Hill is where you'll find Massachusetts General Hospital. Charles Street, which divides the Common from the Public Garden, is the main street of Beacon Hill. Other important thoroughfares are Beacon Street, on the north side of the Common, and Cambridge Street.
Charlestown -- One of the oldest areas of Boston is where you'll see the Bunker Hill Monument and USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"). Yuppification has brought some diversity to what was once an almost entirely white residential neighborhood, but pockets remain that have earned their reputation for insularity.
South Boston Waterfront/Seaport District -- Across the Fort Point Channel from the Waterfront neighborhood, this area is home to the convention center, the Seaport Boston World Trade Center, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Fish Pier, a federal courthouse, the Boston Children's Museum, one end of the Ted Williams Tunnel, and a lot of construction. The ICA and a scattering of restaurants make this area increasingly inviting, but it's still not quite a nonconvention destination. Seaport Boulevard and Northern Avenue are the main drags. The area closest to the channel, where redevelopment is forcing out artists who live and work in renovated warehouses, is often called simply Fort Point.
Chinatown -- One of the largest Chinese communities in the country is a small area jammed with Asian restaurants, groceries, and gift shops. Chinatown takes up the area between Downtown Crossing and the Massachusetts Turnpike extension. The main street is Beach Street. The tiny Theater District extends about 1 1/2 blocks in each direction from the intersection of Tremont and Stuart streets; be careful there at night after the crowds thin out.
The South End -- Cross Stuart Street or Huntington Avenue heading south from the Back Bay, and you'll find yourself in a landmark district packed with Victorian row houses and little parks. The South End has a large gay community and some of the city's best restaurants. With the gentrification of the 1980s and '90s, Tremont Street (particularly the end closest to downtown) gained a cachet that it hadn't known for almost a century. Washington Street and Harrison Avenue are up-and-coming destinations for diners and shoppers. Long known for its ethnic, economic, and cultural diversity, the neighborhood is now thoroughly yuppified nearly all the way to Mass. Ave. Note: Don't confuse the South End with South Boston, on the other side of I-93.
The Back Bay -- Fashionable since its creation out of landfill more than a century ago, the Back Bay overflows with gorgeous architecture and chic shops. It lies between the Public Garden, the river, Kenmore Square, and either Huntington Avenue or St. Botolph Street, depending on who's describing it. Students dominate the area near Mass. Ave. but grow scarce as property values soar near the Public Garden. This is one of the best neighborhoods in Boston for aimless wandering. Major thoroughfares include Boylston Street, which starts at Boston Common and runs into the Fenway; largely residential Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue (say "Comm. Ave."); and boutique central, Newbury Street.
Kenmore Square -- The landmark white-and-red CITGO sign that dominates the skyline above the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, and Brookline Avenue tells you that you're approaching Kenmore Square. Its shops, bars, restaurants, and clubs attract students from adjacent Boston University, and the Hotel Commonwealth and its high-end retail outlets lend a touch of class. The college-town atmosphere goes out the window when the Red Sox are in town and baseball fans pour into the area on the way to historic Fenway Park, 3 blocks away.
The Fenway -- Between Kenmore Square and the Longwood Medical Area, the Fenway neighborhood encompasses Fenway Park, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and innumerable students. Boston University, Northeastern University, and Harvard Medical School are just the largest educational institutions in and near the Fenway. The Fenway is also the name of a road that winds through the area, at one point bordering a park confusingly named the Back Bay Fens. The area's southern border is Huntington Avenue, the honorary "Avenue of the Arts" (or, with a Boston accent, "Otts"), where you'll find the Christian Science Center, Symphony Hall (at the corner of Mass. Ave.), and the MFA. (Huntington Ave. actually begins in the Back Bay at Copley Sq. and extends into the suburbs.) Parts of Huntington can be a little risky, so if you're leaving the museum at night, stick to a cab or the Green Line, and try to travel in a group.
Cambridge -- Boston's neighbor across the Charles River is a separate city. The areas you're likely to visit lie along the MBTA Red Line. Harvard Square is a magnet for students, sightseers, and well-heeled shoppers. It's an easy walk along Mass. Ave. southeast to Central Square, a gentrifying area dotted with ethnic restaurants and clubs; a short walk away is boho Inman Square, a stronghold of independent businesses. North along shop-lined Mass. Ave. from Harvard Square is Porter Square, a mostly residential neighborhood with quirky retail outlets of the sort that once characterized Harvard Square. Around Kendall Square you'll find MIT and many technology-oriented businesses.
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.