The easily navigated grid of streets in Back Bay bears little resemblance to the labyrinthine lanes around Downtown and the North End. In the mid-1800s, Back Bay was filled in to accommodate Boston’s mushrooming population and, by the late 1800s, the area had become a vibrant, upscale neighborhood. Home to many of Boston’s wealthiest families, the area was characterized by lavish houses, grand churches, and bustling commercial zones. Many of the original buildings stand intact, providing an exquisite 19th-century backdrop for today’s pulsing nightlife, world-class shopping, and sumptuous dining.
When I. M. Pei’s 60-story John Hancock Tower was completed in 1976, Bostonians feared that Trinity Church would be overshadowed by its gleaming upstart neighbor. Yet H. H. Richardson’s masterpiece, dedicated in 1877, remains just as vital to Copley Square, and as beautiful, as it was on its opening day (see Trinity Church).
The perfect setting for a leisurely bike ride, invigorating jog, or a lazy afternoon of soaking up the sun, the Esplanade is one of the city’s most popular green spaces. This ribbon of green hugging the Charles’ riverbanks was inspired by Venetian canals. Fourth of July at the Esplanade’s Hatch Shell brings the world-famous Boston Pops Orchestra along with thousands of revelers to enjoy the incomparable mix of music, good cheer, and awe-inspiring fireworks. Use caution if on the esplanade at night.
700 Boylston St • 617 536 5400 • Open 9am–9pm Mon–Thu, 9am–5pm Fri & Sat, 1–5pm Sun (Jun–Sep: closed Sun) • Tours 2:30pm Mon, 6pm Tue & Thu, 11am Wed, Fri & Sat, 2pm Sun • www.bpl.org
Although this McKim, Mead, & White-designed building opened in 1895, the Boston Public Library was founded in 1848 as the country’s first publicly funded library. Lavish stone and marble interiors and gleaming oak woodwork make it a “palace of the people.” A series of murals illustrate the value placed on public education when the library was constructed. Its courtyard restaurant serves afternoon tea. Guided tours offer insight into the building’s architecture and history.
Over the years, Back Bay’s most famous street has proven to be amazingly adaptable, with fashion boutiques blending seamlessly into their mid-19th-century brownstone environs. This is the liveliest, most eclectic street in Boston: a babble of languages, skater punks alongside catwalk models, and delivery trucks and Ferraris jockeying for the same parking space (see Around Newbury Street).
137 Beacon St • 617 267 6338 • Tours 1pm, 2pm, & 3pm Wed–Sun • Adm • www.thegibsonhouse.org
One of the first private residences to be built in Back Bay (c.1859), Gibson House remains beautifully intact. The house has been preserved as a monument to the era, thanks largely to the efforts of its final resident (the grandson of the well-to-do woman who built the house). So frozen in time does this house appear that you might feel like you’re intruding on someone’s inner sanctum, and an earlier age. Highlights of the tour include some elegant porcelain dinnerware, 18th-century heirloom jewelry, and exquisite black walnut woodwork throughout the house.
800 Boylston St • 617 236 3100 • Stores open 10am–9pm Mon–Sat, 11am–7pm Sun
Although it’s difficult to imagine, the Prudential Tower’s 52 stories seem dwarfed by the huge swath of street-level shops and restaurants that constitute the Prudential Center. With its indoor shopping mall, eateries, supermarket, cluster of residential towers, and massive convention center, the Prudential Center is like a self-contained city within a city. For a jaw-dropping view of Boston, visit the Skywalk on the tower’s 50th level (see Prudential Skywalk), or the Top of the Hub Lounge, two floors above.
With its leafy pedestrian mall and belle époque-inspired architecture, Commonwealth Avenue aptly deserves its comparison to les rues parisiennes. A morning jog on the mall is a popular pastime, as is the occasional picnic or afternoon snooze on a bench. Highlights include Boston’s First Baptist Church (110 Commonwealth; closed to non-worshipers) and the pedestrian mall’s stately statues, including the William Lloyd Garrison bronze, sculpted by Olin Levi Warner.
175 Huntington Ave • 617 450 7000 • Library open 10am–4pm Tue–Sun • Adm for Mapparium • www.marybakereddylibrary.org
While believers head for the Romanesque-Byzantine basilica, the library (entered from Massachusetts Avenue) emphasizes inspirational facets of the life of the founder (see Figures in Boston’s History) rather than church doctrine. The Mapparium, a walk-through stained-glass globe with 1935 political boundaries, remains the most popular exhibit (see Off the Beaten Path). Admire the Neo-Classical lobby of the Christian Science Monitor. Outside, a 670-ft (204-m) reflecting pool, designed by I. M. Pei, is lined with begonias, marigolds, and columbines.
136 Massachusetts Ave • 617 747 2261 • Check website for details of concerts and performances • www.berklee.edu/BPC
The largest independent music school in the world, Berklee was founded in 1945. The college has produced a number of world-renowned jazz, rock, and pop stars, including Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge, Kevin Eubanks, Jan Hammer, and Branford Marsalis. The state-of-the-art performance center hosts concerts by students, faculty, and visiting artists.
Named after John Singleton Copley, the renowned 18th-century Boston painter, Copley Square is surrounded by some of the city’s most striking architectural gems, notably Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. A hub of activities, the bustling square hosts weekly farmers’ markets, concerts, and folk dance shows in summer. The BosTix booth sells discounted tickets for theater, music, and dance performances.
Enjoy a croque monsieur or moules frites at the Bistro du Midi (272 Boylston St) while gazing out onto the Public Garden. Stroll one block over to Newbury Street and take in the impressive contemporary art galleries concentrated between Arlington and Dartmouth streets. Then cross back over to Boylston at Dartmouth and sit for a while inside Trinity Church where La Farge’s stained-glass windows top an inexhaustible list of highlights. And while you’re in an aesthetics-appreciating mood, traverse St. James Place to the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel and lounge for a few moments in the ornate, Versailles-esque lobby. Next, cross Dartmouth to the Boston Public Library and admire John Singer Sargent’s gorgeous murals.
Now it’s time to warm up your credit card, so head back to Newbury Street for a dizzying shopping spree. Turn left onto Newbury for Boston-only boutiques such as Fresh and Trident Booksellers & Café. Pause for a reinvigorating fruit smoothie or towering sundae at Ben & Jerry’s (174 Newbury St). At Massachusetts Avenue, turn left, then left again onto Boylston and continue to the Prudential Center for name-brand shopping – you’ll find Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and the like. Cap it all off with a bracing-cold cocktail and smooth jazz at the 52nd-floor Top of the Hub Lounge, where you can soak in Boston’s skyline – and, with any luck, a dazzling sunset.
38 Newbury St • 617 267 7997 • Closed Sun & Mon
Everybody who’s anybody in photography vies for space at Robert Klein. Past coups include shows by Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts.
158 Newbury St • 617 536 5049 • Closed Mon
With a commitment to exhibiting works by promising New England artists, this non-profit organization has been providing young artists with that crucial first break since 1879.
169 Newbury St • 617 266 1108 • Closed Mon
The Childs Gallery was founded in 1937 and displays an eclectic range of paintings, drawings and sculpture. Don’t miss the print department in the basement.
10 Newbury St • 617 262 4490 • Closed Sun & Mon; Aug
Since opening in 1964, this gallery has championed contemporary artists who create conceptually driven and minimalist work.
167 Newbury St • 617 424 9700
DTR champions modern and contemporary art with an inventory that ranges from Salvador Dalí to Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.
162 Newbury St • 617 536 7660 • Closed Sun & Mon
The skylit gallery space exhibits representational painting and sculpture by New England artists. More than 40 artists founded the guild in 1914.
67 Newbury St • 617 267 9060 • Closed Sun & Mon; Jul & Aug
Representing some of New England’s best regarded artists, NAGA is possibly Newbury’s top contemporary art gallery.
240 Newbury St, 3rd floor • 617 267 9473
You never know what you might discover in this gallery that embraces work in a variety of media created by US and international artists.
238 Newbury St • 617 536 6176 • Closed Sun & Mon
The oldest art gallery in the US, Vose specializes in American realist painting and works on paper from the 18th–20th centuries.
129 Newbury St • 617 247 0610 • Closed Sun
This gallery focuses on original paintings and sculpture, including those cast in bronze and other metals. It also showcases up-and-coming abstract and realist artists.
279 Newbury St
This boutique specializes in limited-edition crossbones-and-cupcake T-shirts. The joke continues with bakery case displays, aprons on the staff, and the smell of cake batter in the air.
338 Newbury St
Trident is popular for its delicious, healthy sandwiches, strong coffee concoctions, and what is arguably the best book and magazine selection in the city.
332 Newbury St
Generally undercutting the chain stores on CDs, Newbury Comics delivers value along with a stellar selection of rare import CDs and a growing range of exclusive, rare and vintage vinyl, as well as concert videos, and the latest comics.
121 Newbury St
Fresh sells chic grooming products for men and women, many of them based on such natural products as sugar (for face and body skin polish), clay (masks and lotions), and soy (facial cleaning gel).
301 Newbury St
A true believer in the superiority of hemp as something to wear rather than inhale, Hempest showcases chic and casual styles fashioned from this environmentally friendly fiber.
253 Newbury St
This family-owned shop offers more than 60 premium varieties of Extra Virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars.
39 Newbury St
First opened in 1796 near Paul Revere’s silversmith shop, this fine jeweler is a Boston institution, renowned for its engagement rings. But the “gurgling cod” jugs make a whimsical and less pricey gift.
73 Newbury St
This small shop stocks an impressive collection of sneakers, street wear and designer clothing, ranging from Adidas and Vans to Jimmy Choo and Giuseppe Zanotti.
103 Newbury St
Fine blown glass and handmade pottery from this eponymous Irish designer and artist creates tableware with an upscale touch. Pearce signatures include classic goblets and other stemware.
239 Newbury St
This old world-style corner market stocks fabulous produce, chilled beer, ready-made sandwiches, and imported delights of all kinds.
Prudential Tower, 800 Boylston St
Talk about a view: 52 stories above Back Bay, this bar dazzles with sweeping views, live jazz, deliciously sophisticated lounge food menu, and a wicked gin martini.
138 St James Ave
10 Scotia St
The 1950s were never so cool as they seem at this retro-styled lounge, pool hall, and bowling alley buried downstairs next to the Hynes Convention Center.
94 Exeter St • Closed Sun–Tue, Thu
Speakeasy meets nightclub at this lounge which serves hip bar food such as short rib casserole, and snazzy cocktails.
885 Boylston St
This lively bar is full of hard-drinking collegiate types, who arrive around 6pm and stay until last call. It also serves reasonably priced bar bites and great buffalo wings and burgers.
15 Arlington St • Closes 11:30pm, 12:30am Fri & Sat
Boston’s elite have been socializing at this elegant room facing the Public Garden since the 1920s.
907 Boylston St
Cheap, hearty pub grub and occasional drink specials lure college kids to this two-story bar and grill. It’s loud, it’s crowded, and you’re bound to make a friend or two.
50 Dalton St
A beer drinker’s paradise, Bukowski counts 100 varieties of the beverage. Its primary patrons are a professional crowd during the day and young hipsters at night.
271 Dartmouth St
There’s always a festive mood at this trendy, Gothic-styled bar. Choose from the long list of specialty tequilas, accompanied by Mexican food.
200 Boylston St • Closes 1am
Sharing room with the excellent Bristol Lounge, this sophisticated bar in the Four Seasons hotel charms visitors with its signature martinis.
1 Huntington Ave • 617 412 4600 • $$$
Regional Italian food with a contemporary spin is accompanied by a range of great wines and served up in a sophisticated dining room.
774 Boylston St • 617 262 3023 • $$$
New England ingredients combine with high-style modern French technique to create memorable, luxury dining.
371 Commonwealth Ave • 617 517 5915 • Closed L • $$$
Elegant contemporary dining ranges from local lobster and scallops to caramelized onion ravioli. In summer, outside seating is available.
800 Boylston St • 617 807 7300 • $–$$$
This vast emporium of all foods Italian includes more than a dozen different dining venues amid the groceries and kitchen gadgets.
406 Stuart St • 617 399 0015 • Closed L Sat & Sun • $$$
This urban tavern near the South End border is a comfortable meeting spot, with three fireplaces, two bars, and an open kitchen on two levels.
223 Columbus Ave • 617 867 9300 • $$$
Delectable French-Mediterranean dishes and an excellent wine list make Mistral an ideal dining venue.
161 Berkeley St • 617 542 2255 • Closed L • $$$
Grill 23 harkens back to the days of exclusive, Prohibition-era supper clubs. Prime aged beef with an inventive spin is served in a sumptuously classic interior.
120 Huntington Ave • 617 425 3240 • $$$
Bustling Brasserie Jo captures the savoir faire of 1940s Paris. Relish hearty French classics like steak roquefort.
69 Church St • 617 426 6969 • $$$
Chef Charles Draghi brings French technical finesse to north Italian cuisine with a menu that changes nightly. Excellent, all-Italian wine list.
370A Commonwealth Ave • 617 536 7200 • Closed L & Mon • $$$
Contemporary Japanese cuisine rules at this fine-dining izakaya restaurant. Late-night weekend ramen draws a crowd.