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.

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1. Trinity Church

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).

2. The Esplanade

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.

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View from the Esplanade

3. Boston Public Library

prac_info 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.

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Interior of Boston Public Library

4. Newbury Street

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).

5. Gibson House Museum

prac_info 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.

6. Prudential Center

prac_info 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.

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Christian Science Center and the Prudential Center

7. Commonwealth Avenue

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.

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Statues on Commonwealth Avenue

8. Christian Science Center

prac_info 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.

9. Berklee Performance Center

prac_info 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.

10. Copley Square

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.

EXPLORING BACK BAY

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AFTERNOON

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.

Art Galleries

1. Robert Klein

prac_info 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.

2. Copley Society of Art

prac_info 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.

3. Childs Gallery

prac_info 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.

4. Krakow Witkin Gallery

prac_info 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.

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Work by Jackie Ferrara, Krakow Witkin Gallery

5. DTR Modern Galleries

prac_info 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.

6. Guild of Boston Artists

prac_info 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.

7. Gallery NAGA

prac_info 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.

8. Pucker Gallery

prac_info 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.

9. Vose Galleries

prac_info 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.

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Sculpture outside Vose Galleries

10. Arden Gallery

prac_info 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.

Homegrown Newbury Shops

1. Johnny Cupcakes

prac_info 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.

2. Trident Booksellers & Café

prac_info 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.

3. Newbury Comics

prac_info 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.

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Display at Newbury Comics

4. Fresh

prac_info 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).

5. Hempest

prac_info 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.

6. Boston Olive Oil Company

prac_info 253 Newbury St

This family-owned shop offers more than 60 premium varieties of Extra Virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars.

7. Shreve, Crump & Low

prac_info 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.

8. Concepts

prac_info 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.

9. Simon Pearce

prac_info 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.

10. Deluca’s Back Bay Market

prac_info 239 Newbury St

This old world-style corner market stocks fabulous produce, chilled beer, ready-made sandwiches, and imported delights of all kinds.

Nightclubs and Bars

1. Top of the Hub Lounge

prac_info 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.

2. Oak Long Bar & Kitchen

prac_info 138 St James Ave

This award-winning bar (see Oak Long Bar & Kitchen) in the historic Copley Plaza exudes old-school class and charm.

3. Kings

prac_info 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.

4. Storyville

prac_info 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.

5. Whiskey’s

prac_info 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.

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Whiskey’s, located in the heart of Back Bay

6. Bar at the Taj

prac_info 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.

7. The Pour House

prac_info 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.

8. Bukowski Tavern

prac_info 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.

9. Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar

prac_info 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.

10. Bristol Bar

prac_info 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.

Restaurants

1. Sorellina

prac_info 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.

2. L’Espalier

prac_info 774 Boylston St • 617 262 3023 • $$$

New England ingredients combine with high-style modern French technique to create memorable, luxury dining.

3. Deuxave

prac_info 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.

4. Eataly

prac_info 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.

5. Post 390

prac_info 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.

6. Mistral

prac_info 223 Columbus Ave • 617 867 9300 • $$$

Delectable French-Mediterranean dishes and an excellent wine list make Mistral an ideal dining venue.

7. Grill 23 & Bar

prac_info 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.

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Entrance to Grill 23 & Bar

8. Brasserie Jo

prac_info 120 Huntington Ave • 617 425 3240 • $$$

Bustling Brasserie Jo captures the savoir faire of 1940s Paris. Relish hearty French classics like steak roquefort.

9. Erbaluce

prac_info 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.

10. Uni

prac_info 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.

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