Canadian and Mexican visitors require valid passports to enter the US. Citizens of 38 countries, including most European nations, Australia, and New Zealand, do not need a visa, but must have a passport and apply to enter in advance via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). All other visitors require a tourist visa and passport to enter, and will be photographed and have fingerprints checked by the Transportation Security Administration. Regulations may change, so check well in advance of travel with the US Department of State for the latest information.
A number of countries, including the UK, Canada, and Ireland, have consulates here and can provide limited consular assistance to their nationals.
Nonresident travelers to the US need to complete a Customs and Border Protection Agency form. Passengers may carry $100 in gifts; one liter of alcohol as beer, wine, or liquor (age 21 years or older); and one carton of cigarettes, 50 cigars (not Cuban), or two kg (4.4 lbs) smoking tobacco without incurring tax.
Visitors can get up-to-date travel safety information from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the US Department of State, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Medical insurance is highly recommended for international travelers, as costs for health and dental care can be very high. Insurance against trip cancellation, air travel delays, and lost baggage is advisable. Car rental agencies offer vehicle and liability insurance, but always check your policy.
No vaccinations will be required for visiting the US. Pack medications in their original, labeled containers. You can carry unused syringes and injectable prescription medication. Your hotel will usually recommend a doctor if you need one.
Hospitals such as the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Tufts Medical Center, Partners Urgent Care, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center offer emergency and urgent walk-in care. Minor injury clinics such as those run by CVS are available through the city. Central Boston has a CVS 24-hour Pharmacy. Some pharmacies also have nurse practitioners.
Boston is usually safe in the tourist areas. However, always be alert to your surroundings, leave your valuables and passport in a hotel safe, get a receipt for stored luggage, and be discreet with expensive jewelry, cameras, and phones. Split cash and cards between wallets and pockets, keep wallets in inside pockets, and carry a cross-body purse. Keep copies of your documents and ID separately.
If you will be out late, ask your hotel concierge for advice related to your specific destination. The likelihood of stolen property being recovered is slim, but you should file a claim with the Boston Police Department and keep a copy for the insurance company. Within the MBTA’s service area, you can also ask the MBTA Transit Police for help. Note the taxi company, bus line, or metro route you use to help retrieve lost belongings. If you misplace your passport, contact your embassy. Call your credit card company or bank at once to report lost or stolen cards or traveler’s checks.
For ambulance, medical, police, and fire brigade services, call the national emergency number 911 and give your location and details about the problem.
All facilities renovated or newly built since 1987 are legally required to provide wheelchair-accessible entrances and restrooms. Government buildings, museums, and theaters are accessible, but call ahead to verify that tours can meet your needs. It is best to call historic buildings, hotels, and restaurants in advance to ask about amenities. The website of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau has access information and contact numbers for a range of places and tours.
All establishments allow guide dogs, and most busy road intersections have audio signals for safe crossing times.
Most MBTA commuter rail lines, buses, subways, and ferries accommodate wheelchairs. Check its website for details. The Boston Cab Association (see Traveling by Taxi) will send an accessible vehicle on request. Logan International Airport has accessible restrooms, elevators, and ramps plus a list of accessible transportation to and from the airport on its website.
Fenway Park has accessible elevators, spaces for wheelchair users, and seats for the hearing or visually impaired. Listening devices are available.
The US currency is the dollar ($), made up of 100 cents. The most common denominations of bills are $1, $5, $10, and $20, with larger denominations also available. Cents come in 1 (penny), 5 (nickel), 10 (dime), and 25 (quarter) cent coins. Convert some currency at the airport for immediate expenses, then change larger amounts at a bank or ATM later for a better rate. Currency bureaux such as Travelex can be found at Logan Airport and other sites.
A major credit card will be needed for car rentals, hotels, and restaurants. Most services will accept Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. You will need cash for street vendors and buses.
US phone numbers are ten digits long. The first three digits are the area code, which is 617 or 857 for Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville. The area codes for the region around Boston are 339, 351, 508, 774, 781 and 978. Dial 0 for the opera-tor, and 411 for directory assistance (fee). To make an overseas call, dial 011, country code, city code, and number; to go via an operator, dial 01 instead of 011.
Public telephones are rare and making calls from your hotel room can be expensive. If you plan to use a cell phone, check with your provider about service in the US before traveling. Cellular Abroad, Cellhire, and others rent phones for calls, or you can buy a disposable phone at many outlets.
Most hotels offer free Wi-Fi, but some may levy a charge. Many public places have free Wi-Fi.
Many hotels sell stamps and will mail your letters. Flat rate envelopes and boxes for all destinations are available at US Postal Service post offices.
The daily newspapers are the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. The free weekly DigBoston has arts and entertainment listings, and the monthly Boston Magazine (see Dining) has comprehensive restaurant reviews.
Office hours are 9am to 5pm. Stores open at 10am or 11am and close at 6pm or 7pm Monday to Saturday. Some remain open later, generally on Thursday evening and during the tourist season, while on Sunday hours are usually noon to 6pm. Malls open Monday to Saturday from 9am or 10am to 8pm or 9pm, and noon to 6pm Sunday. Grocery stores generally open 8am to 9pm daily, or longer. Pharmacy hours vary, from 8am to 6pm or later. Some are open 24 hours.
Most banks are open 9am to 4pm or 5pm Monday to Friday, and some also open on Saturday morning. Museums are usually open 10am (noon on Sun) to 5pm, but check before making your plans.
MBTA trains begin at about 5am Monday to Saturday, 6am on Sunday, and end between mid-night and 1am every night. Each line and each station varies so check ahead.
Boston is on Eastern Standard Time (EST), three hours ahead of California and five hours behind the UK. Daylight Saving Time starts at 2am on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.
The standard US electric current is 110 volts and 60 Hz current. An adapter will be required for all European appliances.
Visitors with valid licenses from most countries can drive here, but it is best to bring an International Driving Permit, especially if the license is not from a qualifying country, is not in English, or does not have a photograph.
Summers can be humid and hot (over 81° F/27° C), but pack a variety of clothing as the weather can be changeable, with rainy, cold, or windy days. Winters can be very cold (21° F/-6° C in January) with snow, ice, and wind, and the weather may change through the day. Spring and fall weather is generally pleasant, with warm days and cooler mornings and evenings.
The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau has information on hotels, shops, dining, sights, and transportation on their site. You can also call them or stop by the Boston Common Visitor Center or the information booth at the Prudential Center. The Boston National Historical Park visitor center at Faneuil Hall also has plenty of visitor information.
The Cambridge Office of Tourism has an interactive website and phone support, or you can drop by the main office or the information booth in Harvard Square. The City of Boston site and the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism are also useful resources.
Several trolley tours start at the Boston Common Visitor Center, including Old Town Trolley Tours and Upper Deck Trolley Tours, which offer narrated sightseeing on old-fashioned trolley buses, as well as seasonal and themed tours. The tours permit re-boarding all day, making them easy transits to major sites.
Boston Harbor Cruises offers harbor and whale-watching tours, as well as a ferry service to the Boston Harbor Islands, Salem, and Provincetown. Sightseeing and sunset tours of the Charles River on small cruise boats are offered by the Charles Riverboat Company.
Boston Duck Tours, especially popular with families, use open-topped amphibious vehicles that both trundle through the streets and plunge into the Charles River.
Enthusiastic volunteers from Boston By Foot share their love of the city on a range of guided walks. Knowledgeable rangers from Boston National Historical Park also run tours of the Freedom Trail, the Black Heritage Trail, and the Charlestown Navy Yard. Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site rangers run tours of portions of the Emerald Necklace, as well as tours of the office and grounds by reservation.
The New England Aquarium runs whale-watching trips with trained marine biologists. Ships with around 200–400 passengers head out to the Stellwagen Bank whale feeding grounds from March to mid-November.
Visitors can sample the colorful flavors of Boston’s ethnic neigh-borhoods on foodie tours. Boston Food Tours offers tastings, tips, and insights on the lively Italian food markets, restaurants, and cuisine of the North End. Free Tours by Foot explores Chinatown’s cuisine.
Urban Adventours runs narrated bicycle tours that include an overview of Boston highlights plus a few places off the tourist trail. You can enjoy a ride along the Charles River, a sunset spin along the city’s waterfront, or a fall foliage tour through the Emerald Necklace.
Movie buffs will enjoy a walk to iconic Boston film and television locations with On Location Tours.
Shopping is an extremely popular activity in Boston, and most of the city’s best shopping areas can be found featured in this guide. A fantastic variety of merchandise in every price range is available; most stores accept major credit cards; and there is no state sales tax on clothing, except for items of clothing retailing in excess of $175, when a 6.25 percent tax is charged on the amount over $175.
Back Bay offers two luxury shopping plazas: Copley Place with 75 distinctive stores, including Neiman Marcus, Jimmy Choo, and Louis Vuitton; and the shops at Prudential Center, featuring Saks Fifth Avenue and 70 more stores. Nearby Newbury Street is where the big-name fashion designers have shops, as well as high-end home furnishings, antiques, and art galleries. The stores on Newbury Street get funkier toward Massachusetts Avenue. One block away, Boylston Street has plenty of top sporting goods emporiums and famous-name chain stores.
Historic Beacon Hill is home to a cluster of exceptional antique shops along Charles Street that are surrounded by exclusive little clothing and shoe boutiques. In studenty Cambridge, Harvard Square is well known for its fine selection of bookstores, along with about 70 shops and chain stores concentrated in a small area. The lively carnival-like atmosphere of historic Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market creates a fun shopping experience, with buskers, chain stores, and an eclectic collection of pushcart stalls offering souvenirs, handmade jewelry, local crafts, and clothing.
Truly unique gifts and souvenirs can be found in Boston’s museum shops and gift stores at major attractions. Most of these shops carry high-quality specialty items related to their collections, as well as popular lower-cost souvenirs. The gift shops at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum particularly merit a visit. Also make sure you check out the specialty museums, such as the USS Constitution Museum and the New England Aquarium.
There are several large shopping malls located just outside the city. West of the city, The Shops at Chestnut Hill mall has Bloomingdales and 60 high-quality shops and boutiques. The huge Burlington Mall, north of the city, has Nordstrom, Macy’s, and almost 200 other popular stores. Natick Mall is one of the largest in New England with 200-plus stores, and is anchored by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Macy’s. There are two outlet malls, Wrentham Village Premium Outlets with 170 high-end brands, and the smaller Assembly Row in Somerville, complete with dining, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, a hotel, and a waterfront park.
Boston restaurants span a diverse scene, ranging from expensive celebrity chef establishments downtown and in Back Bay to the affordable eateries found near the universities. Great meals can be eaten in the city’s many small, independent, and often ethnic eateries: Italian in the North End, Asian in Chinatown and the Theater District, and creative contemporary dishes in the South End. And when the weather is warm, choose a sidewalk café along Newbury, or head to the waterfront for clam chowder, oyster bars, and ocean-fresh seafood.
Boston being a major fishing port, fresh seafood is plentiful. City favorites are the sweet-tasting, large-clawed American lobster, young haddock or cod, known locally as scrod, and bluefish, which makes a stronger-flavored meal. You’ll need to know your seafood terminology, too – a quahog is a large clam, while prized local oysters are known as American bluepoints.
Check out the latest restaurant reviews in Boston Magazine and make a reservation online with Open Table. Note that the most popular restaurants need to be booked at least a month in advance. You could also check for cancellations by calling the restaurant the same day. Some places seat guests as they arrive, so it’s best to reach by 6pm. Breakfast is generally served from 7am to 10am, lunch between 11:30am and 2pm, and dinner from 5:30pm to 10pm.
A seven percent tax is added to the final bill in Boston and Cambridge, and a tip of 15–20 percent of the total amount is expected. Alcoholic drinks are available in many restaurants. The legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 years, and a photo ID may be requested from patrons of all ages.
Boston hotels tend to be expensive, especially those in central Boston, close to principal tourist attractions – namely Back Bay, Downtown, Beacon Hill, and the Financial District. Hotels and inns outside the city center are a better bargain. Travelers accustomed to large motel rooms may be surprised by the small dimensions of some rooms in older Boston hotels, especially those in the lower price range. European-style twin-bedded rooms are fairly rare; most rooms have two double beds or one king- or queen-size bed.
Rates vary with the season, and also on how full the property will be on a particular date. Rates are highest between May and October, and when special events are in progress. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (see Trips and Tours) offers a comprehensive list of hotels, but does not provide a reservation service. For the best rates, check online on Kayak or Expedia and then call the hotel to ask for their best rate and any special packages they may offer. Hotel tax in the Boston area is 14.45 percent, and room rates are usually quoted without tax.
There are other options for lodging beyond hotels, and if you are willing to forego the amenities and services of large hotels, many of these options offer lower prices.
For bed-and-breakfast properties, many of which are in historic or characterful homes and include a full breakfast and often Wi-Fi as well, contact the Bed and Breakfast Agency of Boston.
Savings can be made in “efficiency” (self-catering) apartments or rooms. Furnished apartments and homes often provide more space and amenities at a lower price. They generally provide a full kitchen but no housekeeping service and are often located in residential areas. They can usually be booked through the same agencies as bed-and-breakfast places, or via Vacation Rentals and Vacation Rentals by Owner, agencies with many self-catering properties on their books.
Another budget option is Airbnb, which lists both furnished apartments and shared-living-space bedrooms within a private residence. Boston also has several hostels listed on Hostels.com, often with a choice of en-suite or dorm accommodations, including the smart and central Hostelling International. You can even stay overnight on a tall ship moored in Boston Harbor with Liberty Fleet.
3 Copley Place, Suite 400
535 Boylston St, 5th Floor
One Broadway, Cambridge
Visa Waiver Program, customs information
36 White St, Cambridge
617 876 5519
587 Boylston St
617 437 8414
617 343 4500
617 222 1212
617 441 2884
617 536 4100
617 973 8500
617 440 5565
781 272 8668
617 965 3038
508 384 2876
47 Commercial Wharf
617 720 3540
19 Stuart Street
67 Long Wharf
617 742 0333