There’s history and culture around every bend in Boston—skyscrapers nestle next to historic hotels while modern marketplaces line the antique cobblestone streets. But to Bostonians, living in a city that blends yesterday and today is just another day in their beloved Beantown.

And though you might be tempted, it’s difficult to fit a stereotype to this city because of Boston’s many layers. The deepest layer is the historical one, the place where musket-bearing revolutionaries vowed to hang together or hang separately. The next tier, a dense spread of Brahmin fortune and fortitude, might be labeled the Hub. The Hub saw only journalistic accuracy in the label “the Athens of America” and felt only pride in the slogan “Banned in Boston.” Over that layer lies Beantown, home to the Red Sox faithful and the raucous Bruins fans who crowded the old Boston “Gah-den”; this is the city whose ethnic loyalties account for its many distinct neighborhoods. Crowning these layers are the students who throng the area’s universities and colleges every fall, infuriating some but pleasing many with their infusion of high spirits and money from home.

Boston Reviews

When it comes to food, in Boston the Revolution never ended. While Bostonians have proudly clung to their traditional eats (chowders, baked beans, and cream pies can still be found) most diners now choose innovative food without excessive formality. There are still palaces of grand cuisine, but Boston and Cambridge now favor the kind of restaurant overseen by a creative mastermind, often locally born, concocting inspired food served in human surroundings.

Bostonians have caught the passion for artisanal breads, cafés with homemade pastries, and all manner of exquisite and unique specialties. As an example, many high-end restaurants have added uncommon flavors of ice cream—central to Boston living for more than 150 years—to their menus. A young generation of highly trained and well-traveled chefs is reclaiming the regional cuisine. It turns out that the area’s wild mushrooms work in a ragout, the cheddar makes a fine quiche, the clambake can be miniaturized, and rabbit fits into a savory ravioli.

A rule of thumb is to seek out what the locals most enjoy—the fish and shellfish abundant from the nearby shores. Although the city has many notable seafood restaurants, almost anyplace you eat will likely have two or three offerings from the sea. Treatments used to be limited to lobsters boiled or baked and fish broiled or fried, but nowadays chefs are more inventive. You may be offered a wood-roasted lobster with vanilla sauce or, in a Chinese restaurant, lobster stir-fried with ginger and scallion. Others are pushing scallops sliced thin and served raw under a dab of olive oil and chickpea puree.

Anything spicy and different has long been popular in the university culture of Cambridge, and the high rate of immigration in recent decades has fueled Bostonians’ appetite for foreign cuisines. Variety abounds, evoking the bygone aristocracies of Russia, Persia, Thailand, Ethiopia, or Cambodia, or serving large immigrant communities from Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. In the last few years an influx of Italian restaurants, both traditional and contemporary, have landed on city corners outside the North End.

The dominant trend today, however, is homegrown—both on the plate and in the kitchen. Because most of Boston’s talented chefs have worked their way up the ranks in local kitchens, they prefer to sponsor and cultivate their sous-chefs rather than hire anonymous talent. And while a handful of local chefs have garnered celebrity status, the city has yet to draw (some might say invite) big-name, nationally known chefs into its tight-knit circle.

Boston Reviews

Coming to Boston? Pack a hard hat. In spite of a flat-lining economy, new names like Mandarin Oriental, InterContinental, and Renaissance have joined the old guard and upped the stakes for local hoteliers. To compete you’ve gotta have flat-screen TVs, MP3 decks, Wi-Fi. Even hotels that haven’t changed so much as a pair of drapes for decades (“old” equals “good” in Boston, yes?) suddenly took notice, and started collecting swatches of zebra-print leather.

In short, Boston hotels spent a bazillion dollars on extreme makeovers in the past couple of years, and the dust hasn’t quite settled. So you may want to ask, “Is the renovation completed yet?” before you book.

If your fondest Boston memories include tea at the Ritz-Carlton, get over it. Boston’s grande dame, built in 1927 and host to Winston Churchill, British royalty, and rooftop soirees for the city’s high society, has gone the way of Jordan Marsh and the Bailey’s sundae. The Taj chain now owns the hotel (though the Ritz flag still flies over the nearby Ritz-Carlton Boston Common). More proof that times are a-changing: the InterContinental hotel is offering a “mancation” package for two, including manly spa treatments and fly-fishing lessons. Design-wise, minimal is the new glitzy. The gilt ceilings, Colonial-style furnishings and massive chandeliers that have always equalled luxury in this town seem positively quaint compared to the stylish newcomers all done up in fiber optics, art-glass, even Texas limestone. For every gilded old historic hotel, there’s a brash newcomer in red leather and black lacquer.

Many luxury hotels have been plumping up their amenities, giving you more perks for the price. They’re also offering deals like “Stay three nights, get a fourth night free,” in a nod to the rough economy. Even less-expensive establishments are adding pillow-top mattresses, down duvets, high-speed Internet access, and wireless connections. Be sure to check out promotional packages. Weekend rates at some of the city’s best hotels, especially those that cater to a business crowd on weekdays, can be far below standard “rack” rates and often include free perks such as parking, breakfast, or cocktails to entice leisure travelers. More competition translates to more beds to fill, so the deals are out there if you’re willing to spend some time sleuthing them out on the Web.

If you’re looking for a clean place to sleep and don’t need all the fancy-schmancy stuff, consider one of the city’s moderately priced chain hotels, or, even better, a bed-and-breakfast or guest house. Cheaper than most hotels, B&Bs are homey bases from which to experience Boston’s famous neighborhoods, from the hip and gastronomically diverse South End to the hallowed, gas-lighted streets of Beacon Hill or slightly out-of-town enclaves such as Brookline and Cambridge.


First and foremost, Boston is a Cinderella city. With public transportation shutting down each night between midnight and 1 AM, most nightspots follow accordingly, with last call typically around 2 AM. While true night owls may be disappointed at the meager late-night options, there are plenty of possibilities for those open to stepping out on the earlier side. The martini crowd may want to stroll Newbury and Boylston streets in the Back Bay, selecting from the neighborhood’s swank restaurants, lounges, and clubs. Coffee- and tea-drinkers can find numerous cafés in Cambridge and Somerville, particularly Harvard and Davis squares. And beer swillers—well, there’s pretty much an option on every corner. If you’re having trouble finding a place to down a pint, you must have wandered out of Boston. For dancing, Lansdowne Street near Fenway Park has a mix of student-oriented clubs, sports bars, techno clubs, and a bar where dueling pianists take requests from the crowd at a fever pitch. There’s also a thriving “lounge” scene in Downtown’s coolest hybrid bar-restaurant-clubs, providing a mellower, more-mature alternative to the student-focused club scene. Tourists crowd Faneuil Hall for its pubs, comedy club, and dance spots. The South and North ends, as well as Cambridge and Somerville, cater to the “dinner-and-drinks” set, while those seeking great rock clubs should look no further than Allston, Jamaica Plain, and Cambridge.


Shopping in Boston is a lot like the city itself: a mix of classic and cutting-edge, the high-end and the handmade, and international and local sensibilities. Though many Bostonians think too many chain stores have begun to clog their distinctive avenues, there remains a strong network of idiosyncratic gift stores, handicrafts shops, galleries, and a growing number of savvy, independent fashion boutiques. For the well-heeled, there are also plenty of glossy international designer shops.

Boston’s shops are generally open Monday through Saturday from 10 or 11 until 6 or 7 and Sunday noon to 5. Many stay open until 8 PM one night a week, usually Thursday. Malls are open Monday through Saturday from 9 or 10 until 8 or 9 and Sunday noon to 6. Most stores accept major credit cards and traveler’s checks. There’s no state sales tax on clothing. However, there’s a 5% luxury tax on clothes priced higher than $175 per item; the tax is levied on the amount in excess of $175.

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