North End, Boston

The North End, often called Boston's Little Italy, is known for its old-world feel, with dozens of Italian restaurants, cafes and markets. (Courtesy of GBCVB)

From Beacon Hill to the Seaport District, each of Boston’s neighborhoods has its own attractions, character and charms. Boston is known an easy city to navigate on foot, and that’s the best way to check out the five neighborhoods that Boston insiders say every visitor should explore.

“I love that we are a city of neighborhoods,” says Nina Senatore, guest experience ambassador at The Lenox Hotel. “It’s part of what makes Boston, Boston. Every neighborhood has a very unique and distinct personality.”

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill (Kyle Klein)

Taking up only about 1 square mile, Beacon Hill may be small, but it’s one of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in Boston. The gold-domed Massachusetts State House, Boston Common and several other Freedom Trail landmarks are located here in the center of the city.

[Read: The Best Hotels in Boston.]

“When people envision historic Boston, this is the neighborhood,” says Sara Flight, director of public relations at Mandarin Oriental, Boston. “You’re going to see row houses, narrow gas-lit streets and brick sidewalks. It’s really picturesque.”

Julianne Boyle, concierge at The Ritz-Carlton, Boston, which is located across from the Boston Common, says, “It’s full of beautiful brownstones and charm. There are some great restaurants in the area as well.”

Keith Loveless, head concierge at The Langham, Boston, calls Beacon Hill “the most scenic neighborhood. Acorn Street is just absolutely gorgeous.”

Back Bay

Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library (Courtesy of Boston Public Library)

The name of this neighborhood reflects what it truly once was – a water-filled bay. After it was filled in with earth, it became one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, with gorgeous Victorian mansions, important buildings like the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church, and many other arts and cultural attractions. Today, the mansions might mostly be split up into condos, but the cachet remains the same.

Newbury Street, which has been compared to New York City's Fifth Avenue, is packed with shops, restaurants and cafes. Wandering down Commonwealth Avenue Mall, a green space dotted with sculptures, offers a nice break from the action. Just a couple blocks away is the Charles River and the Charles River Esplanade, where events like the Fourth of July celebration with the Boston Pops take place.

[Read: 10 Boston Bars Locals Love.]

Boyle says, “The Back Bay is always bustling and offers some of the best shopping and dining the city has to offer. The Prudential and Copley shopping centers are both located in the Back Bay, as well as the Boston Public Library.”

South End

people eating at SoWa Food Truck Bazaar in Boston

SoWa Open Market (Courtesy of SoWa Boston)

Just a few blocks from Back Bay, but with its own unique identity, the South End is a hot spot for restaurants and the arts scene. This area is home to beautiful restored Victorian brownstone buildings and almost 30 parks. On weekends from the end of April through October, the SoWa Open Market brings out crowds who are shopping for local artists’ wares and eating at tasty food trucks.

Loveless says, “It’s become a destination here in the city.” He loves to go there for brunch.

Senatore also says the neighborhood is a good place to visit. “The South End is interesting,” she says. “The Beehive has live music at night. Go to listen to the jazz. Some of the architecture is some of the best in the city.”

Seaport District

rose kennedy greenway

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway (Courtesy of Rose Kennedy Greenway)

Boston’s waterfront, after ongoing revitalization in recent years, is an exciting, booming neighborhood nowadays, with new restaurants, bars and attractions opening all the time. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is an attractive and vibrant network of parks, which winds through many of the waterfront neighborhoods. The Greenway, as it's known locally, features a whimsical carousel with codfish, harbor seals and other creatures (instead of horses) to ride; a variety of live performances; free lawn games; art installations; and other special events.

[Read: 5 Must-See Boston Museums.]

Boyle says, “The Seaport is an up-and-coming area of Boston, featuring the Boston Tea Party [Ships &] Museum, access to the harbor and tons of new restaurants. Some of the best dining establishments in the Seaport offer floor-to-ceiling views of Boston Harbor.”

North End

Paul Revere House in Boston

Paul Revere House (Courtesy of Paul Revere Memorial Association)

Boston’s Little Italy, located steps from Government Center, is known for its old-world feel, with dozens of Italian restaurants, cafes and markets. It really is the center of the Italian-American community in Boston, and visitors love to explore its narrow streets and alleys, looking for the best pasta, gelato or cannoli.

Loveless says, “The North End is so unique. There’s Old North Church, Paul Revere House, wonderful restaurants, local bakeries.”

The Paul Revere House, built circa 1680, is the oldest building in downtown Boston. Now, it's a national historic landmark and museum, with a slate of programming for visitors to enjoy. Old North Church, where those famous lanterns hung as a signal to patriots in the early days of the Revolutionary War, is close by. Both historic sites offer excellent guided tours.

To experience more of what Boston has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

Tags: Boston, travel, vacations

Kim Foley MacKinnon is a Boston-based editor, journalist and travel writer. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, AAA Horizons, Travel + Leisure and USA Today, among others. She has also written and contributed to several guidebooks.

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