Famous for its picturesque streets lined with remarkable Victorian brownstones, Boston’s Back Bay is considered by many to be one of America’s most beautiful neighborhoods. While enjoying the many architectural wonders, trendy restaurants and shops here, it may be hard to imagine that at one time the area was nothing more than a bay that became a marshy flat during low tide. Today, the Back Bay, located along the Charles River, is one of Boston’s most expensive neighborhoods—and home to upscale shops, art galleries, boutiques and bars.
Check out this guide to all you can do and see when you’re here:
Things To Do
Perched on Copley Square, the Boston Public Library is one place you’ll want to stop into while in the Back Bay area. As the nation’s second largest library (second only to the Library of Congress), it’s home to more than 19 million volumes and electronic resources. But it’s not just the vast collection of books (including 1.7 million rare books and manuscripts), but also the large array of prints, photographs, postcards, paintings and early editions of William Shakespeare that sets this library apart. While here, you’ll be treated to a view of several impressive murals by prominent artists and a beautiful indoor courtyard, inspired by the Italian Renaissance complete with elegant fountains.
This one-of-a-kind observatory takes you sky-high above the city, treating you to breathtaking, panoramic views that go on for miles and miles. You’ll enjoy a journey unlike anything you’ve ever seen as you take the audio tour which guides you through the history of the city and the Dreams of Freedom Museum. The three-screen exhibit theater, Wings Over Boston, will transport you to the city’s past, present and future—an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages.
One of the first houses in the Back Bay, the Gibson House was built in 1860 for the widowed Catherine Gibson who passed it on to her son. Now a museum and a National Historic Landmark that’s open to the public, the Gibson House gives visitors an opportunity to view family artifacts, 19th century furnishings and collections as well as the well-preserved architecture and interior design.
Isabella Stewart Gardner was an American art collector who had a profound passion for the arts. And it was her love of the arts that drove her to create a museum that she could share with the world, inviting guests to discover their own appreciation for art by enjoying the many pieces she had collected. Construction of the museum, in the style of a 15th century Venetian palace, was completed in 1901 and during this time, Isabella lived on the fourth floor so she could personally arrange the works of art in the galleries. From paintings, sculptures, tapestries and furniture, to manuscripts, rare books and decorative arts, the museum is home to thousands of pieces from Ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, Asia, 19th Century France and America. Be sure to take some time to roam in the courtyard to admire the many blooming flowers and plants including an array of orchids and Japanese-style chrysanthemums. The museum offers talks and tours and hosts a variety of interesting events throughout the year.
One of the Back Bay’s most well-known destinations, Copley Square was originally known as Art Square until 1883, when it was renamed in honor of the well-known portrait artist John Singleton Copley. A visit here will include a view to architecture that dates back more than a century, a statue of Copley on the north side of the square and a lovely green space that draws in many locals and tourists alike—especially in the warmer months. If you’re visiting during spring or summer, try to time it so you can enjoy the Farmers’ Market, which is a bi-weekly event.
Dining in the Back Bay
As you’d imagine, a neighborhood as chic and popular as this one has no shortage of amazing restaurants; and whether you’re looking for a casual eatery or something more upscale, you’ll find it in the Back Bay.
As the name suggests, if you’re craving succulent seafood, this iconic favorite is just the place. A local institution since 1978, Atlantic offers an upscale experience. You’ll find it hard to resist their pan-seared sea bass or spinach and lobster ravioli. Start off with some steamed mussels or super lump crab cake—they even have steak and chicken for landlubbers!
Steak-lovers rejoice! Abe & Louie’s has your cut and many other delicious menu items that will satisfy your appetite. Known for their generous portions and delectable meats, including filet mignon, lamb chops and ribeye, Abe & Louie’s also serves up the perfect appetizers like pepper-seared ahi-tuna, baked little neck clams, raw oysters and more.
A double-level restaurant that serves American classics (with a modern flair) on one level and upscale comfort food on the other level, Post 390 appeals to everyone’s palate. Brunch, lunch and dinner, this urban tavern has got you covered; they even have a kid’s menu. Sip a cold craft beer and enjoy New England clam chowder, spinach, bacon and artichoke flatbread or sweet and spicy Korean fried chicken – these are just a few of the specialties here.
A Mexican bistro and tequila bar, Zocalo offers a lively, festive atmosphere and a menu filled with south of the border favorites. Tacos, enchiladas, carnitas as well as Yucateco, ceviche and guacamole are just a few of the dishes that you can expect, as well as over 200 different bottles of tequila!
If it’s pasta you’re craving, Lucca delivers deliciously! This Back Bay favorite offers contemporary pasta dishes including Cavatelli (house-made ricotta pasta with spice-braised pork, bacon, pork meatballs and roasted cauliflower in a Thai-basil sauce), three-cheese ravioli with grilled scallions, basil, tomato fennel crema and roasted fennel and many more.
For a hearty breakfast, lunch or dinner, stop into this fun diner that offers friendly service and big portions. They serve up everything from cheesecake French toast, Kiss My Grits (homemade biscuit topped with fried chicken tenders, over easy eggs & cheddar grits, finished with a sriracha honey glaze & served with home fries), pancakes, waffles and other breakfast dishes to burgers, sandwiches, salads and soups—guaranteed to please everyone and anyone who’s hungry.
A local diner that’s been around since 1927, Charlie’s is a family-friendly restaurant that offers many different breakfast specialties including their famous, award-winning turkey hash, oatmeal, pancakes, French toast, waffles, omelets, burgers, chili and sandwiches. If you’re a fan of the Reuben, this is your place!
Shopping in the Back Bay
Considered to be the city’s most luxurious shopping destination, Copley Place is located on Huntington Avenue. Here, you’ll find just about everything in fashion, jewelry, accessories, shoes and much more for the entire family. There are high-end designer shops like Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior and Boss, and popular brands like J. Crew, Banana Republic and the Gap. The gorgeous architecture of this two-level complex is also a sight to see!
Located on Boylston Street, this spectacular shopping mall truly has it all! You’ll find apparel for everyone in stores like Kate Spade, Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren Polo, Lululemon Athletica, Under Armour, Gucci, Aldo, Ann Taylor and many more. After shopping, enjoy coffee or a meal at one of the numerous restaurants including Cheesecake Factory, Earl’s Kitchen and Bar, California Pizza Kitchen, Sweetgreen, Dunkin Donuts, Sugarfina, Ben and Jerry’s and more.
Make the most of your time in Boston’s Back Bay aboard the Old Town Trolley. You’ll not only be transported to all the most popular spots in the city and be able to enjoy the entire neighborhood at your leisure, but learn many fascinating facts about all the places you’re visiting.