More than a few visitors have remarked that Boston, MA, is perhaps America’s most “European-like” city, featuring old red-brick buildings, winding and cramped streets, and historic landmarks practically everywhere. But there’s a lot more to Boston than quaint appearances and history.
1. Foot traffic
Most of Boston’s core downtown neighborhoods and major attractions are within walking distance of each other. If you’re a visitor or a new transplant to Boston, just whip out a street map or mobile GPS to help get to where you want to go.
2. Park your car
Unless you’re commuting to places far outside the city, there’s really no need for a car in Boston. The city’s and region’s transit system, called the “T,” is old and creaky, but it’s also extensive and (usually) reliable. Besides, it’s hard finding non-metered parking in Boston. Bostonians also are notoriously aggressive, take-no-prisoners motorists, so you probably don’t want to get behind the wheel anyway.
3. College(s) town
Boston is most definitely a college town. The city and surrounding communities, including Cambridge and Newton, are home to Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University, Boston College, Boston University, Emerson College, Northeastern University and other higher-ed institutions, all connected by public transit.
4. Hip techies and nerdy scientists
Boston and its sister city across the Charles River, Cambridge, have developed into a life sciences and tech mecca in recent decades, attracting biopharmaceutical and tech giants such as Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, Google, Amazon and Microsoft. There also are hundreds of life sciences and tech startups, particularly in and around around Cambridge’s Kendall Square, right next to MIT.
5.Fenway: A shrine and a ballpark
If the Boston Red Sox are playing at home, checking out a game at the 103-year-old Fenway Park, Major League Baseball’s oldest stadium, is a must … if you can get tickets. Red Sox games regularly sell out. But the team also offers daily non-game-day Fenway tours, and the park often hosts summertime concerts.
6. Belichick is a god
Don’t bother bringing up Spygate or Deflategate to Bostonians. Not after the New England Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, and superstar quarterback, Tom Brady, recently scored their fourth Super Bowl trophy. And thanks for that goal-line call, Pete Carroll.
7. Financial hub
In the 1800s, mutual funds got their start in Boston serving wealthy whaling captains who were at sea for years and couldn’t manage their money on a day-to-day basis. Today, Fidelity Investments, Eaton Vance, Putnam Investments, State Street, Wellington Management and others still call Boston home. Boston also boasts vibrant sectors in venture capital, private equity and wealth management.
8. No longer Ye Olde Boiled Food
Like other American cities, Boston’s restaurant scene has taken off in recent decades, with many award-winning, chef-owned restaurants sprouting up across the city. There’s still the classic and beloved Union Oyster House and Durgin Park, serving their famous seafood and New England fare. But also check out the vibrant restaurant scenes in Boston’s North End (the city’s Little Italy), South End and Back Bay.
9. Fickle weather and tough winters
New England weather is notoriously fickle. Winters can be rough. But there’s a solution to winter blues: Many head to ski country in nearby Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont. Even if you can’t ski, hanging out with friends at a cozy ski lodge — with a crackling fireplace and good food and drinks — is not a bad way to chill out.
10. Summer and fall getaways
By far, one of the great things about Boston is the ability to get away by not having to travel too far — Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Newport, the lakes and mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, the rocky coastlines of Maine. Many of these getaway places are accessible by train, bus and water ferry.
11. Cost of living: Ouch!
Boston is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The city’s downtown is undergoing a residential building boom, but it’s not enough to keep housing prices down. Mayor Marty Walsh has called for 53,000 more housing units in the city by 2030.
12. Haven of history
Boston is a history buff’s dream. The city is full of historic landmarks and venues, much of it tied to the Colonial Era and American Revolution: Pilgrims, the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, Bunker Hill, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Faneuil Hall, the USS Constitution. A path of specially laid-out red lines (or bricks), known as “The Freedom Trail,” guides visitors from historic site to historic site.
13. The Boston accent
Thanks to TV and globalization, the famous Boston accent — dropping the “r” in many words — is fading away in some sections of the city. But it’s still there, especially in non-gentrified neighborhoods outside downtown.
A tip on the accent: It’s not “Pahk Yah Cah in Havhd Yahd.” Putting the “h” in there is the old, drawn-out, blue-blood way of saying it. The true local way of saying it is roughly: “Pak Ya Ca in Havid Yad.” Real fast, too.
14. Which way?
It’s hopeless: Most Bostonians have no idea which way is north, south, east or west. Blame it on a road system said to resemble old cow paths. Street signs reflect the general chaos: They make absolutely no sense sometimes. Bostonians tend to use landmarks when giving directions … “You go straight till ya hit the Dunkin’ Donuts, then take a hawd left, a hawd left, then straight till the rotary, and … Good luck!”
15. The Boston attitude
Bostonians may come off as unemotional and gruff. The humor is laced with sarcasm. But underneath, Bostonians are big teddy bears. Speaking of teddy bears, the foul-mouthed hit movie “Ted,” set in Boston and starring Boston’s very own Mark Wahlberg, is amazingly perceptive about Boston, minus the talking teddy bear, of course.
16. Dunkin’ Donuts dominates
Yes, there are a lot of Starbucks in Boston. But they’re vastly outnumbered by Dunkin’ Donuts, which started in the Boston area right after World Ward II. Bostonians are loyal to Dunkies, even though the chain all but destroyed the old-fashioned, mom-and-pop doughnut shops that used to dot the region.
17. Bottoms up (by 2 a.m.)!
By law, most bars and restaurants in Boston close by 2 a.m. The current mayor, Marty Walsh, and the late longtime mayor, Tom Menino, often have talked about extending bar hours. Sooner or later, it’ll probably happen. But the big fear is that later-night hours will turn into a nightmare with so many college kids in Boston.
18. Easy airport access
Visitors often are amazed how close Logan International Airport is to downtown — just across Boston Harbor in East Boston. Without traffic, it’s a 10-minute drive. Logan also is accessible by subway, bus and water ferry. The airport has beefed up the number of international destinations, putting places like Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Istanbul, Mexico City and Tel Aviv on the nonstop map.
19. Summer Olympics host?
The “Athens of America,” as a scribe once described Boston, might host the 2024 Summer Olympics, after the U.S. Olympic Committee tapped Boston to represent the U.S. in international bidding for the Games. The key to Boston’s bid: Using the region’s plentiful college facilities for Olympics events.
20. It’s not Beantown
Bostonians generally don’t refer to their city as “Beantown.” It’s what tourists often call it. Bostonians don’t mind the nickname, though. (Here’s a history of how Boston got its alternate name.) Locally, the more common nickname is “The Hub.”
Photo of train courtesy of HDR, photo of Kendall Square courtesy of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, photo of Bill Belichick courtesy of New England Patriots, photo of Boston’s North End courtesy of Tim Grafft/Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, photo of Cape Cod courtesy of Kim Hojackni/Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, photo of Boston traffic courtesy of BostInno, photo of Dunkin’ Donuts courtesy of Flickr/m01229, photo of Logan International Airport courtesy of Flickr/ruimc77