The easily navigated grid of streets in Back Bay bear little resemblance to the labyrinthine lanes around Downtown and the North End. In the mid- 1800s Back Bay was filled in to accommodate Boston’s mushrooming population and by the late-1800s, the area had become a vibrant, upscale neighborhood. Home to many of Boston’s wealthiest families, the area was characterized by lavish houses, grand churches, and bustling commercial zones. Many of the original buildings stand intact, providing an exquisite 19th-century backdrop for today’s pulsing nightlife, world-class shopping, and sumptuous dining.

Cross streets in Back Bay run alphabetically, beginning with Arlington in the east and ending at Hereford Street in the west

For those tight on time, the Prudential Center’s glorified food hall makes perfect sense

  1. Newbury Street

    Over the years, Back Bay’s most famous street has proven to be amazingly adaptable. How else could fashion boutiques as au courant as Diesel and DKNY blend so seamlessly into their 140-year-old brownstone environs? This uncanny adaptability provides for the liveliest, most eclectic street scene in Boston: a babble of languages, skater punks walking alongside catwalk models, and delivery trucks and Ferraris jockeying for the same parking space – it’s all here.

  2. Trinity Church

    When I. M. Pei’s 60-story John Hancock Tower was completed in 1976, Bostonians feared Trinity Church would be overshadowed by its gleaming upstart neighbor. Yet H. H. Richardson’s masterpiece, dedicated in 1877, remains just as vital to Copley Square, and as beautiful, as it appeared on its opening day .

    Portico, Trinity Church
  3. Boston Public Library

    Although this McKim, Mead, and White-designed building went up in 1895, the Boston Public Library was actually founded in 1848 and is the oldest publicly-funded library in the country. The interior’s Greco-Roman style cues lavish use of marble, and John Singer Sargent’s powerful “Judaism and Christianity” mural sequence clearly illustrates how highly public education was valued when the library was constructed. Guided tours offer insight into the building’s architecture and history.

    • 700 Boylston St

    • 617 536 5400

    • Open 9am–9pm Mon–Thu, 9am–5pm Fri–Sat, 1–5pm Sun (Jun–Sep: closed Sun)

    • Tours: 2:30pm Mon, 6pm Tue & Thu, 11am Fri & Sat, 2pm Sun

    • Free


    Bates Hall, Boston Public Library

    Sargent mural, Boston Public Library
  4. The Esplanade

    The perfect setting for a leisurely bike ride, an invigorating jog, or a lazy, languid afternoon of soaking up the sun, the Esplanade is one of the city’s most popular green spaces. This gorgeous ribbon of green hugging the Charles’ river banks was inspired by Venetian canals. July 4th at the Esplanade’s Hatch Shell concert venue brings the world-famous Boston Pops orchestra along with thousands of revelers to enjoy the incomparable mix of music, good cheer, and awe-inspiring fireworks.

    The Esplanade
  5. Berklee Performance Center

    The largest independent music school in the world, Berklee was founded in 1945. The college has produced a number of world-renowned jazz, rock, and pop stars, including Quincy Jones, Melitha Etheridge, Kevin Eubanks, Jan Hammer, and Branford Marsalis. The state-of-the-art performance center hosts special events including concerts, plays, and film screenings.

    • 136 Massachusetts Ave

    • 617 266 7455

    • Check website for details of concerts and performances:

  6. Commonwealth Avenue

    With its leafy pedestrian mall and belle époque-inspired architecture, Commonwealth Avenue aptly deserves its comparison to les rues parisiennes. A morning jog on the mall is a popular pastime, as is the occasional picnic or afternoon snooze on a bench. Highlights include Boston’s first Baptist church (110 Clarendon; closed to non-worshipers) and the pedestrian mall’s stately statues, including the William Lloyd Garrison bronze, sculpted by local artist Anne Whitney.

    Baptist Church window, Commonwealth Ave
  7. Prudential Center

    Although difficult to imagine, the Prudential Tower’s 52 stories seem dwarfed by the huge swathe of street-level shops and restaurants that comprise the Prudential Center. With its indoor shopping mall, food court, supermarket, cluster of residential towers, and massive convention center, the Prudential Center is like a self-contained city within a city. For a jaw-dropping view of Boston, visit the Skywalk on the tower’s 50th level, or the Top of the Hub Lounge two floors above.

    • 800 Boylston St

    • 617 236 3100

    • Open 10am– 9:30pm daily, 11am–6pm Sun

    Prudential Center
  8. Christian Science Center

    While believers head for the Romanesque-Byzantine basilica, the library (entered from Massachusetts Avenue) emphasizes inspirational facets of the founder’s life rather than church doctrine. The Mapparium, a walk-through stained-glass globe with 1935 political boundaries, remains the most popular exhibit. Peer into the newsroom of the Christian Science Monitor. Outside, a 670 ft- (204-m) long reflecting pool designed by I. M. Pei is lined with begonias, marigolds, and columbines. The café is a good spot for lunch.

    Mapparium, Christian Science Center
  9. Gibson House Museum

    One of the first private residences to be built in Back Bay (c.1859), Gibson House remains beautifully intact. The house has been preserved as a monument to the era, thanks largely to the efforts of its final resident (the grandson of the well-to-do woman who built the house). So frozen in time does this house appear that you might feel like you’re intruding on someone’s inner sanctum, and an earlier age. Highlights of the tour include some elegant porcelain dinnerware, 18th-century heirloom jewelry, and exquisite black walnut woodwork throughout the house.

    Library, Gibson House Museum
  10. New England Life Murals

    In the lobby of the New England Financial building, a series of eight murals depicts scenes from Boston’s most formative moments. Mounted in 1942 by a Beaux Arts star pupil, Charles Hoffbauer, the series commemorates events such as the pilgrims’ welcome by the Samoset Indians in 1621 and the 1797 launching of the USS Constitution.

    • 501 Boylston St

    • Open 9am–5pm Mon–Fri

    • Free

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