Boston, USA — Exploring the City’s Architecture, Shopping, and Parks

I recently spent a week in Boston, visiting a number of friends. They showed me the side of Boston that the locals know and love. I stayed in the Back Bay neighborhood. We

  • Admired the city’s storied architecture and history
  • Shopped for high end and low end treasures on Newbury Street
  • Explored a variety of parks, from Boston Commons to Arnold Arboretum

Back Bay Architecture

All lovers of architecture, history, and walkable neighborhoods should start at Copley Square. Then wander the neighboring streets, especially Boylston and Newbury streets.

Trinity Church and John Hancock Tower, on Copley Square

The Boston Public Library is a remarkable place. It’s free and open to the public. I was blown away by the quality of the art and architecture inside. Definitely go to the top floor to see a series of murals by John Singer Sargent, the renowned American painter.

The main entrance and murals on the top floor by John Singer Sargent
One of the reading rooms and the inner courtyard

There are lots of large, architecturally-interesting churches in the area. They all let you step inside; some for free, some for a modest donation of around $5. Start with Trinity Church on Copley Square. A couple blocks away is Church of the Covenant, which boasts all-original Tiffany Glass windows and this very unique chandelier. Fun fact: my parents got married there in 1980. Nearby is the gothic Old South church, which has some super interesting architectural details like this squirrel eating an acorn!

Church of the Covenant (left) and Old South church (right)

I would be remiss to not mention The Freedom Trail. While I haven’t personally done the walking tour, it’s a very popular thing for visitors to do if you only have a day or two in the city. It’s about 2.5 miles, self-guided, on foot, and takes you past many major city landmarks.

Shopping on Newbury Street

Newbury street is a renowned shopping destination, sporting many upscale fashion houses as well as local boutiques. There’s a little something for everyone, from Vera Wang to Restoration Hardware to a condom shop (no joke!). The more high-end places are on the west end, closer to Boston Commons, and the low-key places are on the western end of the street. If you enjoy interior design, definitely stop in the Restoration Hardware flagship store — it feels like a mansion and is really incredible.

One block away, Boylston street also offers many shops and restaurants, including an all-glass Apple store.

Newbury street
Restoration Hardware flagship store
The restoration hardware has this fantastic antique glass elevator in the inner atrium

While you’re shopping, stop for a coffee with the locals at the Thinking Cup.

Thinking Cup

Or if it’s chilly day, go around the corner to L.A. Burdicks for one of the world’s best hot chocolates. I’ve tried many hot chocolates in my life and the single origin dark at Burdicks is easily my favorite.

Get a hot chocolate at Burdicks

If you’re feeling like a more solid treat, go for Georgetown Cupcake.

The Waterfront

Water is everywhere in Boston. The old city was actually built on an island, with much of the surrounding area — like Back Bay — filled in at a later time. I especially enjoyed the Charles River Esplanade and seeing the downtown waterfront. If you walk along the water in the early morning or evening, be careful of all of the runners. I’ve never seen so many runners in any city anywhere!

Running along the Charles River.
Waterfront

Boston’s Parks

I love getting outside, to feel the sun on my face, hear the birds, and admire nature’s beauty. These 3 parks in Boston are all excellent. I visited them in early November, with the autumn foliage in full force.

The Boston Common is centrally-located and a high-class example of what a city park should be.

Duck pond in Boston Common
Boston Commons

The Back Bay Fens are at the west end of Boylston street. It’s a smaller local park, with an extensive set of public garden plots that neighbors use to grow flowers and vegetables.

Back Bay Fens

Further to the west is the extensive Arnold Arboretum. You’ll probably wnt to take a taxi or Uber to get ther. It’s free to enter and wander around. Lots of locals go here with their dogs and baby strollers. A really peaceful place.

Arnold Arboretum

Recommended Eats

In general Boston’s restaurants left me a little disappointed. It’s not quite yet a player on the international dining stage. These 3 dinners stood out for me though, as being some of the best that the city has to offer.

Barcelona Wine Bar
Classic new england clam chowder
  • Mexican at Lolita. Not quite authentic, but nonetheless tasty and it has a fun, loud atmosphere with people of all generations enjoying themselves.
Lolita

South End Neighborhood

We spent a lazy Sunday morning exploring this more residential neighborhood. It’s more spread out, but has some solid offerings.

Mike’s Diner feels like a cozy local’s place. We found it on Yelp and went for breakfast.

Mike’s Diner

SOWA Galleries and Shops is a series of old industrial buildings that have been turned into galleries, interior design stores, and antique dealers. Great for window shopping. From May to October on Sundays, there’s an outdoor arts and crafts fair.

Cafe Madeleine offers amazing-looking croissants and baked goods. I didn’t eat here, but had to peak in because I love these small bakeries.