Heading to Beantown and not sure what to check out? Boston’s affluent Back Bay has it all, from beautiful Victorian architecture, glitzy shopping, and superb restaurants to gorgeous waterfront views along the Charles River Esplanade.
Located on the Charles River, Back Bay is one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in Boston. Buzzing Newbury Street and Boylston Street are lined with designer boutiques, art galleries, and upscale restaurants. Charming sidewalk cafés are ideal spots for watching the well-heeled shop until they drop.
Beautiful brownstones dot the neighborhood’s tree-lined streets – Parisian-inspired Commonwealth Avenue is home to elegant Victorian mansions. Copley Square is home to the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church, both 1800s landmarks and Boston must-sees.
Expansive Copley Square is flanked by 1800s landmarks Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. Mansions dot the neighborhood’s tree-lined streets, many on Paris-inspired Commonwealth Avenue.
Not sure where to begin your Back Bay adventure? Check out this complete guide on one of Boston’s most desirable neighborhoods, including what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay in Back Bay.
What to see & do in Back Bay
If it’s swanky shopping you want, break out that credit card and head to Newbury Street. Running from the Boston Public Garden to Brookline Avenue, this famous street is one of Boston’s top high-end shopping spots.
Tucked into elegant brownstone buildings along leafy streets, you’ll find world-renowned designer stores like Chanel, Tiffany, and Valentino. In between the big-name shops lie trendy boutiques, chic locally-owned shops, and Parisian-style cafés.
You’ll also find mid-range fashion stores like H&M and Zara if Armani isn’t your style, along with quirky one-of-a-kind gems like the design your bag shop, Sophora.
If Newbury Street wasn’t enough retail therapy for your Boston trip itinerary, head to the nearby Boylston Street, where you’ll find more international boutiques like Gucci and Saint Laurent, national brands like Neiman Marcus, and popular department stores.
Overlooking the elegant Copley Square, the beautiful Trinity Church is one of the most celebrated buildings in America. Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and built in 1872, the church is an outstanding example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.
Stand in awe of Trinity Church’s granite exterior with its colorful sandstone patterns. The interior is even more striking, with richly colored murals completed entirely by American artists. William Morris designed the magnificent stained-glass windows.
Trinity Church is the parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. It’s also the home of several renowned choirs, including the Trinity Choir and Trinity Chamber Choir.
Explore the beautiful building and learn about its rich history on free architectural tours offered following Sunday service. If you can’t make it Sunday, Trinity Church is open on weekdays for a modest fee.
Boston Public Library
The keeper of Boston’s legacy and an esteemed center of learning, Boston Public Library is a priority stop if you love elegant architecture and the hallowed book-lined halls of a library.
An architectural masterpiece, Boston Public Library is spread over two buildings in Downtown Boston. Designed by Charles McKim and completed in 1895, the original structure with its elegant Renaissance façade is now the research library. An extension built in 1972 functions as the general library.
Join one of the daily art and architecture tours to marvel at the remarkable collection of notable works of art and literature. Soak up the serene sense of majesty that permeates the building, from the golden Sienna marble along the grand staircase to the larger-than-life John Singer Sargent murals.
Keep an eye out for the hugely popular summer concert series held in the courtyard. Arrive early to grab a table for front-row seats.
John Hancock Tower
The focal point of Boston’s skyline and the tallest building in the city, the slim, elegant John Hancock Tower, now known as 200 Clarendon Street, has long been a mainstay of Boston architecture. Colloquially known as ‘The Hancock,’ the 60-story, 790-foot skyscraper had a rather tumultuous rise to icon status.
Designed by I.M. Pei firm architect Henry N. Cobb and completed in 1976, the building’s construction was plagued with problems, from sinking into the soft clay to swaying in Boston’s high winds. However, on completion, it hit its heyday.
The building had the highest viewing platform in Massachusetts, attracting throngs of visitors to soak up the spectacular views of the city and the snaking river below. Interactive exhibits highlighted Boston’s colonial history, giving breathtaking views historical context.
Sadly, the observation tower was closed after 9/11, and the building was sold. Despite its tribulations, the beautiful building still stands as an elegant Boston landmark overlooking the city.
Commonwealth Avenue Mall
Escape from the hustle and bustle of the city with a quiet stroll along the magnificent Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Forming the central axis of the Back Bay, the grand allée connects the Public Garden to the Back Bay Fens and is loved by both locals and visitors.
Designed by Arthur Gilman in 1856, the French boulevard-style avenue was once a popular place for promenades, parades, and carriage races, as well as a route to the open country. Today, Commonwealth Avenue Mall is lined with large, leafy trees and green lawns dotted with benches.
Memorials and statues sprinkled around the historic park add to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall’s distinctive charm and character. Peeking between the trees are the façades of elegant Victorian mansions that line either side of the mall.
Admire some of the country’s finest examples of nineteenth-century residential architecture as you stroll along the shady avenue.
Charles River Esplanade
The best place to get a feel for Boston’s beauty is from the Charles River Esplanade. Stretching for three miles along the banks of the Charles River, the promenade is one of the coolest places to go in Boston for walking, cycling, or rollerblading against a backdrop of breathtaking views.
Meandering from the Longfellow Bridge to the Boston University bridge, the Charles River Esplanade features lovely green spaces with large trees, pretty bridges over ponds, and children’s playgrounds. Catch a summer performance, concert, or movie at the famous Hatch Shell in the park.
Rent a kayak at the Community Boathouse and head out onto the water for a river paddle. Explore the inlets of the Charles River Esplanade and float under the Massachusetts Avenue bridge. When it’s time to unwind, relax with a picnic on the banks of the river and watch the rowers glide by.
Copley Place is a paradise for shopaholics under one roof. A dazzling mixed-use complex on Huntington Ave, Copley Place is luxury defined. Home to over 75 designer brands and one-of-a-kind stores, the shopping mall is also home to high-end restaurants and two deluxe hotels.
Even if the stores at Copley Place are out of your price range, pop into the window shop and marvel at the opulent design. Gleaming marble columns and glass finishes complement high-end stores like Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, and Salvatore Ferragamo.
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Enjoy a mid-shopping (or mid-browsing) escape with lunch at one of the elegant eateries. In need of a bit of pampering? Head to one of two luxury hotels in the Copley Place complex for a spa treatment.
Haven’t done enough shopping? Cross the glass-encased sky bridge from Copley Place to the Prudential Center for some more retail therapy. Based in the famous Prudential Tower, the Prudential Center is hailed as one of the top shopping destinations in the Northeast.
You’ll find all the usual suspects at the Prudential Center, from Barnes & Noble to Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as plenty of unique boutiques. Re-energize with a quick bite at one of the eateries in the food court or relax over a languid lunch at one of several upscale restaurants like Legal Seafood.
The Prudential Center is also home to a fully functioning Roman Catholic chapel known as St. Francis Chapel, and it’s a jumping-off point for many city-sightseeing tours like Boston Duck Tours and Old Town Trolley Tours.
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When you’re done, head up to the Prudential Tower’s Skywalk Observatory on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower for spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of Boston.
Where to eat & drink
When it comes to wining and dining in Back Bay, you’ll have no problem finding a fantastic spot. Start your day with a java hit and a fresh scone from Thinking Cup. This laid-back little coffee shop on Newbury Street is the go-to spot for all things caffeine, from mochas to macchiatos.
For the freshest fish in town, there’s no better place than the Atlantic Fish Company. Serving Boston’s freshest catch from the harbor’s daily haul, the restaurant on Boylston Street is a popular spot for seafood feasts. Think fresh oysters from both coasts, clam chowder, and Boston’s famous lobster rolls!
If it’s Mexican you’re in the mood for, make your way to Lolita Back Bay on Dartmouth Street. This vibrant, trendy lounge-style eatery serves up classic Mexican fare with a Bostonian twist. Pair cuisine with a tequila-heavy cocktail off the extensive libations list.
New Orleans comes to Boston at Buttermilk & Bourbon. Oozing Southern charm, the cozy restaurant serves innovative NOLA-style grub – think house-made biscuits, pork belly cracklings, BBQ Shrimp, and oyster chowder. Pair with hurricanes-on-tap, signature cocktails, and bourbon-based drinks.
A dingy dive bar with loud rock and over 100 beers to choose from sounds like your kind of gig? Bukowski Tavern is a hophead’s paradise with a laid-back vibe and an unrivaled selection of brews.
Located in the Prudential Center, Earls Kitchen + Bar is a sophisticated spot for lounging over classic cocktails. Head to the rooftop patio with your Old Fashioned and soak up the views as the sun sets over the city.
Tucked into a cozy brownstone space in the heart of Back Bay, Select Oyster Bar is a casual and comfortable spot with a classic neighborhood go-to feel. Tuck into freshly shucked oysters from the curated raw bar or order a fresh catch of the day. Pair your plates with wines from a seafood-centric wine program.
Another great spot for sipping martinis and sophisticated cocktails is the City Bar Back Bay. Set on Exeter Street, the sleek bar is a popular spot for pre-dinner drinks with the cool crowd.
Where to stay
With all its fantastic attractions, Back Bay is one of the most popular neighborhoods to stay in Boston. The accommodation options here are vast, covering everything from apartments to some of the city’s top luxury hotels.
A charming boutique hotel in the heart of the Back Bay’s exclusive historic brownstone district, the Newbury Guest House promises a one-of-a-kind retreat. A short walk from the Skywalk Observatory, the elegant hotel has beautifully appointed rooms with modern amenities and cozy fireplaces. Enjoy a fine dining experience at the hotel’s refined French restaurant.
Sophisticated and stylish, the Colonnade Hotel is located opposite the Prudential Center skyscraper and is a short walk from the Symphony Hall and the Hynes Convention Center. Take in incredible views from the floor-to-ceiling windows in your room. Relax over sundowners on the rooftop deck and take a refreshing dip in the pool overlooking the city.
Set in an elegant Beaux-Arts building, the Lenox is an upscale hotel with refined guest rooms, a chic bar, and a laid-back Irish pub. Unwind in your beautiful room with a romantic four-poster bed, an exquisite Italian marble bathroom, and stunning views over the Charles River. Stay fit in a fully equipped gym.
Just a short walk from the Copley Place shopping mall, the Westin Copley Place is an award-winning hotel with stylish rooms, modern amenities, and spectacular river views. Enjoy a range of dining options, from an elegant Brazilian steakhouse to a formal Japanese restaurant. Unwind over cocktails in the lounge and workout in the WestinWORKOUT® Fitness Studio.
Set on Boston’s vibrant Boylston Street, the Mandarin Oriental Boston is a luxury hotel with a chic French bistro and a luxury spa. Enjoy Pilates and yoga classes in the fitness center, and savor champagne afternoon tea in the elegant lounge. Copley Square is a five-minute walk away.