Nick and I each moved to Boston for school thinking it’d be temporary, but the charm of this small, historic city (with no shortage of seafood…yum) grew on us tremendously over time. We often get questions on what to do and where to eat, so finally pooled our favorites into this mega post! I’ll be keeping this updated and will add any new or forgotten favorites. Let me know if you guys have any questions, and be sure to check out my map at the bottom to see where everything mentioned here is located! When traveling we like to visualize where all the places we want to hit up are located, then find somewhere to stay central to those.
Things to do
Boston is very much a walking city, so pack your flats! One of my favorite paths to walk is starting at Hynes or Copley subway station on the green line, going along Newbury Street (our biggest shopping street) all the way to the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common. There you can also have a picnic, take kids on the (very slow-moving) swan boats or merry-go-round, and eat soft serve from the Boston Frosty truck. There is a week of gorgeous tulips in mid-spring, foliage a-plenty come Fall, or you can ice skate on the “Frog Pond” in the winter. From the Boston Public Garden, you can walk to either the small boutiques in charming Beacon Hill, grab a bite in Chinatown, or follow the Freedom Trail through Quincy Market to Charlestown.
Clothing and shoes under $175 are exempt from sales tax in Massachusetts, so I see many visitors shopping their merry hearts out. For individual items priced over that amount, the first $175 is still tax-exempt. Newbury Street is an outdoor shopping area with lots of high and low end shops, ranging from Zara, Forever 21, H&M;, to Burberry, DVF, Kate Spade, Chanel, and much more. I also like the Copley Place & Prudential Center malls, which are right nearby. These indoor malls have department stores like Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Saks, and a variety of designer boutiques and shops like Sephora, LOFT, Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Stuart Weitzman, etc.
If the weather is nice, you can walk or run along the Charles River on the Esplanade path. You can rent kayaks or canoes from this company at several locations, or pedal boats from a small stand (no working phone # that I found…so unfortunately it’s hit or miss if they are open) stationed near the Hatch Shell. From the river, you can see Boston on one side and Cambridge on the other. Pack some sandwiches and drinks to refuel while out on the water!
Other Popular Activities:
– Visit Harpoon brewery for a flight of beer, or more importantly, their freshly baked soft pretzels (the cinnamon sugar one with cream cheese icing dip … droool). I also love to drink Downeast Cider but haven’t yet been to their tasting room. It’s located in Charlestown, the town where the Freedom Trail ends, and is open on the weekends.
– Stop by the Copley Square farmers market open on Tuesdays and Fridays, from Spring to Fall. Or if you’re by the south end, visit the SoWa market which is open Sundays May – October, featuring food trucks, a vintage market, and tents run by small artisans.
– Pop into the historic Boston Public Library. Pinkies up for their tea set of savory sandwiches and sweet treats, and of course your own potful of tea. The BPL is one of my most favorite spots in the city, although I’m a little biased since we got married there!
Afternoon tea set w/ matcha green tea lattes at Boston Public Library
– Take a Duck Tour which is an amphibious vehicle that hits up most of the city’s major landmarks, then plops into the Charles river to show a bit of Boston via water.
– Catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, then chow down some famous biscuits from Sweet Cheeks BBQ (run by Tiffany Faison, a Top Chef finalist) afterwards.
Sweet Cheeks BBQ lunch combo + biscuits
– Explore the Boston Harbor islands via ferry or boat tour. Recommended for history buffs (hotspots include war forts and a historic lighthouse) or hikers, not those seeking beachy sand to sunbathe on.
– Check the Boston Calendar for a list of local happenings, events, classes, or other things to do.
– Visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Gardner Stewart art museum (indoor courtyard pictured below), or the Museum of Science.
A rental car is not necessary while in Boston unless you want to do a lot of day trips to the outer areas. In fact, finding and paying for parking is quite a burden, so I always suggest visitors take Uber, Lyft, a cab or try public transit on our MBTA train system.
Where to Eat and Drink
Breakfast & Brunch
– Jugos – Tiny, tiny to-go spot but central right near Copley Square, so on a nice day you can enjoy your food on the benches there. I’m far from a “clean” eater but this place is tasty and fresh. My favorites are the juices, frozen acai or pitaya (dragonfruit) bowls, and their chicken salad avocado toast. I have a weakness for coconut + cacao chocolate nibs atop my bowl…tastes like dessert!
Acai bowl from Jugos
– Gaslight – French cuisine restaurant with yummy egg dishes (I like the Vigneronne style)
– Tatte – A cute, Instagram-able local bakery/café with multiple locations, easily some of the most Instagram’d spots in town. I like the location in charming Beacon Hill, but be warned it’s a zoo at weekend brunch time!
– Dim Sum – for the actual “ladies wheeling around push carts full of dim sum” experience we go to Hei La Moon (weekends only, and good for bigger groups). If it’s just the two of us or if it’s a weekday, we usually do Great Taste, where you can order dim sum off a little checklist daily until 4pm. They also have this traditional dish we love which is braised beef brisket & tendon over seared rice noodle rolls (pictured in the iron pot below) – it’s only written in Chinese on the wall and not in the regular menu. My mom ordered it once and now we just point or pull up this pic!
Dim Sum faves: shrimp & chive dumplings for me, sweet custard buns for Nick
– Coppa – Italian small plates spot in the south end with an outdoor patio, and a few additions during brunch hour including “hangover” pizza and Shakshuka baked eggs in a yummy sauce.
– Coffee – I’m more a tea person, but Nick’s favorites are the Thinking Cup on Newbury Street (right by all the shopping) or the Buttery in the south end. If you’ve seen the movie Spotlight, Rachel McAdams’ character enjoys the Buttery which is right in my hood…had I known, you can trust this closet Notebook fan would’ve been lurking outside at the time!!
Lunch & Dinner: Loosely ranked in order of a super casual to nicer ambiance
– Pho noodle soup – Best vietnamese in town is definitely up for contention based on personal preferences, but mine has to be either Pho Viets at Super 88 food court or Pho Hoa in Chinatown. Neither have an “ambiance” so we usually just slurp with our heads down or get it to-go. At Pho Viets, Nick and I fight over the beef stew soup over egg noodles and their hefty banh mi sandwiches. My usual at Pho Hoa is just the Dac Biet beef pho, substituting in the thicker round rice noodles.
Pho Viets beef stew over egg noodles, grilled pork & cold cut banh mi sandwiches
– Chicken & Rice Guys (note: no seating. They also have several food trucks which you can track here) – probably my favorite grab & go lunch spot. Modeled after NYC’s popular “Halal guys” (which is now also in the Boston area!) but actually tastes like real meat. A small combo (chicken & lamb gyro over rice) is usually plenty to fill me up – don’t forget to douse it in their yummy sauces!
– Taiwan Cafe – Most decent soup dumplings in town, which doesn’t say much if you have a Din Tai Fung near you…but most of us don’t. What to get: juicy soup dumplings (transfer to your soup spoon carefully, nibble a hole off the top, and sip the soup out slowly to avoid a traumatic mouth-scalding experience), regular pan-seared dumplings, scrambled egg with beef & tomatoes rice plate (Chinese comfort food), Szechuan style white fish in spicy broth (“shui zhu yu”).
Lobster roll, oysters, littlenecks and fried clams from Neptune Oyster
– For good ol’ New England seafood, there’s the fisherman shack James Hook where you can grab a roll to-go or Yankee Lobster Co (right by Harpoon Brewery), both of which are a bit toursity. Alive & Kickin Lobster is a no-frills seafood “garage” in Cambridge with whole lobsters, steamers, and simple, yummy lobster sandwiches (on toasted scali bread not rolls), and Tony’s Clam Shop in Quincy has rolls, fried seafood & steamers right by the water. If you haven’t had steamer clams before, they are so big & tasty when in-season…our out-of-town visitors can never get enough! Neptune Oyster is the most hyped spot for lobster rolls and seafood – their food is always yummy and I like the ambiance, but it’s a small spot and a wait could easily set you back ~ 3 hours unless you line up before they open.
Lobby rolls, steamers, and fried shrimp from Tony’s Clam Shop
– Shabu Zen (2 locations) – my weekly go-to for comfort food, especially in colder weather. If you haven’t had shabu or hot pot before, your ingredients come uncooked so you cook them quickly in a boiling pot of broth, then eat with a dipping sauce that you mix up in your little sauce cup. What to get: combos (either the pick 2 meats combo, boneless shortrib, or the tontoro pork combo) that come with veggies, rice or udon noodles; whole shrimp to add flavor to the house broth, and watermelon smoothies.
Hot pot feast
– Salty Pig – Restaurant with large patio right by my afore-mentioned shopping malls focusing on charcuterie, pizzas, and craft beer … aka the express path to my husband’s heart. I do appreciate that they make a lot of their own charcuterie and pasta. Sundays are “red sauce Sundays” with cute checkered table cloths.
– Holly Crab – If you like cajun-style seafood boils, this place really hits the spot with seafood that comes in plastic bags smothered in garlicky, spicy, buttery and citrusy goodness. Put on the bib and rubber gloves, and leave your white silk blouse at home. Their crawfish are very small, so our go-tos are the shrimp, mussels, and king crab legs (a splurge but so good) in holly crab medium sauce with sides of corn and sausage in the bag.
Spread at Holly Crab (don’t be deceived by my staging…everything comes in bags!)
– Best oyster happy hour spots (note: these happy hours are subject to change, so please call ahead to ask) – You can’t come to New England without indulging in fresh oysters, but they can add up at the usual $3+ per piece! Precinct has $1.5 oysters daily from 4 – 6PM, and a cute patio for when it’s nice out. Les Zygomates wine bar has $1 oysters weekdays 3 – 7PM at the bar area, Bar Boloud (at the Mandarin Oriental hotel) has them in the summer if you need a break from shopping on Newbury Street, and Marliave in downtown Boston has $1 oysters daily at either 4 – 5PM, or 9 – 10PM. Their oysters for some reason often lose their brine (my favorite part) by the time they reach me, but on the plus side Marliave has some yummy house-made pasta dishes like their Sunday Gravy.
Precinct oyster happy hour
– The Daily Catch (multiple locations) – small, “cozy” Italian seafood pasta spots known for their lobster fra diavolo dish made for sharing. We also love the aglio olio, which is their house-made squid ink pasta (you can substitute this noodle in most of their other pasta dishes too, for a small charge) tossed with oodles of garlic and ground calamari. I keep highlighting the spots with fresh house-made pasta, as some of the most popular Italian spots here don’t make their pastas or even their sauces! We prefer the Brookline location for this restaurant, as the North End one has rushed and at times, rude service (neither take reservations).
Daily Catch Lobster Fra Diavolo for 2; various squid ink pasta dishes
– Barcelona Wine Bar – tapas spot with 2 locations in Boston. This is actually a chain restaurant from CT, but they do a great job with ambiance and catering to local tastes (their bread from a local bakery is heavenly, always hot and fresh). They have a regularly changing menu and are always packed around dinner or brunch time, so make reservations if you can. Some staples I like that are usually always on the menu: charcuterie, hanger steak w/ truffle sauce, patatas bravas (potatoes doused in garlic aioli), and wine flights.
– Toro – another tapas spot, by Ken Oringer, one of my favorite chefs in town. What to get: The cheesy Mexican-style corn, seafood paella (better than others in town; half size is plenty for sharing!), roasted cauliflower, bone marrow topped with braised oxtail. It’s so yummy, we’d eat here all the time if it weren’t for the fact that they don’t accept reservations, and the wait at dinner time can be 1-3 hours (so go right when they open to put your name down)!
– Drinks – Nick and I have opposite tastes in alcohol (he’s a beer, whiskey and scotch man, and I prefer anything but) but one thing we can agree on is we both love the drinks at Shojo. If you don’t like strong tastes of alcohol, I’d recommend their gin gin mule with housemade ginger beer (very strong ginger flavor – you’ve been warned), reiko greene with giant cucumber ice cube, cold tea for 2 which is a bit insidious because it tastes so normal, or their “agogo” drink. Snack on their chicken & waffles (egg puff-style waffle), house-made noodle dish of the day, or mini pork belly buns in-between drinks. Nick also likes the menu-less bar Drink where you blab out what types of things you like in a beverage and the bartender makes you something, while you munch on their complimentary buttery popcorn.