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La Vita È Bella in Boston’s Historic North End

By Bojura Angelova

Today on the blog, we continue our series about Boston’s distinct neighborhoods with Boston’s Little Italy: The North End. Exploring its narrow and winding streets lined with red brick buildings, shops and restaurants, will give you a feel of the Italian-American community. And while the food and the summer “feasts” are some of the most popular attractions, the North End is also bursting with history, making this geographically compact neighborhood a must-see!

History

At just one-square mile, the North End is one of the smallest neighborhoods in Boston, but it has massively contributed to the city’s cultural, historical, and culinary heritage.

The North End was established as a residential area as early as 1646 and it contains some of Boston’s oldest streets. In the 17th century, its waterfront became a center of shipping and trade and the first Bostonians to settle down in the area were merchants who purchased waterfront land and built houses around North Square (the center of the neighborhood at the time).

Over the next three centuries, the North End became home to an early African American community and hundreds of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Ireland, and Italy.

By 1930, the vast majority of the population consisted of Italians (Genovese, Sicilian, Milanese and Neapolitan) – the reason why the neighborhood was dubbed Little Italy. Over the years, Boston’s Italian community carefully preserved the dialects, history, and traditions of the distinctive regions of Italy that they came from, and during the summer months the patron saints of those regions are celebrated with spectacular feasts and processions.

To learn more about North End’s history, check out this comprehensive brochure published by the City of Boston.

Getting Here

The North End has easy access to Boston’s subway system, the “T” (Green line stops: Haymarket, North Station, and Government Center; Orange line stops: Haymarket and North Station; Blue line stops: Government Center and Aquarium)

North Station is also served by commuter rail trains from north of the city, and Downeaster Amtrak service running between Boston and Portland, ME.

From the Hynes: You can take the Green line (C,E) from Copley to Haymarket or the Orange line from Back Bay station to Haymarket. Haymarket is also a 2 mile walk via Boylston Street through Back Bay and Beacon Hill – you can follow the Freedom Trail starting in Boston Common. Pick up a free National Park Service map of the Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail from the Visitor Center at the Common.

From the BCEC: The North End is a 1.6 mile walk through Downtown Boston via Summer Street.

Eat

The North End is one of Boston’s most iconic dining destinations with more than 100 restaurants, bakeries, and cafés serving some of the best pasta, pizza, and Italian desserts and pastries in the country.

Check out the guides below for recommendations on the best spots to visit while you explore the North End:
The essential guide to restaurants in Boston’s North End by boston.com
A Food Lover’s Guide to the North End by Boston Magazine
Best Restaurants in the North End by Zagat
Where to eat and what to order in Boston’s North End by Boston Globe
Best North End Restaurants in Boston by Boston Magazine

Many of North End’s famous restaurants also feature private dining spaces and our Interactive Map can help you identify the ones that are best suited for your groups.

Shop

While the North End is certainly famous for its superb dining scene, the neighborhood offers a collection of shops and boutiques selling everything from specialty foods to apparel and unique gifts. You can find a comprehensive shopping directory here.

Just a couple minutes from Hanover Street in the North End is the Faneuil Hall Marketplace - a unique and historic destination that combines the food halls of Quincy Market with popular chain stores, local boutiques, and must-see street entertainment.

And in close proximity is another beloved shopping spot: Boston Public Market. It is an indoor, year-round marketplace featuring 35 New England artisans and food producers housed under one roof.

See & Do

The Rose Kennedy Greenway consists of a series of linked parks stretching for over a mile from TD Garden and the North End to Chinatown. Each set of parks within the Greenway has a unique design that reflects the distinctive character of each Boston neighborhood. The Greenway boasts a wide variety of diverse plantings and unique architectural features, as well as numerous attractions, events, and art exhibits.

The Paul Revere Mall is a brick-paved park leading to the famous Old North Church. Here you will find one of the most photographed statues in Boston, the Paul Revere Statue, along with a fountain, benches, trees, and tablets on the wall that describe the famous people and places in the history of the North End. The Paul Revere Mall was built in 1925 and is currently undergoing a $2.9 million renovation project which includes fountain and masonry restoration, accessibility improvements, planting of new trees, more lighting, tree pruning, and new brick paving.

TD Garden is New England’s largest sports and entertainment arena. Home to the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics, the Garden also hosts concerts, family shows, and other sporting events like wrestling, gymnastics, and ice skating. You can also visit The Sports Museum that features more than a half-mile of exhibits celebrating sports in Boston (and beyond). TD Garden is currently in the process of adding 50,000 square feet of additional space and other amenities as part of its first major transformation in 23 years.

The Paul Revere House is the home of legendary patriot Paul Revere, where he began the famous “Midnight Ride.” A rare example of 17th-century urban architecture, and a National Historic Landmark, it is the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston, and the only home on the Freedom Trail. Historic rooms contain artifacts from Revere’s era, including Revere family furniture and documents, and one room is furnished with artifacts from the time of the first owner.

The Old North Church is located along the Freedom Trail and is a must see for those visiting Boston. Founded in 1723, the Old North Church is the oldest standing church in the City of Boston, made famous by Paul Revere’s midnight ride and, “One if by land, two if by sea.”

The Pierce/Hichborn House was built about 1711 and is one of the earliest remaining brick structures in Boston. The house is an excellent example of early Georgian architecture. Its elegant symmetrical style was a radical change from the wood-framed Tudor dwellings, such as the Revere House, common in 17th-century Boston. The home was built for Moses Pierce, a glazier, and was later owned by Nathaniel Hichborn, a boatbuilder and a cousin of Paul Revere.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, another Freedom Trail site, was Boston’s largest colonial burying ground, dating from 1659. It is the final resting place and burying ground of more than 10,000 people including merchants, artisans, and craftspeople who lived in the North End. Learn more here.

The New England Holocaust Memorial was built to foster reflection on the impact of bigotry and the outcomes of evil during World War II and to this day. The Memorial is designed around six luminous glass towers, each reaching 54 feet high, and each lit internally from top to bottom. The number six has many meanings here: the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust; the names of the six main death camps; a row of memorial candles; and the six years, 1939-1945, during which the infamous “Final Solution,” the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, took place. In addition, millions of numbers are etched in the glass, representing the infamous tattoos inflicted on many of the victims’ arms. Visit NEHM.org for more information.

New England Aquarium is home to thousands of aquatic animals—from northern fur seals to giant Pacific octopus to little blue penguins. It also offers a wide range of exhibits, including the largest shark and ray touch tank on the East Coast and the Giant Ocean Tank, a four-story coral reef home to Myrtle the green sea turtle and hundreds of other Caribbean animals. Lean more here.

Lastly, don’t miss Boston’s iconic Harborwalk with nearly 40 miles of pedestrian- and bike-friendly paths following the piers, beaches, wharves, and shoreline around Boston Harbor. You will experience breathtaking skyline views and discover popular landmarks, public art, unique shops, and more. Learn more here.

Looking for more things to do in Boston? Check out our guide of What To Do for shopping, dining, arts & music, historic landmark, and sports & entertainment suggestions. To give you a better idea of Boston’s make-up, also explore our guide to all the neighborhoods of Boston. Our Interactive Map will help you find the hotels, restaurants, and private event venues in the Back Bay that are best suited for your group.

Catch up on our previous neighborhood guides about South Boston Waterfront District and Back Bay.