Downtown is one of Boston’s busiest and most amorphous neighborhoods, defined by a sustained hustle and bustle most enclaves can’t match and by geographic borders that tend to shift depending on who’s describing them.
These are the six must-visit sites within downtown Boston as delineated by the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway and the North End to the east, Beacon Hill and Boston Common to the west, and Summer Street and Downtown Crossing to the southwest.
The bones of this building and marketplace at 4 South Market Street date from 1742—when its namesake, a wealthy merchant named Peter Faneuil, whose wealth came in part from slave-trading—ponied up the cash for its construction. (The statue outside, though, is of Samuel Adams.)
A fire several years before the American Revolution led to its reconstruction, and Faneuil Hall ever since has served its original purpose: as a civic and commercial hub for Boston, always one of the busiest places in town.
This marketplace next to Faneuil Hall dates from the mid-1820s, and includes hundreds of shops and eateries in the main hall and neighboring ones. Quincy Market might be the best place to soak up the crowds in Boston, especially during the warmer months.
Boston’s brutalist government hive is one of the few city or town halls to ever inspire passionate debate. Some love it and its surrounding plaza’s imposing, monolithic appearance—so unlike most anything else in its genre—while others see it as forbidding and just ugly as sin. For architecture and urban buffs in particular, it’s worth a visit.
This national landmark at 206 Washington Street dates from 1713, and is just what its name implies: the one-time government center for the colony and then commonwealth of Massachusetts. That role ceased in 1798, when the much larger and more ornate Massachusetts State House opened in nearby Beacon Hill.
The Old State House is also well-known for what happened in front of it on March 5, 1770. That was when British troops fired on colonial protesters, killing five and helping spark the American Revolution with what came to be called the Boston Massacre.
If visitors learn anything about this former church building dating from 1729, it’s that it’s the birthplace of the original Tea Party. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fed-up colonialists met here in 1773 to foment and plan what became the Boston Tea Party.
Ever since, the stark, yet modest building at 310 Washington Street has been bound up in all things Revolutionary.
This year-round market in a building born of Boston’s epic Big Dig infrastructure project includes dozens of vendors. During the warmer months, there’s also a farmer’s market outside.
Like with Quincy Market, Boston Public Market is a good place to absorb downtown Boston’s activity. It’s also a good jumping-off point into the neighboring North End.