When people from this metropolis tell you where they're from, they rarely say "Boston." This is a city of neighborhoods, so you're more likely to hear people name the South End, Back Bay or any of the dozens of other enclaves as their home. Just about the only time people claim to live in Boston is when they actually live across the river in Cambridge, home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
If you're thinking Boston is proud of its almost 400-year history, you're right. Most visitors, even those here for just a day or two, fit into their itinerary at least one of the sights they read about in history class, such as the Old North Church. (Remember the "one if by land, two if by sea" lanterns warning of the direction from which the British were coming?)
Sure, it's great to go shopping in historic Faneuil Hall or follow guides in powdered wigs around the Paul Revere House. But Boston is also a cutting-edge city. Look for clubs hosting the latest indie bands, restaurants with the trendiest fusion cuisine and boutique hotels that are so minimalist there's barely a place to sit down.
Like most places in Boston, Logan Airport is served by the oldest subway system in the US, the MBTA, known locally as the "T." There's also a water-ferry connecting the airport to the downtown harbor. If you prefer, a taxi ride to downtown will usually take just 10 minutes.
Trains and buses arrive at South Station, which is also on the T. See Amtrak for intercity train information. Major bus lines Greyhound and Peter Pan also operate from the South Station hub, as do the upstart Chinese bus lines such as Fung Wah and Lucky Star that compete with them on the New York - Boston route.
This is not a city where you'll want to drive around, so park the car and take public transportation. The T makes getting around town quick and easy with subway lines, rapid transit trams, and buses. Better yet, walk to your destination. The "Big Dig," which buried a highway that once ran through downtown, has reconnected many neighborhoods.
Hubway is a bike-sharing plan with unlimited rides of up to 30 minutes each (longer rides incur usage fees) from bike stations all around the downtown neighborhoods. Drop the bike at your destination and pick up another whenever you want to return. Join online for a day, 3 days or a full year. For Cambridge rentals see CambridgeBicycle near Central Square, or the Bicycle Exchange in Porter Square.
Boston is the gateway for one of the country's top gay vacation destinations, Provincetown. The best way to get there is via one of the speedy vessels operated by the Bay State Cruise Company. Aboard WWII-style amphibious landing vehicles of Boston Duck Tours in Copley Place, you'll hit all the major sights on land, then splash into the Charles River for great skyline views.
Boston is very walkable, so put on some comfortable shoes and go out exploring.
The South End, the hub of the community, is a neighborhood of grand bow-front houses that had fallen into disrepair until catching the eyes of gays armed with hammers and paint brushes. There are plenty of restaurants along the major thoroughfares of Tremont Street and Columbus Avenue, and still a handful of popular gay and friendly bars. Jamaica Plain (called 'JP' locally) a bit further out the Orange Line, is a community of professionals, activists and artists, including many lesbians & gay men, mixed in with a large Latin population. Lots of small stores and restaurants line sections of Centre St. Nearby Jamaica Pond, a large and deep fresh water oasis, is surrounded by trees and parks, and Arnold Arboretum has a 265-acre world-renowned plant collection maintained by Harvard University.
Back Bay is dominated by Victorian-era brownstones. Attractions include: Newbury Street shopping and dining, the Boston Public Library, the Prudential Center and Copley Place shopping malls, the Hancock and Pru tower observation decks, and the Christian Science Mother Church grounds with a long reflecting pool near Symphony Hall. A footbridge over Storrow Drive brings you to the cruisy Esplanade, the Charles River-front park where people sun themselves, and where on Independence Day they come for Boston Pops concerts and fireworks. The Public Garden, between Back Bay and Boston Common, has lawns, flower beds, and a small lake with swan boats.
Follow the red brick line of the Freedom Trail from Beacon Hill, above Boston Common, to the North End with its Italian caffes, groceries, and restaurants, and see Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, full of boutiques and food stalls, along the way. On the other side of the Common, the Theater District has a dozen or so restored stages offering plays, musicals, ballets and the opera. This is also where several of the biggest weekly gay dance nights take place. Chinatown, also full of stores and restaurants, is nearby.
Harvard Square has cafes, shops, restaurants, and people aplenty, plus Harvard Coop browsing, just a few subway stops from downtown Boston. The Harvard University campus buildings, some dating from the colonial era, and leafy quads all seem so far from the bustle of Mass Ave. The Charles River banks are a great place to picnic with provisions found in markets, delis and take-outs at this busy bike and pedestrian-friendly intersection. Central Square, one subway stop closer to MIT, also has lots of small ethnic restaurants, shops, and nightclubs with live music and dancing, popular with the many local students.
Neighborhoods of Boston where most people live, often have tight little business districts of small shops and mom & pop restaurants. Some cluster around T stations, so they're quick and easy to get to. Davis Square in Somerville, and Allston Village, along Harvard Avenue, are lively areas mixing both the old and the new. Coolidge Corner, the thriving commercial and cultural center of Brookline, is surrounded by ethnically diverse neighborhoods. In South Boston, although things are changing quickly, there are still Irish bars and restaurants, plus the L Street Beach and Castle Island Park on the Harborwalk. The now-departed L Street Bathhouse was once très gai in a down-low way, with nude swimming and sunning on the men's side of an old wooden fence.
Revere Beach, a long strip of sand at the end of the Blue Line on the T, is nice for promenade walks, eating fried clams, pizza or fries. There was once a wild Coney Island-style amusement park here, but condo-dwellers took over in the 1970s. Two pretty beach towns are each a short hop from North Station on an MBTA Purple Line commuter train: Singing Beach at Manchester has clean sands and good swimming; and the old fishing village of Gloucester has plenty of seafood restaurants to sample, and little shops to browse. For the gayest beach, Provincetown is the best bet --an easy ferry ride from the harbor.
Media and resources
Bay Windows is an informative gay weekly newspaper, with listings, news, reviews, and classifieds; in print and online. Boston Spirit is a 6 times-per-year freebie gay lifestyle magazine.
EDGE Boston has gay entertainment listings and event updates. Rainbow Times covers gay New England, and publishes annual Pride Guides for Boston, Connecticut and Northampton, MA. See ShuttaVac for Lesbian Takeovers and other special events for women.
The Boston Globe, one of two general public daily newspapers in the Hub, has a useful website for reviews and event listings all over New England. The Phoenix is the local weekly general circulation alternative newspaper for arts, entertainment and local news, and the City of Boston has an online visitor's guide. Wicked Local is a window on life outside the areas where most tourists venture.
For locations and website links to businesses listed below, see our Boston gay map & listings pages.
Near the gay nightlife, the Chandler Inn (26 Chandler St; 617-482- 3450), boutique hotel in the South End, central to just about everywhere, either on foot or a short hop on the T. Three stations are nearby, including Back Bay with Amtrak service. Fritz is their ground level gay sports and video bar with restaurant.
For affordable lodgings close to everything 463 Beacon Street Guesthouse (463 Beacon St; 617- 536-1302) Back Bay brownstone is near Hynes Convention Center, Newbury Street shops, and all the nightlife. Guestroom kitchenettes have private bath, cable TV and wi-fi, and short-term apartments are available.
Two renovated townhouses make up the Oasis Guesthouse (22 Edgerly Rd; 617- 267- 2262). This Back Bay lodging on a quiet street has comfort and amenities including satellite TV, and Wi-Fi, close to Newbury Street shops and restaurants and Hynes Center too.
Zee Paragon Suites (10-18 Brainerd Rd, Allston/Brookline; 617-232-7844) has single rooms, studios, duplexes and suites near Boston University. Plenty of restaurants and boutiques are easily walked to along nearby Harvard Street.
Boston has no shortage of hotels at the center. See our maps & listings section for over 30 options, from hostel beds and B&Bs, to 5-star luxury suites.
Bars & Clubs
The Alley (14 Pi Alley at 275 Washington), friendly neighborhood men's bar between Government Center and Downtown Crossing; bears, leather men, and regular guys play pool, meet friends, sing karoke, and ask visitors about themselves. First Saturday Underbear parties.
The Boston Eagle (520 Tremont St), young professionals and regular guys, long the South End place to begin and/or end your night. Nothing spiffy, conversation and cruising; and Jack's still behind the bar.
Club Cafe (209 Columbus), lunch and dinner bistro restaurant, Sunday brunch; music cabaret, video lounge, and dance club with Sunday Tea-Dance; 'Napoleon Room' piano bar, karaoke, drag bingo. ShuttaVac Lesbian Takeover on Thursdays.
DBar (1236 Dorchester Ave), out from the center in residential Dorchester (take Red Line T or taxi). Full-service restaurant, comfort foods with a French twist, Sunday brunch; transforms into gay nightclub and lounge nightly, for dancing after 10pm.
Fritz (26 Chandler St), neighborhood HDTV video and sports bar below Chandler Inn, second home to many South Enders. Weekend brunch is a social affair as well as a good meal, and players and fans of their gay softball team often stop by.
The venerable Jacques (79 Broadway, Bay Village), has talented and sassy female impersonators galore and lots of spirited customers who aren't shy to show their appreciation.
Machine (1256 Boylston St), below Ramrod, long-popular gay Friday dance crowd with Latin Gay Nights, and Saturday International Nights and second Saturday women's nights. Their lounge bar with pool tables and games has weekday events including free pool nights, karaoke, Nu Queens Revu shows, and drag competitions. Machine also hosts Thursday and Friday evening stage productions of gay interest.
The Middle East (474 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge) restaurant and nightclub complex of three clubs and two restaurants, serving falafel, humus, baba ghanooj, veggie or meat sandwiches and entrees, soups, burgers and wine, with live entertainment. Downstairs (Brookline Street entrance) has 18+ live music party events, and the Corner is 18+ with food, belly dancers, live bands and open mic comedy nights. Zuesdays are last Tuesday monthly gay nights at ZuZu Bar -- also with DJ dance parties, and live music of many kinds. Midway between Harvard and MIT in Central Square, the Middle East attracts a young and lively crowd.
Paradise (180 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge), sexiest male strippers south of Montreal (sometimes guest dancers from there too) perform nightly on stage and mingle with the crowd. Downstairs the floor is packed for relaxed and cruisy weekend dancing, with no cover charge.
Ramrod (1254 Boylston St), longtime popular gathering place for those into leather and denim, tight Levis and chaps will do nicely. The complex includes Machine downstairs with dancing, theater and games room. Bear Cave Thursdays, Marauders Club Night on second Saturdays, special leather fetish contests and events.
The Randolph Country Club (44 Mazzeo Dr, Randolph), a focus of social life for South Shore and suburban gay folk, plus getaway for Bostonians. Outdoor pool for summer frolics and cozy lounge fireplace for cold winter days, a convivial mix of old and young, men and women. Drive 30 minutes south on I-93 to Route 24, take first exit, go left, look right.
Rise (306 Stuart, Back Bay), 18+ weekends, Boston's only after-hours membership club, gay-friendly mix, serious dancing into late hours, gayest on Saturdays -- good in a town where many bars close quite early.
The Theater District is home to four big 21+ gay dance nights each week from the Chris Harris Group:
Glamlife Thursdays at Whiskey Saigon (116 Boylston St ); Queer Fridays at Guilt (75 Warrenton St); Hot Mess Sundays at Underbar (275 Tremont St) with amateur strip contests and drag diva hostesses; and Epic Saturdays, at House of Blues (15 Lansdowne St).
Calamus Bookstore (92B South St) right by South Station, remains one of the world's best gay bookstores. Calamus has a wide selection of books, magazines, videos, cards, and calendars, a helpful well-informed staff (about both books and Boston), and visiting gay authors arrive from time to time.
Suburban towns around Route 128 have some clubs to check out - perhaps on the way back from Cape Ann, the beaches of New Hampshire or the Plum Island area. They're outside our Boston map area, so cllick their websites for directions.
For news and information on this north suburban town see the LynnHappens website.
Fran's Place (776 Washington St, Lynn), seven-day sports bar and dance club, open 3pm to 1am, with pool and darts, Sunday Latin nights.
The hostility of Boston City Hall to bathhouses makes this a rare exception among large American cities. There are no tubs here or anywhere in New England, except in libertarian Providence, Rhode Island -- an hour to the south by road or train.
Club Body Center (257 Weybossett St, Providence) exercise and games rooms, porn video lounge, fetish shows, steam, tanning, day pass; they never close.
Mega-Plex (257 Allens Ave, Providence), saunas, showers, club-house amenities and private rooms for overnight stays.
For Italian food and coffee, head to Hanover Street and the surrounding area of the North End. For Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food there are restaurants aplenty lining the streets of Chinatown. Back Bay's Newbury Street has cafes and restaurants of many varied cuisines and price range, and past the Pru Tower you'll find many more in the South End.
Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall is a cornucopia of taste treats, both inside the three main buildings and in streets around. During market days at nearby Haymarket the many open stalls overflow with fruits, vegetables, and fish, all fresh and cheap. This small block, home to the Union Oyster House, survived the wrecking ball and harks back to an older Boston.
The many Squares of Cambridge and Somerville across the Charles River are focal points for finding small cafes and a bounty of the cuisines of many ethnicities, European, Asian, and South American in particular.
For 60 Boston and Cambridge area restaurants see our map & listings tab, with locations and website links.