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Back Bay, Boston Travel Guide

Back Bay Summary


  • Historic charm: ancient churches, beautiful brownstones, treelined avenues
  • Great shopping, from Newbury Street boutiques to the massive Prudential Center mall
  • Convenient for business travelers, from Hynes Convention Center to big hotels with lots of meeting space
  • Beautiful parks: adjacent to the Public Garden and Boston Common, with ice-skating in the winter and swan boats in the summer
  • Great place to watch Boston Marathon, which ends at Copley Square
  • Grand, historic hotels like the Fairmont Copley Plaza and the Eliot
  • Adjacent to the trendy South End, with its gays bars and chic eateries


  • The North End and the harbor are not within easy walking distance.
  • Hotels can be crowded with large groups and conventions.
  • Few inexpensive restaurants; dining options dominated by mid- and upper-tier chain restaurants and pricey hotel eateries

What It's Like

The Back Bay offers a little bit of everything, from luxury shopping to historic churches to the finish line of the Boston marathon. Once a submerged swampland, it was created in the mid-1800s by filling in the tidal flats of the Charles River. Today, it's a heavily developed, upscale commercial and residential area just west of the Boston Common, the city's central park. Office workers toil away in the area's high-rise buildings, some of Boston's tallest, while business travelers convene for conferences at the Hynes Convention Center, which is connected to not one but three hotels and a two-storey shopping mall. But the area isn't all business and skyscrapers. The Back Bay also has some of the city's best shopping, gorgeous 19th-century churches, and beautiful treelined avenues. Along charming Newbury Street, upscale chain stores, boutiques, and restaurants mingle with Victorian brownstones, and even the Dunkin' Donuts strives to appear quaint. Further spending opportunities abound within the Prudential Center, a hugely popular mall at the base of a 52-story office building.

The Prudential Center towers over Copley Square, a historic plaza in the heart of the Back Bay. There, the present reflects the past, literally, as the shimmering, 60-story, I.M.-Pei-designed John Hancock Tower serves as a mirror to the Trinity Church, an ornate Neo-Romanesque structure built in the late 1800s. Across Copley Square, the stately Boston Public Library sits, further adding to the architectural splendor and making the square a lovely place to meet a friend, play boccie ball on the lawn, hit up the biweekly farmers' market, or have a picnic lunch -- all of which tourists and locals do regularly. Just west of the Back Bay, the Fenway area is home to two of the city's top museums, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, as well as historic Fenway Park, the home of a historically cursed little baseball club called the Red Sox.

Where To Stay

The Back Bay's anachronistic charms and proximity to the Hynes Convention Center and great shopping come at a cost. Hotels tend to be pricey compared with those on the waterfront, and they can book up quickly with large groups, which can also cause great price fluctuations. The convention center is actually connected via an indoor shopping mall and skybridge to three large hotels: the Westin, the Sheraton, and the Marriott Boston Copley Place. It's convenient for conventioneers, but individual travelers can get more for their money, and fewer crowded elevators, outside of the convention center complex. The huge Fairmont Copley Plaza has a grand old lobby and all the history that goes with it; every president since Taft has stayed at the hotel. For travelers looking for more intimate accommodations, there's the lovely Eliot, which has a James-Beard-Awarding-winning chef running its restaurant and, supposedly, the distinction of being the first boutique hotel in the country. There are also more affordable boutiques like the Lenox and the Back Bay Hotel, both of which have lively bars. For those more interested in the present than the past, the recently opened W and Mandarin Oriental offer more modern style -- think clear glass, not red brick -- and great spas on-site. And, of course, the Four Seasons is always a classic. The Boston outpost of the luxury chain sits regally on the Public Garden and has a pool with great views, top service, and a lovely restaurant, making it not just one of the best hotels in the Back Bay but in the entire city.

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