Boston Travel Guide
Fair & Trade

Bostonians see themselves as civilised and their city as mature. They're in it for the long haul, which helps explain the city's conservative character. Contrary to their reputation, however, Bostonians are not crusty or stiffly genteel, but down-to-earth folks who value loyalty. They also enjoy a thriving street life, thanks to low-rise buildings that allow the city to retain a human scale, and an urban core that's home to people of all classes.

Calling this quaint and charming city the 'Athens of America' might seem a bit braggadocio, but the city's 19th-century glory radiates through its grand architecture, its population of literati, artists and educators and its world-renowned academic and cultural institutions.

In 1773, the only visitors arriving to Boston's shores were the English Redcoats. Today, Bostonians welcome more than 12 million visitors each year from all over the world as they arrive in Boston to enjoy this exciting and interesting city. Tourism is one of Boston's and New England's largest industries, and as a result you will find a city willing to accommodate and entertain you as few other cities can.

Disastrous 'urban renewal' projects in the 1950s provoked such a furious backlash that Boston now has some of the best preserved historic buildings and neighbourhoods in the country. Compact, walkable, historic and clean, the city blends old-world beauty and modern convenience.

Facts at a Glance

Area: 125 sq km
Population: 600,000
Country: USA
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -5 (Eastern Time)
Telephone Area Code: 617


Founded in 1630 on a peninsula called "Shawmut" by the Native Americans who lived there, Boston is named after Boston, England, the town in Lincolnshire from which several prominent first colonists originated.

The vanguard of English settlers, led by Reverend William Blaxton, arrived in 1624 - less than four years after the Pilgrims arrived in nearby Plymouth.

The colony of Massachusetts Bay was established six years later in 1630, when the elder John Winthrop, official representative of the Massachusetts Bay Company, took up residence. From the beginning this was the centre of Puritan culture and life in the New World.

Puritanism was intellectual and theocratic, and so the leading men and women of early Boston society were those who understood and followed Biblical law - and could explain in powerful rhetoric why they did. Thus it comes as no surprise that the Boston Public Latin School was established in 1635 (and continues as an elite public high school today). A year later, Harvard College (now Harvard University) was founded in neighbouring Cambridge. By 1653 Boston had a public library as well, and by 1704 the Thirteen Colonies' first newspaper, the News-Letter.

Though the New England coast had many excellent natural ports (Essex, Plymouth, Providence, Salem), Boston was blessed by geography with the best of all. By the early 1700s it was well on its way to being what it remains today: New England's largest and most important city.

As the chief city in the region, it drew London's attention. When King George III and Parliament chose to burden the colonies with taxation without representation, the taxes were first levied in Boston. When resistance surfaced, it was in Boston. The Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party were signal events in the development of revolutionary sentiments, and the Battle of Bunker Hill solidified colonial resolve to declare independence from the British crown.

Following the Revolutionary War, Boston suffered economically as the British government cut off American ships' access to other ports in the British Empire. But as new trading relationships developed, Boston entered a commercial and industrial boom which lasted from the late 1700s until the mid-1800s. Fortunes were made in shipbuilding, maritime trade and manufacturing textiles and shoes. Chartered as a city in 1822, Boston's Beacon Hill was soon crowned with fine mansions built by the leading families, and Back Bay was filled in to make room for more.

These same prominent families also patronised arts and culture heavily. Though conservative and traditionalist in their general outlook, Bostonians were firm believers in American ideals of freedom, and firm supporters of the abolition of slavery and the activities of the Underground Railroad.

"As a literary centre Boston was long supreme in the United States and still disputes the palm with New York," says Baedeker's United States (1893). "A list of its distinguished literary men would be endless; but it may not be invidious to mention Hawthorne, Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, Everett, Agassiz, Whittier, Motley, Bancroft, Prescott, Parkman, Ticknor, Channing, Theodore Parker, Henry James, T. B. Aldrich and Howells among the names more or less closely associated with Boston." Most of the great publishing houses of Boston have been acquired or moved, leaving little but the magazine The Atlantic Monthly (founded 1857) and the publisher Houghton Mifflin to bear witness to Boston's former literary glory.

A poem about Boston, attributed to various people, describes the city thus: "And here’s to good old Boston/The land of the bean and the cod/Where Lowells talk only to Cabots/And Cabots talk only to God." But while wealthy colonial families like the Lowells and Cabots (sometimes called the Boston Brahmins) continued to be powerful in the city , by the 1840s waves of new immigrants began to arrive from Europe. These included large numbers of Irish, and Italians giving the city a large Roman Catholic population. It is currently the third largest Catholic community in the United States (after Chicago and Los Angeles).

As the 19th century drew to a close, Boston's prominence was challenged by the growth of other port cities and the westward expansion of the national borders; New England's economic boom turned into a bust when the textile and shoe factories moved to cheaper labour markets in the South.

The Great Boston Fire of 1872 started on Lincoln Street on November 9 and in two days destroyed about 65 acres (260,000 m?) of city, 776 buildings, much of the financial district and caused US$60 million in damage.

On September 1, 1897 the Boston subway opened as the first underground metro in North America. Today it is affectionately known as "The T" and is run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

In the 20th century the city became more culturally diverse than ever before. The city's ethnic and economic profile had already been significantly altered by the 19th-century arrival of thousands of Irish immigrants, driven from home by devastating potato famines. The cultural mix grew more diverse with 20th century arrivals from Italy, the Ottoman Empire and Portugal.

Economically, Boston became more of a satellite than a hub, although it remained a prominent centre for medical education, treatment and research, and USA's premier university centre. Many graduates choose to remain in the Boston area, which has helped fuel a local booming commerce in computer research, development and manufacturing.

For all its ties to the past, Boston has always looked forward. The new millennium saw Boston entering a renaissance, thanks to the near-completion of the 'Big Dig' - an ambitious public works project to place the Central Expressway underground. Wealthy young professionals are moving back to the city in droves and, since the demise of rent control in the mid-1990s, they are the only ones who can reasonably afford to live there! Affluent and comfortable, Boston remains at the centre of US intellectual life.

In recent years, like many cities in the United States, Boston has experienced a significant loss of regional institutions and practices that once gave it a very distinct identity, and become part of a more homogenized U. S. culture. Examples include: the acquisition of the Boston Globe by The New York Times; the loss of Boston-headquartered publishing houses (noted above), the acquisition of the century-old Jordan Marsh department store by Macy's; the increasing rarity of ice-cream shops using cone-shaped scoops; the financial crisis currently being experienced by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society; and the loss, to mergers, failures, and acquisitions of once-prominent local financial institutions such as Shawmut Bank, BayBanks, Bank of New England, and Bank of Boston. In 2004, this trend continued as Charlotte-based Bank of America acquired FleetBoston Financial (formerly Bank of Boston).

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