Back Bay

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One of the cultural and tourist hot spots of the city, the Back Bay neighborhood used to be a literal bay before it was filled in the 19th century. Today, this upscale area is one of the most expensive real estate locations in the city because of its location, dining, shopping, and amazing attractions including the Prudential Center and Boston Public Library.


For much of the area’s history, the land which now makes up the Back Bay neighborhood was under water, a bay west of the Shawmut Peninsula fed by the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. However, as part of a land reclamation project throughout the Shawmut Peninsula in the 1820s, the Back Bay area was slated to be filled. The project officially began in 1857 following the construction of the Boston and Roxbury Mill Corporation milldam followed by the Charles River Dam. These projects cut off the flow of the Charles River into the area, making it a freshwater estuary rather than a bay.

Because it was constructed after much of the city had already been settled for centuries, Back Bay is one of the most comprehensively-planned areas in all of Boston. Its streets operate on a straight grid system, making it an incredibly navigable area as well, especially when compared to some of the older neighborhoods such as the North End. In addition, a master architectural plan was developed for Back Bay from the outset. Developed by Arthur Gilman, the plan for Back Bay included tree-lined avenues that set it apart from all the other Boston neighborhoods, a point which set the stage for its exclusivity among upper class residents into the 21st century.

The master plan also strove to limit the building in the residential areas of Back Bay, instituting setback requirements that allowed for the construction of elegant three and four-story brownstones along Commonwealth Avenue. This was the city’s first planned neighborhood. It still stands today in fact, and the whole of it is entered into the National Register of Historic Places for the representation that these buildings provide of 19th century architecture.

The subdued, residential quality of Back Bay remained until the 1960s when the “High Spine” movement to create a distinctive skyline for the city of Boston influenced the placement of skyscrapers in Back Bay and beyond. These larger buildings, including the Prudential Tower and John Hancock Tower, are situated on what is the axis of the Mass Pike that runs through the area.

Main Attraction

A large and diverse area, Back Bay includes several notable Boston sites as well as many of its finest luxury hotels, 21 in all. As a result, this area is a hub of sorts for tourists. Among the places to visit in Back Bay are Copley Square which includes Trinity Church, the Boston Public Library, and the John Hancock Tower, the city’s tallest building. Several cultural institutions including Berkley College of Music and the New England Historic Genealogical Society are also located in the neighborhood.

There are many shopping and dining options located throughout Back Bay as part of the Prudential Center and Copley Square as well as up and down Boylston and Newbury Streets in the Architectural District. There is also ample open space in this area which includes the stunning Boston Public Gardens, Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and Charles River Esplanade.

Why It’s a Must-See

As one of the city’s most dynamic and popular neighborhoods for residents and visitors alike there is a lot to see in Back Bay. In fact, when going to Boston it’s hard not to at least pass through this popular area. However, actually taking the time to stop and look around, shop, eat, and enjoy life in the Back Bay is well worth it as well.