Boston – City Guide

Population: City 600,000, Boston/Cambridge/Quincy Metro 4.5 million
Housing Cost Index: 161 Expensive (US Average 100)

boston - city guideBoston, the Beantown, is home to the World Champion Boston Red Sox and location of many TV series (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Cheers, Crossing Jordan, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and St.Elsewhere among the more memorable.) The Greater Boston – which includes the cities of Cambridge, Quincy, and Newton, the town of Brookline, and many suburban communities a bit farther out – has more than 100 universities and, as a result, has a great nightlife for young singles.

Among Boston’s neighborhoods the Allston/Brighton area is popular for students and recent graduates; Dorchester is the most diverse; South End is known for its restaurant scene and artistic atmosphere; North End is the largely residential center of Boston’s Italian-American community; Back Bay and Beacon Hill are the wealthiest neighborhoods; and the Fenway/Kenmore area is an affordable area near Boston University.

Good public transportation system makes Boston easy to navigate. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates its underground rapid transit system, reaching as far north as Malden, as far south as Braintree, and as far west as Newton. Collectively known as the “T”, the MBTA also operates a network of bus lines and water shuttles.

Need Car? No

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By Kate Burns and Sarah Trachtenberg

Boston is a charming, accessible mix of new and old. Although the city’s one of the oldest in the United States, the constant flow of students, trends, and new ideas in and out of Boston’s 40 or so colleges and universities keeps the city young.

Like any world class city, Boston has its share of fine dining, great shopping, and sophisticated cultural institutions. But the huge number of students guarantees that there will always be a cheap or free concert, play, or gallery exhibit for you to check out.

The public transportation in Boston is pretty comprehensive. Even in the suburbs, although you may want a car, you can get by without one. Even so, you’ll find it easier to maintain your car in Boston than in some other major cities.

Boston University Medical Campus Office of Housing REsources offers the following chart of neighborhood rent rates, which you may find helpful when weighing where in the city to move.


Boston proper can be prohibitively expensive, but not if you’re willing to move beyond the oldest Brahmin neighborhoods. If you want to save money but stay in capital U Urban, you have a number of options.

Once you do pick a place to search, the City of Boston’s website provides helpful guidelines, paperwork, and information (ostensibly, there’s a neighborhood guide on this site as well, but it’s impossible to link directly to it from the site).
Boston Neighborhoods


Boston’s South End consists of row upon row of Victorian brick, well, rowhouses. The neighborhood is home to lots of young professionals and a growing number of arts organizations. Tremont street is also home to a number of great restaurants- it’s known in some circles as “Restaurant Row.”

  • $900+ for a studio
  • $1100+ for a one bedroom


The North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood, is the cutest district in the city. Its narrow cobblestone streets and ubiquitous cannoli shops (check out Mike’s Pastry or the less hyped but equally delicious Modern Pastry, right across the street) have a truly unique flavor. Aging Italian Americans share the area with young professionals, and if you don’t mind sacrificing a little space for district brimming with life and good coffee, the North End may be the place for you.

  • Easy access to public transportation
  • Easy access to downtown Boston
  • Many small grocery stores as well as access to regular farmer’s markets
  • $1100+ for a one bedroom


Check out the neighborhood west of Back Bay, in what realtors naturally call “Back Bay area,” near Symphony on Mass Ave. off Boylston. The area features some beautiful old-world architecture and the Japanese gallery Kaji Studios. Check out the award-winning Japanese garden in the back; it’s one of the best parts of Boston.

This area boasts more affordable housing due to the influx of students from Boston’s conservatories (Berkelee, Boston, and New England), as well as Northeastern University. You will find lots of shared-housing options on Craigslist as well as on housing boards maintained by individual educational institutions (if you don’t mind sacrificing your quiet afternoons to a practicing musician, you’ll have even more options).

Geographically and psychically, if you’re young, Back Bay is a great place to be. You’re near tons of restaurants, shopping, landmarks, a hip young crowd.

  • Shopping at Trader Joes and Whole Foods
  • Near Copley Square, Newbury Street and the huge Main Library
  • Car—just forget it! Close to everything via walking or T

Starting monthly apartment prices, on average:

  • Studio $1000
  • 1 BRs $1300


If you’re not picky about whether you’re in the city or right next to it, I’d highly recommend checking out Boston’s suburbs. You’ll get all the perks of living in a big city, plus a little extra room to breathe.

CAMBRIDGE: Central and Harvard Squares

Beyond Boston proper, Cambridge rolls green and cozy. It’s an easy trip to the city by bus, T, car, or bike.

  • You may find a single bedroom in a shared apartment for $500+
  • Studio $800
  • 1 BRs $900


Central Square is the home of MIT. It’s also home to a number of great bars and restaurants, as well as basic urban amenities such as grocery stores, a Goodwill for used furniture, and a couple of bike shops. Living in Central Square provides you with easy access to Boston via the Red Line, or even by foot. If you find an apartment in or adjacent to Central, you’ll have easy access to the Charles. If you like to bike, jog, or rollerblade, the sidewalk along the river is one of the best routes in the city (and you’ll save on a gym membership).


Down the Red line (or the river, or the street, depending on your method of transportation) lies Harvard Square, home of Harvard University. Harvard Square is a mecca for the fun, intellectual, the punk and the yuppy, and if you like a little hustle and bustle, it’s a wonderful place to live. Street performers dazzle, authors and intellects flock to bookstores and lecture halls to speak and debate, and the occasional retro political protest germinates amidst those ivy walls, spilling out to take over the Square.

According to legend, Harvard Square is home to more bookstores per capita than any other place in the USA. It’s also got its fair share of delicious ethnic food and fun clothing boutiques.

Harvard is accessible via the Red line and the bus. Although you may want a car if you live in Cambridge, know that parking in Harvard Square itself is usually a nightmare. If you’re not fussy, a bike is a better option. Though many Harvard students live in on-campus housing, there are many subletting and apartment sharing options with students and other young people in the area.


Just down Mass Ave in Somerville is Davis Square, a bastion of cool that remains more alternative (and a little cheaper) than Harvard Square. It provides funky, bohemian comforts to townies, Tufts students, and Bostonions alike. Housing here is a better bang for your buck than in Boston proper—it’s generally spacious and well worn (as is most Boston housing). Davis is two stops past Harvard on the Red line, and you can access the city by bus as well. It’s easy to have a car here, although, again, not necessary.

  • 1 BRs $900
  • If you do have a car, venture past Davis into surrounding Medford/Somerville and you’ll have many lower rent options


If you must have a car, you might consider living in one of the hip suburbs (yes, it’s no longer an oxymoron) such as Waltham or Newton. As young people are getting pushed out of the city proper, these places are coming into their own with cafes, shops and restaurants.

Waltham has a distinctly Indian flavor and many Indian shops and restaurants can be found on Moody Street, the main thoroughfare, as well as unique boutiques and great bookstores. Also, Waltham is full of student life due to its proximity to Brandeis University.

Newton, traditionally a Jewish enclave, has a few surprises such as the New England Mobile Book Fair and a fair share of gift shops.

Near buses and commuter rail; Newton is also on the Green Line.

Starting monthly apartment prices, on average:

  • Studio $800
  • 1 BRs $900


Called a suburb but most of it does not feel suburban, Brookline, just west of Boston proper, does what many cities cannot in combining the best of all worlds. Washington Square, further west on Beacon, but walking distance from both Coolidge Corner and Brookline Village, has a few good cafes as well as the now-famous Vinny T’s. This sleeper hood is coming into its own as more people realize that even though it’s right on the C line and near Shaw’s market, it has a leafy, arboreal appeal which can almost be described as rural. If you’re looking for a place to live, you might try looking south of Beacon, up the hills. The closer to Beacon, the cheaper the rents are likely to be. The area attracts many students, ergo house-sharing options abound. And if your friends visit for a few hours, they’ll probably have a place to park, unlike nearby Brighton-Allston. If you live in Brookline, it takes about a day’s worth of planning to get parking for overnight guests.

Situated on the Green Line of the T (subway), it is quite possible to be without a car here.

Several neighborhoods, such as Brookline Village, Washington Square and Coolidge Corner, are worthy destinations in their own right. Coolidge Corner, with a unique art-house movie theatre, Brookline Booksmith and countless ethnic restaurants, is a fun place to live in or nearby.

You can buy groceries at Stop and Shop, just south of Beacon, Shaw’s or Trader Joe’s. You could also check out the Jewish shops on the north part of Harvard Street, but skip Saturdays: they are closed for Shabbat.

Kupel’s—Best bagels in town.

Starting Monthly Apt. prices, on average:

  • Studios: $900
  • 1 BRs: $1300


Technically not in Boston proper but close enough, just across in Brookline. While you’re here, look for the piano garden near the art center one block south of Beacon on Monmouth Street.

A great place to live due to:

  • Johnnie’s Market, surprisingly good and cheap
  • A good handful of restaurants and cafes
  • Near parks and Nature Sanctuary
  • Boston Book Annex, a large and well-kept used bookstore, is here for browsing
  • Tons of students and young people looking to live near Boston, but paying Brookline rents
  • You can have a car or rely on the T, or even just walk to Boston

Starting Monthly Apartment prices, on average:

  • Studios $1000
  • 1 BRs $1200


Last but not least, there’s Jamaica Plain, known affectionately as JP, home to countless artists, students, gays and Latinas, with an atmosphere that draws from all walks of life. Closest to Green Street on the Orange line, JP is filled with murals and other public art, as well as Mexican, Cuban, Vietnamese etc. restaurants, Boomerang resale, and famously, Sorella’s. Get there early and be prepared to wait if you want to actually get brunch and chow down on their unique and healthy omelets. JP is a great area, although many residential areas could do with a dash more curb appeal (re: get rid of the chain link fences!). It is a bit remote, though, so either move here with a car or be prepared to schlep.

Near Green Line and Orange Line, sort of

  • Car-friendly
  • Restaurants and shops galore
  • Reservoir for walking, biking, jogging
  • Artistic and diverse neighbors

Starting Monthly Apartment prices, on average:

  • Studios $900
  • 1 BRs $1100

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