The Best Places in Boston to Go During the Pandemic to Escape
Boston hasn’t been immune to Covid lockdowns. In fact, it’s been on the harsher side of the spectrum. I’m fortunate enough though to be living in a beautiful city that’s blessed with plenty of walkable activities in the midst of the pandemic.
I don’t know how I could have remained as resilient without living in the North End with such close proximity to water and outdoor cafes. Cabin fever strikes us all, especially those who are used to getting out of the city or the country. The beauty of this city has grown on me since I’ve moved here and I’ve managed to find pockets of this city that are absolutely stunning.
Boston has an incredibly strong local scene, and for that reason, it’s been heartbreaking to see so many businesses shuttered. Just a walk around Fanueil Hall will reveal nearly every other store in the promenade has gone out of business. Fortunately for the North End, the city did at least grant outdoor street dining over the summer and the fall which brought in a lot of business and helped to sustain the economy here.
Over the last year, I’ve seen Boston more up close than ever before because I average around 20 miles a week walking and running around the city. Here are a few of my favorite things to do during the pandemic in Boston that will *almost* make it feel like normal again.
1. The Seaport District
The Seaport District is Boston’s up-and-coming spot. I remember just a mere two years ago, it was an empty concrete district with just a few shops, but today, Seaport has transformed into a beautiful harborfront hub of shops and restaurants.
There’s a Shake Shack for which you can order ahead of time on their app, which is right next to Boston’s most beautiful Trader Joe’s, housed in an old brick building. Nearby, you can find a lot of high-end restaurants mixed in with cafes and super clean streets.
Seaport is like the new age of Boston. It adds a dimension of modernity to this city. You can also find the Envoy Hotel with a gorgeous rooftop bar and lounge. Here, you can get one of the best views of the city and the water. Just be sure to make a reservation a few days in advance, preferably.
Also in Seaport, you’ll find the ICA, or Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. I’m not a huge fan of modern art myself, but, the architecture is stunning and it’s located on the water. Also, the museum store is very much worth checking out. The ICA does require advance online reservations for Covid though.
In general, Seaport is a close walk to the rest of Boston and the North End so I highly recommend checking it out if you’re anywhere close to downtown.
2. The North End & Harbor Walk
Not far from Seaport, you have Boston’s Italian neighborhood. It’s where I’ve lived for the last five in Boston and it’s also my favorite district. I’ve gotten to know a lot of locals and it’s been hard seeing so many struggling with the shutdowns. With that said, the North End was transformed into Italy over the summer as each of the restaurants shifted into outdoor street dining. Umbrellas lined the streets as people sat outside, sipped martinis, and ate cannolis. This summer in the North End felt like the pre-pandemic world.
Although summer is over, you can still pick up some cannolis at spots like Mike’s Pastry or Caffe Vittoria, or hit up the Thinking Cup for a pastry and cup of coffee if you’re looking for a quiet cafe to sit and chill with a book. I read more this year than ever before, for this precise reason.
Also be sure to check out V. Cirace & Son, Inc. This is a nationally acclaimed wine that makes for a fun fifteen minutes of exploring. It was established in 1906 and is one of the best local spots in the city. Make sure to check out the beautiful St. Leonard Cathedral next door.
Lastly, the Harborwalk is nearby which is arguably the best thing about the North End. The stunning waterfront runs all the way around to Battery Wharf or south all the way to Seaport. I basically survived the pandemic because of the Harborwalk. You’ll pass Columbus Park as well as Fanueil Hall where you’ll often encounter talented street musicians.
3. The Boston Common & Public Garden
You can easily walk to the Boston Common from Downtown or you can simply take the train to Arlington Station or Back Bay. When I first moved to Boston, I compared the Common to the pristine parks I was used to in Tokyo and for that reason, I was disappointed. But, over time, I’ve found a lot of beauty in the Boston Common and more specifically the Public Garden. It’s beautifully sculpted and you’ll find a broad array of trees such as Redwoods.
During the fall, the colors are extraordinary, during Christmas, it looks like a snowglobe. The Garden is one of the best spots in the city for talented street musicians. This is one of the best places to go in Boston during the pandemic because it’s not overly crowded, there’s plenty of nature, and the vibe is super high and relaxed. People are outside simply enjoying life.
4. Local Bookshops in Downtown
There are a couple of local bookshops that are quaint and quiet spots that you can go to. If you miss normal life, this is an excellent way to both help out local stores and enjoy life during the pandemic. Commonwealth Books is located in an atmospheric nook and it reminds me of the famous Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris. It’s great that this spot is still open and you can peruse books and prints as old as the 1600’s. I actually purchased an old-world map from the 1800s and had it framed quite nicely.
Also, the Brattle Book Shop is also super fun and atmospheric. It’s located in an old redbrick building with a mural of a bookshelf on the adjacent alleyway. During warmer days, the bookstore sets up shop outside which is unique and fun. These guys have also been on Antique’s Roadshow as well.
5. The Back Bay District
A hop from the Boston Garden, you’ll reach the Back Bay District. This place has undoubtedly kept me sane over the last year stuck in the city. Whenever I get the itch to go somewhere modern or more classy, I head over to Back Bay. I love running over to the Prudential Center just to get some big city vibes that I grew used to while living in Tokyo. The architecture is beautiful and it’s also home to Eataly, one of Boston’s more upscale Italian markets.
A number of restaurants are open for outdoor seating and you generally get a more “normal” feel here, despite the fact that you still find businesses boarded up or even shuttered. It’s interesting and depressing though to walk around this area to see the economic devastation from the last year.
I also recommend stopping off at L.A. Burdicks Chocolate shop because this particular cafe has a charming artisan decor that makes you feel like you’re escaping to Paris. The last time I visited, I was able to sit down at a table while I sipped some thick hot chocolate and read a book. If you can’t escape the city or the country, this is the next best thing.
Also, you can wander down the street to the gorgeous Restoration Hardware that’s housed in the Historic Museum of Natural History. This is one of Boston’s most beautiful pieces of architecture that’s filled with Restoration designs. You can’t help but feel a sense of peace while window shopping.
Boston has been an ideal city to be in 2020. It’s easily walkable and with the Harborwalk, it’s made this insanity feel almost normal. I couldn’t imagine being confined to my house without the freedom to walk around or at least indulge in nature.