Hello! Welcome to one of the oldest cities in the United States, ultimate college towns, and most diverse places I’ve had the pleasure to live in. Here’s a quick tour of the city to get you acquainted.
Boston is sometimes called the “City of Neighbors” because of the range of different neighborhoods–and their respective cultures–within the city. These include Allston, Back Bay, Bay Village, Beacon Hill, Brighton, Charlestown, Chinatown, Dorchester, Downtown, East Boston, Fenway Kenmore, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapn, Mid Dorchester, Mission Hill, North End, Roslindale, Roxbury, South Boston, South End, West End, and West Roxbury. I’d say a reasonable walk (as a college student who doesn’t want to pay T fare) is from Mission Hill or Roxbury to Downtown. Anywhere around the center of the city is dense enough that the scenery changes and you won’t notice how far you’re walking (helpful hint). Cambridge is also within walking distances, and can be reached via bridge over the Charles River.
Our subway, the T, is extremely easy to use. There are five lines: red, orange, green, blue, and silver. Each line branches off into a different direction, but all connect to at least two other lines. The red line is the only train that goes more than one stop into Cambridge, crossing the Longfellow Bridge. It connects to the Orange Line at Downtown Crossing and the Green Line at Park Street. Incidentally, Downtown Crossing and Park are somewhat connected; there is a tunnel from the Orange to Green that basically goes through both stations. If you’re trying to get to the Green Line from Downtown, just wait another stop to get to Park Street. It’s honestly not worth the underground walk. Orange connects the Green at Haymarket, and Blue at State. Green and Blue lines connect at Government Center. This section of the Green Line (Boylston to Government Center) is one of the loudest, and if you take this line there will be several turns and loud screeches. Amateur T-surfers, be warned! I’ve had my fair share of accidental falls… it can be quite awkward. Especially when you land in a stranger’s lap.
The Silver line is actually a bus that you can take to the airport. I prefer to take the Blue line to the Airport stop, as there’s a free shuttle that goes to and from the terminals, and you don’t have to get off the T to switch lines randomly at Arlington, Downtown Crossing, South Station, or Government Center.
It should be noted that on that map in the stations and on the MBTA website here is not proportionate. Even if two lines look like they run parallel on the map, they may not be as close as you think they are. Check your map or GPS before making rash decisions and wasting money!
“Inbound” trains are those headed towards the Government Center – Park Street – Downtown Crossing – State station polygon. Outbound refers to the opposite direction. Thus, an outbound train from Haymarket would be headed to Oak Grove or Lechmere, while outbound from Back Bay would be headed to Forest Hills. The trains are labeled by final destination, so pay attention to the direction you want to go and follow that direction to the end of the line to figure out exactly which train you want.
The Green Line has one northward outbound train to Lechmere, but four separate southwestward outbound lines. These trains are labeled B, C, D, and E lines. This is only important if you’re going past Copley; they all stay on the same path until then. Please note that you cannot switch directions at Copley Square! If you need to turn around, go to Arlington or Hynes Convention Center, or risk wasting time and money (that $2 adds up!). Keep in mind that the line you want will never be the train that comes immediately. You will have to wait. If you have the option to take a different train to your destination, it will most likely save you time.
Charlie tickets can be purchased at most of the big stations, such as Downtown Crossing or South Station. The above-ground E-line trains generally do not allow you to purchase anything unless you’re paying fare in the actual car, in which case you must must must pay cash. Don’t be that person who tries to pay with a credit card and holds up the line! That was definitely me once and many a passenger were upset. Gulp.
When you’re filling your Charlie ticket or card (get the reusable card, it’s easier than buying a new ticket all the time, and you can add value online) you’re going to want a Link Pass. You also have the option to purchase commuter rail tickets at some stations, and these will ask you for Zones. Unless you’re taking the commuter rail outside of inner Boston, you do NOT want these tickets! Most of the T lies within Zone 1 anyways,
Buses can be very useful, but make sure you know where they’re going! The 1 and 66 buses go to Cambridge, and more information can be found at the MBTA website: http://www.mbta.com/schedules_and_maps/bus/
So this has ended up being more of a guide to the T, but that’s a major part of transportation in Boston. If you drive, be prepared to encounter Masshole drivers who will cut you off, beep unnecessarily, and tailgate. Pedestrians have the right of way everywhere, so if they dart out in front of you–as they inevitably will–don’t be alarmed. Be vigilant. Also be warned of one-way streets. And I’ll talk more about parking another time.
Let’s see, what else is important when you first arrive in Beantown… Southie is not “SoBo” regardless of what the New York Times said. Everyone will tell you that Forest Hills is sketchy–I’ve never had in issue with it, but don’t flaunt your fancy phones or wallets because you always run the risk of getting robbed. The T closes at 12:30* so if you need to get home before then, make sure you get on before that last train! They do lock the gates sometimes and you’ll end up trapped inside for the night–not fun.
*EDIT: As of spring 2014, the T now runs until 2:30 on Friday and Saturday nights, albeit less frequently. HALLELUJAH IT HAPPENED!!!
Honestly, Boston is a beautiful city and you’re lucky to be here (or thinking about being here). Don’t be stupid and you’ll be fine. Keep in mind that touristy places like Quincy Market, Mike’s Pastry, and Duck tours are overpriced. Fun, but overpriced. The best thing you can do is take a stroll through the central part of the city. Have fun in Beantown!