Last updated on February 2, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, travelling and making photos for 20 years. Read more Where To Stay

Where to stay in Boston without a car – The 5 best areas

In this guide, we’ll explore where to stay in Boston without a car, focusing on neighborhoods that have easy access by public transportation to attractions, dining, and more, of course, always keeping in mind the budget.

Whether you’re seeking high-end shopping in Back Bay or Italian cuisine in the North End, you’ll find the perfect home base for your adventure without a vehicle.

So, let’s dive into the best areas to stay in Boston without a car.

Where to stay in Boston – In a nutshell

Map of where to stay in Boston
Map of where to stay in Boston – Check out my shared Google Map with all the places I am mentioning in this post

The table below compares the best 5 areas to stay in Boston without a car based on different factors. Click on the area name to check a full description of the neighborhood.

Swift left or right on the mobile to see all the columns

AreaProsConsHotelTransportAttractionsRestaurantsNightlifeCharacter
DowntownCentral locationBusy, expensiveThe LanghamExcellentQuincy Market, Faneuil Hall, New England AquariumGreatGoodUrban
Back BayHigh-end shoppingExpensive accommodationsThe LenoxExcellentNewbury Street, Prudential Center, Copley SquareGreatGoodUpscale
Beacon HillHistoric charmLimited parkingThe Whitney HotelGoodMassachusetts State House, Charles StreetGoodFairPicturesque
North EndItalian food, historicLimited parking, crowdedBattery Wharf HotelGoodFreedom Trail, Paul Revere House, Old North ChurchExcellentGoodAuthentic
CambridgeVibrant, diverseFarther from centralHotel VeritasExcellentHarvard University, MIT, Harvard SquareExcellentExcellentIntellectual
Where to stay in Boston without a car

The main public transportation in Boston is the MBTA subway system, known as the “T“. It consists of five lines: Red, Orange, Blue, Green, and Silver, connecting the city and surrounding areas with convenient and efficient service. The T is an ideal option for exploring Boston’s attractions, universities, and neighborhoods without a car.

Ticketing is straightforward. Riders can purchase CharlieCards, which are reusable plastic cards, or single-use paper CharlieTickets. Load stored value or weekly/monthly passes onto your CharlieCard at ticket vending machines in stations.

For occasional users, CharlieTickets work for one-time trips or day passes.

The subway runs daily from approximately 5 AM to 12:30 AM, with more frequent service during peak hours. Fares are affordable, starting at $2.40 for a one-way trip with a CharlieCard or $2.90 with a CharlieTicket.

Boston Harbor
Boston Harbor

Downtown Boston: A Vibrant Hub with Endless Attractions

  • Pros: Central location, numerous attractions, great for a short stay, best place to stay in Boston for first-time visitors
  • Cons: Crowded, higher-priced accommodations
  • Accessibility: Excellent, multiple T stations
  • Attractions: Quincy Market, Boston Common, New England Aquarium

Downtown Boston is a bustling and vibrant area that’s perfect for travelers without a car.

You’ll have easy access to countless attractions, shopping centers, and restaurants.

Moreover, Downtown is the central hub of the MBTA subway system, known as the “T”. 

One of the key attractions in Downtown Boston is the historic Quincy Market, where you can sample delicious local cuisine and shop for unique souvenirs.

The market features numerous food stalls and shops, making it a great place to spend an afternoon. 

You are also a stone away from the lovely oldest public park in the USA, the Boston Common, the perfect spot to unwind, leave your kids running around, or simply have a picnic.

In summer you will find also a few events organized here and in winter ice skating is of course on.

For those interested in marine life, the New England Aquarium is another popular attraction that’s easily accessible from Downtown Boston.

The aquarium is home to thousands of aquatic animals, including sea turtles, penguins, and a massive four-story coral reef exhibit.

Downtown Boston is also famous with the locals for its variety of shopping options, including large department stores as well as small boutiques. 

Whether you’re looking for designer labels or affordable fashion, you’ll find it all in this bustling neighborhood.

Another great plus of Downtown is its extensive range of restaurants that caters to any budget, and any type of cuisine, from Italian to Asian, from seafood to American grill.

Try the historic Union Oyster House for classic New England seafood, or head to the bustling Quincy Market for a variety of food stalls offering local and international cuisines.

Downtown is the place to be on a short stay, especially if you have just one night in Boston.

In conclusion, Downtown is a fantastic place to stay in Boston without a car. With its central location and numerous attractions, you’ll not get bored. Moreover, you are in the hub of the “T” (MBTA subway system)

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in Downtown Boston:

The Langham: A top choice for those seeking a luxury car-free Boston experience. This elegant hotel offers exceptional service and a cozy atmosphere, conveniently located for exploring the city. Attention to detail, cleanliness, and helpful staff. Delight in the upscale Grana brunch, and enjoy the stunning interior design and unique features, such as the historic bank seal and high ceilings in the restaurant.

The Marriott Vacation Club Pulse at Custom House is another top choice for a car-free Boston stay. The hotel is located close to the Quincy Market and the Aquarium, and next to the Blue Subway Line. You will find spacious rooms, friendly staff, and a few free activities. Take in fantastic views from the observation tower, and enjoy being close to popular attractions like the Freedom Trail and Faneuil Hall. Perfect for young travelers seeking comfort and convenience in the city.

If your budget is limited you should check the Club Quarters Hotel. Certainly, it does not come cheap, but it is absolutely a great value-for-money option.

Downtown by night
Downtown by night

Back Bay: Chic Brownstones and Luxury Shopping

  • Pros: Beautiful architecture, best place to stay in Boston for shopping
  • Cons: Expensive accommodations
  • Accessibility: Great, multiple T stations
  • Attractions: Newbury Street, Prudential Center, Copley Square

Back Bay is an upscale and picturesque neighborhood known for its beautiful architecture, tree-lined streets, and luxury shopping.

The area is well-served by multiple T stations, making it a convenient place to stay in Boston without a car.

One of the main attractions in Back Bay is of course Newbury Street, famous for its shopping options.

You will be able to find there some of the most famous labels as well as local designer boutiques.

This lively street is also home to numerous cafes and restaurants, perfect for a mid-shopping break or a relaxing meal.

Another notable attraction in Back Bay is the Prudential Center, a massive shopping center with many stores, cafes, and restaurants.

On top of the Prudential Tower, you can access the Skywalk Observatory, one of the best viewpoints in Boston. On clear days you will be able to see well beyond the city borders. Keep in mind the tower was closed in 2020 and as of 2023 there are discussions about re-opening it (hopefully very soon).

Next, head to Copley Square, right in the heart of Back Bay.

This is where you will spot architectural gems like the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church.

The square also hosts various events throughout the year, including art festivals and outdoor concerts.

Finally, you can attend a concert at the renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra, housed in the historic Symphony Hall.

The orchestra offers a diverse program, including classical, jazz, and contemporary music.

You will find plenty of possibilities in the Back Bay dining scene, from high-end steakhouses to cozy Italian trattorias, from sushi to French cuisine. So many options, although they mostly don’t come cheap.

And if you are looking for some caffeine, you should visit the Tatte Bakery & Café. There are actually a couple of them in the area, one on the Western side and one on the opposite Eastern side (they are both in my shared Google Maps together with all the sites I talk about in this post).

In conclusion, Back Bay is an excellent choice for visitors seeking a stylish and sophisticated neighborhood to stay in Boston without a car. You will enjoy the beautiful architecture and the great shopping, and you will appreciate the convenient transportation options, all around you.

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in Back Bay:

The Lenox is a cozy hotel with a welcoming atmosphere, the perfect spot for car-free Boston explorers. This charming hotel features immaculate rooms, exceptional staff, and a superb location near top attractions and the T stop. Savor tasty cocktails at the on-site bar, unwind in comfortable beds, and enjoy the convenience of nearby shops and restaurants.

Another two options are the Newbury Guest House (amazing location, close to Newbury Street) and Oasis Guest House (amazing value for money, clean rooms)

Aerial view of Back Bay
Aerial view of Back Bay

Beacon Hill: Historic Elegance and Charming Streets

  • Pros: Historic charm, best place to stay in Boston for the picturesque streets
  • Cons: Limited budget accommodations
  • Accessibility: Good, served by the T
  • Attractions: Massachusetts State House, Charles Street, Acorn Street

Beacon Hill is a historic and picturesque neighborhood that offers a true taste of old-world Boston.

With its brick sidewalks, gas lamps, and charming townhouses, the area is perfect for visitors who enjoy leisurely strolls and exploring on foot.

Moreover, the area is also well-served by the subway, which is great because you will be able to visit other parts of Boston in no time.

The Massachusetts State House, with its iconic golden dome, is a must-see attraction in Beacon Hill.

This is where you will learn more about Massachusetts’s history and politics in the state government.

Charles Street is another popular destination in Beacon Hill, known for its quaint shops and cozy cafes.

This picturesque street is perfect for a leisurely walk, browsing unique boutiques, or stopping for a coffee at one of its charming and cozy cafes.

For those seeking the quintessential Beacon Hill experience, a visit to Acorn Street is a must.

Often called the most photographed street in America, this narrow, cobblestone lane is lined with beautiful historic townhouses, complete with flower boxes and ivy-covered facades.

Beacon Hill’s dining scene is diverse, offering everything from upscale French bistros to casual pubs and cafes.

You can enjoy a leisurely brunch at The Paramount, savor contemporary Italian fare at Grotto, or unwind with a glass of wine at the romantic Bin 26 Enoteca.

In conclusion, Beacon Hill is an excellent option for those who appreciate the historic charm and picturesque surroundings. Its cobblestone streets, gas lamps, and beautiful townhouses make it a unique and characteristic place to stay in Boston. The neighborhood’s accessibility and proximity to attractions like the Massachusetts State House and Charles Street make it a convenient choice for visitors without a car.

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in Beacon Hill:

For a chic, unforgettable stay in Boston without a car, The Whitney Hotel is another great option. Revel in the stylish design, friendly staff, and incredible location, all tailored to young and not-so-young travelers. Experience the vibrant neighborhood, easy access to public transport, and spacious rooms, making this hotel the ultimate urban retreat.

Another two options are The Liberty (a Luxury Collection Hotel) and Omni Parker House (value for money, great for families)

The famous Acorn Street in Beacon Hill
The famous Acorn Street in Beacon Hill

North End: Boston’s Little Italy

  • Pros: Great Italian food, historic charm, best place to stay in Boston for foodies
  • Cons: Limited parking, busy streets
  • Accessibility: Good, within walking distance of the Freedom Trail and the waterfront
  • Attractions: Freedom Trail, Paul Revere House, Old North Church

The North End (also known as Little Italy), is a vibrant and bustling neighborhood famous for its Italian restaurants and pastry shops.

The area’s narrow streets and historic architecture provide an authentic European ambiance, making it a unique and exciting place to stay.

In North End, you will also find one of the most famous walks in Boston: the Freedom Trail that you can do on a selg guided tour. In this route, long 2.5 miles, you will be able to see and experience 16 of the most historic sites of the city. Some of the trail’s highlights within the North End include the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church, and Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.

And once you have finished your walk on the Freedom Trail, you can check out one of the many restaurants in the area, famous for providing some of the best Italian food in the city.

From classic pasta dishes to mouthwatering cannoli, you’ll be spoiled for choice as you explore the neighborhood’s many eateries.

Head to Giacomo’s for some traditional pasta, or enjoy wood-fired pizzas at Regina Pizzeria.

North End is also famous for its many pastry shops. Add to your must-visit list Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry.

In conclusion, the North End is a great choice for visitors who love Italian food and historic charm. With its narrow streets, authentic atmosphere, and proximity to the Freedom Trail and the waterfront, it’s a delightful place to stay in Boston without a car.

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in North End:

If you’re planning a car-free trip to Boston, I’d totally recommend the Battery Wharf Hotel. The harbor views are stunning, the rooms are spacious and comfy, and you’re close to all the cool stuff. It’s definitely a great spot for an unforgettable Boston experience!

Another two options are Bricco Suites (for families, up to 2BR) and Canopy By Hilton (on the border with Downtown)

Discovering the Downtown and North End
Discovering Downtown and North End

Cambridge: Intellectual Hub and Diverse Culture

  • Pros: Vibrant atmosphere, home to Harvard and MIT, budget and value for money accommodations, best place to stay in Boston for nightlife or a long stay
  • Cons: Slightly farther from central Boston, not suggested for a short stay
  • Accessibility: Excellent, served by the T
  • Attractions: Harvard University, MIT, Harvard Square

This area is certainly not central, being actually located on the other side of the Charles River. However, it is very well served by the T (MBTA subway system) and it’s home to two prestigious institutions like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Personally, I suggest booking your accommodation in Cambridge only if you are planning a long stay, 5 days or more. Or, if you are on a second or third trip to the city and you want to experience more of the “local” Boston.

I would not recommend it for a short stay because you would end up spending too much time on the transportation system.

A visit to Cambridge wouldn’t be complete without exploring Harvard University, one of the world’s most renowned institutions.

You can have a walk on the famous campus and visit the Harvard Art Museums, or you can opt to join an organized tour to learn more about the history and culture of this institution.

Similarly, MIT’s campus is a must-see for visitors to Cambridge.

You can just wander around, however, I highly suggest including in your list a visit to the MIT Museum.

The heart of Cambridge is Harvard Square. This is where you organize your shopping, have a meal, enjoy an event in one of the entertainment venues, and order a drink till late

Besides Harvard Square, Cambridge offers quite a wide dining scene, with options ranging from classic American fare to international cuisine.

Some popular spots include Alden & Harlow, Pammy’s, and Oleana. Cambridge is also well renowned among the locals for its vibrant nightlife.

In conclusion, Cambridge is an ideal destination for visitors looking to stay in Boston for 5 days or more and wanting to have more of a local life feeling. With its excellent transport links and proximity to prestigious institutions like Harvard University and MIT, it’s a fantastic place to stay in Boston without a car.

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in Cambridge:

Stay at Hotel Veritas for a truly cozy Boston experience. This gem is right by Harvard Square, making it perfect for a car-free trip. Enjoy charming boutique-style rooms, friendly staff, and great dining nearby. You’ll love the convenience and super chill vibes at this sweet spot, besides the great value for money.

Another two options are Le Meridien (near MIT) and A Friendly Inn at Harvard (budget stay)

The MIT campus
The MIT campus

Frequently Asked Questions on Where to stay in Boston without a Car

How do I get from the airport to my accommodation without a car?

Boston Logan International Airport is well-connected to the city center by public transportation. You can use the MBTA’s Silver Line bus service that will connect you to the city subway system. Taxis and rideshare services are also available

How safe is Boston’s public transportation?

Boston’s public transportation system is generally safe, with MBTA staff and Transit Police present at many stations.
Just take the usual precautions that you would take in any big city and be aware of occasional pickpocketing (keep your backpack on the front).

Can I rent a bike in Boston?

Yes, Boston offers a bike-sharing program called Bluebikes, with stations located throughout the city. You can rent a bike for a single trip, a day, or longer. Generally, you pay as you go.

Are there any car-free islands near Boston?

The Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area consists of 34 islands, some of which are accessible by ferry. Popular islands include Georges Island, Spectacle Island, and Peddocks Island. They are fantastic spots for a walk, a picnic on a sunny day, and for a visit to a few historic sites

What are some tips for using public transportation in Boston?

Some tips for navigating Boston’s public transportation system include purchasing a reloadable CharlieCard for discounted fares, downloading a transit app for real-time schedules, and familiarizing yourself with the subway map to plan your routes efficiently. Additionally, be mindful of rush hour and allow extra time for transfers.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

Leave a Comment