Stroll across the North End Park (anchoring the northern end of the Rose Kennedy Greenway) to take a walking tour of Boston’s North End. On the narrow streets of this historic ‘hood, you’ll feel like you have crossed oceans and somehow landed in the Old Country. Occupying Boston’s northern tip, this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city (and it’s got the historic sites to prove it). But nowadays, the North End is most famous as a destination for delicious, old-fashioned Italian eats.
Throughout the 19th century, the North End attracted immigrants from all over Europe. The Italians—from Sicily, Genoa, Napoli and Milan—were the latest to arrive, setting up ethnic enclaves that mirrored their home country. Other immigrant groups gradually dispersed, but the Italians stayed put (for a while) and their influence still pervades the neighborhood.
Italian restaurants and cafes line the main drag, Hanover Street, while imported food stores dot the side streets. You really can’t go wrong at any of the ristoranti, but some tried-and-true favorites include Pomodoro and L’Osteria. Folks line up before the doors open for the first seating at Giacomo’s Ristorante.
If you prefer to stock up on ingredients so you can cook at home, you’re in luck. Salumeria Italiana is a long-standing place selling olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, charcuterie and cheeses, all imported from Italy. Bricco Salumeria is equally enticing, especially for its hand-made pasta; plus there are fresh-baked ciabatta, focaccia and other pane (bread) coming out of the oven downstairs. Follow your nose! The Wine Bottega is the place to go for wine, and Polcari’s Coffee is famous for its amazing selection of beans.
Although the North End feels like Little Italy, the neighborhood’s history goes back to the very beginning. In fact, if you wander away from Hanover Street, you’ll find the city’s oldest active church, its oldest house and its second-oldest cemetery. All of these stops are along the Freedom Trail, with the painted red line showing the way.
North Square is a charming city square, with red brick buildings and cobblestone streets. The modest wooden clapboard house is the city’s oldest home, dating to 1680. It also happens to be the former home of Paul Revere.
A few blocks north, a brick paved mall leads up a hill to Old North Church, built in 1723, with its tall white spire towering over the neighborhood. It is indeed the city’s oldest church. But it is more famous for its steeple, where the sexton placed two lanterns, indicating that the British soldiers would travel “by sea” (as Henry Wordsworth Longfellow wrote in his poem). And finally, further up the hill, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is a 17th-century cemetery, crammed with evocative headstones.
For a perfect finish, end your walking tour of Boston’s North End by stopping for cannoli at Modern Pastry. Sweet!