Useful Notes: Boston

"Down by the river, down by the banks of the River Charles (aww that's where it's happening baby)
That's where ye'll find me, along with the lovers, muggers and thieves (aww, but they're cool people really)
Oh I love that dirty water, oh, Boston, you're my home"
Dirty Water by The Standellsnote 

Boston is the largest city in Massachusetts and New England, the capital city of Massachusetts, and one of the oldest cities in North America, having been founded by John Winthrop in 1630. Along with New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, it is one of the four major cities of the northeastern United States. Ironically, named in honour of a bucolic country town in Lincolnshire, England, which has long been outstripped by its far more famous colony in terms of size, familiarity and global importance. Boston, England, now only appears on TV (regularly) in "cops-with-cameras" shows as an example of English lawlessness and bad driving.

Infamous for aggressive drivers and a multitude of twisty one-way streets that make no sense in navigating (see here.) The former is less true than the latter, although the difficulty of getting around does encourage aggressive driving. The irregular street patterns can be blamed in part on the fact that Boston was originally built on a multi-lobed peninsula, with land gradually reclaimed all around it: at the time of The American Revolution, the only way out by land was through what is now known as Washington Street (not to be confused with two other streets in outlying parts of Boston with the same name), and the Back Bay (one of the few neighborhoods designed around a rectangular street grid) wasn't filled in until the mid-19th century.

That said, Boston's city center is quite walkable and perhaps best enjoyed on foot or bike; downtown is really not that large and there are many wide tree-lined sidewalks. (On the other hand, City Hall Plaza is the most inhospitable product of 1960s urban renewal east of Albany's Empire State Plaza, though a major renovation begun in 2014 should improve that.) If you can walk across EPCOT Center, you can handle the Freedom Trail, the city's most popular walking tour. Just a warning though, you will probably want to visit in summer. Real Life New England winters aren't always as pretty as fiction depicts, though there are mild years as well as bad ones. They also aggravate the driving problem by causing lots of potholes. Alternatively, if you want to avoid both the snow and the muggy summer heat, late spring or autumn would be your best bet.

Public transportation mostly works, though you may need to ask a local to help you navigate the esoterically named "T" stopsnote  (the most baffling appears to be the "Museum" T stop. Have fun guessing which of the six or seven popular museums it's named afternote ). It's also very old and under a lot of debt (due to politics, mismanagement, etc.), so breakdowns are commonplace. There is also the caveat that the last trains run at sometime between half past midnight and 1 am, which is a problem because last call is at 2. Taxi cabs naturally make a ton of money and there are a multitude of companies. This has changed as of April 2014, when the MBTA renewed a pilot program that extended weekend hours to 3 am.

Speaking of locals, Hollywood depictions to the contrary, they are generally very nice people. Just remember not to bring up the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Montréal Canadiens, or the Miami Heat. Otherwise, thou shalt know the true meaning of Serious Business.

Outside of the professional sports-team rivalries, Boston is still noteworthy in sport, for hosting the oldest annually raced marathon on Earth, the notorious 26.3-mile Boston Marathon. Why notorious? In a word, topography. The point at which most runners are just about to "hit the wall" (run out of stamina) is right at the start of a long up-hill stretch. This is quite possibly the origin of the phrase "Boston Strong", a phrase which gained new meaning after the 2013 bombing near the finish-line.

Another item of note is that Boston contains more colleges and universities than any other city in the world, and even more if you include Cambridge, its neighbor on the other side of the Charles River and the oldest college town in the United States, home to both Harvard University and MIT. Word to the wise: do NOT mix up Boston University and Boston College. It will not end well.note  Also note that those colleges include the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory; as a result Boston has a disproportionate number of musicians with a connection to the city across a surprising number of genres.

Expect to see more of Boston and suburbs in the years to come. Massachusetts has been aggressively courting filmmakers for years, which has paid off big time in the last five years or so under governors Romney and Patrick. We confidently expect the "Hollywood East" (officially, Plymouth Rock) movie studio to open any decade now.

Nicknamed "the Hub", as in "The Hub of the Universe", which gives you an idea what Bostonians think of themselves their city. You can find a large metal plaque literally engraved with Hub of the Universe in Downtown Crossing, or at least you could. Currently fruit vendors' trucks cover it up.note  It is also sometimes called the hub of the New England road network, as anyone who's ever tried to plot the least zigzaggy course between Providence, Rhode Island and Portland, Maine can attest.note 

See also Southies and Hollywood New England for more information. The latter is more often than not averted in real life.

Notable Pop Culture Things From or Set in Boston

Comic Strips


  • The Evie Scelan novels are set in Boston, with enough name drops that you could probably map the city from the narrative in Spiral Hunt
  • Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Sunny Randall novels are largely set in Boston, with many real life locations featured.
  • Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River above) sets many of his works in and around Boston. The Given Day is historical fiction revolving around the Boston Police Strike in the 1910s and Shutter Island also takes place on one of the Boston Harbor Islands.
  • David Foster Wallace's epic doorstopper Infinite Jest is mostly set in Metro Boston, and most of that is in the fictional suburb of Enfield (it's fairly obviously a Fictional Counterpart to Brighton).
    • There was a MA town called Enfield, but it was in the Western part of the state. It was one of several town flooded to make the Quabbin Resevoir. There is also an Enfield in Connecticut, but like most of Connecticut that one is not particularly near Boston either.
  • The based-on-a-true-story courtroom drama about a cancer cluster in Woburn, MA, A Civil Action.
  • Neal Stephenson's Zodiac
  • Lovecraft's story Pickman's Model is set in the North End of Boston.
  • Charles Stross's The Merchant Princes Series is set hereabouts (with an interdimensional mob headquartered in Belmont), as well as in an alternate Boston and an alternate New York.
  • William Dean Howells' classic The Rise Of Silas Lapham is set in 19th century Boston.
  • Strong Motion by Jonathan Franzen is set in Boston and refers to several real institutions and locations.
  • The picture book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.

Live-Action TV


  • Abnormality (from Marlborough, but everyone accepts them as a Boston band)
  • Aerosmith (still known today as "the Bad Boys from Boston")
  • All Pigs Must Die
  • Anal Cunt (from Allston, which is a Boston neighborhood)
  • Arsis (technically from Virginia, but James Malone and Mike van Dyne are Berklee alums and formed the band while on Christmas vacation, and a lot of their early shows were in the Boston area)
  • Bane (technically from Worcester, but no one in the Boston hardcore scene really cares)
  • Blood for Blood
  • Boston (natch)
  • The Cars (technically started by two guys from Cleveland, but embraced as Boston's own)
  • Converge (Salem, but got famous in Boston)
  • Dropkick Murphys - founded in nearby Quincy, perform in Boston each St. Patrick's Day; parts of the 2002 and 2010 concerts were released as live albums.
    • They have also performed on floats in the victory parades of all the Boston-based sports teams (the Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox).
  • Dream Theater (formed at the aforementioned Berklee College of Music)
  • Dysentery (Waltham)
  • Extreme (actually from Malden, but became famous in Boston)
  • Gang Green
  • Gang Starr
  • Grief
  • Have Heart wrote a song about the city, called 'Bostons'. They're from New Bedford, but they're considered part of the Boston hardcore scene.
  • Hivesmasher (Lowell)
  • Jerry's Kids (Braintree)
  • New Kids on the Block
  • Only Living Witness
  • The Dresden Dolls
  • Parasitic Extirpation (Originally based mostly out of New Hampshire, now based out of Woburn)
  • The Pixies
  • Famous hardcore band Gang Green
  • Ska-punk bands The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Allstonians
  • Dinosaur Jr. (actually from Amherst, but moved to Boston when their career began)
  • Augustana isn't from Boston, but they wrote a song about going there to start a new life.
    • If they count, then, for great justice, so do the Standells. They love "da rivuh Chawlz" after all.
  • The J. Geils Band
  • James Taylor
  • Mission Of Burma
  • Morphine (Cambridge)
  • New Edition
  • Overcast
  • Pathogenic (Lowell)
  • Passion Pit (also Berklee alumni)
  • Powerman 5000 (Spider's family is from Haverhill)
  • Ramming Speed (now based out of Richmond, VA)
  • Razormaze (now based out of Austin, TX)
  • The Red Chord (Revere, later based out of New Hampshire)
  • Revocation (Dave Davidson is a Berklee alum)
  • Sam Black Church
  • Scalpel (Attleboro)
  • Scaphism
  • Sexcrement (Framingham)
  • Siege (Weymouth)
  • Slapshot
  • Soul Remnants (Littleton)
  • Billy Squier (yet another Berklee alumnus)
  • They Might Be Giants - Founding members John Flansburgh and John Linnell are both originally from nearby Lincoln, and they still occasionally lapse into the accent (for example, "A Self Called Nowhere" and "Wicked Little Critta").
  • Unearth (Wakefield)
  • Wargasm

Professional Wrestling

Tabletop Games
  • Mage: The Awakening uses Boston (and the rest of Massachusetts) as a sample city for gameplay, complete with a strong historical power base in Salem, some horrible things happening up in the abandoned Danvers asylum, and a small cabal that watches over Northampton and is keen to do their own thing.

Video Games
  • Assassin's Creed III has a large section set in American Revolution-era Boston.
  • Tony Hawk's Underground 2 has Boston as the first stop on the World Destruction Tour.
  • Fallout 3 makes multiple references to "The Commonwealth", which is apparently what remains of Boston and "The Institute" being the remnants of the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Fallout 4 is confirmed to take place in Boston, showcasing notable landmarks such as Fenway Park, the Bunker Hill Memorial and State House in their post-apocalyptic splendor.
  • The Last of Us' second chapter takes place in Boston, and is especially notable for taking a path through the city that's logical on foot.

  • NPR's Car Talk, one of the rare Real Life(ish) items that does not avert Hahvahd Yahd In My Cah. This is especially funny, given that their studio is right near Harvard! And is about cars! (The Magliozzi brothers are actually MIT grads.)

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force is worth a mention here. Though the series itself is set in New Jersey and has nothing to do with Boston, it's notorious for being indirectly involved in a Real Life bomb scare in the city with a bizarre ad campaign. Said campaign involved planting Lite-Brites bearing the image of a Mooninite in odd places in major cities—one of these was spotted under a highway overpass in Boston and mistaken for a bomb. Said bomb scare is not to be confused with the actual Boston Marathon bombing that occurred in 2013.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Man moves to Boston and becomes its premier superhero, when he has enough of New York chasing him when Jameson offered 10 million to whoever can unmask him.
  • Underdog: While not having the original series take place in Boston (the live-action movie was filmed in Providence, RI, though), a one-off radio adaption in 1999 (produced by co-creator W. Watts Biggers, helping to promote his "Victory over Violence" campaign, with Tom Ellis, longtime Boston newscaster narrating) had Simon Bar Sinister develop a new "Switchpitch" baseball to turn positive people negative and become king of Boston; his plans are foiled as usual by Underdog and Sweet Polly Purebred.