Walk in Boston # 13, shopping and culture in Back Bay, is a 2.5 miles self-guided tour. It will take you from 2 to 4 hours to complete depending of what you do.
You’ll encounter art, historic buildings, upscale shops, a sprawling plaza and a busy shopping street. You’ll be able to go in one of the highest tower of the city if it fancies you.
However, you’ll have to find part of your way yourself as the map is sometimes approximate.
Highlights: Copley Square, Hancock Tower, Trinity Episcopal Church, Old South Church, the Boston Public library, the Copley Mall, the Prudential Tower, the church of Christ headquarters and plaza, Newbury Street, Boston Architectural College.
T.stop: Copley Square, green line (beginning and end).
Car: never a good idea in Boston but if you insist, use a parking app to reserve a spot at Haviland Street Garage. Once out on Mass. Ave., you’ll be between points D and E.
Good to know: there are public toilets in the library, the Copley Mall, the Scientist Church and the Boston Architectural College. You’ll find innumerable options to eat and sit on your way.
A: This walk begins at Copley Square like Walk in Boston #12, luxurious Back-Bay.
This time however, look at the library instead of the tower or the church. On you left, you’ll see a Boxtix kiosk where you can buy tickets for discounted same day shows if you feel like it.
To start your visit, climb the stair that goes to the Boston Library, one of the three largest libraries in the nation. Once inside, a superb marble staircase faces you; it gives you an idea of the place,.
This part of the building dates from the late 19th century and McKimm, its main architect, combined European influences and technological advances of the time to draw it. Murals by Sargent, De Chavannes and Abbey decorate it. There’s also a courtyard looking like an Italian Renaissance cloister.
Yet its main attraction is its largest reading room, Bates Hall.
To find all of that and more, take an explanatory flyer at the entrance and randomly walk corridors, halls and stairways. You’ll discover unusual things and some rooms that don’t seem to have changed since their inauguration, especially on the 3rd floor. Ongoing renovations may threaten them, though.
Next, go to the more modern part of the library, the Johnson building. Built in the 1970s in a post-modernist style, it has been renovated and the result is colorful, comfortable, spacious.
Here you’ll find work rooms, temporary exhibitions, a café and the annex of WGBH, the US public broadcasting station.
B: Your exploration finished, exit where you came from and find the entrance to the Westin Hotel, on your right when you look at the square.
An escalator will take you to the city’s most exclusive shopping mall. It connects some of the largest hotels in the area and hosts the upscale shops that are not on Newbury St.
From this point and until you go out of the mall, the map provided above no longer indicates where to go. Instead, find a map there and walk toward the Prudential Tower, the 2nd tallest building of the city.
On your way, you’ll see people of all nationalities and all ages. They are often impeccably dressed, carrying their last purchases in bags with logos of major brands. If only for this sight, the visit is worth it.
If you are hungry, restaurants of all kinds await you.
Once at the Prudential Tower, two options to take the elevator for an unobstructed view of Boston: toward the bar where you can also have a meal or toward the observation deck.
Back in the Mall, turn left towards the Sheraton Hotel, at the end of the lobby; or find a corridor on the left which runs along the large terrace in front of the Prudential Tower.
Go through the hotel if you have taken this option, find an escalator on your left. It will lead you to the ground floor with, on your right, doors leading to the Belvidere St.
Otherwise, walk along the corridor and it will also leads you to Belvidere St.
C: Now, you can again find your way on the map. It tells you to walk a little on Belvidere St. on your left until you see the Christian Science Park on your right.
You won’t miss it, it’s an immense plaza with an immense reflecting pool – when it’s in water. There’s also a fountain where you can try to run under the jets if you feel playful. It is not always working, though, especially in winter.
In any case, walk along a building made of raw concrete and neo-classical colonnades up to the imposing Scientist Church.
This church is actually made up of two buildings from different eras. The most recent one can be visited and it houses the largest organ of the world.
Next to it, you’ll find the Mapparium, a 3-storeys sphere composed of stained-glass windows. There, light shows recreate the geo-political changes of the world.
The adjacent library will tell you more about Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Church.
D: Next, follow Mass Ave. until Newbury St.
On your way, you will probably find yourself surrounded by students carrying all kinds of musical instruments. It’s because you are next to the Berklee College of Music, one of the most prestigious music schools in the USA. The New England Conservatory, quite famous too, is not far either (more about it on Walk in Boston # 14, coming soon).
E: Newbury Street is probably the most stylish street in town. Taken from this side, it’s a succession of small fashion stores and café-restaurants with terraces. The more you walk toward Downtown Boston, the more these shops give way to haute couture shops, known jewelers and art galleries (see Walk in Boston # 12, luxurious Back-Bay, for more details).
For now, enjoy the sights and buzz of the street.
F: At #320, on your right, you’ll find the Boston Architectural College. It has exhibitions of architectural projects open to the public on the ground floor.
Next, find Exeter St. on your right; take a look at the “public alleys” on either side of the street, with their typical black metallic staircases for fire escape. Then turn left onto Boylston St.
G: Your last stop will be for Old South Church, just in front of the Boston Library. It’s an old and charming church where you’ll find calm and, with a little luck, someone playing the organ.
To have a taste of old and historic Back Bay, don’t miss this book with plenty of illustrations: Boston Back Bay in the Victorian Era.
And before you go, don’t forget your guide and see how to thank him at the bottom of the page. Then enjoy the rest of your day!