At only 10.4 feet wide, the Skinny House is the narrowest home in Boston. Nonetheless, it recently sold in September 2021 for $1.25 million. People actually live here! It is located across the street from Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Learn more about this, Boston’s North End, and much more with the Knockabout Boston Audio Tour.

Introduction & History of Boston’s North End

Boston’s North End is well known for its Italian-American heritage. This is primarily experienced through the many excellent Italian restaurants and pizzerias lining the narrow streets in this section of town. You should absolutely put on your eating pants and spend some time enjoying authentic Italian cuisine with a glass or two of wine. But for now, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

The North End is located on the original Shawmut Peninsula, the landmass that existed prior to the massive fill projects of the 19th century that more than doubled the size of Boston. It is Boston’s oldest neighborhood, and as a result, is rich with history dating back to colonial days. Paul Revere lived in this neighborhood and on April 18, 1775, saw two lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church that started his legendary “midnight ride” to Lexington, announcing that “The British Are Coming…” Revere’s home still stands and has been converted to a museum that you can visit during your stay.

Beginning in the 1820s, substantial numbers of Irish immigrants began to arrive, taking up residence in Boston. The immigration accelerated in 1845 when Ireland experienced a widespread blight on the potato crop, causing mass starvation and disease in the country. Causing over 1 million deaths, the Great Famine caused waves of Irish to emigrate from their homeland to other parts of Great Britain, Canada, and the young United States. One of the cities the refugees inhabited was Boston and the North End, along with South Boston, became home to the immigrants while the more established and wealthier residents moved into newer neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill. This was Boston’s first large-scale experience with immigration, and there was friction almost immediately. The Puritan lineage of Boston did not mix well with the religious practices of the Irish Catholics, leading to widespread discrimination. Boston’s North End became a slum, with immigrants living in packed quarters under unsanitary living conditions, many of who were already ill from the famine and disease that was contracted in Ireland or on the long sea journey to America.

It took about a generation, but the Boston Irish steadily increased in numbers and climbed out of mass poverty. By 1870, nearly 25% of Boston’s citizens were Irish, and in 1884, Boston elected its first Irish mayor, Hugh O’Brien. Like those that came before them, the Irish began to leave the North End as a new wave of immigrants began to arrive – this time the Italians.

The mid-1800s was an unstable period in Italy, characterized by insurrection and war that eventually led to the unification of Italy, but left the new nation unstable, with unbearable tax rates, long durations of conscripted military service, and little available land to produce sustainable agriculture. As a result, Italy saw a mass emigration of 4 million of its citizens to the United States, beginning around 1880 and lasting until 1920. Many of these immigrants settled in the North End. Like the Jewish and the Irish before them, they also were relegated to low-paying jobs and unsanitary living conditions and dealt with the discrimination typical of any large-scale immigration. Men generally were laborers in the construction field, while women worked the textile mills that were prominent during the industrial revolution. With limits placed on European immigration in 1921 by the Emergency Quota Act, the Italian population in Boston and elsewhere around the eastern US stabilized and assimilated over the next generation.

The Italian culture persists to this day and truly it is why visitors flock to the North End in droves. Just take a look at the line outside Mike’s Pastry or Regina Pizzeria. This neighborhood is simply delicious. But don’t just grab a bite and move on. There’s a lot to see and do in Boston’s oldest section of town.

Sights

Old North Church

Old North Church Poster Presentation
Basic admission to Old North Church includes a self-guided tour with poster presentations. One side of the church conveys the historical facts, the other side  tells the stories and lore from the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
In April of 1775, Boston was under the military occupation of 4,500 British soldiers. Tensions were escalating and nearing a flashpoint. British General Thomas Gage knew that violence was near and when he learned of a stockpile of arms and ammunition in nearby Concord, 20 miles west of Boston, he dispatched 700 troops from Boston to seize the weapons, hoping to stall the onset of hostilities. He would not achieve his goal. The plan was uncovered by the Sons of Liberty, who had riders William Dawes and Paul Revere already positioned across the river in Charlestown, waiting for the signal. On the night of April 18th, 1775, two Patriots climbed the steeple of this church and held two lanterns for a brief 60 seconds – “…two if by sea.” The signal had reached its intended audience. In truth, there were many more riders whose names are lost to history, but who spread the word as far away as New Hampshire and Connecticut. Revere and Dawes made it to the town of Lexington, where they warned Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the British movements. When the British arrived in Lexington the next morning, the Minutemen were ready and waiting. There would be blood on the ground before long.

It happened right here. The colonial spies that signaled the Minutemen to action worked from this church. It is not flashy, but it is not to be missed. The church still functions as a house of worship, offering Episcopal services on Sunday mornings. If you are visiting during that time, you can attend and say that you attended services at the site where the American Revolution began.

Basic admission includes access to the church sanctuary. Visitors can self-pace themselves through the poster presentations and take photos. There is someone on staff in the church to answer questions. Visitors may also choose to book a guided tour, of which there are a couple of themes available including a tour of the church’s crypt.

Old North usually takes a winter hiatus from New Year’s Day until March, or at least since the onset of COVID. Be sure to check the website for current operating hours.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Copp's Hill Burying Ground
The headstone of Capt. Daniel Malcolm, left, with musket ball pockmarks visible.
Visiting a cemetery may not sound like a good time while on vacation, but there are a few of them in and around Boston that you may want to see. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is Boston’s second oldest graveyard, the final resting place for distinguished guests dating back to 1659, when the burying ground was established. Here, you will see the headstones of some notable Bostonians including ministers Cotton Mather of Salem Witch Trials fame and his father, Increase Mather, who tried to get cooler heads to prevail but in the end defended the judges in their condemnation of the accused.

Also buried here are Robert Newman, the caretaker of the Old North Church who hung the lanterns to signal Paul Revere and his team of riders at the onset of the American Revolution. Another Patriot and smuggler, Daniel Malcolm, requested prior to his death in 1769 that he be buried a full 10 feet below ground to prevent the British authorities from digging up his remains. The British, being the civilized folk that they are, left his body undisturbed but instead riddled his tombstone with musket balls. The pockmarks can still be seen during a visit today.

As a stop on the Freedom Trail, it is also worth noting that Prince Hall, a free African American and early abolitionist is also buried here. He is the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry, or “Black Freemasonry” as it was known at the time. He fought in the Revolution and encouraged other free black men to do so as well, hoping that it would encourage racial equality after the war. Sadly, he was about 90 years ahead of his time.

Allow yourself 30 minutes to visit the burying ground on your walk to or from Beacon Hill or North Station.

Here lies buried in a stone grave 10 feet deep, Capt. Daniel Malcolm, Merchant who departed this life October 23rd, 1769 age 44 years. A true Son of Liberty. An enemy to oppression and one of the foremost in opposing the revenue acts on America.
Epitaph to Capt. Daniel Malcolm

Paul Revere House

Paul Revere House
Immortalized by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem, Paul Revere’s Ride, he is best known for his late-night cry “The British Are Coming…” as he rode from Boston to Lexington to warn of the British military’s advance as they crossed the Charles River to seize a suspected stockpile of colonial weapons. However, Revere was also known as one of the most skilled silversmiths in the colonies. In addition to turning out plates and flatware, he engraved propaganda materials for the Sons of Liberty, including a depiction of the Boston Massacre that was not just a little bit exaggerated. But like many in his day, Revere had more than one occupation. He also dabbled a bit in dentistry, served as the Suffolk County coroner, and was a member of the Boston Board of Health. A true renaissance man.

The Paul Revere House is a museum dedicated to the legacy of this early Patriot, and also a stop on the Freedom Trail. The home itself was built around 1680, and Revere owned the home from 1770-1800. After he sold it, the house had several incarnations including a boarding house, immigrant tenement, and had several businesses located on the ground floor over the years. In 1902, the home was purchased by Revere’s great-grandson and extensive renovations began to restore the home to its original look and feel. Despite the major overhauls that have been done over the generations, the home claims to be 90% original construction.

A visit to the Paul Revere House is a must-see for your Boston itinerary. Tours are self-guided, and allowing one hour is enough to see it in its entirety and read the accompanying panels.

Paul Revere Mall

Statue of Paul Revere in Boston's North End
There is a theme going on here with the historical sights in the North End in that they all seem to revolve around Paul Revere. The mall is not an actual shopping center, but an open courtyard connecting the Old North Church on Salem Street to St Stephen’s Church on Hanover Street. Constructed in 1933, the mall was built by tearing down old tenement housing that was in disrepair. The mall consists of a tree-lined, brick walkway with seating on either side. A large statue of Revere mounted on his horse faces Hanover Street. In the summer, this area is a great place to stop, rest, and escape the beating sun. The tall buildings and trees keep the mall rather shady.

Pro Tip: Grab a couple of pizza slices at Ernesto’s, or Italian pastry at Mike’s Pastry and bring it to the mall for an open-air lunch.

Food & Drink

Do NOT leave the North End without tasting some of the fine Italian cuisine found here. Whether you’re on the move and just want to grab a pizza before your next stop, or you are looking for a romantic dinner before heading out for the evening, Boston’s North End has a place for you.

Regina Pizzeria

Regina Pizzeria on Thacher Street
Regina’s is Boston’s first pizzeria, established in 1926. Although now part of a regional chain of pizzerias, the North End location at 11 ½ Thacher Street is the original, and definitely the one with the most character and ambiance. Serving thin-crust pies with hand-tossed dough and house-made sausage, Regina’s is the standard for North End style pizza. The line to get a table can be long at times, sometimes spilling out onto the street, but once inside you will not be disappointed. It is much better than its counter-service cousins that have popped up around town.

Ernesto’s Pizzeria

You don’t have to wait in line at Regina’s to taste some of the best pizza in the world. Ernesto’s serves up huge ¼ pie slices as well as made-to-order pies and gets consistently high customer reviews. The atmosphere is distinct “pizza joint,” and is an excellent choice to stop for lunch.

Locale

Located right on the main thruway of Hanover Street, Locale serves specialty and traditional pies in the Neapolitan style. If you are looking for something a bit different, like the Parma “Due” with prosciutto, arugula, mission figs, and gorgonzola, then this is your place. Identified as one of the best North End pizzerias by Boston magazine.

Locale also serves Italian-style specialty sandwiches for those not in the mood for pizza (crazy, right?!?).

Mama Maria

Mamma Maria in Boston's North End
Photo by Tim Sackton, CC BY 2.0
For a special night out, this Italian restaurant has the ambiance that you may be seeking. It is perfect for birthdays, anniversaries, or just a romantic dinner while in town. The menu features locally caught seafood over freshly made pasta, mainstays such as NY Strip steak with creamed spinach gnocchi, and specialty dishes including Osso Buco or Tuscan-style braised rabbit over pasta. Mamma Maria is open for dinner only. Reservations are suggested and can be made online through their website or the Open Table App. One suggestion comes to mind when booking your reservation. If you are booking as a couple or small group, you may wish to ask for a table that is away from any large group seating. Plenty of wine will be consumed here, and the volume of any large party will be going up over time.

Most people would consider dining at this restaurant a special night out and will dress accordingly. While enforced dress codes are a thing of the past, a pair of nice jeans and non-gym shoes with a collared shirt for men would be the minimum. Slacks and a sport coat are common. Ladies would feel comfortable wearing a dress or other nice attire without feeling overdressed.

Strega

Located on Hanover Street, Strega is a popular hotspot for dining and nightlife and boasts its celebrity clientele. Strega features Italian specialties including lobster ravioli, seafood risotto, and a variety of tenderloin, veal, or chicken dishes with house-made pasta.

The food is good, to be sure, but it can get loud in here. The music volume can get high, giving off a club-like atmosphere, which in turn makes increases the volume of the patrons. It’s a good venue to grab some drinks and dinner with a group before heading over to the Improv Asylum, but if you want a romantic dinner, there are better options.

La Famiglia Giorgio’s

Known for generous portions of homemade pasta, La Famiglia Giorgio’s offers an exceptional value for hungry souls. If you are craving traditional Italian fare including over 20 styles of sauce, then look no further. Chicken, veal, and seafood pasta are the specialty, but gourmet pizza is also on the menu, just in case you haven’t gotten enough earlier in the day. The atmosphere at La Famiglia Giorgio’s is friendly and casual. You could walk in off the street and feel right at home.

Monica’s Trattoria

In the Italian restaurant tradition, a trattoria offers less formal dining, but higher than counter service, with moderately priced options. Monica’s follows those guidelines pretty well. The dining area is narrow and cozy, with brick-lined walls providing a rustic atmosphere. But don’t let the small size deter you. The menu is stacked with traditional Italian favorites featuring house-made pasta, and a wine list that will complement any meal. This is a great option for casual table service for either lunch or dinner. Reservations can be made by phone, web, or directly through the Open Table App.

Neptune Oyster Bar

Not all restaurants in the North End revolve around pasta and pizza. The star of the show here is the raw bar, featuring local oysters, tuna tartare, and cherrystone clams. If raw seafood is not your thing, then fear not. There are plenty of cooked options as well including the lobster roll, pan-seared sea scallops, fish & chips, and cioppino (seafood stew). This location is definitely for seafood lovers. Even the burger comes with fried oysters.

Mike’s Pastry

Cannoli from Mike's Pastry in Boston's North End
The almighty cannoli from Mike’s Pastry! Some have been known to fight rush hour traffic on the regular in order to taste its deliciousness.
An insanely popular stop in the North End is Mike’s Pastry. This Italian bakery serves up traditional pastry items such as cannoli, biscotti, and the now famous lobster tail cream puff. By far, the cannoli is the big seller and the item that creates lines that spill out onto Hanover Street. Waiting for 20 minutes to get this type of deliciousness is common during the summer months, but most will say that it’s worth it.

Now, dessert may typically be an afternoon or evening after-dinner treat, but when you are in Boston’s North End, it’s always time for Italian pastries. Mike’s is open all day, every day from 8am to 10pm (11pm on Fri & Sat), so enjoy one for breakfast.

Entertainment

Despite the large number of restaurants lining the streets of Boston’s North End, there are relatively few nightlife or entertainment venues to keep folks here past dessert. However, there is one notable exception that is sure to keep you entertained for a couple of hours.

Improv Asylum

As the name suggests, improvised comedy is the main attraction with teams of comedians making up some of the funniest material on the fly using cues and suggestions from the audience. But be warned – things can get a little spicy in the theatre. That’s not to say that it’s akin to dirty stand-up comedian jokes. That’s not how they operate, but there could be some off-color language, and any current events or political drama is always fair game, so if you are easily offended then you should go anyway to toughen up.

Improv Asylum Main Stage shows are performed every weekend, with the funniest talent on stage Thursday – Saturday. They also show Boston’s up-and-coming comedians on Wednesdays and Sundays There is a full bar available so you can properly warm-up for a hilarious comedy show. I have been several times and have never been disappointed. They are also located right on Hanover Street, the North End’s main artery, so it’s close to everything.

Parks

Walking around Boston can be a bit hard on the feet. Sometimes you just want to spread out on a piece of lawn and kick the shoes off for a few minutes and enjoy the nice weather. Kids will also appreciate a spot to run around and play while you figure out your next moves.

Christopher Columbus Park

This waterfront green space with views of Boston Harbor makes an excellent stop or walk-through in and out of the North End. The park features a greenery-lined trellis that forms a long corridor through the park with benches underneath for some welcomed shade in the summer. If you are coming from the North End, then be sure to grab some cannoli at Mikes’s Pastry to bring here and enjoy on the lawn. If coming from the Aquarium or Quincy Market, then a cup of New England clam chowder from Legal Sea Foods may be in order for your picnic. The park also features a playground area for children to burn off some energy and directly across the street on the Rose Kennedy Greenway is a carousel that offers rides for $3.
Christopher Columbus Park in Boston's North End
Christopher Columbus Park is the waterfront gateway to Boston’s North End. It is located near several major attractions including Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the New England Aquarium, and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museums. The park includes plenty of green space as well as a playground for the little ones.

Rose Kennedy Greenway

Couple Splashing in Fountain
Way back in the 1950s, another “Green Monster” was being erected – Boston’s Central Artery. This unsightly interstate highway cracked the city and ran through some of the most historic areas in town. Any visitor taking a walking tour of Boston would have been severely disappointed to have to negotiate under the highway deck through traffic, truck noise, horns, and the detritus that accompanies major highways. However, for a decade from the mid-1990s into the new millennium, Boston underwent a major facelift. Known as the Big Dig, the entire above-ground portion of the Central Artery was re-routed through underground tunnels. The project received huge scrutiny for time delays, cost overruns, and quality control issues for nearly the entire duration of construction. The criticism was not unwarranted. However, all of that is in the past and the upshot is that Boston now has a beautiful Greenway consisting of a string of parks and recreation areas where the highway used to be.  Visitors and locals can now enjoy open parks, free Wi-Fi, cooling fountains in summer, and a variety of food trucks parked along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. This has been a very welcome addition to Boston, making the city even more pedestrian-friendly than ever before.

Between the Haymarket “T” stop and Hanover Street is the North End’s section of the Greenway. If you are commuting to the North End by subway, then you will pass right through it on your walk. The Freedom Trail, marked by its red, brick path also passes through this particular section. Features include an interactive map of Boston, a fountain that blasts jets of water in the warmer months, benches, and of course plenty of open, green space for lounging.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway actually has a lot going on for a city park. Food trucks are on a regular schedule, and beer & wine gardens are available in the summer along with a schedule of special events. Be sure. to check out their website and calendar for the time you are visiting.

Central Artery and Greenway
The heart of Boston before and after the “Big Dig.” The Central Artery highway was routed to a massive tunnel system and replaced with the Rose Kennedy Greenway, making the city much more pleasant to explore on foot. Left: Peter H. Dreyer, Green Line trolley next to Central Artery 2CC BY 2.0; Right: gconservancy from USA, 2008 Greenway Boston 2739303146CC BY 2.0
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