At one square mile, Boston’s North End is so small that you can literally hoof up and down every street in an afternoon. Known as Boston’s Little Italy and settled in the 1630s, it is Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood. Home to some of the best Italian food and coffee in all of New England, it also nestles some of the most important sites in America’s storied past. Bring your appetite for history as well as great eats and drink. It’s worth a plane ride and a subway pass, and it’s easy to find hotels on Venere in Boston that will put you in the middle of it all!
First Thing in the Morning, Part 1
Whether you’re a strict tea drinker, a coffee lover or a macchiato aficionado, you can’t go wrong when starting your day at Caffé Vittoria. The first Italian cafe in Boston, Caffé Vittoria has been open since 1929. As soon as you’ve settled on what kind of caffeine you’d like, order some sfogliatella, a flaky pastry filled with baked custard. It’s a perfect breakfast before your Boston history lesson.
First Thing in the Morning, Part 2
Just a couple blocks from Caffé Vittoria, you’ll find yourself deep in thought about the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere owned a home in the North End between 1770 and 1800. Preserved now as a museum, The Paul Revere House was built in 1680 and is the oldest building in all of downtown Boston. Paul Revere was living here when he made his famous ride on April 18, 1775. A true taste of colonial times, 90 percent of the structure is original, and the house features many of the Revere family’s belongings.
From there, head over to the Old North Church, which is less than half a mile away along lovely, narrow streets. If you take Prince Street to get to Salem Street, you’ll pass by Bova’s, the North End’s only 24-hour bakery. If you’re hungry, get the eggplant parmesan or meatball calzone, but if you’ve only got a slight case of the munchies, pick up a cannoli. Bova’s are some of Little Italy’s finest.
Toward High Noon
The Old North Church is still an active congregation, consisting of roughly 150 members. It is the oldest church building in Boston, built in 1723. To this day, it boasts the city’s tallest steeple. During Paul Revere’s ride, it was the sexton of the Old North Church, Robert Newman, who placed signal lanterns in the church’s steeple to warn of the British advance. One lantern meant they were coming over land; two meant they were coming by sea. Much of the church’s structure and interior are original. Admission to the church is free, but the guided tour is only five dollars.
Tea Time … With Mortality
From the church, it’s less than a quarter mile to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Boston’s second-oldest cemetery is the resting place of roughly 10,000 artisans, craftspeople and merchants. On the Snow Hill Street side of the grounds are thousands of unmarked graves where African-American slaves who lived in the “New Guinea” section of the North End are buried. Some notable graves belong to Increase and Cotton Mather, who were Puritan ministers who stirred up fears and passions that ultimately led to the Salem witch trials. Prince Hall, an anti-slavery activist and the founder of the Black Masonic Order, is also buried at Copp’s Hill.
Early Dinner — and a Great View
The North End is home to some of Boston’s finest restaurants. Fresh seafood, perfect pasta, fantastic décor all jockey for attention along Little Italy’s fabled streets. One great place to enjoy an early dinner — without overspending — is Pomodoro, a small, cash-only haven of good tastes. They have a fantastic Scotch and Irish whiskey selection, and their wine list holds up under scrutiny. From fried calamari to oxtail soup or baked stuffed haddock, everything is simple, fresh and satisfying. If you’re early enough, get a seat in front of the window. North End people-watching is its own tourist attraction.
For a pricier and arguably more authentic Italian experience, try Carmen Trattoria. From linguine and clams to orecchiette with sweet Italian sausage and pecorino, Carmen’s menu is exquisite, as is their wine list. Call for a reservation, and look forward to a meal and experience that justifies their romantic use of candlelight.
As unique to Boston as Boston is to America, the North End is a tough act to beat or follow. Thankfully, there’s no need to try. Pastries, pasta and Paul Revere — it’s all part of Boston’s Little Italy.
Boston Little Italy streetview photo credit: Deannster / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground photo credit: reallyboring / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
About the Author: Louise Vinciguerra is a fantastic joke teller, who matches her fonts to her moods. A Brooklyn native, she dirties her hands in words on weekdays and in soil on weekends. When not on Facebook, WordPress or Twitter in her resident city of Rome, she’s traveling.