With the exception of new restaurants opened in the last few years, I have been to almost every restaurant in the North End! For those not familiar with this lovely Boston neighborhood, it has a fascinating history as the first residential neighborhood in Boston, and it’s the official Italian neighborhood of the city.
Because of my 100% Italian roots, I have always felt at home here — and intrigued by its history. On many street corners and from open windows, you can still hear the beautiful Italian language being spoken. And a local church offers services in Italian.
But the North End wasn’t always an Italian neighborhood. In the mid 1700s, wealthy Bostonians of English descent settled here. After the Revolutionary War, the demographics changed to a working-class neighborhood — and a sometimes dangerous place — filled with many Irish immigrants who were fleeing the famine at home. Eventually, around the turn of the 20th century, a wave of Italian immigrants began populating the neighborhood, and to this day the North End remains the Little Italy of Boston.
The North End is also home to the great molasses flood of 1919. Legend has it that on a hot summer day, you can experience the faint smell of molasses down Commercial Street. I have not smelled it myself, but I have certainly tried.
Check out our curated Boston North End itinerary, then read on for more info on visiting one of Boston’s coolest neighborhoods!
WHAT TO DO IN THE NORTH END
The main reason you should visit the North End is to eat! (Per mangiare!) Home to countless Italian restaurants, you can find anything from a quaint date night place (for that rare occasion) to dozens of family-friendly spots for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The North End is also home to the Paul Revere House, Old North Church, St. Leonard’s Italian Church, and Christopher Columbus Park on the waterfront (which has a great playground for the littles). There is also nearby Langone Park, complete with bocce courts if you really want to live it up like a local Italian (bring your own bocce set, or just watch for pure entertainment).
Also, over the summer and into September, the North End hosts its annual feasts, commemorating different Italian saints. The feasts are worth checking out for food, music, parades, and other entertainment.
WHERE TO EAT IN THE NORTH END
Some of my family-friendly favorites include Regina Pizzeria (almost 100 years old!), Antico Forno, Ristorante Limoncello, L’Osteria, Al Dente, La Famiglia Giorgio’s, and Mother Anna’s. This site contains a comprehensive list of restaurants for all appetites!
HOW TO GET AROUND THE NORTH END
The North End is entirely walkable. If you’re staying in another part of the city, you can take the subway (the “T”) to the Haymarket stop on the Orange Line or the Green Line and walk from there. If you’re visiting from a suburb, take the MBTA commuter line to North Station, and it’s a short walk from there. I recommend NOT driving to the North End, but if you must, the Haymarket/Parcel 7 Garage is convenient. Many restaurants in the North End validate parking there as well. On Sundays, parking is a bit easier as the street meters are not in effect. You might be able to find a spot on Commercial Street near Langone Park for a short walk.
Most of what there is to see and do in the North End is located on two main streets: Hanover and Salem. Also, Old North Square is worth taking a walk around, with its old cobblestone streets. Wear comfortable shoes (which I assume you will be, since you are traveling with kids!). Many restaurants offer seasonal outdoor dining, which is nice.
HIDDEN GEMS IN THE NORTH END
- Try a North End food tour. There are a lot out there, but one of the best is by a local lifelong Northender.
- Visit the narrowest house in Boston, also known as the Skinny House. In 2021 it sold for over a million dollars, and although it’s not something you can actually go inside since it’s privately owned, it’s worth having a look from the outside. Located at 44 Hull Street, not many visitors know about it. The house spans about 10 feet wide at its widest point, and legend has it that it was built as a “spite house” sometime after the civil war.
- Galleria Umberto offers amazing Sicilian-style (square) pizza. This isn’t exactly a “hidden gem,” as it’s right on Hanover Street and all the locals know about it. But get there early if you want to try a slice — the pizza starts late morning and is available until it sells out in the early afternoon, and then they close for the day. The arancini is great as well. This spot is cash only.
HOTELS NEAR THE NORTH END
- Bricco Suites
- Canopy by Hilton Boston Downtown
- Bostonian Boston
- Boston Marriott Long Wharf
- Courtyard By Marriott
- Battery Wharf Hotel Boston
BEST SOUVENIRS IN THE NORTH END
For a nice to-go box of pastries, most people brave the long lines at well-known Mike’s Pastry (they ship anywhere if you’re visiting from out of town!) or Modern Pastry. But I prefer Parziale bakery, which is tucked into a quiet side street. Also, there’s a great shop where you can bring home Italian groceries, imported cheeses, cold cuts, olive oil, and more: Salumaria Italiana.
For Italian souvenirs, I love tiny “Martini’s” on Hanover Street because it carries some soccer jerseys, basic T-shirts, and other touristy gear. And depending on the season, the North End Feasts offer all kinds of Italian stuff, from tacky T-shirts to take-home cannolis. Also, check out I Am Books at their new location on Salem Street for an amazing selection of Italian language books, Italian-themed gifts, and toys.
- Some restaurants and bakeries are cash only, including favorites like Galleria Umberto and Parziale’s. You can usually find an ATM nearby, but it’s still good to have some cash on hand.
- Bathrooms are hard to come by in the North End outside of the restaurants, and it’s helpful to know where one is when you have kids with you. A convenient one we use is inside the Dolce gelato shop on the corner of Hanover and Richmond streets. There is a bathroom in the back (and why not stop for some gelato while you’re there!). There are also public restrooms at the playground near Christopher Columbus park as well as at the Boston Public Market nearby.
- If you want to bring some delicious bread home, Bricco Panetteria is a bakery in the basement of Bricco restaurant at 241 Hanover Street. It is a hidden gem, down an alley, and it smells delicious when you enter. Be sure to try the great sandwiches upstairs.
You do not need to spend an entire weekend in the North End. It’s small enough that one afternoon or evening is plenty. However, I’ve included two sample itineraries should you choose to come back for more than one day — or mix and match! As long as you have at least one great meal (which you will), you’ll want to return next time you visit Boston for sure.