Best Boston Travel Guides

Recommended Guide Books for Boston Tourists

Boston travel guides, along with, will tell you everything you need to know about planning the perfect Boston vacation, staying in a wonderful hotel, dining in our special restaurants, enjoying top attractions, and finding interesting things to do.

But which guide book will give you the best information about Boston? 

Frankly, some Boston travel guides provide more accurate descriptions of accommodations, attractions, restaurants, city maps, and things to do than others.

Many of the best also include useful pull-out maps. 

Here's the high-level summary of my top recommendations for excellent travel guide books for Boston in several categories. 


Recommended Boston Travel Guides  - Comprehensive

These comprehensive Boston travel books do a very good job of presenting a "big picture" view of the city while also providing enough details to help you successfully plan your trip.


See my reviews of each of these comprehensive travel guides for Boston, plus several others


Recommended Boston travel guides - Kids and families

All of the comprehensive guides described above include fine sections on family-friendly Boston activities for kids of all ages, and in my opinion (as the mom of a teen and a pre-teen), they're better than the books written specifically about "Boston kids activities."  So save your money and give this category a pass.

Most of the compact Boston travel guides recommended in the next section also include information about kids activities in Boston, even if it's just a list - which combined with the other information, will be fine.


Recommended Boston Travel Guides  - Compact Format

Condensed Boston travel guides can be convenient to carry around - but only if you can ready the print!  These compact format travel books provide essentials, including great maps - and they're legible!  See my reviews of each of these compact guides


Recommended Boston Travel Guides  - Tours, Itineraries

Each of these Boston travel guides provides you with itineraries, walking tours, and other ways to explore the city as well as its outlying islands.  See my reviews


Recommended Boston Travel Guides  - Specialized

As you can tell by the titles, this group contains an eclectic mix.  Let your particular interests guide your choices.  I highly recommend ALL of them!    Check my reviews




Comprehensive Boston travel guides - detailed reviews

A comprehensive travel guide to Boston can be the best place to start planning your trip (next to, of course), especially if you're planning your first visit to Boston. They'll give you an overview of neighborhoods, maps, top attractions, perhaps some suggested itineraries, and restaurant and hotel recommendations.

In addition, comprehensive travel books provide tips about getting here, public transportation, where to shop, and all kinds of other things to make your trip planning easy. Many also provide pull-out maps for you to take with you as you're walking around - a nice bonus!

Frommer's Boston Day by Day

As a Boston resident, this compact book is my top pick for a city travel guide, whether you're here for your first or your 100th visit.  Many excellent neighborhood maps with clearly marked subway stops, plus a fold-out subway map and a detailed pull-out city map.  Nice photos.  Organizes information based on 1-, 2-, and 3-day introductory walking tours, plus more detailed walking tours around Boston neighborhoods as well as several "best of" sections for dining, nightlife, hotels, outdoors, etc.  Short, concise descriptions about attractions, restaurants, cruises, etc.  High-quality paper feels slightly laminated, so you can carry the book with you on a rainy day and it will probably survive intact.

If you want to pick only one Boston travel guide, Frommer's Boston Day by Day would be my #1 recommendation.  And its compact size makes it easy to carry with you.

If you're traveling to more cities, check out Frommers other Day by Day books:

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Boston  

Hundreds of stunning color photographs and maps of locations, neighborhoods, even site plans for certain attractions throughout this book, plus an excellent pull-out map.  Information is detailed, accurate, and tells you what you need to know for a successful visit.  This is the book to choose if you like plenty of detailed information about what you'll see.

It begins with itineraries (some of the best I've seen in terms of being able to actually complete them in the allocated time) and Boston history, then describes what you'll find in each neighborhood, includes chapters on restaurants, hotels, entertainment, sports, etc., and concludes with practical information including a useful street finder.  The color-coded map is especially useful, as site information is keyed to it.  Good for first time as well as return visitors. 

Lonely Planet Boston (Travel Guide)  

Lonely Planet fans will love this Boston guide - well-researched, with lots of insider detail.  You can't go wrong with this quide!  Excellent pull-out map and on-the-page maps. 

The book is organized by Boston neighborhoods, with additional sections on hotels, itineraries, restaurants, music, shopping, etc. 


Other comprehensive Boston travel guides

The Rough Guide to Boston (Rough Guide Boston)

Very good in-depth descriptions of sites around the city, as well as discussions about the Boston culture (specifically, its sports culture), cooking, traditions, etc.  The Rough Guide to Boston also has detailed information on topics that other Boston guidebooks don't - for example, a detailed and extensive list of Boston and Cambridge bookstores, including a subsection on used books. 

Lots of small maps are within the book, but no pull-out map.  Fortunately, the detailed information more than compensates for this omission. 

Boston (City Guide)

Excellent comprehensive introduction to Boston history, culture, architecture, art, cuisine, and similar topics, plus detailed descriptions of neighborhoods and top attractions, restaurants, and bars.  Brief hotel section, with a few choices highlighted for each neighborhood.

Maps and the many color photos are excellent, although unfortunately, no pull-out map.  The last section includes a well-designed mini-street atlas. 

The Insight Guides series also includes the compact Boston Step by Step (which does provide a pull-out map).  Don't be fooled, though, into thinking that it is a condensed version of Boston City Guide.  Even though both cover most of the same attractions, the material is treated differently.  Both are excellent resources - so buy the comprehensive guide for trip planning before you come, and Step by Step for carrying around with you once you're here.

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Recommended Boston travel guides  - Compact format

Condensed Boston travel guides can be convenient to carry around - but only if they include the information you need, and you can ready the print!  These small-format travel books provide essentials, including great maps - and they're legible!

Frommer's Boston Day by Day  

My #1 recommendation if you want to pick only one Boston travel guide, fullsize or compact.  See my review above!

Top 10 Boston (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)  

If you're a fan of "top 10" lists, this compact Boston travel guide will be a good choice.  You'll find lists of the top 10 restaurants, attractions, hotels, and more.  Particularly good are the neighborhood lists, with the author's recommendations for the top 10 things to see and do in each one.  You may not agree with all the choices - I don't myself - but it's a good beginning point.  Includes a pull-out map plus fold-out maps of each location, but print on the fold-outs is rather small. 

As an alternate, you may want to consider the more comprehensive (and superb) Boston Eyewitness guide by the same author.  Like the comprehensive guide, Top 10 Boston features gorgeous photos.

Boston (Step by Step)   

This slim guide, part of the Insight Guides series, packs in tours through 9 Boston neighborhoods, Cambridge, the Harbor Islands, and 5 other daytrip tours to Salem, Plymouth, Provincetown, Lexington/Concord, and Cape Ann, along with attractions, restaurants, local information, and tour maps for each area.  Additional sections provide overviews of shopping, history, sports/entertainment, hotels, and general Boston travel tips. Includes a pull-out city map, and a fold-out subway map.

Slightly laminated paper gives a great feel as well as durability.

Boston Step by Step is another contender for #1 choice of all Boston guide books.


Other compact travel guides to Boston

Not For Tourists Guide to Boston 2015

Very compact - and so is the print.  But if you're looking for a tiny compact Boston travel guide to fit easily in your pocket, this is it.  Personally, I'd pack a magnifying glass with it.

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Recommended Boston Travel Guides  - Tours, Itineraries

Walking Boston: 34 Tours Through Beantown's Cobblestone Streets, Historic Districts, Ivory Towers and New Waterfront  

With 34 tours outlined, you're sure to find a few of interest to you!  Each tour includes a very good map, photos, details about the main places you'll see, and tips about where to eat, drink, and shop.  Approximately half the book focuses on Boston, and the other half on other nearby areas such as Cambridge as well as a few daytrips.  This is one of my own favorite Boston walking tour books, and I especially like the way the author provides interesting tidbits of information about sights along the way.

Walking Tours of Boston's Made Land  

The 12 tours outlined in this fascinating book by historian Nancy Seasholes trace how the land mass of Boston has literally been doubled in size during the past 375 years.  The tours will take you along Boston's Downtown Waterfront, Back Bay, Charlestown, Bay Village, the South End, Beacon Hill, and more, and as Seasholes explains how and why the human-made land was created, you'll learn fascinating bits of Boston history.

Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands  

This book about Boston's 34 Harbor Islands gives you all the information you'll need to explore this national water park that's as close as 20 minutes from Downtown Boston.  Several of the islands are accessible by public ferry, while you'll need to sail to the outer islands.  One of the best resources for describing what you'll find and can do at each island.

The Boston Globe Historic Walks in Old Boston 

Historian and former Boston Globe editor John Harris makes almost 4 centuries of history come alive in the 40+ walks through the oldest parts of Boston described in this thoroughly researched guide.  You'll almost expect Ben Franklin or Sam Adams appear before your eyes as you pass the landmarks along the streets.  John Harris is a master at weaving layers of social and city history together.  Black and white photos as well as clearly drawn maps are a plus.  This book is another of my personal favorites.

Unfortunately, this superb book is out of print but you can still find reasonably used and even new copies available through Amazon and other book sellers. 

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Recommended Boston travel guides  - Specialized

Red Sox Nation: The Rich and Colorful History of the Boston Red Sox

Want to really understand Boston?  The Red Sox, our sometimes winning, more often losing local team is the place to start.  This oral history of the players, managers, and owners behind this colorful team doesn't really have anything to do with touring Boston - but it will give you a flavor of the local passion.  Of course, to really understand Red Sox Nation, as the inhabitants of Boston call themselves, you'll also want to order and read Red Sox Fans Are from Mars, Yankees Fans Are from Uranus: Why Red Sox Fans Are Smarter, Funnier, and Better Looking (In Language Even Yankee Fans Can Understand).

AIA Guide to Boston: Contemporary Landmarks, Urban Design, Parks, Historic Buildings and Neighborhoods (AIA Guides) 

If you're an architect or fascinated with building styles, architectural history, or the social history shaping the Boston cityscape, this book is a must-have.  Organized by neighborhoods, the book describes the history, architectural styles, and many more details of all the significant buildings in each area - which on some blocks is every single building, house, major site (such as the historic burying grounds), and even some monuments.  Numerous black and white photos bring the text to life.  

The authors also include short histories of how each neighborhood developed, and many insider details and stories.  Bonus sections at the back of the book include a collection of excellent maps of the covered areas, a glossary of architecture terms, and possibly my favorite part of the whole book, a series of suggested tours based on themes such as "Boston Urban Design."

This book is one of my personal favorites - I buy a new copy every time a new edition is published, and like each one even better than the last.

Boston's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in Beantown

Even though this is part of a "dive bars" series, the author - Luke O'Neil, a former Boston Globe writer - really knows Boston's dive bars.  Suggestions - all 90 or so of them - are spot on. 

Sure, you can have a good visit to Boston without this book.  But if you want to get a glimpse of "real" Boston watering holes, beyond designer cocktails and microbrewery beers - the kind of place that your uncle might go when he wants to knock a few back with his friends  and maybe toss a few darts and curse the Yankees - this is the guide book you'll want. 

Boston Sites and Insights: An Essential Guide to Historic Landmarks In and Around Boston  

Very readable book about the history of 50 Boston landmarks, based on author Susan Wilson's former column in the Boston Globe about the city's historic treasures.  What makes this book especially interesting is that the author - a historian by background - did extensive primary source research about each site, and in the process debunked some of the popular myths about them.

The book is actually about much more than Boston's historic landmarks - it's about the history of the city, its people, the birth of independence, and movements for human liberty.  Best of all, it's written in such an entertaining way that it's hard to stop reading it until you're done.


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Related information
  • Books about Boston - Find out more about Boston history, attractions, and places to visit
  • Cookbooks by Boston Chefs - Longing for a taste of Boston?  Try these recipes from Boston's top chefs.   These cookbooks also make great gifts!


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