Boston’s North End District refers to the northeastern tip of its downtown area, or everything east of Washington Street/US 93. The waterfront community is on a peninsula surrounded by the Massachusetts Bay on three sides, and is accented by the scenic 43-mile Boston Harbor Walk.
North End is a hub for significant Revolutionary War and early American History sites, and for its “Little Italy” Italian quarter. The “Little Italy” name is mostly used in travel guides, and locals just call it all North End.
To reach Little Italy you can take the T to the Haymarket Station, or the North Station and then cross 93. Bus stops on Washington and Commercial Streets would get you there too.
They could really do well with a more centralized station, so be prepared for some walking or splurge on an Uber and head straight for the Old North Church at the top of Hanover Street.
Hanover Street and Salem Street are the main roads through Little Italy with over 100 varying Italian restaurants and shops to visit, some that have been open since the start of the 1900s.
Both streets run parallel from Charter Street down to Cross Street at either end, and you will find an abundance of historical sites and Italian food along the way.
Hanover street was originally called Orange Tree Lane, later renamed for the British House of Hanover in the early 1700s. Colonizers had, of course, taken this land from Native American tribes like the Pawtuckets and Massachusetts.
Italians, among other immigrant groups, moved into the North End in the 1900s and started building homes, churches, and opening their own businesses. More than 90% of North End’s residents were Italian by 1920, and Italians owned more than half of the residential homes and properties in the area. Today, the North End is Boston’s oldest residential community and it is still thriving.
We began our visit to North End early in the morning and were seeking lighter fare, breakfast, coffee, pastries, and the like.
Mike’s Pastry is a hopping place known for a multitude of cannoli and Boston Cream Pies.
Of course, gelato was everywhere. Beautiful, perfectly rippled basins of every flavour imaginable.
Italian bakeries and cake shops like Bova’s will have you drooling the entire visit, so be ready to treat yourself.
Galleria Umberto Rosticceria on Hannover Street sells Sicilian-style pizza by the slice until they run out, and then they close for the day. Nothing beats a perfectly baked cheese slice.
They are also known for their calzones, panzerotti, and arancini, these fried risotto balls filled with cheese and/or vegetables, and/or meat.
Several tiny cafés lined the streets with windows where you could order from the sidewalk. Most of them offered simple sandwiches and breakfast toasts.
So, I know this is a neighbourhood with a lot of Italian people living in it, and that was a huge draw for me. That, and the fact that so many American historical sites on the Freedom Trail are in this same neighbourhood.
But it is also a young professional and working-class ‘hood with a bunch of rich American people living in the waterfront properties. I was taken aback by some of the people working the cafés who only spoke Italian and were hostile or snippy with me, or just flat ignored me when I tried to buy something.
If I was in Italy or an Italian-speaking country and said those words, I would expect you to slap the America right out of my face, but this is a tourist trap in Massachusetts, USA.
Many places here are cash only unless you go into an upscale restaurant. Bring loose bills and brush up your best Italian before you go, because “Buongiorno” and “per favore” and “grazie” did not cut it.
What I LOVE about Little Italy was the omnipresent scents of herbs, fresh bread, and espresso wafting through the air.
I was dazzled by all the historic architecture, tiny patios, and giant old signs with Italian names that made us feel like we could actually be somewhere in Italy.
I loved the cobbled streets, the more relaxed pace compared to the rest of Boston, and the open air seating with cute little fragrant gardens.
We did not visit any fine dining Italian restaurants during our visit but absolutely plan to next time. Read Cozymeal’s guide to the best Italian restaurants in the North End to help you choose, or just sniff around and find out.
Little Italy is known for its summer festivals which take place nearly every weekend between June through September. The most popular include the Santa Maria di Anzano Procession in June, or the St. Agrippina di Mineo Feast, the Fisherman’s Feast, and Saint Anthony’s Feast that all three happen in August.
Saint Anthony’s Feast is known for being New England’s largest religious Italian festival and has been celebrated there each year since 1919.
Festivals in Little Italy bring out the best in the region’s fresh-caught seafood, Sicilian specialties, traditional Italian favourite dishes and delicacies, street vendors, parades, live music, dance, raffles, games, and religious ceremonies.
In the area for a while? Follow me to check out the rest of North End or to visit Boston’s Chinatown!
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