While 24 hours isn’t nearly enough time to get a real feel for Boston and its flourishing dining scene, sometimes that’s all you’ve got. Whether you’re here for a business trip, a layover (hint: Check out our airport dining guide), or a very quick vacation, this guide is aimed at packing in as much great food as possible in a 24-hour span. (Note: Boston unfortunately does not really operate around the clock; public transportation shuts down fairly early, and the nightlife follows suit. There are a few very late-night options for dining and drinking, though, and a couple of those will be detailed below.)
In this inaugural edition of Eater Boston’s 24-hour guide, we’re sticking to Boston proper and providing a straightforward introduction to the city’s downtown and nearby areas. The itinerary stays close to South Station, one of the main train and bus hubs (and likely your place of arrival and departure, unless you’re coming in by plane or car). It brings you to a few of the city’s essential restaurants, includes some iconic dishes, and puts you in close proximity to a few tourist attractions you may want to visit, especially if this is your first time here. You could realistically follow this itinerary entirely or mostly on foot, depending on your stamina, the weather, and how relaxed or intense of a day you’re seeking.
The neighborhoods and venues covered in this guide barely scratch the surface of what there is to see and eat here. In future updates, we’ll add additional itineraries that cover other parts of Boston as well as its across-the-river neighbor cities, Cambridge and Somerville, which have spectacular dining scenes of their own. In the meantime, you can consult our growing collection of food crawls — they won’t give you a full 24-hour plan, but they cover a variety of different themes and different neighborhoods in and beyond Boston, from cocktails and shuffleboard in Cambridge’s Kendall Square to brunch in Somerville’s Union Square to deli and shawarma in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner.
Without further ado, here is one way to spend 24 hours eating and drinking your way through historical downtown Boston and its environs. And yes, there will be lobster rolls and cannoli.
This guide was originally published on September 17, 2018; it is updated occasionally, and the date of the most recent update appears above.
Breakfast(s) and Coffee
You’ve got a long day of eating ahead of you, so avoid a sit-down breakfast in favor of one or more quick coffee and snack options in the South Station vicinity:
- Sweets: Don’t miss Boston’s favorite sticky bun at the nearest location of growing local chain Flour Bakery & Cafe (12 Farnsworth St., Fort Point, Boston). Still hungry? Try a giant doughnut from Kane’s (1 International Pl., Financial District, Boston), a recent Boston proper expansion of a popular doughnut shop that has been open out in Saugus since 1955.
- Caffeine: Locals love Gracenote (108 Lincoln St., Leather District, Boston) for excellent espresso and more. Plus, some well-regarded out-of-town coffee companies have been making headway in Boston lately, and you’ll find locations of La Colombe (745 Atlantic Ave., Leather District, Boston), Intelligentsia (225 Franklin St., Financial District, Boston), and Blue Bottle (100 Federal St., Financial District, Boston) nearby.
- Food trucks, if it’s a weekday: The grassy area across from South Station is one of Boston’s designated food truck parking spots. Unfortunately, the current schedule doesn’t include weekend breakfast trucks, but if you’re in on a weekday, you might find a couple, depending on your exact timing. Consult the schedule here (look for the Dewey Square Plaza listing.)
Between Breakfast and Lunch
Lots more food to come, but this may be a good time to play tourist in a way that doesn’t involve eating. Attractions in the area include the New England Aquarium, the century-old Boston Children’s Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Or, stay outside and stroll parts of the Greenway or the Freedom Trail.
If you’ve spent any time researching Boston’s best dishes, you’ve probably come across the Neptune Oyster lobster roll, which is indeed fantastic. We’re not recommending it on this itinerary because the restaurant has notoriously long wait times (and no reservations), so it may throw off your schedule. Instead, swing by a more lowkey spot in the area, such as James Hook & Co. (440 Atlantic Ave., Waterfront, Boston) or Yankee Lobster (300 Northern Ave., Seaport District, Boston), for a lunchtime lobster roll.
Afternoon Snack and/or Activity
More time to hit up the attractions mentioned in the “between breakfast and lunch” section above if you need a break from food. If not, try comparing the cannoli from Mike’s and Modern in the North End or visit Boston Public Market (100 Hanover St., Downtown Boston), which is an indoor mix of a food hall and a farmers market. At the very least, get mini apple cider doughnuts from Red Apple Farm on the way in. This would also be a good time to take a quick spin through the historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace (4 S. Market St., Downtown Boston), including the food-filled Quincy Market. It’s a bit of a tourist trap but worth stopping by if you’ve never been.
Three options (advance reservations highly recommended for each), and be sure to save room for dessert, because that’ll be a separate stop:
- Row 34 (383 Congress St., Fort Point, Boston): Along with sister spot Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square, Row 34 is a great representation of a modern New England seafood restaurant — excellent raw bar options, a daily whole fish, lobster rolls, and more, not to mention a creative beer list and energetic vibe.
- Sportello (348 Congress St., Fort Point, Boston): Perhaps you’ve heard of Barbara Lynch, one of Boston’s best-known restaurateurs. Sportello is a great entry point into her empire, a trattoria meets diner where you’ll eat lovely pasta at a minimalist counter. Start with the spicy tomato soup.
- O Ya (9 East St., Leather District, Boston): Seeking a wallet-busting sushi feast? This is your spot for high-end omakase.
Oak + Rowan (321 A St., Fort Point, Boston) was, until recently, home to Brian Mercury, one of the best pastry chefs in town. He has moved across the river to Puritan & Co. in Cambridge, but Oak + Rowan’s new pastry chef, Michelle Boland (formerly of Ledger in Salem), is bringing her own magic to Fort Point. Make a point of visiting here after dinner, ideally for several desserts. (Want to simplify the itinerary slightly? You could forego the previous dinner options and eat a full meal here — you won’t be disappointed. The clam and pork chowder is a winner, and you can’t go wrong with whatever pasta dish is currently being served.)
Back to Barbara Lynch’s empire. The simply named Drink (348 Congress St., Fort Point, Boston) is one of the best cocktail bars in town — and beyond. (Note: If you chose Sportello for dinner, you may want to go to Drink immediately after dinner and then dessert at Oak + Rowan as Sportello and Drink are steps from each other.)
More drinking, perhaps some music: Catch a band at Lucky’s Lounge (355 Congress St., Fort Point, Boston) — or a DJ if it’s a Saturday night. (Consult the schedule here.) Or try out one of the newer additions to the area, dueling piano bar D’s Keys (391 D St., Seaport District, Boston).
By now, you’ve spent a lot of time on and around Congress Street in Boston’s Fort Point. It’s time to hop over to a different neighborhood, Chinatown, which may be home to Boston’s largest concentration of restaurants that are actually open somewhat late. Options:
- Hit up Dumpling Cafe (695 Washington St., Chinatown, Boston) for soup dumplings; it’s open until 2 a.m. every night.
- Peach Farm (4 Tyler St., Chinatown, Boston) is a notorious industry haunt, and it’s open until 3 a.m. every night; focus on seafood dishes here.
- And open until 4 a.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights (midnight the rest of the week), there’s Double Chin (86 Harrison Ave., Chinatown, Boston), serving cube toast stuffed with candy and ice cream; ma po tofu nachos; scallion pancake sandwiches; and a variety of other over-the-top options for your late-night/early morning dining pleasure.
Really Late Night / Early Morning
There are so few 24-hour restaurants in Boston, but fortunately for you, if you’re determined to follow this itinerary all night long and not even get a hotel room, there are a couple restaurants in the vicinity where you can while away the last few hours of your expedition. If you visit both of the options below, a cab may come in handy due to the distance between them (just over a mile), the late hour, and the discomfort you may be feeling from the day of eating.
- Start at Bova’s Bakery (134 Salem St., North End, Boston), founded way back in 1926 and open around the clock all week long. Late-night Sicilian pizza is the play here — and maybe some Italian cookies, too, if you’ve got room.
- Finally, end at the decades-old South Street Diner (178 Kneeland St., Leather District, Boston), right back near South Station. It’s open 24 hours all week long, although you won’t be able to camp out all night with a cup of coffee — there’s a $5 minimum order per 20 minutes of service. The menu covers typical diner territory, including frappes (what Bostonians call the thing you call a milkshake), omelets, sandwiches, and more.
- Ready to wait for your transportation? South Station’s train terminal opens at 5 a.m., while the bus terminal is open around the clock. McDonald’s (locations in the train and bus terminals) and Au Bon Pain (train terminal only) open at 5 a.m. every day.