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When someone gives you directions that start off with “you can’t get there from here,” you know you are in Boston. But aside from the maddening one-way systems and tangle of streets, the city has an extensive public transport system, grand cultural institutions, albion towers of academia and smugly bourgeois brick architecture that are permanently attractive to long-time residents and mini-fridge carrying university students alike.

What is it known for?
In many ways the history of Boston is the history of the United States. Many of the nation's creation myths were born here, from “the shot heard round the world” that began the American Revolution (in nearby Lexington), to the tea party that has political resonance today. You can walk the Freedom Trail (just follow the red bricks!) that takes you through a tour of downtown Boston, past the Old North Church and the State House to name a few historic spots.

But do not think that Bostonians live in the past. With 52 colleges and universities, every autumn thousands of fresh-faced students descend on the city to begin their higher education — and sometimes even begin their studies. Yes there a lot of baseball-hat-wearing students investigating the bottom of a pint glass, but there are also amazing innovations at institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology media lab. And the city’s high energy can be attributed to the young people rowing up the Charles River and walking down Boylston Street.

Boston has a number of fine cultural institutions like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which recently opened a new Renzo Piano-designed wing, and the annually televised Fourth of July celebrations. There is also a thriving dining and nightlife scene influenced by the young population, but does not only cater to it.

Where do you want to live?
Boston stretches west along the Charles River and south from Boston Harbor with Cambridge across the river and the suburbs enclosing the city in a “C” shape. Downtown is perennially popular, especially now that the Big Dig (the decades-long, extremely expensive project to submerge the highway that cut through downtown Boston) is finished. "The downtown neighbourhoods are surging and prices are moving up in both sales and rentals," said John Ranco, a Boston real estate agent. "There are three to five new high-rises and more building is in the works." These full-service downtown buildings are popular with empty nesters, as is the Back Bay neighbourhood.

Young professionals have been moving into the brick terraced houses of South End for awhile now and are starting to populate South Boston, which is rapidly shifting and still provides value for the money. The areas nearest the T subway lines and the financial district have seen a lot of new construction, and near Castle Island and the harbour many of the classic multi-family homes have been renovated.

Families often look in Charlestown or Brookline for the schools, depending on their budget, or move to nearby suburbs such as Watertown, Waltham and Newton. The neighbourhoods of Allston and Brighton (near Boston University and parts of the Harvard campus) are known for their many rentals and high student ratio, which means they have lots of lively bars and restaurants, and a slightly transient nature. In fact, 1 September, when all of the students move in and out of their apartments, is known as Allstonmas (or the Allston Christmas), because of the plentiful furniture that they leave curbside.

Side trips
Boston is close to many of New England's most beautiful spots, from Henry David Thoreau’s beloved Walden Pond to the Maine coast. In the summer many residents head to Cape Cod and Newport, Rhode Island. In winter, the ski resorts of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire are just a couple of hours away.

The shuttle from Logan airport flies to New York every hour, and there is also the Acela, the higher speed train that does the trip in less than three hours. Direct flights to London and Paris are about six and seven hours away, respectively, and Miami is a three-hour flight.

Practical info
Boston has suffered a housing downturn like the rest of the US. "Unit sales are flat, but because inventory in most areas of the city is very low, prices are positioned to rise," said Ranco. Meanwhile rents are rising around the city, having gone up more than 12% since 2005, compared to the 16% drop in sale prices from the same period.

The average rent in the city -- the fifth most expensive rental market in the country -- is $1,686, while a two-bed condo downtown starts around $2,500 a month. Buyers should expect similar properties to start at about $575,000.  

Further reading
The Boston Phoenix
: longstanding alternative weekly known for its culture criticism and coverage
Eater Boston: restaurant openings, reviews and chef news around town
Universal Hub: blog covering “all Boston, all the time”, plus a humorous pronunciation guide to “Boston English”

 

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