5-Hour Itinerary is a series—based on the New York Times’ “36 Hours”—in which we serve as your guide to the ultimate Boston day-trip, stringing together thoughtfully chosen locations and activities into a one-of-a-kind itinerary.
With green t-shirts and baseball caps in the bookstore and shamrock cookies in the Rat, Saint Paddy’s Day spirit is alive and well on Boston College’s campus, and rightfully so; we are a Catholic college in a very Irish city, and arguably have our city’s Irish heritage to thank for our existence. According to Forbes, Boston is the most Irish town in the United States, boasting a population that is 20.4% Irish. That’s not impossible to imagine—after all, we are home to Celtics basketball, the Dropkick Murphy’s, and one of the biggest Saint Patrick’s Day parades in the US. All this Celtic heritage means that there are little bits of Ireland spread throughout the city—here is your ultimate guide for finding them.
1. Stroll through Boston's most Irish spots ~ Starts in Boston Commons
If you’re interested in what Irish tradition and heritage means to the city of Boston, the best place to start is the Irish Heritage Trail. Beginning at the Boston Commons’ visitor center, take a tour or guide yourself through the city, hitting monuments and landmarks that highlight the important roles of Irish-Americans in Boston’s history. The trail spans about three miles and includes 20 stops of various kinds, ranging from statues of important Irish-Americans, to cemeteries where many Irish are buried, to Fenway Park, which was built by an Irish immigrant. Taking a guided tour will ensure that you get the full history and meaning behind every stop, but there are also free maps available at the visitor center at the Commons that will allow you to customize your own experience on the trail (and so that you can stop at one of Boston’s many Irish pubs along the way to ensure a well-rounded outing). The trail’s website also outlines the importance of every stop, so if you do take navigating the trails into your own hands you can customize it to what interests you. Whichever path you choose, a few hours will transform the way you look at parts of the city you might otherwise overlook.
2. Stop for a pint ~ Boston
There is no one pub in Boston is that is the downright best, so instead consider stopping in almost any Irish pub (the word “pub” or “tavern,” and/or an Irish surname on the sign mean you are in the right place). They all have unique qualities and special quirks that make them a great experience, so it’s hard to be steered wrong. Some good choices to check out—but by no means the best or only options—are Black Rose on State Street (a convenient stop along the Heritage Trail), which is known for having live Irish music at night; L Street Tavern, located on (you guessed it) L Street in South Boston, which you may recognize from Good Will Hunting; or family owned J.J. Foley’s Bar and Grille on Kingston St., for those who fancy themselves a traditional Irish bar.
3. Brush up on JFK history ~ Columbia Point
While celebrating Boston’s Irish heroes, swing by Morrissey Blvd. (home of the Boston College High School) and visit a museum dedicated to a member of Massachusetts's most well known Irish Catholic family—the Kennedys. The JFK library has exhibits that will allow you to learn more about JFK’s early life as well as his presidency, and celebrates his contributions. Exhibits also give visitors a look at Jackie O’s contributions and the Kennedy family as a whole. In addition to being a museum and tribute to Kennedy’s legacy, the JFK Library is one of the U.S.’s 13 presidential libraries and an accredited research institution, with files accessible in the library or online who are even more interested in JFK and the Kennedy family. Students have discounted admission into the library, and it is settled on the harbor, which makes a lengthy T ride worth it (if the history isn’t already enough of a draw).
4. Traditional Treats ~ Dorchester Center
While on your trek to the JFK Library, you’ll stumble into Dorchester. Dorchester and South Boston are the most Irish neighborhoods Boston has to offer, and both are chock full of Irish pubs and bakeries. It’s hard to go wrong choosing one to stop in, but a favorite of many locals is Greenhills Traditional Irish Bakery. You can buy a loaf of soda bread, sit for a lunch of Guinness beef stew (and other traditionally Irish meals), or buy authentic Irish snacks, imported straight from across the pond. Small and family owned, Greenhills will give you a taste of the motherland without breaking the bank.
5. Parade through Southie ~ South Boston
When it comes to Saint Patrick’s Day, South Boston is the place to be. On the Sunday nearest to Saint Paddy’s Day (this year, the 20th), hoards of Irish and non-Irish Bostonians alike will flock to Southie for the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, which begins at 1 p.m. Although Saint Patrick’s Day in Southie is an experience worth having, this neighborhood has Celtic charm at every point in the year. Brimming with the aforementioned Irish pubs, South Boston is a great place to check off that box. Alternatively, Castle Island, a state park right on Pleasure Bay, is good for a walk or a run and a beautiful view of the harbor, and long-standing, family-owned Sullivan’s “concession stand” is both an example of the little Irish influences all over Southie and a source of a cheap and delicious lunch.
6. Culture on campus ~ Boston College
When you return to campus, check out our Art Museum, located in Devlin, which is currently exhibiting “The Arts and Crafts Movement: Making it Irish.” This will be the exhibit for the entire spring semester, and it features arts and crafts that, according to the McMullen Museum, highlight “the country’s transformation from colony to independent nation.” This is also the first time the collection has ever come to the United States, so it is an incredible way to experience authentic Irish culture, and an ideal ending to the perfect Irish day.