Boston has a long history of literary inhabitants and bookish hangouts, however when history gets involved, the one thing you can be sure of is change. Eventually the Old Corner Bookstore turns into a Chipotle and the Borders Books becomes a Walgreens and modern day bookworms are left standing on the corner wondering where the books and bookish have gone. Don’t worry, I got you. Every time I visit I find a new way to spend a fabulously fully bookish day in Boston. This time I explored some of Boston’s newer* bookish experiences. So once you’ve finished exploring Boston’s literary history, you’ll want to leave a day or two in your itinerary so you don’t miss any of this: Waffles, champagne, and squirrels driving trains! And books!
*and by newer I mean, post 1800’s and also post the years I lived in Boston for Grad School.
Trident Books & Breakfast
This experience isn’t exactly new in the strictest sense, but if we’re counting from the time of Longfellow and the Boston Saturday Club it definitely is, and you’ve got to start the day with breakfast, so this is a good place to start. Trident Booksellers & Cafe is well known for serving breakfast all day. And how many bookstores can you sit in and read with your book next to a plate filled with drippy, sticky syrup? In all honesty, the breakfast isn’t that amazing, but the experience is worth it. The last two times I visited Boston I started my first day in town with breakfast at Trident. You can make online reservations, but both times I went I was able to just walk in. While the waffles are more akin to microwave Eggo waffles, I enjoyed the atmosphere and people watching. There are three choices for seating. Upstairs by the windows overlooking the street is quieter and feels more tucked away inside the bookshelves. You might be able to read or get some work done here. Downstairs next to the coffee bar is busier and more diverting if you’re planning to bookworm-watch. And if you’re lucky, you might be able to nab a table outside.
Trident opens for breakfast long before other shops on Newbury Street open, so if you’re there in the morning you get to watch the shuttered shopping street slowly come to life for the day. And don’t forget to check if the shop has an evening activity, on Fridays there’s trivia, but you’ll have to line up early to get in. It’s first come first serve. I missed out on Friday night trivia because I showed up only 15 minutes before it started and it was already full!
Tour the Boston Athenaeum
Ok, also not completely new, but the Boston Athenaeum did just reopen to the public after being closed for a new expansion! And by “open to the public” I mean if you’re not a member, the only way you can get in is with a guided “Art and Architecture” tour. You’ll want to reserve your place on a tour ahead of time. (For purposes of this itinerary, I hope you can get in on a morning tour, but if you can’t, do the tour whenever you can, it’s worth it!) While I hadn’t made a reservation, I showed up outside the Athenaeum at a tour time and was able to get in on a tour thanks to some no-shows, so you can always try waiting and hoping. Sometimes it works.
The tour will take you through beautifully decorated old study rooms filled floor to ceiling with books, through rooms of rolling shelves filled with archival material, and through the “drum,” an 11 story round room with floating opaque glass-floored corridors that run between shelves. The flooring doesn’t quite go shelf-to-shelf so you can peer down all the stories through the gap.
You’ll also get to step out on the Athenaeum’s balcony which overlooks the Granary Burial Ground and has a stunning mid-level view of the Boston downtown skyline.
For the morbidly inclined, unfortunately the book bound in human skin is no longer on display. If you’re like me, however, and refused to set foot in the Boston Athenaeum because it was just too creepy, you’ll now be kicking yourself for not having gone inside sooner! Maybe that’s just me… I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t become a member while in school in Boston! I would have studied here every day!
Afternoon Tea at the Boston Public Library
And speaking of changes made since I lived in Boston, the BPL has converted the old snack bar in the Map Room into a Tea Lounge with timed seatings! Mindelynn, the Boston based blogger & Bookstagrammer behind Read Far & Wide, reached out and invited me to have tea with her at the BPL Map room, and of course I promptly accepted! I love making Instagram friends into real-life friends!
I met Mindelynn at the appointed time at the Map Room and we were handed a couple of old books with our menus tucked inside. The dimly lit tea lounge had a cozy vibe compared to the brighter Courtyard Tea Room next door. We were shown to a table for two by the wall and next offered champaign to sip while we perused the menus. Don’t mind if I do! I gently eased open my book to the menu bookmark and tilted it so that I could read it by the light of the wall sconce offering just enough light to read.
After selecting our tea flavors (always black English breakfast for me, thank you!) Mindelynn and I chatted away about bookstagramming (you can find her at @readfarandwide) and the rest of the room and conversation chatter seemed to just melt away into the surrounding dimness. Our tea came, then towers of both sweet and savory bites, and a plate of scones with cream and jam. I hadn’t realized it was going to be a full meal worth of food, and each bite was a work of art for the eyes and the tongue! Our seating time flew by and before we knew it the sounds of chairs being scraped backwards from tables indicated tea time was over.
The tea experience at the BPL is a little pricey, but worth it. I’ll definitely be going back to do this again next time I’m in town.
Beacon Hill Books & Cafe
I learned from Mindelynn that although many small businesses shuttered due to the pandemic, Boston, incredibly, gained three independent bookstores during that time! She recommended I visit the newest one, Beacon Hill Books & Cafe, during my visit. Both of us happened to have some free time after tea, so she offered to take me there. Two bookstagrammers setting out for a visit to an independent bookstore? You don’t have to ask me twice!
As we walked the twenty minutes to the Beacon Hill neighborhood Mindelynn gave me some background on this new bookstore. It had opened only two weeks prior and the owner had created a store-wide squirrel theme and even had a children’s picture book commissioned about a squirrel that lives in the bookstore. As my college mascot was a squirrel, I’m a little bit biased towards anything squirrel related, so I knew I was going to love the place.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival was a miniature red door right next to the human size door of the townhouse-turned bookstore. The small door was obviously the squirrel’s front door. The squirrel statue doorstop holding the people-size door open confirmed this thought.
The inside of the old Boston brownstone we’d just entered took my breath away! It was so cute! The long, skinny ground floor had been renovated in baby blue and complimentary colors that gave the place a Parisian vibe and bookshelves lined the walls of the room. The man at the cash register I could overhear chatting with a patron had a British accent so the overall feeling I had was that of stepping into a delightfully European feeling establishment.
Mindelynn then leaned over and pointed out a bookshelf full of gray covered hardbacks at the back of the room. She excitedly told me they were all Persephone Books. I have to admit I had never heard of these before. After a quick Google I found, according to the Persephone Books website, the UK company “reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction, mostly by women writers and mostly mid-twentieth century.” That sounded just up my alley, but I’d already become distracted by another feature at the front of the room.
Near the street-front window of the shop was one bookshelf whose lower half had a window of its own. I kneeled down to peer through the glass window into a dollhouse size bedroom. This was Paige the bookstore squirrel’s sitting room in the bookshelf! Paige didn’t seem to be in at the moment though, but that’s because she was busy conducting a train around the children’s room upstairs, as I’d soon find out!
Like any old city townhouse that’s tall and skinny, the shop had a one-person wide staircase that led to the upper floors. The upper rooms kept to the calming blue colors and contained Parisian style comfy chairs stashed in book nooks and cozy corners. I could have curled up in this shop and got lost in a book for hours! One of the rooms had smaller furniture and toys, this was the Children’s section/playroom. I was already enamored with the room even before Mindelynn directed me to look up towards the ceiling and just said, “wait for it!” Then I heard it. Running around the room just below the ceiling was a small train track and soon a small train chugged into view with a plush squirrel in a conductor’s hat sitting at the front. So that’s where Paige was! I watched Paige and her train circle again before continuing my exploration of the shop.
It appeared former closets of the townhouse had been turned into book category sections. My favorite of course was the closet size room with “Around the World” written over the door frame. Unfortunately, I was traveling with limited space in my luggage so I sadly refrained from pouring over the books in this section as much as I wanted to! Otherwise I’d be going home with more than I could carry! I could not leave, however, without a copy of Paige of Beacon Hill, the picture book Mindelynn had told me about.
This shop had quickly become my favorite independent bookstore to date, even though there was one more thing about it I will have to go back to experience. The bottom floor of the townhouse shop, below street level, which I could see into through windows from outside the shop, was going to be a cafe with its own afternoon tea! This was only going to open weeks after my visit however, so I’ll definitely be going back during my next visit to Boston. Reader, if you get a chance to have tea at Beacon Hill Books, leave me a comment telling me how it is!
Omni Parker House Hotel
By the time I left Beacon Hill Books the sun was setting so it was time for me to call it a day. I parted ways with Mindelynn and I walked through the Commons as beams of golden light shone between leaf-filled tree branches in the twilight. This was the first time I was staying at the Omni Parker House Hotel, just as Dickens and so many other authors used to do when they visited Boston.
I love that although the Old Corner Bookshop, which was gone before my time, and Borders Books are gone, and the Omni Parker House has been rebuilt to be unrecognizable from the hotel Dickens would have known, Boston has gained newer just as lovely places for the books and bookish to spend their days.
More Bookish Boston & Beyond
Looking for more bookishness in Boston? Check out these other posts:
- Walking Tour Through Boston for Book Lovers & the complimentary Bookish Boston Vlog
- In the Boston Footsteps of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow & the complimentary Vlog
- And that one time I met Bill Bryson at the Boston Book Festival
Looking for bookish day trips you can do from Boston? Check out these posts:
- Salem Witch Trials & Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables
- A Literary Tour of Concord & Walden Pond and the Concord Vlog
Planning a trip to Boston? Pin this post for later!