With the newly extended Green Line, Tufts students can hop a train to (almost) anywhere in the city and beyond. Welcome to your very own Boston T party
For years, Tufts students have relied on MBTA buses and the tried-and-true Red Line in Davis Square to zip off campus. Now, thanks to the new Green Line expansion, starting December 12 it’s possible to hop a train right at College Avenue for a bounty of urban delights: Get off in East Somerville to explore a plethora of mom-and-pop restaurants; head to Union Square for a stroll through Bow Market; or ride to the Museum of Fine Arts stop for easy access to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts campus.
First things first, though. Boston isn’t a simple city to navigate. The nooks, crannies, and hidden corners that charm visitors also confuse and enervate newcomers. Our crooked cobblestone streets sprung up around the Revolutionary War, eons before Waze existed, back when the city was a bucolic 800 or so acres. Paths were designed for horses, not cars—and, given our reputation as having some of the worst gridlock in the country, many would argue they still aren’t.
That said, navigating Boston is a major point of pride. Once you’ve found your way from Lechmere to the Back Bay to Brookline, well, you’re an honorary local. And a big part of your strategy: learning to ride the T.
The T is our legendary subway system, the gateway to the city, a colorful maze of pathways that connect more than 78 stops. Befitting its history, Boston is the birthplace of public transit in America. Yes, we launched the American Revolution, public libraries, printing presses, public schools—and subterranean transit. The Tremont Street subway opened in 1897 as North America’s very first subway tunnel; over time, the system became known as the MTA. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority officially launched in 1964. Locals call it the T.
Before setting off, you’ll want to load up your Charlie Card. Just as “wicked” means “very” and “tonic” means “soda,” we have specific lingo for our subway passes, too. The name comes from a catchy 1959 hit, “Charlie on the MTA,” telling the tale of a passenger trapped on the subway without the money to exit.
Charlie couldn’t get off the train, but you definitely should. Here’s where to go—departing from Tufts and heading out into the surrounding communities, Boston, and beyond.
Ball Square: Breakfast
This neighborhood is synonymous with diners. Get your fix at Kelly’s, a 55-foot, two-piece original dining car known for massive omelets and rock-bottom prices. Or choose between next-door neighbors Ball Square Café and Sound Bites, both of which have lines that snake down the block on weekend mornings.
Spilling the T
Constructed in the 1950s, Kelly’s was one of the largest railcar diners ever made.
Magoun Square: Comfort
This friendly residential area is home to Olde Magoun’s Saloon, one of the chummiest pubs in the city.
Take solace here after a big exam with the ultimate in comfort food: fried chicken and waffles, kielbasa-topped mac-and-cheese, hot dog specials, and justifiably famous steak-and-cheese egg rolls. Looking for entertainment? Relax at Premiere on Broadway, a no-frills Italian restaurant and performance venue where local cover bands—and many local residents, too—jam out to 1980s hits.
Gilman Square: Arts and Sciences
Arts at the Armory hosts comedy shows, concerts, “The Moth” story-slams, plays, and even a farmers’ market. But here’s a secret: This is also your spot for holiday shopping. Local vendors showcase soaps, jewels, vintage finds, maps, and so much more at the Armory’s annual winter market, which attracts treasure-hunters from across the region.
Somerville High School is also adjacent to the stop. Looking for a volunteer opportunity? Become a STEM Ambassador and lead hands-on work with students interested in science. Somerville City Hall is nearby, too. As the most densely populated municipality in New England, the city employs many Tufts students full-time or through internships, with opportunities in fair housing, workforce development, and more.
Or brush up on your reading at the nearby Somerville Library, which is home to far more than just books: Check out classic games for your next board game night, borrow a birding kit, rent a ukulele, or even reserve a telescope for an astronomical adventure.
East Somerville: Authentic Eats
This neighborhood is home to some of the best, most below-the-radar culinary gems in the area. Find garlicky red-sauce delights (and perfect people-watching) at the dimly lit Vinny’s at Night; dig into Ethiopian food at Fasika; and share a heaping plate of beef tongue nachos at Taco Loco.
Union Square: Big Night Out
Union Square was once a sleepy stretch on Somerville’s fringes. Now it’s one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods. Start your evening browsing the stalls at Bow Market, stocked with local vendors selling vintage vinyl, jewels, Americana artifacts, and lots more.
Then duck into small, sleek Celeste for pristine ceviche run by Esquire Best New Restaurant award-winners JuanMa Calderón and Maria Rondeau. Next, take in a show at Bow Market’s Comedy Studio—the relatively new location of a legendarily raucous Harvard Square club—or de-stress after exams at Urban Axes, where you can throw sharp objects in safe surroundings.
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Union Square hosts an annual Fluff Festival in September to celebrate Marshmallow Fluff, the spreadable, sugary marshmallow confection reportedly invented nearby in 1917.
Lechmere: A Neighborhood on the Rise
Some Bostonians remember Lechmere as an electronics chain from the 1980s. Now it has a new meaning: It’s home to Cambridge Crossing, a burgeoning restaurant-and-retail development with several restaurants from noted chef Will Gilson (he runs Puritan & Co. in Inman Square): Café Beatrice, a coffee shop-workspace (visit on Thursdays to try a doughnut of the day); The Lexington, a rooftop cocktail bar; and Geppetto, where one of Boston’s best-known Italian chefs, Tony Susi, makes fresh pasta daily.
Or, for a splurge-y taste of Old Cambridge, take a seven-minute stroll to the Helmand: It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s the area’s best spot for Afghan food. Imagine sunset-amber walls, a roaring fireplace, and leek-filled ravioli with hints of mint.
Science Park: Experiment
Here’s where you’ll find the groundbreaking Museum of Science, which first opened in 1830—long before scientific discoveries like the Doppler effect, penicillin, the polio vaccine, or the Big Bang Theory. They even host nightlife events for visitors 18-plus: Visit their SubSpace on Thursday evenings for synth fests, sci-fi book talks, and more.
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The Museum of Science was once home to the world’s oldest horned owl, Spooky, who lived to the ripe old age of 38.
North Station: Gateway to the Suburbs
North Station is where trains set off for the northern and western suburbs. Crawling with commuters pre-COVID, North Station is a tiny bit more subdued these days, especially on Mondays, Fridays, and weekends. Hop a train and set off on an adventure. Note to explorers: You can bring your bike on the commuter rail, which comes in handy as certain suburban stops require cycling or a Lyft to get to your destination. Be sure to check out all the bike-related rules before you travel.
Highlights on the Fitchburg Line
In Concord, history buffs can explore Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House, the setting for Little Women, and visit the North Bridge, where the Revolutionary War began. (Be sure to grab an extra-strong coffee at Haute, a local favorite, before setting off on your journey.) Nature lover? Disembark in Lincoln to take in the foliage and cuddly sheep at Drumlin Farm—or head toward South Acton or Littleton to explore area orchards. With hayrides and mazes, Honey Pot in neighboring Stow is one of the most popular. (Note: Lyft may be required; it’s a 10-minute ride from either stop.)
Highlights on the Lowell Line
Lowell has been a melting pot of cultures for generations. In the 19th century, it drew immigrant French-Canadian, Greek, and Irish populations who flocked to work in its textile mills. Now it has the second-highest Cambodian population in the United States. Attention literature majors: It’s also the birthplace of Jack Kerouac. (Many fans pay a pilgrimage to his grave at Edson Cemetery!) Shop indie art at Mill No. 5 and enjoy an authentic Cambodian meal at Simply Khmer while in town.
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Lowell lays claim to America’s first bottled carbonated beverage: Moxie Nerve Food, initially believed to have medicinal properties. You can still find the day-glow orange can at local delis; it tastes a little bit like Dr. Pepper.
Highlights on the Newburyport Line
Come October, a trip to Salem, site of the original 1692 Witch Trials, is a must. The city goes all out with special events; no matter what, get a psychic reading at Crow Haven Corner, operated by a real Salem witch, and visit their Witch Museum. In warmer weather, visit the Gloucester beaches or hop a Beauport cruise or whale watch, depending on the season. Come spring, stroll Rockport’s Bearskin Neck for art galleries, shops, and world-famous strudel at Helmut's.
Haymarket: Boston’s Best Intersection
Here’s where the North End, Boston’s Italian section, meets the rest of the city. This used to be the site of the Big Dig, a massive highway construction project that still makes older Boston commuters groan. These days, though, the scenic Rose Kennedy Greenway separates the North End from the Haymarket area.
The neighborhood is also home to the Boston Public Market, filled with stalls from New England artisans: Look for provisions, produce, and sweets. (Union Square Donuts is a must.) End the day with a show at Improv Asylum, home of productions like Dirty Disney and Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare.
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At the Boston Public Market, 62 percent of permanent stalls are women-owned, and vendors source from a whopping 883 Massachusetts and New England farms.
Government Center: Something’s Brewing
If you’re of age, Government Center is also pub central. Pay a visit to the Sam Adams Boston Tap Room, home of Boston’s best-known beer, or sample authentic Irish food at the new Dubliner, run by acclaimed Irish chef Aidan McGee.
Fittingly, this stop is also home to Boston City Hall. It also offers easy access to the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile stretch lined with historic sites like the State House and Paul Revere’s House (wander the trail yourself or book a tour led by a guide in period attire). It’s also close to Faneuil Hall, the city’s best-known retail and restaurant complex, built in 1742. (Yes, here in Boston, even the shopping centers have history.) Today, it’s somewhat touristy, but definitely worth a look.
Park Street: An Urban Oasis
Voila! Get off here and you’re right at Boston Common and the Public Garden, the Bostonian equivalent of Central Park. (Note: Never call it Boston “Commons.” You’ll be outed as an interloper.)
Ride the Swan Boats (open from April until September), stroll the parkland, devour tinned fish and rare wines at nearby Haley Henry, and take in a concert at the Orpheum, a gloriously gritty concert hall whose first-ever performer was soul legend James Brown.
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The first Swan Boats set sail in 1877 and they’ve been operated by the same family ever since.
Boylston: Welcome to Chinatown
Yep, Chinatown has its own Orange Line stop, but Boylston is just a few blocks away. Enjoy endless dim sum at ultra-cheap Winsor (write down your order with a tiny pencil; no carts here, and be sure to ask for clams in black bean sauce); hit up Peach Farm for massive seafood plates late into the night (it’s a chef favorite); or try what are undoubtedly Boston’s only mapo tofu fries at modern Asian cocktail bar Shojo.
Arlington and Copley: Finding New Threads
Both of these spots are a quick stroll from Newbury Street, Boston’s version of Fifth Avenue. You’ll find high-end chains here, plus some local favorites like ultra-chill hometown bookstore Trident Booksellers & Café. This strip also has a fantastic sidewalk café culture—there’s plenty of opportunity for outdoor dining in good weather.
Your best bets are Faccia a Faccia, a coastal Italian restaurant run by Boston’s best-known restaurateurs, Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer, and Saltie Girl, a seafood palace known for smoked fish and a fabulous raw bar.
Also nearby: The Boston Public Library, the first free library in the United States and now home to 1.6 million items. Looking for a long-lost cousin? Convinced you’re descended from royalty? Visit the New England Historic Genealogical Society, a treasure trove of historic documents where you can even request your own personal genealogist for the day.
Symphony: Music to Your Ears
This stop is home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, staging concerts since 1881. Check out their College Card program for discounted $30 tickets. For a more mellow experience, visit Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, which serves up live jazz and soul food. Owner Nia Grace is a force in Boston’s cultural life; she co-founded the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, devoted to championing minority-owned businesses throughout the city.
The Museum of Fine Arts: An Inspiring and Educational Stop
First things first: This stop is, of course, home to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. Visit their galleries and stock up on one-of-a-kind pieces at the SMFA’s beloved annual art sale in November. Naturally, the stop is also home to the Museum of Fine Arts, which offers free admission to Tufts students. Score!
Fenway: Take Me Out to the Ballgame
You’ll want to take the T to a Red Sox game, because parking is pretty much impossible. But there’s nowhere quite like Fenway Park, the country’s oldest (and smallest) baseball stadium: The fans are loud, the hot dogs (known as Fenway Franks, specially boiled and grilled) are plentiful, and even if you’re from out of town, it’s hard not to get caught up in a chorus of “Sweet Caroline,” the team’s unofficial anthem.
Baseball isn’t the only attraction. Check out the city’s first all-vegan bar, Plant Pub, explore food stalls representing high-profile Boston restaurants at Time Out Market Boston (a great way to sample the city’s food scene on the cheap), and scope out Fenway Victory Gardens, the only remaining WWII victory garden in the United States, allegedly home to the state's only lizard population. (Italian wall lizards are usually spotted during the spring and summer.)
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The pretzel at Plant Pub, served with beer mustard and queso, weighs a hefty one pound.
Coolidge Corner: Proudly Independent
This busy Brookline neighborhood is reminiscent of New York City’s Upper West Side, with its thrum of sidewalk traffic, independent shops, and cultural attractions.
Pop into Brookline Booksmith for a reading or just to browse for books, journals, and even quirky socks, gifts, and baubles—it’s a popular stop for visiting authors and one of Boston’s few remaining independent booksellers. In fact, it’s been on the same block since 1961. Even older is the Coolidge Corner Theatre across the street, which marks its 90th birthday in 2023. This is the area’s cinephile paradise, a big-screen home for avant-garde, camp, and classics.
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Brookline Booksmith is known for its expansive romance section, with roughly 900 books available at any given time.
Harvard Avenue: Late Night Hijinx
In this student-friendly neighborhood, the Brighton Music Hall hosts musicians ranging from James Taylor to Fatboy Slim to Lupe Fiasco to Tom Jones. Equally eclectic? The late-night food at Kimchipapi, ranging from potato-chip-crusted corn dogs to fries doused in eel sauce and imitation crab meat (so much tastier than it sounds).
If you prefer sugary snacks, visit the Scoop ‘n Scootery for a massive sundae with every topping imaginable. Best of all, it was founded by Austin Crittenden, A12. Sweet!