Boston for Book Lovers

What I cherish most about Boston are its rich literary heritage, the treasure trove of historic bookshops, libraries, and literary events, and its stunning architecture.

I spent many satisfying years here as a grad student, swimming in the literary waters of Boston’s book scene. It compels me to travel slowly while visiting Beantown, even now, just so I can take it all in. 

If you enjoy a good book, Boston’s unique and inviting literary scene surely has several somethings for you. Here are my top recommendations for things to do in Boston for book lovers.

Top 5 Sites for Book Lovers in Boston
Beacon Hill
Brattle Bookshop
Trident Bookstore and Café
The Boston Public Library
The Boston Athenaeum
Boston for book lovers

Boston for Book Lovers

Boston is well-regarded for its rich literary history, numerous independent bookstores, and vibrant academic community, making it a sanctuary for those who love to read.

Historical Literary Landmarks

The streets of Boston are woven with the stories of authors who have called this city home.

Beacon Hill 

I love exploring this historic neighborhood, which is associated with several famous writers who lived and worked here. These include Louisa May Alcott, who wrote “Little Women” while residing at 10 Louisburg Square, and Robert Frost, who also lived in the area. 

Pinckney Street alone was home to Nathaniel Hawthorne (54 Pinckney), Henry David Thoreau (4 Pinckney), and Louisa May Alcott in her younger days (20 Pinckney Street). Walking the streets of Beacon Hill, it’s hard not to imagine living, and writing, in those times.

Wear good walking shoes if you want to explore this area, as there’s a fairly steep incline to Beacon Hill.

The Edgar Allan Poe Square 

The statue of Edgar Allan Poe in Boston, titled “Poe Returning to Boston,” carries significant meaning and symbolism. It reflects Poe’s complex relationship with the city and his enduring legacy in American literature. 

This bronze statue, created by sculptor Stefanie Rocknak, was unveiled on October 5, 2014, and is located near the Boston Common at Boylston Street and Charles Street South.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston in 1809. Still, he often had a contentious relationship with the city and its literary elite. Poe criticized the Boston literary scene for its focus on transcendentalism and moralistic literature, which he found pretentious and didactic. 

Despite his birth in Boston, Poe identified more closely with other cities where he lived, such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. The statue captures several layers of Poe’s legacy and his ties to Boston.

Poe is striding forcefully toward the house where he was born, symbolically located in the direction of the Boston Common. This represents Poe’s undeniable link to Boston despite his tumultuous relationship with the city.

The statue portrays Poe in a dynamic pose, with a cape that appears to be caught in the wind and papers flying from a suitcase. This imagery reflects the turmoil and intensity of Poe’s life and work and the lasting impact of his literary contributions.

The raven at Poe’s side and the heart gripped in his hand are direct references to his famous works, “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” These elements highlight Poe’s mastery of exploring themes of death, mystery, and the macabre.

By placing the statue in Boston, the city acknowledges its complex relationship with Poe and celebrates his contributions to American literature. It is a tribute to Poe’s genius and his role as a horror and detective fiction pioneer.

The Old Corner Bookstore

Once a meeting place for writers like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, this 1718 building is Boston’s oldest commercial building and was once a powerhouse of American book publishing.

The building still stands, but is currently occupied by a Chipotle restaurant. The iconic Freedom Trail passes right next to it.

Iconic Bookstores of Boston

From the cozy corners of Beacon Hill to one of America’s oldest and largest used and rare bookstores in downtown, Boston’s bookstores highlight the city’s ongoing love affair with books.

Brattle Book Shop 

Brattle is a Boston book store you must visit to truly feel the essence of book love in this city. I always set aside significant time to spend here, as it’s easy to get lost in the magic of this amazing place.

As one of America’s oldest and largest used bookstores, its outdoor book stalls and three floors of books create a delightful haven for those seeking rare and used titles. The third floor is for rare books, many of which are locked up. You must leave your backpack at the front desk so as not to accidentally jostle the books.

Pro Tip: They also have an extensive collection of vintage postcards.

Trident Booksellers and Cafe 

This book shop offers a modern twist on the traditional bookstore experience. Its blend of new books, delicious food, and a calendar full of events makes it a lovely community hub where literature meets lifestyle. 

I have spent hours browsing books and enjoying a good meal in this cozy atmosphere. However, it can be crowded, more so later in the day.

Beacon Hill Books and Café

I adore this little shop. It’s one of those places with secret doors and little surprises around every corner. Even the closets have been transformed into shelves overflowing with books.

Beacon Hill Books and Café is a charming, multi-level bookstore and café in the heart of Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. 

It has a fine selection of books across various genres, from bestsellers to classics and children’s literature to local histories. What’s more, they’ll order any book upon request.

With its warm, inviting interior and the picturesque setting of one of Boston’s most storied neighborhoods, Beacon Hill Books and Café is a sweet spot for book lovers and those seeking a tranquil escape in the city.

The vibe here is “Paige the Squirrel,” who has her own book and living quarters in one of the glass-fronted cabinets. It’s a fantastic place for children and those who never grew up.

Paige the squirrel at Beacon Hill Books
One of the cozy rooms at the Beacon Hill Book store
Dog book end

Harvard Book Store 

A cornerstone of Boston’s academic and literary community, its vast selection spans academic works, fiction, non-fiction, and an innovative printing press that prints rare, out-of-print titles on demand. 

This store is a must-visit for those who cherish the written word.  

The Grolier Poetry Book Shop 

Located in Cambridge, the Grolier Poetry Book Shop is the oldest poetry book shop in the United States. Since 1927, it has been a hub for poets and poetry lovers, hosting readings and events.

Prestigious Libraries

Boston’s libraries are a treasure of knowledge, culture, and community resources, embodying the city’s commitment to education and literary excellence.

Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library is an architectural marvel and literary sanctuary. It feels like the “Palace of the People” that is known as. Its majestic reading rooms and extensive collections make it a paradise for readers and researchers. As the first comprehensive free municipal library in the United States, it has a storied history of democratizing access to knowledge.

The library’s Courtyard Tea Room offers a refined and elegant experience. Here, you can enjoy traditional afternoon tea in a serene and historic setting, surrounded by the architectural beauty and tranquil ambiance of the library’s central courtyard. This makes it a unique cultural and culinary highlight in the city.

The menu comes served within a book
A sample of food provided for the tea party
Boston for Book Lovers

You have to make reservations in advance for the tea, and I highly recommend going with a friend. There is far too much food for a single person. It’s delicious and delightful, even on your own.

Pro Tip: They are completely revising their menu as of the end of March 2024, so you will have a new experience if you’ve already done this one in the past.

Boston Public Library ornate staircase

The Boston Athenæum 

One of the oldest independent libraries in the United States, the Boston Athenæum is my favorite quiet spot in the city. It has an extensive collection of books, maps, and art. It has been a central institution for Boston’s intellectual community since 1807.

You can join a tour here, or pay for a Day Membership like I did and highly recommend. Better yet, do both! Take the tour and then explore on your own for the rest of the day.

Extremely old books at the library
Boston for book lovers
A map drawn for Lewis and Clark's Expedition

Literary Events and Festivals

Boston Book Festival celebrates the joy of reading with a diverse program of author talks, workshops, and book signings. This annual October event gathers book lovers from all walks of life to share their passion for literature.

Lit Crawl Boston, also in October, takes a creative spin on the literary scene by combining the social atmosphere of a pub crawl with engaging literary readings. 

The Boston Public Library offers year-round author readings, lectures, and workshops. 

Additionally, many colleges and universities in the area, such as Harvard and MIT, host literary events, readings, and guest speakers that are open to the public.

Book Lover’s Cafes 

Literary-themed cafes throughout Boston offer cozy nooks for reading and reflection. They serve literary-inspired menus and shelves lined with books. 

The Plough and Stars 

Since opening, The Plough and Stars, an Irish pub in Cambridge, has been a gathering place for poets and writers. It’s known for its literary readings and has hosted many famous writers.

The Thinking Cup 

The Thinking Cup is a cozy, inviting coffee shop known for its dedication to serving high-quality coffee and fresh, artisanal pastries and sandwiches. It’s one of my favorite cafes in Boston, not just because of its name.

They provide a warm, welcoming atmosphere that encourages customers to linger, chat, or lose themselves in a book or work. Its central locations, including the original near Boston Common, make it a favored spot for seeking a quality coffee experience.

Beacon Hill Books and Cafe

The café part of the establishment serves a variety of beverages, including coffee and tea, along with light fare and pastries, providing a cozy atmosphere for reading, meeting with friends, or working.

Pro Tip: Reservations are a must.

Trident Booksellers and Café

This eclectic spot is a full-service café that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunches. It’s known for its welcoming atmosphere, where you can browse books, enjoy a meal or coffee, and attend events such as author readings, book signings, and trivia nights.  

I’ve been there for breakfast when they open on a Saturday and have been the only one there. I recommend reservations either way.

Best Books set in Boston

Boston literature is a rich tapestry of American thought and creativity. It embodies the intellectual spirit of the city through works that span colonial times, transcendentalism, and contemporary narratives, reflecting its historical significance and cultural depth.

Books Set in Boston

These are the books set in Boston that I would read repeatedly.

  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Home Made by Liz Hauck
  • Run by Ann Patchett
  • The Handmade’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Children’s Books Set in Boston

My favorite children’s books that I still enjoy as an adult.

  • Trumpet of the Swan by E.B.White
  • Paul Revere’s Ride by Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  • Most Wanted: The Revolutionary Partnership of John Hancock and Samuel Adams by Sarah Jane Marsh

FAQs

Commonly asked questions about book love in Boston.

What is the literary Trail of Boston?

The Literary Trail of Boston is a self-guided tour based on a book of the same name. It explores the city’s rich literary history, highlighting historic sites, authors’ homes, and iconic locations related to Boston’s vibrant literary past.

Where can I sit and read in Boston?

For a quiet place to sit and read in Boston, the Boston Public Library offers serene reading rooms and picturesque courtyards, perfect for losing yourself in a book.

Final Thoughts

Boston is a treasure trove for book lovers. It blends historic landmarks, iconic bookstores, and literary events into a rich tapestry of culture and history.

As you explore Boston, you’re not just walking through a city but also through the pages of American literature itself.