Guide to Boston Hotels

I have occasion to visit Boston about half a dozen times a year. Because Air Canada charges as much as $1000 more if I don’t stay over a Saturday night, it’s almost always in my best interests to invest in a Boston hotel for a couple of nights and return home Sunday.

As a result, I’ve had a good overview of where to stay in Boston. Not a complete one, of course, as there are many hotels I’ve missed. But enough to perhaps be of help to others looking for an inexpensive, clean, well-run hotel in a city where “inexpensive” starts at $100. All prices are in U.S. dollars.

My favourite hotel in Boston, although it’s only “seasonally inexpensive” is NineZero. It’s a new-style “boutique” hotel, which means good design (running from lobby to the typography of the room service menu), cool facilities (CD player in each room, etc.) and comfortable beds (really, really comfortable beds). I’ve stayed here for as little as $129 for a small room, but summer rates can range as high as $299. Central location on Tremont Street, near four ‘T’ stops (Park, Government Center, State and Downtown Crossing). Free high speed Internet (via Ethernet jack in each room). Kinkos almost next door. Walking distance to the Boston Common Loews Cinema (the best multiplex in the city).

Close on the heels of NineZero, albeit slightly downmarket, is Club Quarters. This actually isn’t a public hotel, per se, but rather a private hotel open to the public on the weekends through travel discounters. During the week the hotel is used by employees of major U.S. corporations and universities; on the weekends they let our rooms to the public. I’ve never had to pay more that $110 for a room, and in the off-season they can be less than $90. Rooms are quite small — about the size of your bedroom at home — but are well-equipped. All that’s missing compared to a regular hotel room is a couch or chair and table; otherwise everything’s there. Very clean. Free high speed Internet throughout (WiFi in all guest rooms and in lounge; Ethernet in lounge; computer for guest use in lounge). Check-in and check-out is completely automatic via a machine in the lobby (swipe your credit card, get a keycard). There is, however, staff on duty 24/7, and they can assist with things like luggage storage. On Devonshire, which is three blocks from State ‘T’ stop, two blocks from the large Borders store, and from Filenes and Macy’s.

The Harborside Inn deserves extra points for actually believing that the Big Dig, Boston’s project to bury it’s downtown elevated highway, would ever be completed. The first time I stayed here, in 1998, they had just opened, and walking out the front door you had to be careful not to fall 50 feet down into a giant Big Dig pit. My first overnight, and at 5 a.m. in the morning the pounding of earth rams shook the hotel to its foundations. Thankfully the Big Dig has progressed, and not only is the pit gone, but it’s been replaced by the entrance to the Aquarium ‘T’ stop, which opens up almost directly in front of the hotel. The Harborside is built inside an older industrial building; there are “city view” rooms, that overlook Fanueil Hall, and “atrium view” rooms, that overlook a central atrium; both are nice. Rooms are clean, and designed somewhere between “modern” and “frilly Victorian.” Breakfast used to be included, but wasn’t last time I stayed. Rates are climbing as the neighbourhood improves, but it’s still possible to pay as little as $125 in the off-season.

For some inexplicable reason, it’s almost always possible, low season and high, to get an inexpensive room at Swissotel. It’s very rare that I don’t find rates as low as $129 on their website. The hotel is very well appointed; it’s really almost a luxury hotel. Of course room service and other rates are never discounted, so you have to be careful to not use the hotel’s for-pay amenities. Slightly non-central, but only very slightly: three blocks from Macy’s into the Theatre District, on the way to South Station. Parking (extra charge) right under the hotel. Usual upscale hotel design. Last time I stayed here, I had a hard time making data calls using their phone system, but that might have been an isolated problem.

The most intriguing place I stay in Boston is The College Club of Boston. The Club is the oldest university women’s club in the U.S.A. They let rooms to the public — men and women both — at their “clubhouse” at 44 Commonwealth Avenue (around the corner from the Ritz, and just up the street from the Public Garden. The building is beautiful — very high ceilings, lovely woodwork, and so on — and the rooms are spacious. Johnny and I stayed here last winter, and had a huge double room we could have played football in. Rates are very reasonable — starting at around $80 a night. Some rooms have shared bath, others have private bath; don’t balk at the shared bath rooms, as the bath is, in almost all cases, right beside your room, and only shared with one or two others, who you will probably never see. Nice simple breakfast, served in the basement dining room, is included in the rate. Book early.

Rooms at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge are often available at a discount from Expedia and Travelocity; I’ve seen them as low as $99/night on the weekends here. The hotel seems inconveniently located, but it’s actually not that hard to get to, as it’s across the street from the CambridgeSide Galleria, and about 3 blocks walk from the Lechmere ‘T’ stop. The Galleria is a large, multi-floor upscale shopping centre (home to the Cambridge Apple Store; they have a slightly better than average food court, and several chain restaurants, which are a good alternative to room service. There aren’t many other restaurants in the area. Rooms on the Charles River side, which tend to be more expensive, have stunning views of downtown Boston. There’s for-pay Internet in every room.

The Seaport Hotel is incredibly inconvenient, located as it is across the street from World Trade Centre, about 15 minutes walk from downtown Boston. But if you’re driving, and want to be handy to the downtown, that might not matter. Service here was amazing — we stayed here when Oliver was very young, and they were very nice to him, and gave him a very nice stuffed elephant when we checked in. Not many restaurants, or much of anything else, in this neighbourhood, although if you’re going to a concert at the waterside FleetBoston Pavillion, it is very handy — a quick 5 minute walk up the street. Like the Royal Sonesta, inexpensive discount rates do pop up from time to time, and the hotel’s own website often highlights others.

As for hotels to avoid…

Stay away from the Cambridge Gateway Inn, which used be called the Susse Chalet Cambridge. The hotel is located right on the highway (really, right on the highway), the rooms are outdated and depressing, and the walls are paper thin. A friend told me last week that when he worked in Cambridge they used to stash job interview candidates here, often two to a room; it was like a new hire prison.

The Ramada and Quality locations in Dorchester are nice enough hotels, but their claim to be “minutes from the Freedom Trail and Quincy Market” is a hopeful exageration at best: you need to take a hotel shuttle bus to the JFK ‘T’ stop, or, if driving, get on the I-93 north into the city, which is almost always stop-and-go. If you want to be out and about without a car, and don’t want to spend a lot of time getting to and from your hotel, these locations are best avoided. On the upside, there’s a bowling alley, candy factory/store and restaurant, all owned by the same family that runs the hotels, located right next door. The Ramada has an outdoor pool in its courtyard.