Two photos from Boston hotels, including a staircase, and a painting of Abraham Lincoln

Boston Is Having a Major Hotel Moment — Here Are the 3 Most Luxurious Places to Stay

With properties that mix history with modern style, Boston is one of the country's most exciting hotel destinations right now. Here's how to plan your trip.

Boston, though not a big city, has always been the site of nation-shaping events, from the Tea Party (the 1773 version) and Paul Revere's ride to the growth of the biotech industry. In the 19th century, it was home to the elegant American aristocrats painted by John Singer Sargent and written about by Edith Wharton (who lamented that, while in New York she was too intelligent to be considered fashionable, in Boston she was too fashionable to be considered intelligent).

The city has nurtured some of America's most formative thinkers and writers — Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Alcott all lived in Concord, now a commuter-train ride from downtown—as well as a few of our era's funniest talents: Steve Carell, John Krasinski, and B. J. Novak of The Office all attended high school in the area. Boston is also the setting of great love stories (including, of course, Love Story), unforgettable gangster drama (most famously the tenure of Whitey Bulger), and crucial scientific breakthroughs (Moderna, which developed one of the COVID-19 vaccines, is based across the river in Cambridge).

Two photos from Boston, one overlooking the Public Garden, and the other showing the grand interior of a restaurant
From left: Looking across the Public Garden from the Newbury Boston; Grana—the main dining room at the Langham, Boston—occupies the great hall of the former Federal Reserve Building. | Credit: Christopher Churchill

Boston's grand hotels are another integral part of this illustrious history. The Omni Parker House, the city's oldest, was founded in 1855; the Fairmont Copley Plaza opened in 1912. The ironically named Liberty Hotel is housed in the former Charles Street Jail, built in 1851. Recently, three stars have joined, or rejoined, the firmament. (A fourth, Raffles Boston, will open later this year in a 35-story high-rise.)

The Langham, Boston, which occupies the old Federal Reserve Bank building in the financial district, and the Newbury Boston (once the Ritz-Carlton and, later, the Taj) have both been renovated and reopened in the past year. The Four Seasons Hotel One Dalton Street, a newly built tower with residences, debuted in May 2019, less than a year before the pandemic threw the hospitality industry into crisis. Each of these properties offers a distinctly Bostonian experience, an affirmation of the city's blend of old and new, local and cosmopolitan.

The Langham

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, now The Langham, was constructed between 1920 and 1922, as the city emerged from the influenza pandemic. It remained a bank until 1977, was declared a landmark in the 1980s, and operated as a Le Méridien hotel from 1981 to 2003. Since then, it's been part of the small Hong Kong-based group of luxury hotels that takes its name from the Langham in London, one of Europe's first grand hotels, whose 1865 opening was attended by the Prince of Wales.

During the past two years, the Langham has undergone a lavish makeover that ultimately topped $200 million. The resulting décor is thoughtful and witty. Glancing references to the original bank abound: in the safety-deposit boxes that line the concierge wall; in the high-ceilinged Grana restaurant, where the emblem of the Federal Reserve is emblazoned in the terrazzo floor; even in some of the rugs, which evoke the tweed of 1920s bankers' suits. A meeting room, once the magnificent office of the bank's president, has imposing N. C. Wyeth paintings that depict, among others, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton.

Two photos from Boston hotel restaurants and bars, including a cocktail, and a blue booth
From left: A Yokai martini, made with yuzu-and-hibiscus cordial and shiso-infused tequila, at Zuma, the izakaya-style restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel One Dalton Street; a booth at Grana. | Credit: Christopher Churchill

Working with the grand scale of the original two-story arched windows on the second floor, the Langham has created Loft Suites with a sitting room and powder room downstairs and a bedroom and full bath on a balcony above. The room I stayed in, on the top floor, also felt loftlike, its high slanted windows affording a glorious view of the skyline, with the occasional seagull soaring past. The palette was a soothing combination of neutrals — dove gray, light tan — with slate blue and plaid accents, while the cabinets that housed the safe and mini-bar resembled a cream-leather steamer trunk.

The hotel may be modeled on the London flagship, but its pleasures are framed in a Bostonian context. "There's a huge focus on being local," says managing director Michele Grosso. "You know you're in Boston when you wake up here." The walls of the Fed, the stylish bar, are covered with paintings by local artists. Instead of a typical lobster roll, the Fed offers a lobster BLT accompanied by house-made potato chips. Still, the British influence is in evidence: there's also a cheese-and-mustard toastie, a favorite at the Langham in London.

Above all, Boston is best represented by the warmth of the staff. At the Fed, our waitress revealed that she'd been with the hotel for many years, then exuberantly told us about a recent team treasure hunt. Unsurprisingly, she, who knew every corner of the hotel so well, had been on the winning team.

Two photos show hotel suite interiors at two Boston Hotels
From left: A two-story Loft Suite at the Langham; the sweeping Mansion Suite at the Newbury. | Credit: Christopher Churchill

The Newbury

Where the Langham is intimate, The Newbury radiates vivacity. Maureen Albright, the hotel's longtime historian and director of engineering, told me, "I've been here 20 years, and the reason I stayed was for this moment." Invited to work with the design and branding teams on the renovation, she is exhilarated by the result. "Girl," she says to her beloved building, "you just got Botox like nobody's ever seen. Now you get to take us along for the ride."

The walls of the lobby area have been lacquered a delicious slate blue; the floor is veined black marble. The Art Deco staircase, overhung by an imposing contemporary chandelier, leads to the second-floor salon, where the hotel shows its collection of art that riffs on other art — such as large photographic portraits by Amy Arbus, who dresses her subjects up like people in famous paintings by Cézanne and Modigliani. In the grand ballroom, which overlooks the park, the drapery is now simpler but the massive chandeliers are still glamorous. (During the Great Depression, founding owner Edward Wyner had his staff dress in ball gowns and dinner jackets and waltz behind the sheer curtains so that Bostonians, looking on from across the road, could be reassured that elegance continued.)

Two photos from hotels in Boston, including the interior of a restaurant, and food and a drink on a wooden table
From left: Monkeypod wood and woven rattan on the walls of Zuma; tonnato crudo and squash carpaccio at Contessa, the Newbury's rooftop restaurant. | Credit: Christopher Churchill

Everywhere there is a sense of exuberant delight, from the paneled bar (where Winston Churchill and Sylvia Plath both drank, though not together), with its fringed lamps and leather and velvet sofas, to the gorgeous library, with its shelves of books of local interest and iconic Karsh portraits of cultural luminaries. On a late-summer weekday evening, when I called the elevator, it arrived filled with laughing young women and men, dressed to the nines and in full festive mode. Luxury, here, equals fun. "I love that we're opulent, I love that we're everyday," Albright enthused. "We're making memories already."

Perhaps my favorite thing about the Newbury is Contessa, the rooftop restaurant created by chef Mario Carbone and the team at New York's Major Food Group. The patterned marble floor is beautiful, as are the chairs and banquettes upholstered in blue and rose. The views are ravishing. Carbone's menu is largely based on traditional Italian dishes: the savory "meatballs Aldo" come in a sauce made with whole-grain mustard; the squash carpaccio, served with arugula, pumpkin seeds, and agrodolce, is almost miraculous. My husband, James, had grilled branzino that was delicately flavored and simply cooked, while my veal Milanese was rich, crisp, and light. Patrons ranged from tanned and expensively dressed with an air of Miami Beach to a sweet suburban couple on a fancy date; the late seating brought in a stylish crew in their late twenties. The restaurant is ideal for special occasions, but it's also unfussy — no tablecloths, knowledgeable and welcoming servers, and plenty of less expensive dishes, including pizza.

Two photos from Boston Hotels, including a lobby, and a scene in a bar
From left: The lobby of the Four Seasons, with its installation by Yinka Shonibare; the Newbury's Street Bar. | Credit: Christopher Churchill

Four Seasons Hotel One Dalton Street

Few hotel chains are as known for their commitment to tasteful opulence as Four Seasons. One Dalton Street, which opened in May 2019, is the brand's second outpost in the city. While its companion, the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, overlooks the Common and offers a more traditional experience, One Dalton Street, well located on the edge of Back Bay within walking distance of Boston's prime shopping district, is an expression of the city as cosmopolitan and future-facing.

The hotel has literally altered the skyline: its imposing triangular 61-story tower stands near the Prudential Building and rivals it in height, with private residences on the upper floors. Inside, the atmosphere is hushed and discreet, with the assurance that intuitive service attends your every whim. I found myself whispering in the corridors, feeling a bit like Greg, the provincial cousin on Succession.

Reed Kandalaft, the general manager, as elegant and dapper as his hotel, told me that he was proud of the fact that One Dalton Street remained open through the pandemic. He said his staff swiftly became experts at adapting to unforeseen circumstances. (Having been a manager of the Four Seasons in Damascus at the time of the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Kandalaft knows how to deliver grace under pressure.)

He is eloquent about the hotel's unique features, from its high-ceilinged rooms with their panoramic windows to the intimate bar, Trifecta, which, on weekends, serves afternoon tea. My flawless Earl Grey was served in a beautiful individual teapot; the Prosecco and liqueur that accompanied the tea were rather less British. Many of the guests, who were predominantly women, had outfitted for the occasion in frilly dresses and high heels.

Two photos from Boston hotel restaurants, including petit fours at the Four Seasons, and a window seat at the Street Bar
From left: Afternoon tea at Trifecta, the bar at the Four Seasons; the Street Bar's view of the Public Garden. | Credit: Christopher Churchill

In the evenings, Trifecta becomes a subdued spot, dimly lit, that offers small plates (the lobster roll is just right) and cocktails designed to complement the hotel's — and the city's — cultural landscape. James ordered an Arabesque, a blend of champagne, gin, and grapefruit and bergamot liqueurs. Decorated with a rose petal, it is intended to express the spirit of dance, in honor of the nearby Boston Ballet. I had a rum and pineapple drink, the Melting Pot, a mixologist's response to the hotel's glorious installation by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, in which books by immigrants and first-generation Americans are bound in colorful Dutch wax-printed cotton.

While all of the hotels I visited take their collections seriously, One Dalton Street displays, in its public areas, works of international caliber. Along with Shonibare's books at the entrance, Trifecta features the British artist Tacita Dean's series of cloud portraits, LA Exuberance. Behind the reception desk is Duke Riley's monumental mosaic, They Say, on a Really Hot Day, depicting the Great Molasses Flood, a piece of local history. In 1919, the streets of the North End, Boston's lively Italian district, ran with more than two million gallons of molasses after a storage tank exploded. Tucked into the mosaic, among the waves, are witty images of local symbols: Kenmore Square's Citgo sign; a pigeon; a parking ticket; a rat rowing along in an open can of baked beans.

One Dalton Street has become a destination for Bostonians as well as visitors, thanks to its excellent izakaya-inspired Japanese restaurant, Zuma. Located on the hotel's second floor, it occupies a dynamic open space where diners can see much of the food being prepared. The décor, at once glamorous and soothing, involves vast monkeypod-wood and woven-rattan panels, illuminated to create a convivial but discreet atmosphere. We took part in a spectacular omakase that included light, flavorful shrimp dumplings; fine slivers of sea bass sashimi; a bountiful, impeccably fresh sushi, maki, and sashimi platter; plates of Zuma's signature black cod and beef tenderloin; and, to finish, an elegantly presented assortment of desserts that included the best chocolate mousse I've had in years. The meal's great triumph was to leave us not unpleasantly overfed, but perfectly satisfied.

That night, from our room on the 19th floor, we looked out over the skyline. It was possible to picture the smaller city that once was, its historic buildings tucked between skyscrapers, and to see the vital city that is. To envisage, too, a future that will thrillingly marry the old and new. 

The pool at the Four Seasons Boston
The 64-foot-long pool at the Four Seasons. | Credit: Christopher Churchill

A version of this story first appeared in the May 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Boston Proper