I moved to the Boston area from New York City when I was six years old. I didn’t lose my accent until high school and never picked up that of the locals.
In my late twenties, I moved back to New York. So, I have a pretty fair perspective of both cities. The rivalry between the two has been heated for decades, with each claiming superiority in the Northeast.
Despite being much smaller, Boston stakes its claims on the zeal of its sports fans, even when the teams disappoint, and the fact that it’s more manageable. New York cites the obvious, from professional sports dominance to culture to cuisine.
Unfortunately, probing this rivalry leads only to endless hot air – dispassionate analysis is usually lacking. So, let’s dig in, without bias, and see who really wins.
Square footage: The five boroughs take up 305 square miles of land (it’s 469 square miles when you include all the water), while Boston takes up just shy of 90 square miles – with only 48 square miles of land. Hey, Boston Harbor is bigger than you thought!
Population: With more than 8 million people, New York dwarfs its neighbor to the north. Only 600,000 people live in Boston itself. Why does this matter? There’s strength in numbers. With all these people, the culture, cuisine and everything else the city has to offer multiply.
Culture: Boston does well on quality, but there are few options. If you travel to Boston, a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner art museum is an absolute must – it’s the largest privately held collection of Renaissance art in the world. And the building itself is simply stunning. The Museum of Fine Arts, doubtless, will impress as well. However, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York is astounding in comparison, and it’s flanked by countless other museums on Fifth Avenue. This is just the tip of the iceberg, too. No trip to New York is complete without a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (free on Wednesdays).
Sports: In early 2000, I was in New York (from Boston) for business, and I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Times Square. From the hotel hung a New York Yankees banner announcing that the team would try to do better in the new century. Obviously, it was a subtle jab at Boston, which failed to break the Babe Ruth “curse” until 2004. Sure, the Patriots have been powerhouses over the past decade, and the Bruins just picked up the Stanley Cup. But, I’ve always contended that you can take a bum off the streets, put him in pinstripes and he’d bat at least .250.
Dining: Boston does have some gems, at the high end and the low end (see my post on the Best Boston Pizza). Radius reigns supreme for seafood, and the steakhouses on Boylston Street will make you drool. I always leave Boston with a full stomach. Unfortunately, the city’s size works to its disadvantage. While Boston does have better seafood than New York, Peter Luger’s and Sparks dominate the chophouse category. Grill 23 in Boston may delight the palates of its guests, but New York’s Smith & Wollensky will go so far as to name the restaurant after a regular for a day!
Sights: Walk the freedom trail in Boston, and you’ll be taken down the streets that led to the birth of the United States. That’s not trivial. Fenway Park is both impressive and much easier to reach than Yankee Stadium in the Bronx or CitiField in Queens. And, the Back Bay is nothing short of picturesque.
So, what does New York bring to the table? Well, there’s always Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building – the views from which beat those available from the John Hancock tower or Prudential Center in Boston by a mile. Central Park offers more than Boston Common and the Boston Public Gardens combined. There’s much more to see in New York, and it’s all on a much grander scale.
Drivers: I don’t know if New York drivers are as inherently nuts as those in New York, given the gridlock that keeps them contained. I can tell you that I learned to drive in Boston, and my friends in New York were horrified when they got behind the wheel with me. If New York wants to win this race to the bottom, it could always point to the New Jersey drivers who navigate the bridges and tunnels in search of vehicular dominance in Manhattan.
Boston does get bonus points for allowing right turns on red. It does make life a lot easier.
New York embraces: In Boston, I was a New Yorker until the day I left, and when I returned to the Big Apple, I was warmly welcomed home. If you aren’t from Boston, you never will be – it’s just a fact. Meanwhile, the melting pot that is New York City is more than happy to adopt you.
Okay, I’ve sacrificed my unbiased position a bit here, but at least it’s grounded in experience…
Well, New York really does seem to win in a head-to-head comparison with Boston. Truth be told, the rivalry really is a bit one-way, with Bostonians taking it far more seriously than New Yorkers.
That said, there’s no reason not to visit both cities and make your own decision! Your tour of the United States is not complete without experiences in both New York and Boston, and you can enjoy both in as little as a weekend or on vacations of a week or longer. I have plenty of history with Boston and New York, and I treasure all of it.
So, what do you think … New York or Boston? I’d love to get your thoughts, so leave a comment and be heard!
CC Flickr photo credit: Leo Newball, Jr.