Boston's commercial and financial districts—the area commonly called Downtown—are concentrated in a maze of streets that seem to have been laid out with little logic; they are, after all, only village lanes that happen to be lined with modern 40-story office towers. Just as the Great Fire of 1872 swept the old Financial District clear, the Downtown construction in more recent times has obliterated many of the buildings where 19th-century Boston businesspeople sat in front of their rolltop desks. A number of the historic sites that remain tucked among the skyscrapers join together to make up a fascinating section of the Freedom Trail, and a lively theater scene keeps things hopping at night.
The area is bordered by State Street on the north and by South Station and Chinatown on the south. Tremont Street and the Common form the west boundary, and the harbor wharves the eastern edge. Locals may be able to navigate the tangle of thoroughfares in between, but visitors are far better off carrying a map.
Washington Street (aka Downtown Crossing) is Downtown’s main commercial thoroughfare. It's a pedestrian street once marked by two venerable anchors of Boston's mercantile district, Filene's Basement (now closed) and Jordan Marsh (now Macy's). The block reeks of history—and sausage carts. Street vendors, flower sellers, and gaggles of teenagers, businesspeople, and shoppers throng the pedestrian mall. It's been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years, with an influx of new shops and restaurants filling the gap that Filene's left.
Downtown is also the place for some of Boston's most idiosyncratic neighborhoods. The Leather District directly abuts Chinatown, which is also bordered by the Theater District (and the buildings of Tufts Medical Center) farther west, and to the south, the red light of the once-brazen Combat Zone flickers weakly in a pair of adjacent strip clubs. The Massachusetts Turnpike and its junction with the Southeast Expressway cut a wide swath through the area, isolating Chinatown from the South End.