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, more recent Downtown construction has obliterated many of the buildings in which 19th-century Boston businesspeople sat in front of 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 to the north and by South Station and Chinatown to the south. Tremont Street and the Common form the west boundary, and the harbor wharves the eastern edge. Be prepared: the tangle of streets can be confusing.
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. Shops like Primark and new eateries have been helping to revitalize the area after a dormant period.
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. The Massachusetts Turnpike and its junction with the Southeast Expressway cut a wide swath through the area, isolating Chinatown from the South End.