How to Get Around on the “T”

how to take the T

A painting of the Aquarium T stop in downtown Boston. Photo courtesy of Bill Ilott

A Guide on How to Take the T

Red Line Map

Now that I have lived in Boston for three years I have really gotten that hang of taking the T everywhere I need to go. However, it did take a good chunk of my first semester at BU to figure it out and I’m sure those of you coming to Boston and Cambridge from out of town are even more confused than I was (with considerably less time to figure it out than I had).

To help make you all feel a little more confident and keep you out of expensive cabs as you visit the schools and historical sites in Cambridge and beyond, I’ve decided to put together this handy guide on how to take the T.

The public transportation in Boston is a beautiful thing… once you figure it out. To a visitor, however, the T is a confusing knot of red and green and orange and, wait, is that gray or silver?

Before I start, here’s a basic breakdown of all four T lines in Boston, though you’ll most likely be using just the Green and Red lines during your stay in Cambridge.

The Blue Line 

The Blue Line starts in Beacon Hill at Bowdoin Station and runs northeast out to Revere and ending in Wonderland. Though it’s mostly used by commuters, you’ll find the New England Aquarium, the Boston Logan International Airport, and Revere Beach.

The Orange Line

Running from the suburbs in Oak Grove north of Boston to Forest Hills in the southwestern reaches of the city. Like the Blue Line, the Orange Line is used primarily by commuters. However, you can find Haymarket Station (one of the closest stops to the famed North End), Downtown Crossing (a popular shopping area), Chinatown, and Tufts Medical Center.

The Red Line 

MBTA T Red Line MapThe Red Line will take you from Alewife Station north of Cambridge down to the suburbs in Ashmont and Braintree. On the Cambridge portion of the Red Line you’ll find stops for Harvard Square, Central Square, and MIT, all of which have tons of restaurants, hotels, and things to do located near the stations.

Crossing the Charles River into Boston, the first stop is Charles/MGH, which lands you in front of Massachusetts General Hospital and Beacon Hill, one of the most historic and beautiful areas of Boston. The Red Line connects to the Green Line at Park Street before continuing on to Downtown Crossing and South Station. South Station is a major hub for the commuter rail heading to the southern and western portions of the state as well as tons of buses going to Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York City.

The Green Line

how to take the T

The T can be great for those rainy summer days!

For visits to Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, Tufts, or pretty much anywhere in Boston, then the Green Line is what you need. It’s divided into the B, C, D, and E lines. There used to be an A line but it was replaced with the 57 bus.

Inbound via Park Street

If you’re heading into Boston, don’t worry about which line you use. As you can tell by the map, the lines start as separate entities before melting into one line that ends at Park Street, North Station, or Lechmere.

Just two blocks away from the Lechmere Stop in East Cambridge is the CambridgeSide Galleria. The first stop on the Boston side is Science Park, just outside the Boston Museum of Scince. Continuing on is North Station, a hub for the commuter rail heading to the northern and eastern parts of the state and extending a bit into New Hampshire, is the only other stop close to the North End. North Station is also the stop for the TD Garden, home to the Boston Bruins, Celtics, and countless concerts.

Park Street, the oldest station in Boston, is located on the Boston Common and is currently the hub of the T, connecting the Red, Orange, and Green Lines. Additionally, Park Street is within walking distance to the currently closed Government Center station, Chinatown, the theatre district, and Emerson College.

At Copley Station you can find the Boston Public Library and tons of shopping and dining on Boylston Street. Further down at Kenmore Station is Kenmore Square which is home to beautiful hotels, great places to eat, and the famous Citgo Sign.

Outbound to Boston College, Cleveland Circle, Riverside, and Heath Street

Heading outbound is where things can get confusing. Here’s a breakdown of each line, where they go, and the best places to get off at.

The B line will take you down past BU (which technically starts at Kenmore and includes the Blandford Street through the St. Paul Street stops) and all the way to Boston College in Chestnut Hill. All the way down the line you’ll find plenty of bars and small music venues as well as tons of student occupied apartments.

The C line will take you down Beacon Street and through Coolidge Corner to drop you off at Cleveland Circle. Coolidge Corner is full of family owned restaurants and the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

The D Line is, again, used mainly by commuters as it runs through the suburbs. However, it does stop at Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox as well as tons of restaurants, bars, and music venues. The Brookline Village stop has a historic-small-town feel and is full of family owned restaurants and all kinds of mom-and-pop type shops. There is even a branch of Clover!

Finally we have the E Line. Stops on the E Lin include the Prudential Center (though you can get there just as easily from Copley Station), Symphony Hall, Northeastern University, and the Museum of Fine Arts. It continues down through Mission Hill to the suburban area off of Heath Street.

Now that we have our lines pretty much covered, here are some easy directions for getting around.

Harvard Square, Harvard Yard, and Harvard University

Harvard is by far one of the easiest places to get to by T–there’s only one stop, and it’s called Harvard Square!

If you’re coming from Boston:

  • Hop on the Green Line going inbound (labeled as Park Street, North Station, or Lechmere).
  • At Park Street, jump off and head to the Red Line platform.
  • Get on the Red Line train to Alewife.
  • Sit back and relax until you get to the Harvard Square stop.

See? Simple!

MIT

Getting to MIT is just as easy. Follow the same directions as above, but get off two stops early at Kendall/MIT.

how to take the T

Newbury Street and the Prudential Center

newbury street boston cambridge

Newbury Street, Photo by John Phelan

Newbury Street is home to some of the best shopping and dining in the area and definitely worth checking out whenever you need a day out of Cambridge.

  • Get on any Red Line train going outbound towards Ashmont/Braintree and get off at Park Street.
  • Get onto any outbound Green Line train (marked as the B, C, D, or E line).
  • Once you’re on the Green Line, you have some freedom in which stop is yours:
    • Arlington will drop you off at the corner of Boylston and Arlington Streets. Head towards the Boston Public Garden to find the top of Newbury Street, parallel to Boylston Street.
    • Copley will let you off at the Boston Public Library and is a four-minute walk to the Prudential Center as well as tons of shopping and dining on Boylston and Newbury streets (If you’re on the E line train, this is where it will branch off instead of at Kenmore with the rest).
    • Hynes Convention Center will let you out at the end of Newbury and Boylston streets.

Boston Logan Airport

Once you’ve had all of the fun you can have here, springing for another cab sounds kind of miserable. Luckily, there are two ways to get to the airport. The first involves the Silver Line:

  • Take the outbound Red Line train to South Station.
  • Transfer to the Silver Line on the platform directly above the Red Line. Don’t be alarmed when you see a bus! This is the Silver Line. Just hop on the silver bus marked for the airport and hop off at the terminal you need.

Alternately, if you’d like to stick to the T, give yourself some extra time as it does take a couple extra trains:

  • Take the Red Line to Downtown Crossing (it’s only one stop beyond Park Street).
  • Transfer over to the Orange Line towards Oak Grove.
  • Get off at the Orange Line’s State Street stop.
  • Transfer to the Blue Line train to Wonderland (no, seriously).
  • Get off at the Airport stop and transfer to whichever shuttle matches your airline.

 

Tips for the T

Charlie Cards, Tickets, and Passes

Unfortunately the T isn’t free, but it sure is cheap. Here are a couple of different options for paying your fare:

Charlie Tickets are the simplest option. You can get them at any pay station and load them with however much money you’ll need, slip it into the slot marked for tickets, and hop on. However, Charlie Tickets are the most expensive per ride option at $2.50.

Charlie Cards are plastic card (the same size as your debit and credit cards) that you load with money at the electronic ticket stations. From there, you just tap it on the black targets of the turnstile and be on your way! Plus you don’t have to take it out of your wallet (but do keep it away from your electronic hotel key!), and it’s cheaper; just $2 a ride. However, you can only get one from the “T Stores” at Park Street and Downtown Crossing.

There are two different passes that visitors are most likely to use: a one day or seven day pass. Both come in ticket form, but if you plan on riding the T often during your stay, they are the best bang for your buck since you can ride the T as much as you want for one initial fee. The one-day passes are $11 and the seven-day passes are just $18.

Hold On

Space is limited on the T, so chances are you won’t be able to find a seat. Some people try to stand without holding on to anything. Do not do this. Seriously, the jerkiness of the T is essentially a fact of life here in Boston. If you don’t want to faceplant into some poor person’s shopping bags and Thai takeout, please utilize the handrails.

If you are able to get a seat, please be considerate. Keep your purse or backpack on your lap and not in the empty seat next to you. And give up your seat to anyone who needs it more than you (i.e. pregnant women, disabled persons, and anyone old enough to be your grandparent).

Let Everyone Get Off Before You Get On

This seems like kind of a no-brainer to me, but it’s astounding to see the crowds of people hovering outside of the T doors in busier stations like Copley or Park Street.Please, just be patient and make it a bit easier on all of us. The train won’t leave without you, and even if it does, there’s another right behind it.

If you’re ever lost, just get to the T

At each stop there are maps of the T and the surrounding area that highlight major attractions. And at all the underground stations there are MBTA personnel who will be more than happy to help you get where you need to go.

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The T gets away with being so confusing because it’s so confusing (and devilishly cheap). As long as you have money on your T card and know a little about how to take the T, you should be good to explore Cambridge,  Boston, and beyond. Sometimes getting lost is the best way to travel. Happy riding!

– Katie Smith
Contributing Writer