A Survival Guide to Parking in the North End

How to park in a neighborhood where spots are notoriously hard to find.

Server Rose Santos talks with Gerard and Connie Kugel outside Caffe Paradiso on Hanover Street in the North End neighborhood of Boston, MA on on June 11, 2020. (Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

It’s date night. You’re ready to hit the town on one of Boston’s increasingly warm and pleasant evenings, possibly on one of the city’s new crop of lively outdoor patios. You’re craving scampi and, naturally, set your sights on the North End. There’s just one problem, and it’s a big one: There is nowhere, and I mean nowhere, to park.

The North End has never exactly been hospitable to those traveling exclusively by car. The number of restaurants per square foot is much higher than just about anywhere else—attracting a nightly crush of diners from Greater Boston and beyond—and a majority of the on-street parking in the neighborhood’s ancient, serpentine streets and alleyways is reserved for residents. Add a new outdoor dining paradigm that has seen parking spots sequestered for cafe seating to the mix, and you’ve got the makings of a parking dead zone. “It was hard to park here every day before the café zones. Now it’s much harder,” says Mike Wyatt, North End resident and director of operations for All Day Hospitality, the group behind Tony & Elaine’s, Ward 8, Ciao Roma, and Bodega. “It’s like a Feast weekend, but every weekend.”

Long story short, parking in Boston’s renowned Italian neighborhood has never been worse, particularly on warm-weather afternoons and evenings, when the streets are clogged not just with diners but with strolling couples, day-trippers, and all manner of visitors seeking a good time in the lively neighborhood. And given the popularity of all those curbside parklets for meals al fresco, it’s likely to stay that way long after the pandemic subsides.

So what’s a hungry visitor to do? Here’s our advice.

Take the T

Sounds simple, but it’s amazing what simply hopping aboard a train or bus a few stops away from the North End can do for your peace of mind. Parking is amply available along the Blue, Green, and Orange lines if you’re willing to leave your car behind. Get off at Government Center, Haymarket, North Station, State, or the Aquarium stops, and from there, it’s just a short walk away.

Take a bike

Some of the busier parts of the North End can be a little dicey for inexperienced bikers, but the bike lanes along the outer rim on Commercial Street are some of the best in the city. You’ll also find lots of places to chain up bicycles in the neighborhood, among them the adorable bike racks on Salem Street next to Terramia Ristorante, which are shaped like knives, forks, and spoons. Or, look for bike racks in any of the neighborhood’s many parks, or lining the Greenway just across Cross Street.

Find a garage

NorthEndBoston.com has a pretty comprehensive list of available parking garages. The most convenient ones can fill up quickly, so you may have to find a spot further away from the neighborhood—the Hub on Causeway is looking mighty quiet when there isn’t a game going on, for example, so it’s a good bet to look there—but there are worse things than taking a nice little walk through downtown Boston and the North End. As the site puts it: “As you walk from your car to your destination, enjoy our vibrant neighborhood and its many attractions. Soak in the North End atmosphere – we create it fresh, daily.”

Pro tip: The Haymarket Garage validates

If you visit a shop, restaurant, church, or other attraction in the North End, the Haymarket Garage validates. The rates are a steal: $1 for up to two hours, or $3 for up to three hours. You can thank MassDOT for this arrangement, which was more or less a gift to businesses in the area in the wake of the Big Dig, and which NorthEndWaterfront.com heralds as the “best parking deal in the neighborhood.”

Just be sure to check that the business you’re patronizing has a validation stamp with which to mark your ticket after your visit. Don’t overstay your welcome: linger even a minute after the three hour mark and you’re on the hook for the regular rate of $13 an hour.

And here’s another pro tip: The shops at Boston Public Market validate, too. So if you forget the stamp, you can always saunter into BPM and grab a cup of coffee or a cider doughnut for the road, and be on your way to validation paradise.

The lot does have a tendency to fill up, though. And especially now that that the city is offering free parking at the Haymarket garage for North End residents, spots may be in particularly short supply (Other areas that are also available to North Enders who register for this perk are the TD Garden, Government Center, and Sargent’s Wharf lots).

Park in Charlestown

Parking tends to be a little easier to find, and certainly much cheaper, across the water. Find a spot and take a short walk over the North Washington Street Bridge (perhaps better known as the “Charlestown Bridge”). Especially if you’re headed to the northern section of the neighborhood, this is a pretty good option.

Skip the ferry

Normally, we’d point more visitors with a fondness for boat rides to the Charlestown Ferry, which unloads at Long Wharf, not far from the North End. But the ferry has been suspended until further notice.

Book a spot now

Like to plan ahead? Book a spot way ahead of time using a site like SpotHero, where, according to a quick glance, you can reserve spaces in the heart of the neighborhood for three hours at a time on weekend nights starting at about $25.

Find a restaurant with a valet

Let someone else do the parking for you. Only a handful of North End restaurants still offer this luxury—several gave up their valet spots to use for outdoor dining—so don’t count on it if you’ve relied on valet parking at your favorite eateries in the past. A cursory glance online shows Lucca and Bricco are both advertising valet parking right now for a $22 fee.

Circle the block

If you’re the gambling type, or you’re really committed to parking close by, feel free to drive (SLOWLY) through the neighborhood hoping to strike gold. Consider yourself warned, though: Parallel parking in some of the North End’s curvy streets is not for the faint of heart, and double-parkers and Uber Eats gig workers abound, so be sure you can manage squeezing into a tight spot at an odd angle, potentially with some angry drivers queued up behind you.

Also, and this is critical advice for parking anywhere in Boston, be sure to read the signs fully before parking. Watch out for resident permit parking only areas, loading areas, and private ways, not to mention public parking spots that are capped at two hours. Keep in mind that spots in the COVID era are often carved up in peculiar ways. This reporter was pleased recently to find a spot wedged between two cafe dining areas, only to discover a sign (partially obscured by a folding chair) limiting the space to delivery drivers only. So keep your eyes peeled. And if you’ve got a reservation you can’t miss, plan extra time to keep the running-late agita to a minimum.

Beat the crowds

Or hey, if you want the especially luxurious experience of driving up to the North End and finding a pristine parking space all your own, call out of work and head downtown in the daytime. The odds are much better you’ll find something at noon than at dinner. In bocca al lupo!