The Tour Guide’s View

July 24, 2012

It’s summertime and tourists wander Boston neighborhoods on their own and in tour groups. What is it like to introduce visitors to our city? What surprises them? What do they love about our hometown and its history? We asked Alan Maltzman, founder of Boston CityWalks.

He Loves His Work 

Alan has always loved taking people on tours of Boston. When he was offered an early retirement from his day job, he jumped at the opportunity to pursue his dream job. “What I really enjoy are the customers,” he grinned. “I have a few set tours. For other ones I say, I’ll take you where you want to go in downtown. Here’s a few possibilities, and we can change it up on the fly.”

Back Bay 

With this type of unscripted tour, the walk around a neighborhood, with a diverse character like the Back Bay, will change as Alan interacts with his guests. “I want to be able to take people’s reactions and figure out what they are interested in. Then I can focus more, for example, on architecture or architectural history that he points out. If they start asking religious questions, I can focus on the cultural changes.”

Alan is surprised that most people, even some Bostonians, don’t know the history of the Back Bay. “They don’t understand that it was under water at one time and that it is made/created land.”

Beacon Hill 

Since few people leave the main streets to explore the residential sections of Beacon Hill, most visitors don’t know a lot about the north slope. Alan has a Jewish Cultural Walking Tour that introduces visitors to, Beacon Hill’s “back side”, where Jews and African Americans resided during the 19th century.”

This tour includes a visit to historic Vilna Shul. “That’s the last remaining immigrant shul. There used to be about thirty of them in the West End,” Alan said. “The members of the congregation built the shul themselves.”

He explained that at one time the walls inside were adorned with artwork painted by members of the early congregation. A preservation grant enabled the non-profit foundation to expose one small wall.  But  ز… someit  of  still have not seen yet because they don’t have enough money to expose it.” The work will continue as funds are raised.

North End 

Visitors are most surprised by the residential character of the North End. “Most of the buildings you see are tenements from the late 19th century and early 20th century,” Alan said. But, he explained that when he’s with a tour group, “They don’t even notice it because it works so well together. I have to explain that this was a big immigrant area.”

As for favorite North End history, “People love the story of the great molasses flood.” And, he loves to take groups to Copps Hill Terrace to see the views from the park.

Entertaining Visitors

Tours, like those offered by Boston CityWalks, can be a great way to entertain your visitors if you have to work or have other commitments. Custom tours can be adapted to accommodate not only the interests of a particular group, but also to address accessibility and physical limitations.

And, if you can go along, so much the better. Like many locals on Alan’s tours, you’ll learn new things. You’ll see your home town in a new light when you view it through the eyes of a professional guide, accompanied by curious questions and the smiles of your guests. Visit to learn more.

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