The Massachusetts Turnpike is the southern boundary of the neighborhood, which coincides with the right-of-way of the Boston and Worcester Railroad, laid down in the 1830s. Marginal Road and Cortes Street are the surface roads that parallel the Pike. Across the Pike to the southwest lies the South End neighborhood; to the southeast of the Pike and Tremont Street is the southern edge of Chinatown. To the west of Berkeley Street and north of Columbus Street (west of Arlington Street) is the Back Bay neighborhood. To the north of Stuart Street is Park Square, and to the east of Charles Street is the Theatre District.
The one-way street network and non-grid arrangement makes the interior residential streets in Bay Village relatively quiet due to sparse automobile traffic.
Traditionally middle to lower-middle class, the neighborhood has become relatively expensive and upscale beginning around the 1990s.
The western part of the neighborhood was originally part of the body of water known as the Back Bay, west of the Boston Neck. This area was once known as South Bay, as the original waterline was in the area of Arlington Street (formerly Ferdinand Street). In the 1820s, the neighborhood was landfiled by developer Ephraim Marsh. before the massive landfills of the South End neighborhoods. Through its history, the neighborhood has been known at different times as the Church Street District, South Cove, and Kerry Village.
Architecturally, many Bay Village homes look like smaller versions of Beacon Hill townhouses. This is largely because many of the craftspeople who built the Beacon Hill residences settled in this area and built the local residences for their own use. Fayette Street, named for the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, has numerous houses dating from the Federal Period. Grander five-story townhouses in the Greek Revival style may be found on Melrose Street. After the area west of Arlington Street was filled in, developers built luxury residential "hotels" in the Victorian style on Cortes and Isabella Streets.
During the mid to late 1800s, some streets in Bay Village were raised 12-18 feet as the South End and Back Bay were created by continued landfill. You can see evidence of this today by noting the location of the basement windows in some of the buildings on Fayette Street, as well as arches opening to horsewalks that ran under the houses to stables in the rear.