Celebrate a Red, White, and Blue? Fourth of July in Boston?
A guide to Independence Day events and festivities in one of America’s oldest cities
A record-breaking 48.9 million people are expected to get away this Fourth of July weekend, an increase of more than four percent over last year. But there’s no better place to celebrate this quintessential American holiday than right here in Boston. After all, 5 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence hailed from Massachusetts. And few cities go all out to celebrate the holiday with the pizzazz and style that Boston does. Festivals, fireworks, a free concert by the world-famous Boston Pops, parades, and a special appearance by BU’s own Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87), associate provost and dean of students, at Boston’s Fourth of July Independence Day Celebration, are just a few of the events on tap in the coming days. Find details for those happenings and more in our special Fourth of July guide.
Wednesday, July 3
Boston Harborfest is one of the largest Fourth of July festivals in the country. The weeklong festival celebrates the city’s maritime and colonial history and includes events ranging from Chowderfest, where you can sample chowder from restaurants across the city and vote for your favorite, to a flag-raising ceremony, historical reenactments, boat and walking tours, a parade, and more. Attending the festival is free, although some partnered events require paid tickets. Today’s events include a whale watch excursion, a walking tour of Boston’s famed Freedom Trail, and free live Dixieland and jazz music courtesy of Downtown Sweet Sound.
The 38th annual Boston Harborfest runs through July 7. Find a full schedule of events—many free—and locations here. Some events require tickets, which can be purchased online.
Here’s a chance to visit American’s oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution, up close at its home, the Charlestown Navy Yard. The ship is famous for surviving cannonball fire from the British during the War of 1812, hence its nickname, “Old Ironsides.” The tour runs 45 minutes and starts at 10:30 am. Following the tour, there is an optional cruise (admission charged) hosted by Boston Harbor Cruises: highlights include views of Bunker Hill Monument and the site of the Boston Tea Party. Tours of the ship are available all week long during Harborfest.
The USS Constitution is inside Boston National Historical Park, next to the USS Constitution Museum (Building 22 in the Charlestown Navy Yard). Find information on admission, hours, and directions here. Admission to the ship is free, but a suggested donation of $10 to $15 for adults and $5 to $10 for children is recommended. Tickets for the cruise are $25.95. A photo ID is required for those 18+.
The highlight every year of Boston’s Fourth of July celebration is the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on July 4, a free concert by the world-renowned Boston Pops, followed by a dazzling pyrotechnics display over the Charles River, which attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators. Want to skip the massive crowds? Head over to the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade tonight, July 3, for a rehearsal of the Boston Pops concert. This year’s headliners include actor and singer Queen Latifah, folk legend Arlo Guthrie, and several popular contestants from NBC’s hit show America’s Got Talent. They’ll all be on hand for the rehearsal, but you’ll have to wait until July 4 for the Fireworks display.
The Boston Pops Concert dress rehearsal is from 8 to 10 pm at the Hatch Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way. The event is free and open to the public. Gates open at 5 pm. Find more details, including a list of prohibited items, here. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Arlington, and walk to the Charles River and Esplanade.
Thursday, July 4
Boston kicks off its Independence Day Celebration at City Hall with a brief program led by Mayor Martin J. Walsh at 9 am, followed by a parade from City Hall Plaza to Tremont Street. At 9:30 am, the procession stops briefly at the Granary Burying Ground, where Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine, and John Hancock—all signers of the Declaration of Independence—are buried. After a wreath-laying at their graves, the parade continues on to the Old State House at 9:40 am where Captain Commanding Nicholas Schiarizzi of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company (AHAC) will read the Declaration of Independence from the Old State House balcony. (The document was first publicly read in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, and its first Boston reading was at the Old State House 10 days later.) Following the reading, the parade reforms from Congress Street to North Street and on to Faneuil Hall. There, Mayor Walsh will make additional remarks and Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87), BU associate provost and dean of students, will deliver the oration at 10:15 am.
The kickoff ceremony and parade, free and open to the public, begin at 9 am at City Hall Plaza, One City Hall Square. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center or an Orange Line train to State Street.
The Declaration of Independence Reading, free and open to the public, is at 9:40 am at the Old State House, 206 Washington St. Take an MBTA Green Line train to Downtown Crossing or Government Center or an Orange Line train to State Street.
Looking for a laid-back way to celebrate the Fourth of July? Head to City Tap Bar & Grill for some American-themed grub, lawn games, and live music. Menu items will include classic burgers, hot dogs, and corn on the cob. Prices range from $5 to $13, with a full American platter $25. Guests can play a game of giant Jenga or cornhole. There will be free giveaways, American-themed cocktails, and brews from Night Shift.
The Fourth of July BeerBQ at City Tap Boston Bar & Grill, 10 Boston Wharf Road, runs from 11:30 am to 10 pm, with live music from noon to 4 pm. Admission is free, but you can register in advance to attend here. Take a Green Line trolley to Park Street and transfer to a Red Line train toward Ashmont/Braintree, and get off at South Station.
People travel from around the globe to Boston for whale-watching excursions. Humpbacks, finbacks, right whales, and minkes migrate north in summer months to feed offshore. As part of Harborfest, numerous whale-watching tours are being offered by Boston Harbor Cruises, which partners with the New England Aquarium for the three- to four-hour trips. Tours are led by New England Aquarium naturalists, who offer commentary on whale behavior, habitat, and more. Boats travel to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, famous for its rich sea life.
Whale-watching cruises depart from One Long Wharf on the hour from 9 am to noon, with one additional cruise leaving at 2:30 pm. The running time is four hours. Admission is $55 for adults, $47 for seniors, $35 for children ages 3 to 11, and $18 for kids under 3; purchase tickets here. Take a Green Line trolley to Government Center, transfer to a Blue Line train toward Wonderland, and exit at Aquarium.
A beloved local tradition for nearly 50 years, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular draws half a million visitors each year. To get a good seat, plan to arrive at the Hatch Shell early in the morning. This year’s show will feature performances from Oscar-nominated actor and singer Queen Latifah and folk legend Arlo Guthrie. The concert will be conducted by maestro Keith Lockhart (Hon.’04). Also appearing are Amanda Mena and the Texas Tenors, who have appeared on the NBC show America’s Got Talent. The night ends with a bang—a dazzling 20-minute fireworks display over the Charles River, accompanied by the Boston Pops performances of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and church bells ringing throughout the city.
The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concert begins at 8 pm, with fireworks at 10:30 pm, at the Hatch Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way, and is free and open to the public. Gates open at 9 am and are expected to fill by early afternoon. Take an MBTA Green Line train to Arlington and walk toward the Charles River and Esplanade. Security will be tight; find a list of banned and allowable items and other security details here.
Other places to watch the fireworks
If you hate being in a crowd, consider traveling away from the Hatch Shell. The locations below offer spectacular (but less populated) views of the fireworks.
Along the Charles River, Cambridge
Walk across the Longfellow Bridge to Cambridge and bear left on Memorial Drive for a dazzling view of the Charles River.
Larz Anderson Park
23 Newton St., Brookline
A popular viewing spot for families, Larz Anderson Park offers excellent views of the fireworks thanks to its high vantage point. The park has several picnic areas and charcoal grills, making it an ideal spot for a Fourth of July picnic or barbecue.
Oakley Country Club
401 Belmont St., Watertown
Park at the entryway to the country club and arrive early so you can grab a spot on one of the highest points on the golf course to score a good seat.
King’s Chapel was established in 1686 as the first Anglican Congregation in Boston and is one of the oldest places of worship in Boston. The current church, built in 1754, houses a bell cast by Paul Revere. The fascinating, 45-minute tour of the chapel gives guests a behind-the-scenes peek at life and death in colonial Boston. The tour begins in the church’s crypt, where visitors learn about colonial burial practices, and concludes in the bell tower. The bell was the largest ever cast by Revere.
The Bell and Bones Tour at King’s Chapel, 58 Tremont St., runs every half hour from 10:30 am to 4 pm, through July 7. The cost is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, students, and military, and $3 for children under 13. Tickets can be purchased online here. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley or Blue line train to Government Center.
Friday, July 5
Lawn On D, the popular outdoor 2.7-acre interactive space in South Boston, has several special events scheduled to mark the long holiday weekend. On Friday, Lawn On D will offer lawn games like bocce, as well as food and drinks for purchase from Rebel Restaurants. Take part in Lawn On D’s popular weekly cornhole tournament. The first eight teams of two players can compete for lawn bucks. Swipe Right, a multi-genre band, will be performing. And don’t forget to check out the iconic circular swings. Stop by again for Lawn On D’s Summer Block Party Saturday, from noon to 11 pm, and Sunday, from noon to 10 pm, featuring the Blue Man Group drum-off and show, bubble soccer, games, temporary tattoos, and much more.
Lawn On D is at 420 D St., South Boston. Take a Green Line train to Park Street, transfer to an outbound Red Line train to Braintree/Ashmont, and get off at South Station. You can then walk just over a mile or take the #7 bus.
On the first Friday of each month, the Museum of Fine Arts hosts First Fridays, a 21+ party that mixes art, music, and food and drink. This Friday, guests can roam the museum and view some of the MFA’s famous permanent collections, dance to music by DJ Daniel DiMar?, and purchase signature cocktails and tapas. Be sure to check out the museum’s two current special exhibits, Gender Bending Fashion, which explores a century of haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion that has challenged rigid, binary definitions of dress, and Toulouse Lautrec and the Stars of Paris, which explores celebrity culture in 19th-century Paris.
MFA First Fridays is the first Friday of every month at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, from 6 to 9 pm. This event is 21+ and admission is $23 for students and $25 for adults. Tickets can be purchased online here, or at any MFA ticket desk. Take an MBTA Green Line E trolley to Heath Street to the MFA, or an MBTA #39 bus from Copley Square to the MFA.
Friday Movies by Moonlight at the Boston Harbor Hotel
Each Friday throughout the summer, the Boston Harbor Hotel hosts free outdoor movie screenings next to their gazebo at dusk. Tonight’s is the family-friendly 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, starring Lindsay Lohan. Plan to arrive early if you want a good seat. Food and drink can be purchased from the Rowes Wharf Sea Grille.
The Boston Harbor Hotel’s Movies by Moonlight screening of The Parent Trap is Friday, July 5, at the Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, at dusk (approximately 8:25 pm). The event is free and open to the public. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center, and walk about half a mile or transfer to the Blue Line and exit at Aquarium.
Saturday, July 6
Concert by Massachusetts National Guard’s 215th Army Band and US Navy Band Northeast at Faneuil Hall
The Massachusetts National Guard’s 215th Army Band is one of the oldest bands in the United States. It has performed around the world. You’ll have a chance to hear them for yourself when they perform a concert of patriotic music at Faneuil Hall, their only public appearance in Boston this summer. They will be appearing along with the US Navy Band Northeast, one of 11 official US Navy Bands.
The Massachusetts National Guard’s 215th Army Band and US Navy Band Northeast concert is at the West End and South Market at Faneuil Hall, 4 South Market St., from 11 am to 3 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center or an Orange Line train to Haymarket.
Discover Boston’s rich seafaring history and learn how the American Revolution unfolded along Boston’s 18th-century harbor in this walking tour taking visitors through downtown Boston to Blackstone Block, a historic district that has retained its original street and sidewalk patterns, and on to the Boston Gaol, which opened in 1635 and was the only only prison in Massachusetts for nearly 20 years. Tour guides will regale you with stories of pirates, privateers, jack tars, smugglers, and more. Find more information on the tour sites here.
The Pirates and Patriots Tour is offered on Saturdays through July and August, and starts at 1 pm. It departs from the ArtsBoston Booth outside Faneuil Hall, at 4 South Market St., lasts 90 minutes, and covers 1.25 miles. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, $8 for children 6 to 12, and free for children under 6. Purchase tickets here. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center or an Orange Line train to Haymarket.
Sunday July 7
For fans of presidential history, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a must. The nation’s 35th president was born in Brookline, Mass. The library and museum, featuring sweeping views of Boston Harbor, is on Columbia Point. In addition to a number of permanent exhibitions, the museum currently is hosting two special exhibitins, Freedom 7 Capsule, featuring Freedom 7, the iconic space capsule that US Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard Jr. piloted on the first American manned flight into space in 1961, and JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos, which commemorates President Kennedy’s centenary and features a compelling selection of items drawn mostly from the Kennedy Library’s collections. It chronicles historic milestones in the president’s career and administration, as well as the events of his personal and family life.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is at Columbia Point, Boston. For GPS, use the address 220 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, $10 for youth ages 13-17, and free for kids 12 and under. Find directions here.