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How to Celebrate Independence Day around Boston

Your guide to Fourth of July festivities

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This weekend is expected to be the most heavily traveled Fourth of July in history. According to the Automobile Association of America (AAA), a record 44.2 million Americans are planning to travel over the coming days.

But for those staying local for the holiday, Boston offers a large array of events and activities this weekend to commemorate the nation’s founding. As the birthplace of the American Revolution, the city is famous for hosting particularly spirited Fourth of July celebrations, and this year is no exception. From historical reenactments to film screenings, boat cruises to free concerts and a spectacular fireworks display, there’s something for everyone.

So don your red, white, and blue, bust out the sunscreen, and prepare to celebrate America’s independence in the city where it all began.

Friday, June 30

36th Annual Boston Harborfest

Billed as the country’s largest Fourth of July festival, Harborfest, the annual celebration of Boston’s waterfront and colonial history, returns for its 36th year. The festival officially kicks off today with an opening ceremony at Faneuil Hall Marketplace (even though it began Thursday), runs through July 4, and is packed with more than 200 family-friendly events (many free) like walking tours, harbor cruises, historical reenactments, music, entertainment, and more. Among the highlights are an art festival, scavenger hunts, outdoor movie screenings, and a chance to try colonial pastimes like fifing, hatmaking, and quill writing. Unlike past years, Harborfest will not host a fireworks display this year.

The 36th Annual Boston Harborfest runs today, June 30, through Tuesday, July 4. Find a complete schedule of events, with times, locations, and ticketing information, here.

Freedom Trail Guided Tours

What better way to celebrate the holiday weekend than by taking a trip back in time to where the nation’s fight for Independence began? Costumed guides stand in for some of the city’s most famous Revolutionary War era residents. The standard tour, Walk into History, takes visitors to 11 of the 16 official Freedom Trail sites, including the Boston Common, the Massachusetts State House, the Old South Meeting House, Paul Revere’s house, and the site of the Boston Massacre. History buffs can opt for more specialized tours that focus on topics like Revolutionary Women and African American Patriots. All tours last approximately 90 minutes. Check out the Freedom Trail website for more information.

A historical reenactment at Boston Harborfest

You can view historical reenactments, play the fife, and take a walking tour at Harborfest, the nation’s largest Fourth of July festival, running from June 30 through July 4. Photo courtesy of Harborfest 2017

Guided Freedom Trail Tours are led throughout the day and depart from either the Boston Common Visitor Information Center, 139 Tremont St., or Faneuil Hall, 4 S. Market St. Tickets ($12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students with valid ID, $6.50 for children 6 to 12) can be purchased online.

JFK Centennial Exhibition at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

To commemorate the 100th birthday of America’s 35th president, the library and museum is hosting a special exhibition, JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos. Dozens of personal objects, many on public view for the first time, frame and explore JFK’s personal and political life, among them the president’s sunglasses, a collection of his neckties, handwritten notes, including remarks he was to have delivered the day he was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963, and a scrapbook he made while a high school student at Choate.

JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos is on view at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Columbia Point, Boston, through May 2018. Find hours, admission prices, and directions here.

Whale Watching

Boston Harbor Cruises offers popular whale watching cruises for those interested in Boston’s maritime history. High-speed catamarans take passengers to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, voted the best place in the country to see aquatic life by USA Today. Over the course of the three- to four-hour voyage, passengers will see a variety of whales, including humpbacks, finbacks, minkes, pilot whales, and endangered right whales. (In the unlikely event you don’t see a whale, you get a free ticket for a future whale watch). Naturalists from the New England Aquarium are on board to answer questions and offer detailed information about Boston Harbor’s marine life. Food can be purchased on board. Note: while debit and credit cards are accepted, it is recommended that you bring cash.

Boston Harbor Cruises whale watching excursions depart from One Long Wharf throughout the day on Saturdays and Sundays and on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online and advance reservations are strongly recommended, especially on holiday weekends. Plan on arriving at least 30 minutes before departure. Find a complete schedule and prices here and directions here.

Charles River Boat Tours

See Boston from a new perspective on one of the Charles Riverboat Company cruises. The 70-minute narrated cruise takes you past historical and cultural landmarks on both the Boston and Cambridge sides of the river: Beacon Hill, the Esplanade, the Back Bay, Boston University, MIT, Harvard, and more. Find a map of the tour here.

Charles River Boat Tours run daily from the Lechmere Canal Park at the CambridgeSide Galleria Mall, 100 CambridgeSide Place, Cambridge. Find cruise times and prices here. Tickets can be purchased online up to two weeks prior to scheduled cruises. Advance reservations are strongly recommended. Find directions here.

Highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Fridays at Boston Children’s Museum and MIT Museum

You can visit the Boston Children’s Museum and the MIT Museum free of charge today, courtesy of the Highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Fridays program. Since 2009, the foundation has partnered with select Massachusetts institutions to offer free admission every Friday during the summer. The Boston Children’s Museum, with permanent and temporary exhibitions, is one of the world’s oldest children’s museums. The MIT Museum is dedicated to exploring a range of science, technology, engineering, art, design, and mathematical topics.

The Boston Children’s Museum, 308 Congress St., is open Friday, June 30, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Find directions here. Note: adult visitors who are not with children are required to show a photo ID at the desk. The MIT Museum, 265 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, is open Friday, June 30, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Find directions here. Admission to both is free each summer Friday courtesy of the Highland Street Foundation. Find a complete list of museums participating in the program here.

Lawn on D

Kick off your long weekend by heading over to the Lawn on D for a day of music and other activities. On Fridays the lawn is free to the public from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. And today there will be a slew of free and fun events. Lawn games include bocce, lawn checkers, cornhole, and giant chess, and you can swing on the lawn’s giant swings. Purchase adult libations and concessions from Rebel Restaurants. Festivities commence at noon with a performance by up-and-coming R&B artist Nat Reed, part of the weekly Lunch Break on D series sponsored by the Berklee College of Music. Berklee student Reed, who says her music is influenced by artists like Jhene Aiko and Kehlani, will perform original music until 2 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., the weekly cornhole tournament begins: the first eight teams of two people competing are eligible to win prizes. And a screening of the 1975 Academy Award–winning blockbuster Jaws is at 8:30 p.m. Directed by Steven Spielberg (Hon.’09), the film stars Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss.

The Lawn on D, 420 D St., South Boston, just steps from the MBTA’s Silver Line World Trade Center stop and a 15 to 20 minute walk from South Station, hosts Lunch Break on D from noon to 2 p.m. and cornhole at 6:30 p.m. (sign up at 5:30). Jaws will be screened at 8:30 p.m. Entry for all events is free and open to the public. Snacks and drinks can be purchased. Find directions here.

19th Annual Roxbury International Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts

It’s not too late to catch one of the films at the 19th Annual Roxbury International Film Festival, which celebrates filmmakers of color. The festival concludes tomorrow, Saturday, July 1, and all screenings today and tomorrow are at the Museum of Fine Arts. Since its inception in 1999, the festival has screened over 600 films. Today, I Am Still Here, a 2016 fictionalized drama about a 10-year-old girl sold into America’s child sex industry, is at 3:30 p.m. From 5:30 to 7:15 p.m., five short films (the longest 24 minutes) will be screened in succession, followed by a question and answer session with the films’ directors. And at 8 p.m., the contemporary silent film comedy The Boots and the drama Little Boxes, about a biracial family that grapples with a new world after they move from New York City to a small town, will be shown.

The 19th Annual Roxbury International Film Festival runs today, Friday, June 30, and tomorrow, Saturday, July 1, at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave. Find a complete schedule, with screening times, here. Tickets to individual screenings are $9 for members and $11 for nonmembers. Find directions here.

Movies by Moonlight at the Boston Harbor Hotel

For the 19th year in a row, the Boston Harbor Hotel is hosting its Summer in the City Series, which offers free entertainment every Tuesday through Friday night throughout the summer. Each Friday at dusk, it’s Movies by Moonlight, a series of romantic comedies, Hollywood classics, and family films. Tonight you can catch the 1999 British rom-com Notting Hill, starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Roberts portrays a successful Hollywood film actress who falls in love with a local bookstore owner, played by Grant. Find out why Notting Hill was the highest grossing British film of 1999. And be sure to arrive early to grab a good seat. You can order dinner or drinks from the Rowes Wharf Sea Grill.

The Boston Harbor Hotels Movies by Moonlight screening of Notting Hill is tonight, June 30, at the Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, at dusk (8:24 p.m.); free and open to the public. Find directions here.

Cast of Annie the musical on-stage during a performance

Looking for some family activities this weekend? Head to the Prudential Center for a screening of the 1982 musical Annie Saturday. Photo by Columbia Pictures/ Getty Images

Saturday, July 1

Annie (1982) at the Prudential Center

Grab some lawn chairs and head to the South Garden of the Prudential Center to catch a free screening of the Academy Award–nominated musical Annie (1982), starring Aileen Quinn in the title role, Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks, and Carol Burnett as the villainous Miss Hannigan. Based on the long-running Broadway musical of the same title, the film brings to life the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.” The family-friendly flick kicks off the Prudential Center’s Family Film Festival, which presents films each Saturday night in July and August. You’ll be humming “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life” for days afterward.

The Prudential Center’s Family Film Festival presents Annie tonight, July 1, at 6 p.m. in the South Garden of the Prudential Center, 800 Boylston St. Admission is free and open to the public. Find a complete list of Family Film Festival screenings here and directions here.

Don’t Miss the Boat! At the USS Constitution Museum

For the past two years, the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship, has been in drydock, undergoing a multimillion dollar restoration of her hull. This is the last chance to see the ship before she reenters the water on July 23, when parts of the vessel now visible will be submerged for another 20 years. Visitors can tour the Constitution, nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” which played a critical role in the War of 1812, and talk to sailors. Visit the USS Constitution Museum next door to learn about the secrets behind the ship’s longevity and join in hands-on activities that give a sense of what it was like to construct ships in 18th-century America.

Don’t Miss the Boat! is at the USS Constitution Museum, Charlestown Navy Yard, Building 22, Charlestown, this weekend, Saturday, July 1, through Tuesday, July 4. Admission is free, but a donation of $3 to $5 for children, $5 to $10 for adults, and $20 to $25 for families is suggested. All visitors aged 18 and over must present a valid federal or state-issued I.D. or passport to board the ship. Find hours here. Find directions here.

Sunday, July 2

Boston Harbor Sails Sunday Brunch

Ditch your normal landlocked weekend brunch routine this Independence Day weekend and board the Liberty Clipper for an unforgettable brunch around Boston Harbor. Enjoy terrific views of the Boston skyline while dining on fresh fruit, breads, pastries, a variety of quiches, breakfast meats, and other offerings from the Silent Chef. Passengers 21 and over can buy mimosas and Bloody Marys.

Boston Harbor Sails Sunday Brunch is every Sunday from June 11 to September 10, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., departing from Central Wharf. Reservations are required and tickets ($45 for adults, $24 for children 12 and younger) can be purchased here. Find directions here.

Monday, July 3

Boston Pops Concert Dress Rehearsal

Here’s a chance to catch a dress rehearsal for the popular Boston Pops Fourth of July concert on Tuesday. No, there won’t be fireworks tonight (you’ll have to wait until the fourth), but you’ll enjoy the Pops and a starry roster of musical headliners without Tuesday’s huge crowds .

The Boston Pops Concert dress rehearsal is from 8:30 to 10 p.m. at the Hatch Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way, and is free and open to the public. Attendees can enter the Oval (the lawn and seating area in front of the Hatch Shell) beginning at 5 p.m. Security will be tight; find more information, including a list of prohibited and allowed items, here. Find directions here.

Boston Pops July 4 Concert

The 44th annual July 4 Boston Pops Concert on the Esplanade will be headlined by Tony- and Grammy-winning actor Leslie Odom, Jr., (Hamilton), Grammy winner Melissa Etheridge, and singer Andy Grammer. Photo by Stu Rosner

Tuesday, July 4

Flag-Raising Ceremony and Parade

Start your Fourth of July by attending the annual flag raising ceremony at Boston’s City Hall Plaza at 9 a.m. The ceremony will be followed by a parade to the Granary Burying Ground, where wreaths will be laid on the graves of noted patriots like Robert Paine, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. The parade will culminate at Faneuil Hall, often referred to as the “Cradle of Liberty” for its role in the nation’s fight for independence.

The flag-raising ceremony and parade, free and open to the public, is at 9 a.m. at City Hall Plaza, One City Hall Square, Boston. Find directions here.

Reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Old State House

Americans have gathered in front of the Old State House each Fourth of July for more than 200 years to hear the Declaration of Independence read from the balcony by a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. First publicly read in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, its first Boston reading was at the Old State House on July 18,1776. After listening to this historic document being read as our forebears have through the centuries, check out the Old State House Museum to learn more about one of Boston’s most historically significant buildings and the city’s history.

The Declaration of Independence reading, free and open to the public, is at 10 a.m. at the Old State House, 206 Washington St., Boston. Find directions here.

July 4th Salute to Freedom Cruise

Learn about the city of Boston’s vital role in the nation’s fight for independence on the July 4th Salute to Freedom Cruise, Boston Harbor Cruises’ two-and-a-half hour sail around Boston Harbor. This special excursion features narration by historians from the USS Constitution Museum. Enjoy an all-American lunch, with lobster rolls and apple crisp.

The July 4th Salute to Freedom Cruise departs from Long Wharf at noon. Boarding begins at 11:30 a.m. Find prices and purchase tickets here and directions here.

44th Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

Wrap up your holiday by heading over to the Hatch Shell for one of Boston’s most beloved traditions, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. Thousands of Bostonians will flock to the Esplanade for the annual free Boston Pops concert and fireworks display. The concert, under the direction of Keith Lockhart (Hon.’04), will feature performances by the Tony- and Grammy-winning Leslie Odom, Jr., (Aaron Burr in Broadway’s megahit Hamilton), multiplatinum pop singer Andy Grammer, and Grammy- and Oscar-winning folk rock singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge. As always, the concert concludes with a soaring rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as fireworks explode above and church bells ring throughout the city.

The 44th Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concert begins at 8:30 p.m. and the fireworks display at 10:30 p.m. at the Hatch Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way, Boston. Security will be tight; find more information, including a list of prohibited and allowed items, here. Find directions here.

Other Places to Watch the Fireworks

If you want to enjoy the fireworks while avoiding the Esplanade crowds, consider traveling away from the Hatch Shell for equally spectacular (but less populated) viewing.

Along the Charles River, Cambridge

To stay close to the action, walk across the Longfellow Bridge to Cambridge and bear left onto Memorial Drive. You’ll have a great view of the display and a little more breathing room.

Larz Anderson Park
23 Newton St., Brookline

A popular spot for families on the 4th, Larz Anderson Park offers spectacular views of the fireworks, with ample room to spread out. The park has several picnic areas and charcoal grills, making it an ideal spot for a Fourth of July picnic.

Oakley Country Club
401 Belmont St., Watertown

Park at the entrance to the country club and get there early enough to grab a spot on one of the highest points on the golf course to score a seat for the show.

More information about fireworks displays in nearby towns is available here.

Liz Vanderau can be reached at vanderau@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on How to Celebrate Independence Day around Boston

  • MJK on 07.02.2017 at 9:45 am

    The first official public reading of the Declaration of Independence was at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on July 8th, 1776. There were also readings in Trenton, NJ and Easton, PA. There was no reading at Faneuil Hall. Nice story, though.

    • David Bergeron-Keefe, BU Today on 07.03.2017 at 10:15 am

      Thanks for your comment. We have updated the article accordingly.

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