Given that the fight for American independence was sparked in part by the Boston Tea Party in 1773, it’s only fitting that Boston puts on one of the most spectacular Independence Day celebrations anywhere in the country.
The holiday festivities include a parade and two free concerts by the world-famous Boston Pops orchestra, topped off by one of the most dazzling fireworks displays anywhere. But there’s much more to do: visit Boston’s world-class museums, relive the city’s historical ties to the American Revolution, catch a Red Sox game, or sightsee by land or by sea.
So break out the sunscreen and the red, white, and blue, and enjoy all that the city has to offer as you celebrate America’s 240th birthday. The following is a guide to some of the best events going on in Boston this holiday weekend.
Friday, July 1
35th Annual Boston Harborfest
The annual Boston Harborfest, marking its 35th anniversary, kicks off today and runs through Monday, July 4, with hundreds of family-friendly events and activities celebrating Boston’s colonial and maritime heritage. The country’s largest Fourth of July festival offers walking tours, live entertainment, historical reenactments, and a scavenger hunt (many events are free). It all begins with an opening ceremony at Faneuil Hall at 11 a.m. Don’t miss the free fireworks display over Boston Harbor tomorrow, Saturday, July 2, at 9 p.m. at Boston’s Long Wharf.
The 35th annual Boston Harborfest runs today, July 1, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, July 2, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, July 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Monday, July 4, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Find a full schedule of events and locations here. Many events are free, but some require tickets that can be purchased online.
Young Jack at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Visitors to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum can learn about the early life of America’s 35th president in the new exhibition Young Jack, which traces his boyhood, school years, and how he became a decorated World War II hero. Among the memorabilia on display are the dog tag and St. Christopher medal JFK wore during World War II and the coconut with the message he inscribed, leading to the rescue of him and his men after their patrol boat, the PT 109, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer.
Young Jack is on view at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Columbia Point, Boston. Find hours, admission, and directions here.
Tours of the Freedom Trail: Walk into History
There would be nothing to celebrate this weekend without the brave colonists who stood up against British taxation, oppressive policies, and other forms of tyranny. Assert your independence (and show your Boston pride) by walking the Freedom Trail, where costumed guides, portraying some of the city’s most famous Revolutionary War era residents, greet visitors at 11 historic sites, among them the Massachusetts State House, Park Street Church, the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s house, and Faneuil Hall. Walking the 2.5-mile trail takes about 90 minutes.
The Walk into History tour begins at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center, 139 Tremont St., Boston. Tours begin on the hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with an additional tour at 4:30 p.m. Purchase tickets, $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and $6.50 for children ages 6 to 12, online here. Find directions here.
Chipping Away! at the USS Constitution Museum
The USS Constitution Museum, devoted to the War of 1812, hosts a special event throughout the July 4 weekend titled Chipping Away! It celebrates the progress of the multimillion dollar renovation of the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship. First launched in 1797, the ship earned its nickname—Old Ironsides—when it defeated a series of British warships during the War of 1812. She is expected to remain in dry dock until fall 2017, when she will return to her regular pier in the Charlestown Navy Yard. After touring the ship’s hidden parts, revealed during its time in dry dock, you can visit the museum and check out a number of interactive exhibitions, like All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812, which recounts stories about some of the 1,243 sailors and officers who served aboard Old Ironsides during that war. Visitors can scrub a ship’s deck on their hands and knees, scramble aloft to furl a sail in gale force winds, and crawl into a hammock for a quick rest, much as the sailors of two centuries ago would have done.
Chipping Away! is this weekend, July 1 through 4, at the USS Constitution Museum in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Building 22, Charlestown, Mass. Admission is free, but a donation of $5 to $10 for adults, $3 to $5 for children, and $20 to $25 for families is suggested. Find hours here. Find directions here.
Hop aboard the Voyager III for a view of some sea creatures you definitely won’t see at the New England Aquarium. This high-speed boat travels to whale feeding grounds 30 miles east of Boston for an aquatic adventure you won’t forget. Naturalists and educators will be aboard to answer questions. During the three- to four-hour trip, you’ll see whales, dolphins, sea birds, and other marine life. The boat has full-service snack and concession bars.
Whale watching cruises leave hourly from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from the New England Aquarium dock, One Central Wharf, Boston. Purchase tickets, $49 for adults and $33 for children, here. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center, transfer to the Blue Line to Aquarium.
Boston by Land and Water: Charles River Sightseeing Tour
This 60-minute sightseeing cruise along the Charles River is a fine way to kick off your Independence Day weekend. The boat’s captain and crew narrate the tour, which highlights cultural and historical landmarks around Boston and Cambridge, including Beacon Hill, Esplanade Park, Back Bay, Boston University, MIT, and Harvard.
Charles Riverboat Company tours start at 10 a.m.; the last boat leaves at 4:15 p.m. See a full schedule, prices for the hour-long tour, and booking info (advance reservations recommended) here. Tours depart from Lechmere Canal Park at the CambridgeSide Galleria Mall. Find directions here.
First Fridays: Summer in the City at the Institute of Contemporary Art
Those lucky visitors with a ticket can celebrate the holiday weekend with some corn hole, a seaside breeze, BBQ, a live band, and a lot of great art. The ICA’s First Fridays: Summer in the City events are so popular that tonight’s presale tickets are sold out. But starting at 5 p.m., a limited number will be available at the door. Guests will enjoy music by local rockers These Wild Plains between sets by DJ Big Bear. Among the museum’s current exhibitions are Transcending Material: ICA Collection, showcasing modern sculpture’s diversity and the ways artists like Mark Bradford, Taylor Davis, and Tara Donovan are using commonplace materials and found objects to create a range of forms and techniques. Also on view is Ugo Rondinone: Moonrise Sculptures, 2 of the Swiss artist’s collection of 12 sculptures that are an homage to the moon, each named for a month.
First Fridays: Summer in the City, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, is from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, July 1. Admission is $15 for nonmembers, free for ICA members. This event is 21+; food and libations extra. Find info on current and upcoming exhibitions here. Find directions here.
Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers
The Boston Red Sox, currently second in the American League, have been having a good season. Fans have ample opportunity to catch them this weekend when they host the Los Angeles Angels tonight, Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park. Or catch them on Monday when they host the Texas Rangers. What could be more patriotic than watching the game that’s been called America’s pastime in the country’s oldest baseball stadium? If you can’t score a seat inside the park, watch the game in one of Kenmore Square’s bars, like Cask ’n Flagon or Boston Beer Works. It’s the next best thing to being there.
The Red Sox play the Los Angeles Angels tonight, July 1, at 7:10 p.m., Saturday at 7:15 p.m., and Sunday at 1:35 p.m. On Monday, July 4, at 1:35 p.m., they host the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way. Find ticket information here. Students can purchase standing room tickets for $9 through the Red Sox Student program. Check out the Red Sox Twitter account @RedSox. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Kenmore and walk.
Classic Movie Fridays: An Affair to Remember
As part of its Summer in the City Entertainment Series, the Boston Harbor Hotel hosts free Friday night movie screenings. Tonight’s film is the 1957 classic romantic sudser An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The film will screen on the hotel’s terrace at dusk.
An Affair to Remember screens tonight at dusk (8:25 p.m.) at the Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston. The screening is free and open to the public. Arrive early to get a good seat. Take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Haymarket and walk about 13 minutes.
A Night in King’s Chapel Burying Ground
Interested in exploring the darker side of Boston’s history? Join the ghoulish guides from Ghosts and Gravestones on a 90-minute tour through Boston’s oldest graveyard—the haunted King’s Chapel Burying Ground. Prepare for chilling tales of some of the city’s more nefarious characters, including the story of Ephraim Littlefield and his shocking black-market body trading scandal.
Tours are at 7, 8, and 9 p.m. daily at King’s Chapel Burying Ground, near the corner of School and Tremont Streets, Boston. Reservations are required; call 866-754-9136 or find prices and purchase tickets here. Children under 6 are not allowed; the tour may not be suitable for children under 13.
Saturday, July 2
Pirates & Patriots
The Freedom Trail Foundation’s Pirates & Patriots tour immerses participants in the world of riots, revolution, slavery, and piracy, all part of Boston’s history. Tour guides share stories of the American Revolution as it unfolded along the Freedom Trail and Boston’s 18th-century harbor, bringing to life tales of landlubbers and jack tars, pirates and privateers, Tories and revolutionaries, and more. The tour ends at Griffin’s Wharf, site of the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
The Pirates & Patriots tour, offered Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. in July and August, departs from the freestanding ArtsBoston Bostix booth on the south side of Faneuil Hall, near the Samuel Adams statue. Purchase tickets, $10 for students, $12 for adults, online here. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center and walk to Congress Street.
Sunday, July 3
Boston Tall Ship Sunday Brunch Sail
Looking for a unique brunch experience? The Boston Tall Ship Sunday Brunch Sail offers a one-of-a-kind cruise of Boston Harbor aboard the schooner Liberty Clipper. Guests will enjoy a brunch of fresh fruit, quiches, pastries, and hot breakfast items courtesy of the Silent Chef. Mimosas and Bloody Marys are available at additional cost for those 21+.
Boston Tall Ship Sunday Brunch Sail is every Sunday from mid-June through September 11, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made here. Tickets are $45 for adults and $24 for children 12 and under. The ship is docked next to the New England Aquarium, 67 Long Wharf, Boston. Take the MBTA Blue Line to Aquarium.
Boston Pops Concert
Although there won’t be any fireworks at this concert, you can listen to the Boston Pops perform a run-through of the annual Fourth of July concert, highlighted by Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Best of all, tonight’s dress rehearsal won’t be nearly as crowded as the July 4 concert on Monday.
The Boston Pops Concert, free and open to the public, is from 8:30 to 10 p.m. at the Hatch Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way, Boston. Attendees can enter the Oval (the lawn and seating area in front of the Hatch Shell) beginning at 5 p.m. Security is expected to be tight, so best to arrive early. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Park Street, transfer to the Red Line to Alewife, and get off at Charles/MGH.
Monday, July 4
Flag-Raising Ceremony and Parade
Kick off the most patriotic day of the year by attending the flag-raising ceremony at City Hall Plaza, followed by a parade to the Granary Burying Ground, where wreaths will be laid on the graves of some of America’s most noted patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine. The parade concludes at Faneuil Hall, which had a significant role in Boston’s battle for independence from the British.
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. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center.
Declaration of Independence Reading
After following the parade to the Old State House, stay to be reminded of what the holiday is all about by listening to a reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the historic building, just as it was read on July 18, 1776.
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. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center and walk to Washington Street.
43rd Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular
One of Boston’s most beloved traditions, the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on the Esplanade, is celebrating its 43rd year. The incredible fireworks display is preceded by a free Boston Pops concert, led by Keith Lockhart (Hon.’04). Lockhart, who took over as Pops conductor in 1995, is the orchestra’s second longest tenured conductor since its founding in 1885. The record is held by Arthur Fiedler (Hon.’51), who led the Pops from 1930 until his death in 1979. Tonight’s concert will include performances by the Grammy Award–winning country group Little Big Town, multiplatinum pop artist Demi Lovato, and singer-songwriter Nick Jonas, formerly of the Jonas Brothers. In keeping with tradition, the Pops will conclude the concert with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as fireworks explode and church bells ring throughout the city.
This year’s festivities are the last to be organized by David Mugar, the executive producer of Boston 4 Productions. The 77-year-old philanthropist and businessman has announced that he will retire later this year. Mugar has helped organize all 42 past July Fourth celebrations at the Esplanade.
Note: Be prepared for heightened security and plan to arrive early. Seating is first-come, first-served. The Oval opens to the public at 9 a.m. and is expected to fill by 2 p.m. Do not bring backpacks, grills, coolers on wheels, glass containers, weapons, sharp objects, pets (with the exception of service dogs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones. All personal items must be carried in clear bags and are subject to inspection. Find a complete list of prohibited and allowable items here.
The 43rd Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concert begins at 8:30 p.m., with fireworks at 10:30, at the Hatch Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way, Boston. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Park Street, transfer to the Red Line to Alewife, and get off at Charles/MGH. Subway fares will be free after 9:30 p.m. on July 4. Find more information on the event here.
Other places to watch the fireworks
Don’t want to get caught in the massive crowds at the Esplanade? Listed below are some places with a terrific view of the fireworks show, but without as many people.
Along the Charles River, Cambridge
For a top-notch view of the fireworks, simply walk across the Longfellow Bridge to Cambridge and hang a left onto Memorial Drive. Spectators will be able to hear the music and the crowds will be smaller.
Larz Anderson Park
23 Newton St., Brookline
Families should consider setting up camp at this beautiful park. There’s more room for games and picnics, and its high vantage point offers a wonderful view of the fireworks.
Oakley Country Club
401 Belmont St., Watertown
Park at the entrance of this country club and score a great view of the display. Grab a seat at one of the highest points of the golf course, sit back, and enjoy the show.
Information on other fireworks displays in nearby towns is available here.
Jennifer Bates can be reached at email@example.com.