Things to Do in Boston in the Summer 2016

Summertime really makes the city of Boston seem to come alive. The streets are bustling with locals and visitors alike, as they make the most of the sunshine before sweater weather returns.

If you’re planning a visit and looking for things to do in Boston in the summer, check out our list of the top attractions and activities going on this year, including…

  • Boston Duck Tours
  • Whale Watching Cruise
  • Fenway Park Tour
  • Bike along the Charles River Esplanade
  • and more…

Heading to the area to celebrate Independence Day? Then check out our post on things to do in Boston 4th of July Weekend.

Save on Attraction Admission

Regular admission to a number of of these popular Boston activities are included on the Go Boston® Card.

Choose as you go from dozens of top attractions and save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

See all available passes, attractions & prices – Learn more.

Please note, the special summer events taking place at these attractions may be separately ticketed and not included on the Go Boston Card.

Festivals & Outdoor Events

Boston Harborfest – Downtown & Waterfront

July 1 – July 4, 2016

Boston Haborfest 1

Held as one of the many 4th of July events in the Boston area, Boston Harborfest is a local tradition.

Designed to highlight Boston’s rich history, this festival features attractions, reenactments, and tours that emphasize the city’s colonial and maritime history.

This year’s events include Revolutionary War-era re-enactments, walking tours, displays by U.S. naval ships, concerts, cruises, museum exhibits, and more. Most events are free or come at a modest cost.

Newport Folk Festival – Fort Adams State Park

July 22 – July 24, 2016

This perennial favorite festival is actually a bit outside of the immediate Boston area, but it’s well worth the trek.

This year’s lineup promises to be better than ever, featuring folk legends and modern favorites from Sufjan Stevens to First Aid Kit to the Decembrists to Roger Waters.

You’ll also find beer, cider, and wine gardens, available for the 21+ crowd. Bring a little extra cash for the merchandise tents, too, if you’re interested in some souvenirs or t-shirts from your favorite bands or the festival itself.

Outdoor Activities

Boston Duck Tours

boston-duck-tours
You might have seen members of the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots or Red Sox riding on them on TV, but the experience of going on a Duck Boat isn’t just reserved for professional athletes.

The Boston Duck Tour is probably my number one recommendation for things to do in Boston in the summer.

The tour will take you on a guided ride across land and water that sometimes goes past top tourist locations like Trinity Church, the Hancock Tower, the Boston Common, the Holocaust Memorial, the Boston Public Garden and even “Cheers.”

Check out our guide for tips for taking a Boston Duck Tour.

Fenway Park Tour

Fenway-Park-Tour-1No summer trip to Boston would be complete without a trip to “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” – Fenway Park.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find another park in the country that is ingrained into a city as much as Friendly Fenway is into Boston (Wrigley Field in Chicago comes close, though).

We suggest taking a behind the scenes Fenway Park Tour. The tour take about an hour and tickets are available for day of only on a first-come, first-served basis and are subject to availability.

During the walking tour, an experienced tour guide will bring you onto the field that Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, and Pedro Martinez called home.

See the Pesky Pole, take a seat on the 37-foot-tall Green Monster in left field, and maybe even enjoy a delicious Fenway Frank.

Whale Watching Cruise

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Hop aboard a waterborne adventure with a New England Aquarium Whale Watch, featuring a tour of the Boston Harbor and the chance to see the area’s incredible marine wildlife in their natural habitat.

Be on the lookout for humpback whales, finback whales, minke whales, and white-sided dolphins as you cruise in the comfort of a high-speed catamaran.

Boston Common & Boston Public Garden

The-Swan-Boats-of-Boston-1If you’d prefer something a little less active to do in Boston, head to the Public Garden – the first public botanical garden in the United States – to see the early summer flowers in full bloom.

The ornately landscaped Public Garden is known for its iconic Swan Boats, unique vessels with over a hundred years of history. Enjoy a ride around the pond, and make sure to bring your camera.

Exclusively available once the weather warms up, the historic Swan Boats are among the most iconic sites in the city. Hidden in the ponds of Boston’s gorgeous public gardens, the traditional Swan Boats date back to the 1870s.

Still run by the original owner’s descendants more than 130 years later, the Swan Boats provide a relaxing, historic Boston experience!

The Freedom Walking Trail

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Break out your walking shoes! This is a 2.5 mile trail marked by a line of red brick that guides you around the city.

The trail begins in the Boston Common right near the Public Gardens and takes you to the next two destinations on our list.

Your walking Freedom Trail tour includes 16 historically significant sights and markers that feature information about the American Revolution and historical significance of each stop. Be sure to download a helpful map and list of the stops.

Boston Harbor Cruises

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The summer sun draws Bostonians to the harbor, where the piers are teeming with activity.

Embark on a tasty harbor brunch cruise by Boston Harbor Cruises as you enjoy a fresh and diverse menu.

There’s always time for a little romance on your vacation. Embark on a spectacular sunset cruise of Boston to experience the illustrious Boston Harbor at its most alluring.

Feel the breeze and smell the salty sea air as you take in unparalleled views of the Boston skyline. Three spacious outdoor and indoor decks provide you with plenty of climate options, as well as your ideal vantage point.

Boston is a maritime city, so a trip to Boston just isn’t complete until you take to the seas!

Franklin Park

Giraffes at the Franklin Park zoo; image copyright Franklin Park Zoo.

Giraffes at the Franklin Park Zoo; image copyright Franklin Park Zoo.

Although it’s not quite as famous as the Boston Common, Franklin Park is another marvelous green space in Boston that’s not to be left out of any outdoor activities.

Picnic, stroll, run, or even just lounge on their beautiful lawns. Don’t forget about a visit to the local favorite Franklin Park Zoo!

The Charles River Esplanade

boston-urban-adventours
The Esplanade runs for a 3 mile stretch along the Charles River between Boston Museum of Science and the Boston University Bridge.

Here you will find swingsets, sailboats, sculptures, and more! During July and August “Friday Flicks” are held every Friday night with a free (kid-friendly) movie you can watch on the grass. The movies start when the sun goes down, usually between 8-8:30.

This waterfront park is very popular in the summertime and is one of the most beautiful places to walk and see views of the city.

Insider tip: walk across the Boston University Bridge near sunset; you will get amazing photos of the city!

Bicycling is a big part of Boston culture, and though the fiercest among us are out on two wheels year round, the spring and summer months are when the fair weather bicyclists take to the roads and paths.

No bike? No problem. A bike rental from Urban AdvenTours is all you need to join the crowd of cyclists that ride along the Charles each day in the summer.

As one of the country’s most bike-able cities, you’ll find paved bike trails on the Esplanade that will take you all along the waterfront, trails in the parks, and well-established bike lanes on the roads – so you can ride feeling secure.

Urban AvenTours will provide you with a bike lock, helmet, and a map of the popular Boston bike routes. See Boston’s historical buildings, gardens, and modern vistas!

Faneuil Hall

quincy-market-boston
You could easily spend the day wandering around Faneuil Hall and there is always something to see in this area of town during the warmer months.

Whether it’s the street performers, shopping, or historic bars and restaurants, Faneuil Hall is one of the most popular places to visit.

You will find street performers, festival-style jugglers, and musicians all competing for attention and small change.

There are also a number of souvenir shops, restaurants, and outlet shopping as well.

In case you were wondering, this historical site has been a marketplace and meeting hall since 1742!

SoWa Sunday Vintage Markets

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Sundays are the best days to find outdoor festivals, markets, and activities happening during the summer months.

We Bostonians take full advantage of the warm weather to be outside during this time!

Here you will find a ton of local vendors! SoWa is organized into 3 sections. Handmade craft stands with everything from one-of-a-kind paintings to Boston-themed home goods.

Produce and food stands from local farmers and artisans where visitors can sample gourmet foods, stock up on fresh produce and more. You’ll also find food trucks from some of the best eateries.

Insider tip: the food trucks have become very popular so we recommend going before noon to avoid waiting in line, but either way, it’s worth the wait!

In case you were wondering, SoWa stands for ‘South of Washington’ street.

Museums & Aquariums

Museum of Science

A view of the Charles River & the Museum of Science.

A view of the Charles River & the Museum of Science.

In the evening, turn your eyes to the sky to experience “Astronomy After Hours” at the Museum of Science on Friday nights.

The Museum’s best-kept secret is the Gilliland Observatory on top of the Museum’s parking garage.

This free-admission public event is one of the most unique Boston attractions, featuring a view that’s hard to get anywhere else in the city.

Museum of Fine Arts

boston-museum-of-fine-arts
If you’re more interested in the arts, there’s no better place in the country than the Museum of Fine Arts.

This prestigious institution specializes in American art, both modern and classical, including American craftwork, furniture, and portraiture.

This is not, of course, to devalue their fine and extensive collection of European and World art.

Don’t miss out on this summer’s special exhibitions, featuring everything from the work of the renowned photographer Hiro to a fascinating exhibit on London and Edo.

New England Aquarium

New England Aquarium Plaza, Central Wharf, Boston, Mass. - Credit: New England Aquarium

New England Aquarium Plaza, Central Wharf, Boston, Mass. – Credit: New England Aquarium

If you love the idea of communing with nature but aren’t sure a whale watch is right for you (or, if you couldn’t get enough of the whales on your whale watch), head to the famous New England Aquarium, where you’ll find maritime critters from around the world.

Be sure to scope out their famous colony of penguins, the newly renovated touch tank exhibit, their collection of Pacific oceanlife, and exhibits featuring their conservation and rehabilitation efforts.

Set along the harbor, enjoy a post-aquarium stroll on the pier and watch the sailboats and ships pass by.

Let’s Recap

So there you have it. Our picks for some of the top things to do in Boston in the summer.

While we’ve briefed you with a pretty extensive list, there are many more Boston attractions and popular events in the summer months.

Please note, the summer events taking place at some of these attractions may be separately ticketed and not included with the Go Boston Card.

Plan to visit some of these top attractions during your trip. Whether you are traveling with your family or a couple of friends, we’re sure you will have a great time.

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