New England epitomizes fall, but Boston and its surrounding communities draw visitors from all over the world year-round. Ever wonder why so many presidents have vacation homes in the region?
The Best Day Trips from Boston
Boston’s many attractions, food, and entertainment can easily fill up your vacation, but there are many destinations within three hours that you may want to consider incorporating into your itinerary, too. From islands and beaches to pilgrims and witches, here are our top 10 picks for the best Boston day trips.
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Boston Harbor Islands
If you didn’t know about the Boston Harbor Islands, you may not even notice them off the coast of the city. Six islands are accessible via seasonal ferry service. Visit Lovells Island or Spectacle Island for a beach day, Little Brewster Island for a tour of Boston Light, or Georges Island to visit the historic, Civil War-era Fort Warren.
For year-round exploration, head to Deer Island, Nut Island, Webb Memorial State Park, or Worlds End via car. While you can rent a boat to visit the islands on your own, there are no docks and several islands restrict access.
Channel your inner Henry David Thoreau and contemplate nature at this National Historic Landmark. Open year round, Walden Pond is a prime spot to cool down in summer and a quiet place to stroll in winter. The trail around the pond is just over a mile and a half. While you’re in the area, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is also worth a stop.
Warning: During peak season, particularly weekends, arrive early. When parking lots reach capacity, park rangers will temporarily close to new visitors and reopen in the afternoon. No other parking areas are nearby, though you can walk (about two miles) from downtown Concord.
The fastest—and most scenic—way to get to Cape Cod (called simply the Cape by locals) is to take a seasonal ferry to Provincetown. No Cape traffic, just a 90-minute-or-less boat ride to where the dunes are largely undisturbed. P-town, on the tip of Massachusetts’s hook, packs in the classic Cape charm.
But just because ferry service begins spring and ends in fall doesn’t mean you should skip a Cape trip all together. Winter is one of the best times to stroll beaches in complete solitude, and you can still score some of the world’s best seafood fresh from the docks. And you don’t have to head all the way to Provincetown to experience it. Cut down on drive-time and park yourself in Falmouth.
There’s more to this coastal town north of Boston than witches. Though for a sobering and chilling reminder of the 1692 trials, visit the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a burial ground commemorating those that lost their lives.
The town is also home to the House of Seven Gables, the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to pen his novel of the same name, as well as the Peabody Essex Museum. If you have time, stop by the nine-acre Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The park showcases the area’s maritime history, complete with wharves and a tall ship.
Minute Man National Historical Park
As far as national parks and monuments go, the Minute Man National Historical Park is relatively hidden in plain sight, straddling the towns of Lincoln and Concord. The park aims to bring to life the opening battle of the Revolution. Stroll the battlefields and structures, and you’ll spot more than a few areas marked for fallen soldiers.
In high season, the park offers guided tours of several areas and buildings, plus puts on events like musket firing demonstrations. You’ll find homes with actors playing period parts and encouraging you to try on colonial clothing.
Anyone who grew up in the area knows that one of the most popular day trips from Boston is to Plimoth Plantation. Practically a rite of passage for area school kids, a visit to the plantation lets you discover English and Native histories from the 1600s. Their stories are woven together across interactive exhibits, complete with sheep, goats, and cows.
Pay a visit to the craft center where you’ll see native artisans and others practicing historic English crafts, or the grist mill where you can buy cornmeal.
Easily accessible by just over a 60-minute commuter rail ride, Providence is home to Tony award-winning theater, an Ivy League Institution (Brown), and a dining scene that rivals even Boston’s, thanks to the wealth of culinary school graduates from Johnson & Wales University.
There’s plenty to do here on a day trip from Boston: Shop boutiques on hip Thayer Street, scour art at the RISD Museum, snap a photo with Roger Williams in Prospect Park, or settle in for authentic Italian dining on Federal Hill. In the summer, WaterFire lights up the three rivers that flow through downtown Providence with on-water bonfires.
With more than five miles of trails and boardwalks through salt marshes and sand dunes, Crane Beach is worth putting at the top of your day trips from Boston list, regardless of season. In the summer, the clean waters and miles of shoreline make it a favorite for swimmers and sunbathers.
Include time in your visit for stops at Castle Hill, home to the Stuart-style Great House mansion filled with early 1900s antiques, and the Crane Beach Wildlife Refuge.
As its designation of National Historical Park implies, New Bedford is one of the more history-packed day trips from Boston. In the 19th century, the city was considered the whaling capital of the world. The New Bedford Whaling Museum—home to four full-size whale skeletons, a half-scale whaling ship, and packed with more whaling history and art than you can imagine—is a must-visit. Fans of Moby Dick will want to look into the annual 25-hour reading marathon.
Beyond history, it’s also home to the country’s best sea scallops, as well as cobblestone streets lined with art galleries, top-notch restaurants (Portuguese food is a must), and even microbreweries (try Moby Dick brewing’s Ishm-Ale). The recently completed New Bedford Harbor Walk runs along the city’s hurricane barrier starting (or ending) at the Civil War-era Fort Tabor-Fort Rodman. In the summer, ferries whisk passengers to Martha’s Vineyard in an hour and Nantucket in around two.
Out of all the Boston day trips, exploring the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts is one trip you may want to extend beyond just one day. The region is celebrated for its fall foliage, and while apple picking, cider, and leaf-peeping have their charms, the Berkshires shine throughout all four seasons.
In summer, the Boston Symphony Orchestra takes up residency at Tanglewood. In winter, skating and snowshoeing are the preferred ways to appreciate the snow. And in spring, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and Bridge of Flowers (an old trolley-turned pedestrian bridge) burst into color.
The region is also home to the highest peak in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock. Choose from a range of easy day hikes, including paths to the summit along the Appalachian Trail. The area’s renowned museums—Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Clark Art Institute, and the Norman Rockwell Museum—are the ideal antidote to bad weather.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Boston Travel Guide
- 10 Best Hotels in Boston
- 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Boston
- 10 Great Hotels Near Fenway Park in Boston
- 10 Fun Things to Do in Boston
- 10 Must-See Boston Attractions
- 10 Best Cheap Eats in Boston
- 9 Best Italian Restaurants in Boston
- The 10 Best Boston Food Trucks
- What to Wear in Boston
- What to Pack for Boston
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– Original reporting by Kate Sitarz
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