Dazzling July 4th fireworks over Boston's Charles River light up the sky for half a million spectators watching this beloved annual event.
If you're traveling to Boston for this national patriotic holiday, get ready for a memorable evening at the free Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular located on the Esplanade along the banks of the Charles.
After all, Boston is where the fight for American liberty began. Needless to say, July 4th is a very special occasion here.
The city is always proud of its revolutionary heritage, but around July 4th, celebratory pride escalates to such a degree that you'll experience patriotism on steroids.
The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, America's best Independence Day celebration, takes place on July 3rd and 4th on the Esplanade next to the Charles River.
Concerts in the historic Hatch Shell on both days feature Conductor Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra.
The concert on July 4th is part of a fabulous show including a terrific lineup of special guests and finishing with fireworks, while on the 3rd, only the concert takes place.
Special concert performers on the 4th include the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps, Michael Cavanaugh (American Rock & Roll Songbook), Melissa Doolittle (American Idol), Boston-born gospel recording artist Michelle Brooks-Thompson, USO Show Troupe, and Sons of Serendip, a musical group of 4 friends who met while attending grad school at Boston University.
The Boston Pops show on July 4th begins at 8pm, and the concert starts on both days at 8:30pm with the National Anthem.
CBS Boston's WBZ News Radio AM 1030 begins its local broadcast of the show begins at 7pm. Unfortunately, the show is no longer nationally broadcast - but you can watch a webcast of the Boston Pops and the Fireworks Spectacular streaming live on www.cbsboston.com and www.bostonpopsjuly4th.org.
The music is terrific, and then comes the finale - Tchaikovsky's explosive 1812 Overture, ending with dramatic drumrolls and real cannon fire, while church bells ring throughout the city.
At 10:30pm, soon after the concert on July 4 concludes, the Boston fireworks begin to be launched from 7 barges in the middle of the Charles River. The show concludes at 11pm.
With 10,000 fireworks being set off, you can see why everyone calls the show "spectacular"!
Find yourself a comfortable spot on either side of the river, and enjoy this special Boston patriotic event.
The skies light up with dazzling pyrotechnics reaching as high as 1,500 feet.
Depending on where you stay, you might even be able to watch the fireworks from your hotel room or roof deck.
Hotels near July 4th Fireworks & Pops Concert
Both Boston Pops concerts start at 8:30pm, and both are free.
If you want to be able to actually see the concert, you need to be within what's called the "Oval" - a grassy area in front of the Hatch Shell where the musicians play.
If you want to try to see the fireworks from the Oval (not the best viewing spot), the right side (facing the stage) is best.
A few days before the concerts, a temporary fence gets installed around the Oval to prevent overcrowding, which means space is limited.
Entrances to the Oval open at 5pm on July 3rd, and 9am on the 4th.
In order to get a seat in the Oval on July 4th, you need to arrive as early as possible. The area usually fills up soon after the entrances open at 9am on the 4th. People tend to line up well before 9am. How early? The truly dedicated arrive by 6am - or earlier.
The Oval Checkpoint is between the Clarendon Footbridge to the Lagoon and the Berkeley Footbridge; easiest accest to the checkpoint is by way of Berkeley Street.
Once you gain entrance, you'll be given a wristband. This allows you to move in and out of the Oval throughout the day. However, if you want to maintain a particular spot on the Oval, you should leave one person in your group behind to guard it. You must be back by 7pm at the latest in order to get back in - 6:30 is safer.
Getting a seat in the Oval on the 3rd is much less competitive. Remember, only the concert takes place on this day - no show, no stars, no fireworks. Even so, the area typically fills up on July 3rd by 7pm or earlier.
Although the Oval may sound like the ideal place to sit, there's a down side: you may not be able to see the fireworks well because of all the trees surrounding this area.
As you enter the Oval, your bag will be checked for banned items (alcoholic beverages, blankets larger than 10 feet by 10 feet, glass containers, open water bottles and any other open containers capable of holding alcohol, and sharp pointy metal objects like knitting needles, silverware, can openers, and of course, knives).
If you're considering smuggling in booze ... be aware that it is forbidden and security cameras line the Esplanade.
Most of the area behind the Hatch Shell, extending back to about Revere Street in Beacon Hill, is used as a staging area for equipment and is closed off to pedestrians.
In addition, the Island Lagoon is also a secured area with checkpoints at the Clarendon and Exeter Street Footbridges. These are best accessed by the Dartmouth and Fairfield Street Footbridges over Storrow Drive.
Although early arrival isn't quite so crucial for the fireworks, many of the prime spots along the river, especially on the Boston side and on the bridges, begin to fill up by late morning or early afternoon, depending on the weather. Somewhere between 4:30 and 6:30pm, areas near the Oval not blocked by trees get packed. Farther down the river, many people stake out their viewing spots by early afternoon, and by 6:30-7:30pm, these areas also are totally packed. The Cambridge side tends to be comparatively less crowded - but crowds here are still very dense.
Recorded music starts to be broadcast along the river at 12 noon in Boston, and at 6pm in Cambridge, so the riverbanks turn into a celebratory party.
Keep in mind that Boston Harborfest with 200+ events also takes place during this period - so if you want to do both and are in Boston for only 1 day, you may have to make some tough choices.
If watching the fireworks is your main objective, you'll find plenty of great spots along the 3-mile long Boston Esplanade as well as on the Cambridge side of the Charles River.
The fireworks are launched from barges between the Longfellow and Mass Ave Bridges, but they shoot so high up in the sky that you can see them for miles around.
As a generalization, great viewing sites are more plentiful on the Cambridge side, partly because it has fewer trees and partly it attracts smaller crowds. You'll be able to hear the concert (but not see it) from both sides of the river as it is broadcast from approximately 36 sound towers placed throughout the area.
Several viewing spots beyond the river banks to consider: the BU Bridge, the grassy lawn in front of MIT on the Cambridge side of the river, and the top of Bunker Hill in Charlestown. To get a prime spot in any of these locations, you'll need to arrive several hours early. The Mass Ave and Longfellow Bridges are closed to viewers, although they are open to pedestrians earlier in the day.
Castle Island is also a popular viewing spot because even though the view of the Boston fireworks will be slightly obstructed (you're 3 miles away with a good-sized chunk of downtown Boston between you and the launch site), if you get there early enough, you can also see fireworks from a couple of other nearby towns. Plus, it's a beautiful spot and usually gets cool breezes on even the hottest July day.
What's important to remember, though, is that Boston's fireworks make a huge display, totally lighting up the sky. As long as you're not behind a tall building blocking the view, you're going to be able to see the show easily from many Boston and Cambridge locations, so it's not worth obsessing about finding the "perfect" spot.
If you want to splurge, though, Top of the Hub is the place to be - just be sure to call very far in advance for reservations.
Alternately, check with Prudential Skywalk, where this photo was taken:
You'll be happy to know that plenty of portable toilets are located throughout the Boston and Cambridge areas along the river during this event.
You'll also see lots of concession stands selling food, non-alcoholic drinks, and souvenirs such as t-shirts.
The City of Boston regulates concession prices, so they're usually fairly reasonable, and vendors donate all merchandise profits to help fund the concert and fireworks event.
Many people feel the best place to view the fireworks is on the water.
For the ultimate fireworks viewing experience on July 4th, go on one of the special Fireworks Cruises in Boston Harbor. Times, lengths, and prices vary, but most of these cruises last from 6pm-11:30pm.
Here are the cruise and boat charter companies offering these special trips (some include dinner too) - contact them individually to find out options, availability, prices, departure points, and times:
- Boston Seaport Boat Charters - 617-261-6633
- Boston Yacht Charters - 617-268-1234
- Liberty Clipper 617-742-0333
- Massachusetts Bay Lines - 617-542-8000
- Odyssey Cruises and Spirit of Boston - 866-307-2469
Another fun option:
- Rent a canoe and watch the fireworks from the music. For more information, contact Charles River Canoe and Kayak, 617-965-5110; website (Boston Insider tip: Once you're sure you want to do this, reserve your canoe as soon as possible to avoid disappointment!)
Do note - if you're in a canoe or small boat on the water and you see lightening or hear thunder, head to shore immediately!
If you're staying in a Boston hotel for July 4th, keep in mind that several offer spectacular views - although you need to request a room with a river view on a higher floor when making your reservations, and confirm the view. Public spaces in many of these hotels may also offer terrific views.
Essentials: Boston Hotels for Watching Fireworks
Boston hotels with views of the fireworks: Click the hotel name to check for best rates. To be sure of getting a room with a view, be sure to call the hotel directly to check availability.
- Hotel Commonwealth (Fenway) - 617-262-9554
- Eliot Hotel (Back Bay) - 617-267-1607
- Liberty Hotel (West End) - 617-224-4000
- Cambridge Marriott (Cambridge) - 617-494-6600
- More Boston hotels with views from your room (or even your own balcony) of the fireworks
Boston hotels within easy walking distance to spots to view the fireworks:
- Mandarin Oriental (Back Bay)
- Marriott Residence Inn (Cambridge)
- Copley Square Hotel (Back Bay)
- Park Plaza Hotel (Back Bay)
- Hotel Buckminster (Fenway)
When else can you see fireworks in Boston? If you miss the fireworks on July 4th, visit Boston for New Year's Eve and enjoy fireworks as part of the First Night Boston celebration.
Although fireworks, the Pops concert, and Harborfest headline Boston's huge July 4th weekend celebrations, plenty more entertainment goes on in the city.
Here's a rundown on more events happening on July 4th weekend - and as a bonus, they have half-price or discount tickets available:
- Fireworks Cruise Plus 21+ Dance Party with DJ on July 3
- Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare @ Davis Square Theatre
- Boston Duck Tours from Museum of Science
- Tall Ship Adirondack III - Day sail around Boston Harbor
- Sunset Harbor Cruise
- Newsies @ the Boston Opera House
- Blue Man Group @ Charles Playhouse - Ongoing
- Improv Asylum's The NXT Show @ Improve Asylum in the North End
- IndepenDANCE Party Cruise - Boston Harbor
- Shear Madness at the Charles Playhouse
- Romantic Sunset Sail on the Adirondack III
Light rain isn't an issue, but yes, thunderstorms can pose a problem for the concert and fireworks.
In the event of lightening or strong wind, personnel must be evacuated from the barges in the river where the fireworks are launched, and lightening could pose a danger for the crowds of spectators along the riverbanks as well.
In regard to the possibility of a last-minute cancellation of the show due to weather conditions, a spokesperson for Boston 4th Productions, coordinator for the show, has been quoted as saying, "We will consult with our weather forecasters and a team of public safety officials before any decision is made.. . . . As always, the main thing is public safety. We are not going to endanger the public.”
As anyone from Boston or elsewhere in New England knows, our July weather can be tricky...cloudless blue skies one moment can morph into a dramatic thunderstorm the next.
The best way to get to the Pops concert and Boston fireworks show is by public transportation and walking, as parking is very limited in the area and crowds will be dense. More people than cars will be filling the streets, making driving even more difficult than usual. Many streets are closed to traffic, and those that remain open will be gridlocked after the fireworks end.
Bonus: you can travel free on the T after 9:30pm on the 4th - this year, since July 4 is on a Saturday, there will be late night service along with key bus routes between the hours of 1am - 2:30am.
Closest T stations for Pops concerts and Boston fireworks:
- Boston - Green Line/Arlington or Red Line/Charles-MGH
- Cambridge - Red Line/Kendall-MIT
Closed footbridge alert: If you're planning to watch from the Esplanade (Boston side of the river), you will not be able to use either the Fiedler Footbridge or the Charles Street Footbridge to cross Storrow Drive as they are blocked off on these days.
Instead, cross over to the Esplanade using the Dartmouth, Fairfield, or Mass Ave Footbridges.
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