Boston Harborfest 2013

Boston's Huge Independence Day Celebration

U.S.S. Constitution, photo by Journalist 2nd Class Todd Stevens, U.S. Navy
Boats in Boston Harbor - Just a glimps of Harborfest

Boston Harborfest, the largest Independence Day festival in the United States, showcases over 200 events during its 6 days, including fireworks, entertainers, historical reenactments, music, Harbor cruises, walking tours, and Chowderfest - plus a lot more!

Almost 3 million people from all over the world come to Boston for the festival.

Although the best-known Harborfest celebrations are the Boston Pops Concerts and July 4th Fireworks, you'll also find over 200 other events packed into the festival's 6 days. 

Special highlights involve the annual Boston Harbor appearance on July 4th of War of 1812 veteran tall ship "Old Ironsides," U.S.S. Constitution and everyone's favorite food event, Chowderfest.

Festivities begin on July 2, run through July 7th, and take place in central Boston neighborhoods including Historic Downtown, the Downtown Waterfront, Boston Common, Charlestown, the South Boston Waterfront, the North End, and even the Boston Harbor Islands National Park. 

Some Harborfest events are free, while the rest range from inexpensive to pricey.

If you need a convenient place to stay, check out our recommendations for Boston hotels for Harborfest, based on location.

Boston Harborfest dates back to 1981, so the 2013 celebration marks the 32nd anniversary. 

Boston Harborfest festures Colonial reenactors
You'll see lots of Colonial attire worn by reenactors during Harborfest
I took this photo near Union Oyster House - you can see part of Haymarket in the background


Harborfest Boston 2013 daily schedule of events

Here are highlights of key events you'll find each day at Boston Harborfest.  Keep in mind that this is just a sampling - you'll get to choose from over 200 different daily events, cruises, tours, concerts, and celebrations.


July 2: Harborfest Opening Ceremony

Main event:  Opening Ceremony, 12 noon - 12:30pm - West End of Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Early 19th Century Gun Drills, 12 noon-12:30pm, 2pm-2:30pm - USS Constitution, Charlestown Navy Yard in Charlestown - watch the full sequence of a Naval gun drill using a 24-pound long gun.  Note:  Multiple events will take place in the Navy Yard all afternoon.  Find out more about visiting the USS Constitution

Music at the Marketplace - 12:30pm - 2pm - West end of Faneuil Hall

Guided tours of the Massachusetts State House Grounds & Outdoor Statues, 12 noon-12:45pm - Meet at 2nd floor tour desk in the State House.  Free, but reservations requested: 617-727-3676

Whispers of Revolution: Plotting the Boston Tea Party, 12 noon-12:45pm - Reenactment at the Old South Meeting House (617-482-6439).  Admission $1-$6

What's Under the Golden Dome?, 12 noon-12:45pm - Meet at 2nd floor tour desk - tour of the Massachusetts State House.  Free; 617-727-3676

Puritans, Patriots, and Pirates, 12 noon-3pm - Meet at King's Chapel, tour the Burial Ground, and hear about Puritan traditions, Patriots, and local Pirates.  Donations appreciated.

Freedom Trail Tours, 12 noon-4pm - Meet at Boston Common Visitor's Center (139 Tremont St) for a walking tour of the Freedom Trail led by a Colonial guide/reenactor.  Admission $7-$13. 

Blockade! 1813, 12 noon-4pm - USS Constitution Museum in the Charlestown Navy Yard in Charlestown (617-426-1812) - Learn about how sailors kept up their fighting skills during the Seige of Boston.  Admission by donation.

Tour of Otis House, 12 noon-4:30pm - Tour the elegant mansion (141 Cambridge St, 617-994-5920) where Harrison Gray Otis, a Congressman, Senator, and the 3rd Mayor of Boston, lived with his wife and children.  Admission $4-$8.

Tall Ships Sailing aboard the Liberty Schooners, 12 noon-5pm; 6pm-8pm; 8:30pm-10:30pm - Sail Boston Harbor on the majestic Liberty Clipper and Liberty Star (617-742-0333) - board at Central Wharf next to the New England Aquarium.  Admission $19-$35.   (8:30 cruises feature singing, music, and libations under the stars, and are 21+)  Make reservations at:

Scavenger Hunt at the Old South Meeting House, where the Tea Party began - 12 noon-5pm (617-482-6439) - Fun for all ages, plus prizes!  Admission $1-$6.

Tour Boston by Land and Water - 12noon - 10pm:

A Paul Revere Walking Tour - 2pm - 3:30pm, Paul Revere House in Boston's North End - Guided walking tour of Revere's neighborhood with a private tour of the Old North Church bell chamber; admission is $10 adults, $6 children (5-17)

Bells and Bones - 1:30pm-3:30pm, King's Chapel, corner of Tremont and School Streets, Historic Downtown - Tour the King's Chapel Burying Ground (Boston's oldest graveyard) and crypt, and learn about Colonial burial practices; visit the Revere bell in the tower; admission $7, ages 10+


July 3:  Children's Day

Main event:  Children's Day at Harborfest - 10am - 3pm, City Hall Plaza - Children's Day activities include jugglers, face painting, and the Music Fun Band

Town Hall Blues Band - 4pm - 7pm, City Hall Plaza - Dance to a wide variety of classical and original rock and blues

The Adams Family . . . in Boston - 6pm - 7:30pm (617-367-2345) - Meet at the Boston Massacre marker on the east side of the Old State House, and join Boston by Foot for this fascinating walking tour featuring reenactors portraying John and Abigail Adams, and 3 generations of their descendents.  Admission $12

Many more daily events - see previous days


July 3 - Boston Pops Concert

Boston Pops Concert on the Esplanade

Many Daily events - see previous days


July 4 Boston Pops Concert and Fireworks

Independence Day Flag Raising Ceremony and Parade - 9am-10am, starts at City Hall Plaza, goes to the Granary Burying Ground on the Freedom Trail, and then to the Old State House

USS Constitution 21-Gun Salute in Boston Harbor, 11am-1pm - Watch this annual turn-around cruise by "Old Ironsides" from the Charlestown Navy Yard to Castle Island (good viewing spot) with a 21-cannon salute to the Nation at 12:05pm. 

Cruise boats offering Turnaround cruises (from 9:30am-2:30pm):

  • Bay State Cruise Company (617-748-1435)
  • Boston Seaport Boat Charters (617-261-6633)
  • Boston Yacht Charters (617-268-1234)
  • Charles Riverboat Company (617-621-3001)
  • Liberty Fleet (617-742-0333)
  • Massachusetts Bay Lines (617-542-8000)
  • Odyssey Cruises (866-307-2469)
  • Spirit of Boston  (866-310-2469)

Reading of the Declaration of Independence - 10am-10:30am - Reenactment of the first reading from the Old State House, just as it was on July 18, 1776. 

Tours of Fort Independence at Castle Island - 1pm-4pm (617-727-5290)

Cape Verdean Independence Celebration at City Hall Plaza, North Stage - 2pm-7pm - Music, dancing, traditional games, arts and crafts, and vendors selling delicious Kriolu food

Patriotic Concert at City Hall Plaza (617-227-1528) - 2pm-4pm

Clambake on Spectacle Island - 6pm-9pm, Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area (617-770-0040) - Enjoy an authentic New England clambake with lobsters by Summer Shack on the beach; $75-$80; reservations required

Fireworks Cruises cruises (from 6pm-11:30pm - cruise times, lengths, and prices vary; reservations required):

  • Bay State Cruise Company (617-748-1435)
  • Boston Seaport Boat Charters (617-261-6633)
  • Boston Yacht Charters (617-268-1234)
  • Massachusetts Bay Lines (617-542-8000)

Dinner Cruise of the Harbor - 7:30pm-11pm, Spirit of Boston - Dinner and music; reservations required; admission about $92

Boston Pops Concert and July 4th Fireworks, 7:30pm-10pm on the Esplanade

Tall Ship BBQ and Fireworks Cruise, 9pm-11:30pm – Aboard the Liberty Clipper and Liberty Star (617-742-0333) - departs from Central Wharf at the New England
Aquarium; Admission $125; reservations required

Many more daily events - see previous days


Fun Boston Tours

Boston Movie Tours - Get Discount Boston Whale Watching Tours - Discounts Boston Ghosts and Graveyard Tours - Not just for Halloween Complete Guide to Boston Tours


July 5 & 6 Harborfest Events 

Daily events - see previous days


July 7 Harborfest Events - Chowderfest!

Main event:  Everyone's favorite . . . Chowderfest - 11am-6pm, City Hall Plaza - Sample New England clam chowder from the area's best restaurants, and vote for your favorite.  Over 2,000 gallons of chowder get served each year - that's a lot of "chowdah."  Admission $8-$11

Dozens of other cruises, tours, and events at Freedom Trail sites

Daily events - see previous days

Ice sculptures at First Night Boston-



Daily Harborfest Events

Whiskers, Flippers, and Fun at the free outdoor Seal Exhibit at New England Aquarium Plaza - open all day

Early 19th Century Gun Drills - 2pm - 2:30pm - USS Constitution, Charlestown Navy Yard - Full sequence of a naval gun drill using a 24-pound long gun

Historic Boston Pubs - (21+), 5:30pm - 7pm - Get tickets (admission $43) at the BosTix booth at Faneuil Hall Marketplace - Visit the real headquarters of the American Revolution - Tour 4 historic Boston pubs 

Whale watch cruises

Fun historical tours by Boston on Foot

Boston Harbor Islands - Explorations, hikes, and even kayaking led by Park Rangers, and jazz from noon-4pm on July 3rd on Spectacle Island

Boston Duck Tours

Boston Harbor Cruises of all sorts - dinner cruises, tall ship cruises, fireworks cruises, and more - basically, every cruise ship offers special cruises during the 6 days of Boston Harborfest

Massachusetts State House - Beacon at Park Street on Beacon Hill - Free tours of State House and gardens at various times - Call 617-727-3676 for reservations

. . . and many, many more fun Boston Harborfest events!

Ice sculptures at First Night Boston-


Essentials: Boston Harborfest

Boston Insider tips:

  • Slather yourself with sunscreen
  • Bring a water bottle
  • Many events require reservations - make them early!
  • Get a Boston Discount Card to get discounts on some events and admission fees; if in doubt, be sure to verify that you can use the card for specific Harborfest events
  • Make hotel reservations as early as possible to get the best rates; Boston gets VERY crowded during early July because Harborfest, the July 4th Fireworks, and the Boston Pops concerts attract HUGE numbers of visitors to the city


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