You may know Boston's Esplanade as the site of the nationally-broadcast Boston Pops July 4th concert and fireworks - but that's just the beginning of what you can enjoy here!
The Esplanade, a leafy park edging the Boston side of the Charles River, stretches along the water for about 3 miles from the Museum of Science to Boston University.
But you may not know about all other free concerts ranging from pop to classical, family-friendly movies, shows, festivals, and celebrations on Boston's most unique outdoor performance stage on the Esplanade overlooking the Charles River.
The Esplanade provides an idyllic place to go for a run, stroll, or just settle into a chair and relax in the sun awhile you watch sailboats drift by.
A narrow strip of land ("The Island") extends into the river and forms a sort of pool ("The Lagoon"). Small arched footbridges connect these areas, and paths link everything together.
Although the Esplanade attracts lots of visitors for the Independence Day concerts, at other times of the year you'll find mostly locals and "temporary locals" (a.k.a. college students) than tourists here - maybe because you can get to it only by footbridges across traffic-filled Storrow Drive.
Top photo: Flowering cherry trees blooming during April on the Boston Esplanade - that's the Hatch Shell on the right, (c) Boston Discovery Guide
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10 Fun Things to Do, See, & Enjoy on Boston's Esplanade
1. Celebrate July 4th on the Esplanade with Fireworks & Boston Pops Concerts
By far the biggest Esplanade events are the July 4th concert in the Hatch Shell and spectacular fireworks show to celebrate Independence Day.
Up to a million spectators turn out for these famous events, and many of them stake out spots along the Esplanade or Cambridge side of the river.
You can easily hear the music on both sides of the river, thanks to powerful speakers, but if you want a good view of the fireworks, you'll want to avoid being behind huge trees.
2. Cheer Rowers in the Head of the Charles Regatta
The 2-day Head of the Charles Regatta takes place every October along a 3-mile stretch of the Charles River, and is Boston's biggest rowing event.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators line the river banks and bridges to watch almost 10,000 elite rowers from around the world compete in over 50 events.
Check the October event calendar exact dates.
More boat races on the Esplanade:
- Run of the Charles - New England's biggest canoe and kayak event
- Dragon Boat Races & Festival - Biggest dragon boat race in the U.S.
3. Admire Boston's Spectacular Fall Foliage Along the Esplanade
From late September through late November/early December, the Esplanade provides one of Boston's best viewing spots as breath-taking fall foliage colors paint the city gold, orange, and crimson.
You'll find the best fall foliage views from the footbridges connecting the river bank with "The Island,"and from the floating docks on the river itself.
Or walk, run, or bike down the paths along the Esplanade to feel immersed in the gorgeous colors.
4. Welcome Spring as the Esplanade Bursts into Bloom
The return of warm weather in April totally transforms Boston with a giddy display of color each spring, and there's no better place to experience this magical period than on the Esplanade, where dozens and dozens of cherry trees burst into full bloom, seemingly all at once.
In reality, there are several different variety of cherries planted here, so they actually bloom over an extended period of time, giving you a longer opportunity to enjoy their beauty.
Stroll along the Esplanade's meandering paths, bring a picnic, soak up the beauty.
Where to Stay near the Esplanade
Liberty Hotel - Known for its fun jailhouse theme (yes, it actually was once a jail), acclaimed restaurants and bars, and luxurious rooms, the Liberty's location close to the Esplanade via the Charles Street Footbridge makes it an ideal location if you're attending July 4th festivities
Wyndham Hotel - This affordable choice with spacious rooms near the Liberty Hotel and MGH puts it close to the Esplanade
The Newbury Boston - The luxurious Newbury is close to the Fiedler Footbridge to the Esplanade, means it's also an ideal place to stay for the July 4th concert and fireworks - plus you'll love being right on Newbury Street
Whitney Hotel - This lovely boutique hotel in the heart of Beacon Hill lets you experience the charms of this historic neighborhood while putting you close to the Charles Street and Fiedler Footbridges to the Esplanade
Find Hotels near the Esplanade on this Map
Enter your travel dates to see what's available and rates for your dates:
5. Relax on the Esplanade's "Beach"
OK, the five floating docks scattered along the Esplanade may not be a real beach, but they're a good substitute when you want to soak up some sun in the city.
Even better, they're convenient to get to - and their relatively sheltered location means that as long as the sun is shining, you'll feel reasonably warm here - even on crisp November days!
6. Listen to Free Concerts under the Stars at the Esplanade's Hatch Shell
Almost every week throughout July and August, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra performs free evening concerts at the Esplanade's Hatch Shell, the gorgeous concert stage where the Boston Pops performs the July 4th concert.
Bring a blanket and perhaps low folding chairs, a picnic dinner, and enjoy an evening of wonderful music under the stars.
7. Enjoy Family Activities & Free Friday Flicks on Boston's Esplanade
Families love the Esplanade because of its three child-friendly playgrounds, bike paths (also perfect for rollerblading/inline skating), snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter), sailing lessons for teens (more about that in a minute), and perhaps most of all, Free Friday Flicks at the Hatch Shell almost every week from mid-June through August.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030 (Boston's CBS affiliate) sponsors the family-oriented feature-length movies, which begin at sundown and attract thousands of viewers. Check our June, July, and August event calendars for details.
Playgrounds at the Esplanade include:
- Esplanade Playspace (near the Hatch Shell and Fiedler Footbridge) - Designed for kids (5-12 years). Structures for climbing, zip lining, spinning, and swinging help increase upper body strength.
- Charlesbank Playground (near Museum of Science at Charles Street/Longfellow and the Teddy Ebersol's Red Sox Fields) - Play areas for toddlers, kids (5-12), and those with wheels (tricycles, bicycles) who will enjoy the paved path. The playground has climbing structures, tubes/tunnel, slides, and swings.
- Stoneman Playground (between Fairfield and Massachusetts Avenue) - Features a toddler playground (children 3 and under) with climbing structures, slides, swings, and a pretend car, and a playground for older kids with a more challenging equipment, including a fire pole, monkey bars, and more to climb.
Kids always get hungry - so bring your own picnic, or head over to the Charles River Bistro near the Fiedler Footbridge for food and beverages. It's open between April and October, and even offers a Live Jazz Brunch on the weekends!
Want the adult-equivalent of a playground where you can get plenty of exercise? Check out the Exercise Course by the Silber Way Footbridge (located between the Mass Ave Bridge and BU Bridge). You'll find outdoor gym equipment for body weight exercises such as pull-ups as well as for stretching.
Fun Boston Sightseeing Tours
8. Check Out the Esplanade's Many Statues
Like every other park and open space in Boston, the Esplanade has its share of statues and monuments dedicated to war heroes, politicians, and contributors to the city's culture.
You'll recognize the names of some, and be clueless about others.
Most striking is the enormous sphinx-like head of the late Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler who conducted the first concert at the Hatch Shell back in 1929.
Newton-based sculptor Ralph Helmick carved Fiedler's head from layers of aluminum in different thicknesses.
But . . . the price for most startling goes to the bronze statue of General George S. Patton, Jr. of World War II fame, shown gazing across the river toward Cambridge, Boston's sister city to the north. He's holding a pair of binoculars, and a gun is strapped to his side.
So you have to ask...what is the General doing? Shooting ducks on the Charles? Searching for enemies across the river in Cambridge?
Well, no. The original statue is at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, where no doubt the binoculars and gun don't look out of place.
Patton's father-in-law, wealthy textile tycoon Frederick Ayer who lived a few blocks away on Commonwealth Avenue in what is now called the Frederick Ayer Mansion, simply wanted to honor his famous son-in-law by installing this copy on the Esplanade.
9. Tour the Esplanade on Foot (or on Wheels, Skis, or Whatever)
The best way to explore the Esplanade is on foot . . . unless you're on wheels (a bike, rollerblades/inline skates, whatever), snowshoes, cross-country skis . . . you get the idea!
The Esplanade is accessible throughout the year. Except for a few limited-access events such as concerts at the Hatch Shell where security perimeters are in place and occasional private fund-raising events at Community Boating Boathouse, you can move freely throughout the park's expanse.
If you want to explore by bike and don't have one, you'll find bikeshare station near the Fiedler Footbridge. Find out more about bike tours and rentals in Boston
Interested in running (or otherwise exploring) the Charles River Loop, as the running path along the Esplanade and Cambridge side of the Charles is called? Find out more, including water fountain locations
10. Go Sailing and Kayaking from the Esplanade
Community Boating, a non-profit organization with a boathouse on the Esplanade near the Charles Street Footbridge, offers affordable sailing and kayaking lessons, as well as access to boats to pre-teens, teens, and adults.
Boston Esplanade Facts & Trivia
- What is an esplanade? An esplanade is a long, level area where people may walk
- Boston Esplanade created: 1910 when the Charles River Dam construction created a fresh-water basin; before then, the area had been a wasteland of smelly mudflats
- Original name: Boston Embankment
- Number of trees today: Almost 2,000
- Length of the Esplanade: Almost 3 miles along the Boston side of the Charles River
- Total length of paths: 6 miles
- Most abused Esplanade patron: Helen Storrow, who donated $1 million in 1930 to establish a park along the Esplanade on the condition that a road would never be built there. As soon as she died in 1949, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to build a road along the Esplanade and named it Storrow Drive when it opened in 1951.
- Did you know: The Esplanade is part of the larger Charles River Reservation
- The Esplanade is managed by: The Esplanade Association, a privately funded non-profit organization that works in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to enhance the Charles River Reservation, preserve green space, and provide educational, recreational, and cultural programs for everyone. It invests over $1,000,000 in the park each year. Find out more about the Esplanade Association on their website
How to Get to the Boston Esplanade
Getting to the Esplanade
Heavy traffic on Storrow Drive separates the Esplanade from Boston Proper - so you must use a footbridge to cross over the 6-lane highway.
Fortunately, you can choose from 8 different footbridges. The 2 most centrally-located bridges are:
- Arthur Fiedler Footbridge (between Back Bay and Beacon Hill) - At the corner of Beacon and Arlington Streets next to the Public Garden, cross Beacon Street and slightly to your left, pick up Arlington Street (now named Mugar Way) and walk toward the river. You'll almost immediately see the curving Fiedler Footbridge arching over Storrow Drive. Savor the expansive views as you walk up the ramp. Closest T station: Green Line/Arlington
- Charles Street Footbridge (between Beacon Hill and the West End) - You'll easily see the bridge from the corner of Charles Street and Cambridge Street. Closest T station: Red Line/Charles-MGH
More to See & Do in Boston
More Articles about Boston's Parks
- Find about top activities at the Hatch Shell
- What to do & see on Boston's Greenway
- Take a self-guided Greenway Tour
- Find out more about exploring the Esplanade & other Boston areas on bike tours
- Top attractions on Boston Common, North America's oldest park
- Explore the Victorian-era Public Garden
- Self-guided walking tour through Boston Common & other areas on a rainy day