Boston Harborfest

Boston Harborfest 2020

Join Boston's Week-Long Independence Day Celebration

Boston Harborfest, the largest Independence Day festival in the United States, celebrates Boston's colonial, Revolutionary War, and maritime history and heritage with fireworks, entertainers, historical reenactments, music, events along the Freedom Trail, Harbor cruises, walking tours, plus a lot more!


Almost 3 million people from all over the world visit Boston during early July.

Although the best-known Independence Day celebrations are the Boston Pops Concerts and July 4th Fireworks Spectacular, Harborfest packs 200+ other events into the festival's fun-filled days. 

Festivities begin on June 28 and run through July 4, (to be confirmed) and take place in Historic Downtown and the Downtown Waterfront, Faneuil Hall, Charlestown Navy Yard, and Long Wharf. 

A number of Harborfest events are free this year, while the rest range from inexpensive to pricy.

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 2020 celebration marks the 38th anniversary of this gala summer event. 

Top photo:  Reenactors on Boston's Marshall Street, part of the Blackstone Block Historic District in one of the oldest parts of the city

Hightlights:  Boston's Harborfest - Free Activities

Colonial reenactors during Boston's Harborfest
Quincy Market in Boston's historic Faneuil Marketplace

July 1:  Arts at Harborfest

Visit Downtown Crossing, where local artists will display and sell the work from 10am-6pm.  If you're visiting Boston, an original work of art by a Boston artist could be your special souvenir!

July 1-3:  Live Music

Come enjoy a variety of musical acts in Downtown Crossing by mostly local groups from our vibrant Boston music scene. July 2:  Harborfest Opening Ceremony

Colonial reenactors during Boston's Harborfest
Reenactors wearing 18th century Colonial and British costumes

Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 11am-1pm - Boston Mayor Marty Walsh launches Harborfest in this festive event at Faneuil Hall on the Freedom Trail with speeches and cutting of the Official Boston Harborfest cake.  Costumed reenactors add authenticity.

July 2:  Chowderfest! 

Back by popular demand, the Chowderfest returns to Harborfest from 12 noon - 2pm and gives you the opportunity to taste free samples of authentic clam chowder made by top Boston restaurants and vote to determine which is the best in the city.  The Merchant, Waterline, and Artisan Bistro are among the participating restaurants.  

July 2:   Parade of Lights & Fireworks on the Harbor

Brightly-lit boats of all shapes and sizes form a sparkling parade around the Inner Harbor and Seaport waterfront at 8:30pm, followed by dazzling fireworks lighting up the sky at 9pm. 

Enjoy the views along the Downtown Waterfront, Seaport and East Boston shore - or treat yourself to front-row seats on these special Parade of Lights/Fireworks harbor cruises:

-  Northern Lights' Fireworks & Lighted Boat Parade Cruise - A classic 1920s style commuter yacht; includes desserts, cheese, flatbreads, sliced fruit, plus cash bar

-  Adirondack III Fireworks & Lighted Boat Parade Cruise - An 80' tall ship-type schooner; includes desserts, cheese, flatbreads, sliced fruit, plus cash bar - ABOUT TO SELL OUT

July 4:   Boston Pops Concert & Fireworks Spectacular on the Esplanade

Boston Pops Concert and Fireworks
July 4th Boston Pops concert at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade - Photo by Jay Connor and courtesy of Boston4 Productions

Boston Pops Concert and Fireworks - Don't miss Boston's legendary July 4th celebration on the Esplanade. 

Find out about the concert and fireworks, and when to arrive

July 4: USS Constitution Turn-Around Cruise

USS Constitution in Boston Harbor
USS Constitution doing her turn-around cruise in Boston Harbor on July 4th

The USS Constitution makes her annual turn-around cruise in Boston Harbor each Fourth of July to celebrate our nation's independence. 

The magnificent 204 foot-long wood-hulled ship which first launched in 1797 and is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world will sail out to Fort Independence on Castle Island, exchange a 21-gun salute, and then turn around and head back into the Inner Harbor and exchange cannon fire with Boston's Coast Guard Base in the North End.

Departure from Charlestown Navy Yard's Pier One takes place at 10:45am and she returns to her Navy Yard berth across from the USS Constitution Museum at 2pm. 

Watch from points along the harbor or Castle Island, or even better, from the water on the Schooner Adirondack III or the Northern Lights:

USS Constitution Turnaround Sail aboard Northern Lights, with 3-course brunch made on board

USS Constitution Turnaround Sail aboard Adirondack III, with pastries, bagels, muffins, fruit, and dessert

July 4:  City of Boston's Independence Day Ceremony 

Boston Harborfest activities
Reenactor portraying Crispus Attucks, first Colonist killed by the British troops during the Boston Massacre, who was laid to rest in Granary Burying Ground

Join a flag-raising ceremony on City Hall Plaza at 9am followed by a parade to the Granary Burying Ground where wreathes will be laid on the graves of the Patriots buried there.  Afterwards, the parade continues to its destination, the Old State House.  

More Harborfest Events - July 1 - 7

Colonial reenactors during Boston's Harborfest
Faneuil Hall, on the Freedom Trail

Revolutionary King's Chapel Talks

10am-5pm, every half hour at starting at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour (58 Tremont Street) - Stories about key figures and events at pre-revolutionary King's Chapel on the Freedom Trail.  Free, but suggested donation to visit the chapel is $4.  July 1 - 7.

Redcoats: Changing of the Guard Ceremony

Colonial reenactors during Boston's Harborfest
Quincy Market in Boston's historic Faneuil Marketplace

You'll feel like you're back in Colonial Boston in 1775 when you watch this special reenactment of the Redcoats' Changing of the Guard Ceremony and watch costumed reenactors interact with them from 12 noon - 2pm.  Downtown Crossing at Washington and Summer Streets.  Free.

Freedom Trail Walk into History Tours

From 10:15am - 6pm on July 1-4, you can join daily tours along the Freedom Trail led by costumed guides.  Tours leave on the hour every hour from the Boston Common Visitor Information Center (139 Tremont Street) and last 90 minutes each.  Adults $14, Seniors/Students $12, Children 6-12 $8.

Reenactor portraying Paul Revere
Quincy Market in Boston's historic Faneuil Marketplace

Where to Stay during Boston's Harborfest

Many of the city's most popular hotels will become fully booked during the Harborfest period and rates will reflect summer peaks - but there are always good options whwen you know where to look.  Here's some information to help you get started:

Hotels in great locations for Harborfest activities

Hotels near the Pops concert and fireworks on the Esplanade

Inexpensive Boston hotels

Conveniently located hotels outside the city

Newest Boston hotels  

You will find the best rates if you book early and stay flexible about the location, especially since Boston is a very walkable city and has decent public transportation.  

More Things to Do and See in Boston

More Events & Tours at Historic Sites

Most of these events require small admission fees which support the upkeep of these historic Freedom Trail sites.

Old North Church

Visit Captain Jackson's Historic Chocolate Shop (21 Unity Street, Boston's North End, inside the Clough House by Old North Church) where costumed Colonial reenactors will show you how chocolate was made during the 18th century.   See Old North Church's photography exhibit commemorating bravery and action.  More info:  https://oldnorth.com

King's Chapel 

King's Chapel's History Program offers a variety of interesting programs and tours.  Find out more:  http://www.kings-chapel.org/history--tours.html

They also offer outstanding short (about 35 minutes long) concerts every Tuesday at 12:15pm throughout the year.  See the schedule:  http://www.kings-chapel.org/tuesday-recitals.html

Boston Harbor Cruises

Boston sailing and yacht cruises
 

Tour Boston by boat - the best way to see the city!   Check out these fun sightseeing, music, and entertainment Boston Harbor cruises on the Yacht Northern Lights and Schooner Adirondack III:

  • Adirondack III Day Sail - Enjoy cool breezes and the afternoon sun on this relaxing sightseeing sail around Boston Harbor and the Inner Harbor Islands - Choose a 1.5 or 2 hour sail on this classic 80-foot pilot schooner
  • Boston Harbor Cruise on Northern Lights - Soak up Boston's unique sites and rich history on this comfortable sightseeing cruise around the Harbor - perfect friends and family experience!  Drinks and small bites are available for purchase at the bar
  • Adirondack III Sunset Sail - Relax as the setting sun turns the sky brilliant colors during this calming sunset sailing experience
  • Northern Lights Sunset Cruise - Unwind on this popular after-work cruise as the sky changes brilliant colors and light music plays in the background.  Stop by the bar for a drink, watch the sights go by, and hear the USS Constitution's traditional sunset salute
  • City Lights Champagne Cruise on Northern Lights - Unwind with a glass of champagne as you gaze at Boston's sparkling skyline as relaxing music plays softly in the background on this after-dark cruise around the Harbor

July 4th Cruises

Boston Harborfest activities

Enjoy a spectacular cruise around Boston Harbor on the 4th - as well as almost every other day this summer.  The following companies offer fireworks cruises on the 4th, regular cruises at other times, and/or charters:

Essentials: Boston Harborfest


Boston Harbor cruises during Harborfest

Boston Insider Tips for Harborfest

  • 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

More Events at Harborfest Venues

Many of the attractions listed above offer additional events during Harborfest and throughout the summer.  Check their websites to find out more:

Old State House:  www.revolutionaryboston.org/revboston/events/upcoming

Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park

Boston Public Market 

Massachusetts State House:  www.sec.state.ma.us/trs/trsidx.htm

Paul Revere House:  www.paulreverehouse.org

Faneuil Hall:  www.nps.gov/bost/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm

Old North Church:  http://oldnorth.com/

Freedom Trail Foundation:  www.thefreedomtrail.org

Boston by Foot:  www.bostonbyfoot.org/

Museum of African-American History:  www.afroammuseum.org

Otis House - www.historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/otis-house

Bunker Hill Monument and Museum:  www.nps.gov/bost/learn/historyculture/bhm.htm

USS Constitution:  www.navy.mil/local/constitution

USS Constitution Museum:  www.ussconstitutionmuseum.org


Need a Boston Hotel?

Use this handy hotel map from Booking.com to find the perfect place to stay.  Just enter your dates to find what's available, see the best rates, and make your reservations.

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