From April through much of September, Boston's swan boats glide across the Lagoon in the Public Garden, just as they have every year since 1877.  

Swan boat season begins in mid-April, and lasts through the last Sunday in mid-September - a popular summer activity in Boston for tourists and locals alike. 

The Swan Boat cruise is short - only about 15 minutes - but it gives you the perfect way to relax, soak up the beauty of the surrounding garden, and experience tranquility in the middle of a busy city.

You'll see plenty of mallard ducks, the little island made famous by Make Way for Ducklings, and perhaps even a stately pair of friendly real swans.  Sometimes they'll even swim along with your swan boat, giving you fantastic photo opps.

If you're visiting Boston and looking for things to do that capture the essence of the city, don't miss the chance to take a swan boat ride (or two). 

After plying the water for 140+ years, they're a Boston cultural icon, right up there with the red and white neon Citgo sign, Fenway Park, and, of course, lobster rolls and clam chowder. 

Top photo;  Swan boat ride around the lagoon in the Public Garden

Why are Boston's Swan Boats Swans?

Look closely, and you can see the swan boat crew member pumping the pedals as he steers the boat around a curve
Look closely, and you can see the swan boat crew member pumping the pedals as he steers the boat around a curve

Back in the 1870s, the City of Boston granted a "boat for hire" license to Robert Paget.  At that time, rowing small boats across the Public Garden's lagoon was a favorite activity of many Bostonians. 

Paget, whose descendants still own and operate the Boston Swan Boats business, decided to introduce a new kind of pleasure boat based on catamarans powered by a foot-propelled paddle wheel mechanism.  In effect, Swan Boats are operated somewhat like bicycles . . . except that they float in the water, lack wheels, and carry about 20-25 passengers.

Inspired by Lohengrin, a popular opera by Richard Wagner in which swans pull a boat carrying a knight on a mission to rescue a beautiful maiden, Paget decided to camouflage his boat operators with the shape of a much-larger-than-life swan made from copper.

What are the Swan Boats Like Today?

Swan Boats in Boston Public Garden

Each swan boat is constructed from 2 pontoons, 30 feet long, about 3 feet wide, and spaced about 3 feet apart with wooden flooring on top.  Six wooden benches with side rails provide seating for up to 20 passengers. 

The grandson of Robert Paget, also named Robert Paget, built the oldest of the current fleet of 6 boats in 1918.

The swans, still as beautiful as ever, are now made from white fiberglass.

The swan boats pull up at a wooden dock outside the ticket building. Crew members carefully guide passengers on board.

This swan boat is pushing off from the boarding ramp
This swan boat is pushing off from the boarding ramp

A crew member, mostly hidden behind the boat's swan, pedals and steers each boat in a figure-eight pattern around the Public Garden's lagoon at a leisurely speed of about 2 miles per hour.  Many of the crew members - mostly local college students - are athletes who see the pedaling as a great workout for their leg and thigh muscles.

Boston's Swan Boats are unique - they're the only swan boats of this type in the world. 

What Will You See When You Go for a Swan Boat Ride?

Real swans nesting next to the Lagoon as a Swan Boat glides by
Romeo and Juliet, the Public Garden's real swans, nesting next to the Lagoon as a Swan Boat glides by

The swan boats initially head toward the southern end of the lagoon.  You may notice tall Boston buildings in the distance . . . or you may focus only on green grass, rippling water, and leafy trees.

As your swan boat slowly circles the lagoon's edge and then turns north, you'll see the expanse of water stretching out ahead of you, and perhaps another boat pushing off from the dock.  If you're a fan of E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, you may imagine Louis, the mute swan, swimming along by the side of your boat and playing his trumpet. 

You'll pass under the Public Garden's beautiful 19th century suspension bridge, and then emerge in the north part of the pond.

You'll circle the island make famous by Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings.   This is the spot where Mrs. Mallard - a fictional duck supposedly modeled after an actual wild duck who decided to make her nest in a Swan Boat - brought her 8 young ducklings to live after hatching them in the nearby Charles River. 

Look closely, and you may see one of Mrs. Mallard's descendants sunning herself on the duck ramp going up to the island.

You may also see the Public Garden's two real swans, a pair that returns every spring (after spending the winter at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo) to grace the lagoon with their presence. 

After about 15 minutes of peacefully floating around the pond, your Swan Boat glides back up to the dock.

Too short a ride?  You can always get back in line and go for another.  The tickets are so inexpensive that you can ride around for an hour and spend less than you would for lunch in a nearby restaurant, and the line moves quickly because as many as six boats operate during peak times.

If you have a Boston discount card, you may be able to ride on the Swan Boats for free.

Where Do the Swan Boats Go during the Winter?

Swan boats in October, right before being disassembled for winter
Swan boats in October, right before being disassembled for winter

At the end of each summer season, the crew and Paget family members disassemble the swan boats, a process that takes roughly 4 days. Paget family members (4th and 5th generation descendants of Robert Paget) store the pieces in the basements of their houses for the winter. 

When spring arrives, they bring the pieces back out, reassemble them, and launch the swan boats for another season of pleasure in the Public Garden.  

Swan boat passing Public Garden cherry trees in bloom during April
Swan boat passing Public Garden cherry trees in bloom during April

Details & Directions:  Boston Swan Boats

Location:   Public Garden, next to Boston Common and bordered by Beacon Street, Arlington Street, Charles Street South, and Boylston Street
Nearest T station:   Green Line/Arlington
Open:   Daily from mid-April to mid-September; April to mid-June: 10am - 4pm; mid-June to Labor Day: 10am - 5pm; after Labor Day: noon - 4pm weekdays, and 10am - 4pm weekends. 
Please note:  Swan Boats do not operate during heavy rains, strong winds, thunderstorms with lightening, or intense heat.
Cost:   Adults $4, Children (2 - 15 years) $2.50, Seniors $3.50
Nearest parking:  Boston Common Garage (underground), entrance on Charles Street
For more information:  617-522-1966; website

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