Castle Island

10 Fun Things To Do at Boston's Castle Island

Fort Independence, Beaches, Gorgeous Views

Castle Island anchors Pleasure Bay Beach at the northern tip of a 3-mile stretch of South Boston beaches looking out onto Dorchester Bay.  

At the top, historic Fort Independence overlooks the Boston Harbor Islands, offering gorgeous views and usually a cool breeze. 


For a special, "Boston Insider" experience, visit Castle Island on July 4, when "Old Ironsides" - the USS Constitution - makes her annual turn-around cruise from Charlestown Navy Yard. 

Once she reaches the fort, she turns and fires a 21-gun salute to the nation to commemorate the fight for independence. 

Famed landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted designed Pleasure Bay Beach next to Castle Island in the 1800s as a marine park, a jewel in his "Emerald Necklace" of green space surrounding Boston.  

Pleasure Bay includes 22 acres offering some of the best views in this part of Boston.

Best of all, you can get here in 15 minutes or less from the city.

Photo credit:  Castle Island's Fort Independence and Pleasure Bay

Is There a Castle on Castle Island?

No.  But the fifth fort built on this site back in 1703 was called "Castle William" - perhaps because many of the castles in Europe at that time started out as forts or fortified hunting lodges.  The island, which was still a real island unattached to the mainland, was called Castle William Island.  Castle William boasted over 70 cannons at the time of the Boston Tea Party in 1773. 

10 Fun Things to Do at Castle Island

1.  Stroll Around Castle Island on Harborwalk

Pier and tower at Castle Island

Most people come to Castle Island to enjoy the views, have a picnic, and stroll along Harborwalk, which circles almost half of the island before merging with Head Island Causeway down at the island's bottom tip.  The Causeway circles around around Pleasure Bay itself. 

You can see both Harborwalk and the Causeway on the Castle Island map below, although you may need to zoom in a bit to find it, and then zoom out again to see how far it goes.

 

2.  Swim and Relax at Castle Island Beach

Pleasure Bay Beach near Castle Island in Boston
Pleasure Bay Beach

Although Castle Island does have a tiny sandy beach on its western edge overlooking the protected calm water of Pleasure Bay, there's a much better, bigger, and sandier beach called "Pleasure Bay Beach" on the other side of the beach. 

Pleasure Bay Beach is only about a 3-minute walk from Castle Island's smaller beach, so that's where most people go to spread their blankets on the sand, splash in the water, or relax on an inflatable float (bring your own if you want to do this). 

As you can see from the map below, Pleasure Bay Beach circles around to the west and south of Castle Island, offering protected swimming areas along the sandy edges of the lagoon.  Even though the beach is awesome, just be aware that the beaches further south along Day Boulevard offer whiter sand, lifeguards, and reportedly fewer jellyfish.  So if you're spending the day at Castle Island and have the time, walk down and explore what these South Boston beaches have to offer.

Sully's - Castle Island
Line at Sully's on Castle Island

Inhale the salt breeze, stroll over to the legendary Sully's for fried clams and ice cream, and soak up some sun.  For an even bigger treat, splurge on fried clam strips, chowder, or a lobster roll.

What's the right date to head out to Castle Island in the spring?  For a lot of folks, that magic moment happens on the day when Sully's opens for the season - usually the end of February or early March.  We usually announce the date in our February or March events calendar - but if you miss it, you can also check Sully's website.

3.  Watch Airplanes Land and Take Off

Virgin Airlines flight landing at Boston Logan Airport across from Castle Island
Virgin Airlines plane landing on the runway at Boston Logan Airport across from Castle Island

Castle Island's location almost directly across from Boston Logan Airport means you can watch planes swoop down over the water and land on the runway - big hit with kids!  And truthfully?  Adults too.

The flights give everyone a thrilling show while landing because you're very close to where they fly low to the ground right before touching down.

In case you're wondering why the white inflatable buoy you can see in above the photo is in the channel, its presence there has nothing to do with the planes or the airport - it helps ships navigate safely through the channel.

4.  Visit the Playground

Kids playing at the Castle Island Playground
Kids playing at the Castle Island Playground

If you're visiting with young children, head to the small fenced playground near the beach.  This area probably ties with the beach as "favorite part of Castle Island" with the 3-years-old to 10-years-old set.

It's also one of the best places on the island to find a bit of shade, if you need a break from the beach.  (Keep in mind that Fort Independence usually produces good shade too except right at noon.)

5.  Explore Fort Independence

Pier and tower at Castle Island

Most people come to Castle Island to enjoy the views, have a picnic, and stroll along Harborwalk, which circles almost half of the island before merging with Head Island Causeway down at the island's bottom tip.  The Causeway circles around around Pleasure Bay itself. 

6.  Check Out Other Historic Sights

Pier and tower at Castle Island

Most people come to Castle Island to enjoy the views, have a picnic, and stroll along Harborwalk, which circles almost half of the island before merging with Head Island Causeway down at the island's bottom tip.  The Causeway circles around around Pleasure Bay itself. 

7.  Play Frisbee, Fly a Kite ... Or, Just Play

Pier and tower at Castle Island

Castle Island's grassy slopes provide the perfect setting for all kinds of family fun - tossing a frisbee and even playing ball games (just use lightweight wiffle balls, such as this inexpensive set) (#ad) or child-friendly portable croquet sets (#ad).

If you're coming with older kids, consider bringing a kite.

Castle Island Map

8. See Castle Island & the Harbor Islands from the Water

Want to see Castle Island, Boston Harbor, and the Boston Harbor Islands up close from the water?  These sightseeing cruises are the best way to explore!

9.  Watch Boston's Fireworks from Castle Island

Boston fireworks

Castle Island may not be the "perfect" place to view Boston's July 4th fireworks.

After all, the fireworks launch spot in the Charles River is almost 3 miles away and a good-sized chunk of downtown Boston buildings will be between you and the launch site.

However, you can still see a lot. 

Arrive early enough to stake out your spot, and as a bonus, you can see fireworks from a couple of other nearby communities as well.

On the other hand, Castle Island gives you excellent views of Boston's First Night fireworks, as these are launched over Boston Harbor - providing you with a straight light of vision.  (Please note that the New Year's Eve fireworks do NOT happen every year; check the December Events calendar to see if they're listed.)

Most of the million or so celebrators who flood into Boston for New Year's Eve festivities congregate in areas closer to the First Night events and NYE parties to watch the fireworks, so you can usually find a great fireworks viewing spot at Castle Island relatively easily.

10.  Visit the World War II Memorial near Castle Island

World War II memorial near Castle Island in Boston
World War II memorial

Near the beginning of the narrow causeway leading out to Castle Island from Pleasure Bay Beach, you'll see one of Boston's newer war memorials.

The 2 large granite blocks flank an American flag.

Walk over and you'll see that it is a memorial to South Boston residents who died fighting in the war.

More about the South Boston World War II Memorial

How to Get to Castle Island and Fort Independence

To get to Castle Island from Boston, hop on the Number 9 bus at Copley, get off at City Point, and then walk out to Castle Island.  

Alternately, rent a Hubway bike and ride out.  Castle Island's location just a couple of miles from Downtown Boston makes it the area's most popular beach.

Castle Island, Pleasure Bay Beach, and the other South Boston beaches are free to the public - no admission charge. 

Fort Independence on Castle Island - Views & Tours

Relaxing on the grassy slopes next to Fort Independence
Relaxing on the grassy slopes next to Fort Independence

At the top of Castle Island stands Fort Independence, a massive 5-pointed gray granite structure built between 1834 and 1851. 

What you see when you visit is actually the 8th fort to occupy this site.  British troops destroyed the fifth one, built in 1634, as they fled Boston during the Revolutionary War.  

Fort Independence prevented British naval attacks during the War of 1812 because of its strategic location. 

Boston Insider Literary Tip

Boston-born fiction writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe served at Fort Independence in 1827 after lying about his age and enlisting in the U.S. Army as "Edgar A. Perry."   Literary rumors cite the old fort, or a story Poe heard while stationed there, as inspiration for his famous 1846 chiller, The Cask of Amontillado.

You can join free 1-hour tours of Fort Independence on most Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day and on Columbus Day weekend, and walk on top of the fort (be careful!) without a tour guide for city skyline twilight viewings on most Thursday evenings during the summer. 

Be sure to confirm tour availability in advance as the schedule can change:  http://www.bostonfortindependence.com/ 


More Fun Things to Do in Boston

More Articles about Things to Do in Boston in the Summer

How to Save on Boston Hotels

Check out all our tips on how to find discounts, deals, and promo codes for Boston hotels.  Whether you're looking for bargain accommodations or want to pay less for luxury, we'll show you How to Save on Hotels in Boston. 

Booking.com

More about how to save on Boston hotels