A Charles River cruise shows you Boston and Cambridge from a completely different perspective. On these small boat cruises, you'll experience nature and city - close up!
On the Boston side of the river, you'll pass Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and even one of Boston's quirkiest landmarks, a vintage Citgo sign.
And on the Cambridge side of the river, you'll view the Charles River Locks, MIT, Harvard, and the Museum of Science.
Three cruise operators offer you four different Charles River cruise experiences:
- Charles Riverboat Company - A sightseeing cruise and an architectural highlights cruise on an old-fashioned riverboat
- Boston Duck Tours - A combo land-and-water sightseeing tour in a vintage-style duck boat designed to float up and down the river
- Boston Harbor Cruises - Historic sightseeing cruise of Boston's Inner and Outer Harbors, including views of the mouth of the Charles River Locks and Basin
Will you find big differences among the cruises? Yes, you actually will.
Keep reading to find out more about each cruise and what you may especially enjoy about each of them.
Already know which Charles River cruise you prefer?
Top photo: Charles Riverboat cruise on the Charles River
Charles Riverboat Company Cruises
Charles Riverboat Company cruises depart from the picturesque Lechmere Canal Park located behind the CambridgeSide Galleria shopping mall in Cambridge. To reach the park, walk through the mall and go out the doors near the mall's food court. You'll see the dock at the end of the path.
You can choose from two cruise formats: the Charles River Sightseeing Cruise with departures throughout the day and evening, and the Architecture Cruise narrated by a guide from the local Boston By Foot tour company. Both cruises are enjoyable, interesting, and fun - and also seasonal (May - October), as the river usually freezes solid during the winter.
Charles River Sightseeing Cruise
The 70-minute Charles River Sightseeing Cruise takes you up and down a long swath of the Charles River bordering Boston and Cambridge as your guide on board points out all the historic, iconic, and 21st century sights. This cruise takes you farthest up the river, compared with the other Charles River cruises.
On the Boston side of the river, you'll see Beacon Hill's historic homes and gold-domed Massachusetts State House, the leafy Boston Esplanade with its Hatch Shell summer concert stage, Back Bay (check out the backs of the gorgeous Victorian mansions), and Prudential Center. You'll see the red and white neon Citgo sign and the Boston University campus.
On the Cambridge side, your guide will point out the area's two most famous universities, Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), plus all the biotech companies whose new buildings change the Cambridge skyline on an almost constant basis.
Above all, the guide will entertain you with funny stories about Boston and its sometimes quirky inhabitants through the centuries.
You can also use the GoBoston Pass for the 90-Minute Sightseeing Cruise and other cruises. In addition, if you have a 3-day or longer pass, you can use it for a Boston Duck Tour.
Charles Riverboat Company's Architecture Cruise
Expert guides from Boston by Foot narrate the 90-minute Architectural Cruise as the river boat glides along Boston Harbor past the North End and down past the Fort Point Channel, the Charles River past Back Bay and Cambridge, the Charles River Locks, and the Charles River Basin.
If you want to see both the Charles River and Boston Harbor, this is the cruise for you.
You'll learn about both historic landmarks and contemporary masterpieces as you pass by them on this not-to-be-missed cruise - the only architecture tour by water of Boston and Cambridge.
Boston Duck Boat Tours
Choose a Boston Duck Tour atop a World War II-style amphibious landing vehicle, and you'll get two very different experiences: an exciting land excursion, which takes you past many famous historic sites in Boston's central neighborhoods, and a tranquil Charles River cruise which transports you to a different world as you float past Boston on one side and Cambridge on the other.
The cruise begins when you "splash down" into the Charles River near the locks area. Suddenly, you're water-borne, with up-close views of ornate details on the bridges you pass under, wildlife habitat along the shore lines, and the flocks of friendly ducks that sometimes swim along next to the boats.
You'll get a unique perspective of the Boston Esplanade, the round-domed Hatch Shell where summer concerts take place, Boston and Cambridge city skylines, and usually dozens of sailboats.
Duck Tours usually last about 80-90 minutes depending on your departure point and traffic conditions on Boston's streets.
Boston 90-Minute Sightseeing Cruise
The Boston Sightseeing Cruise covers a lot of territory: Boston's Inner Harbor and Outer Harbor, the Harbor islands, the nation's oldest continuously staffed lighthouse, fantastic city skyline views, fancy waterfront condos, a working port, an historic fort.
The cruise boat passes the mouth of the Charles River and you can see part of the elaborate system of Charles River locks, critical for controlling the water level in the river's basin and letting smaller boats pass from the river to the harbor.
You don't actually enter the Charles River (you are on the wrong side of the locks!) but you do get a good view from the mouth. If you want a longer tour of the river, choose one of the other Charles River cruises - but if you want a comprehensive experience of Boston's waterfront, this cruise is a great choice.
As the cruise proceeds along the coast, you'll learn a lot from the professional guides about the harbor itself, highlights of Revolutionary War historical events that unfolded here, and local sea legends - so get ready to be entertained, have fun, and enjoy our waterfront.
Which Charles River Cruise Should You Choose?
How do you choose? Each of these tours explores (or views) a different part of the river, lasts 70-90 minutes, and gives you a different experience:
Choose a . . .
- Charles River Sightseeing Cruise on a river boat - Choose this cruise if you want to see the longest stretch of the Charles River and hear from your guide about the sights you're seeing, along with some funny stories about Boston history and present day life. Included with GoBoston Pass (also includes 90-minute sightseeing tour, and with a 3, 5, 7 day pass, also a Duck Tour)
- Architectural Tour on a river boat - Choose this cruise if you want to see the Charles River, Charles River Locks, and Boston Harbor, as well as have an expert guide pointing out the major historic, architectural, and iconic landmarks as you pass by. Architectural Cruise tickets
- Boston Duck Tour - Choose this tour if you want a sightseeing tour covering Boston's top attractions on land combined with a serene Charles River cruise with closeups of nature and wonderful skyline views. Duck Boat Tour tickets (or 3, 5, 7 day GoBoston Pass)
- Boston 90-Minute Sightseeing Cruise - Choose this cruise if your main interest is the Boston Harbor waterfront but you'd also like to see glimpses of the Charles River where it empties into the Inner Harbor. Historic Sightseeing Cruise tickets (or GoBoston Pass)
Where Are the Charles River Gondolas?
For almost 20 years, romantic Venetian-style wooden gondolas plied the waters of the Charles River, but the owners retired the business a couple of years ago. The sight of those graceful gondolas are missed - but fortunately you still have lots of other great options for Charles River cruises.
More Fun Things to See & Do in Boston
Related Boston Cruise & Sightseeing Articles
- Whale Watching Tours - Get an up-close view of whales and other marine life
- Duck Tours - See Boston on land and water
- Boston Water Taxis - The fastest way to get from the Cruise Terminal to Downtown Boston (or any other point along the Harbor)
- Boston Sightseeing Tours - The best way to see Boston - on land and water!
- More Boston Cruises - Fun ways to see Boston
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