Dragon Boat Festival


Boston Dragon Boat Festival 2019

Enjoy Races, Food, & Fun on the Charles River

The Boston - Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, held each year in June, features sleek 39-foot long Hong Kong-style fiberglass boats with dragon heads and tails racing down the Charles River. 

On the Cambridge side of the Charles, drum dances, yo-yo performances, music, and Lion dances entertain crowds of spectators, making this one of the biggest Boston Chinese cultural events of the year.


Dragon boat races began around 2,300 years ago as a ceremony to commemorate the life and death of Chinese poet-political leader Qu Yuan (340-278 B.C.). 

Today, the races take place around the world and have become sporting events and celebrations of Chinese culture.

The Boston Chinese Dragon Boat Festival attracts racers from Boston and the rest of New England, other East Coast locations from New York to Florida, and Canada, making it the biggest dragon boat race in the U.S. and the longest-running festival in North America. 

Everyone is welcome to participate, from first-time paddlers to dragon race experts.

Traditionally held on the 5th day of the 5th moon on the lunar calendar (late May to mid June on the solar calendar), the Festival usually takes place a week or two after Memorial Day - check the Boston Events Calendar for June for the exact date.

Teams sporting names such as the Dragon Boat Club of Boston, MIT Transgenic Dragons, The Boat for Kids Who Don't Paddle Good, the Wellness Warriors, and MathWorks Chinese represent clubs, businesses, schools, and communities.

Although races start early in the morning, cultural activities begin at noon with the "Eye-Dotting Ceremony."

Accompanied by traditional Chinese drums, painters apply dots around the eyes of each boat's dragon.  According to ancient legend, this ritual gives the dragons the power to soar.

Check exact dates/times for the Dragon Boat Festival

Photo credit:  Dragon Boats on the Charles River by Michael Naselroad; courtesy of Boston Dragon Boat Festival

Map Showing Where to Watch Boston's Dragon Boat Race

Boston Dragon Boat Race seeding trials take place on Saturday at the MIT Pierce Boathouse dock.

Races on Sunday take place in the Charles River, at docks on the Boston side. 

The length of the race course is about 500 meters.

The races start between the River and Western Avenue Bridges, near Western Ave, and end near the Weeks Footbridge.  Those bridges also provide excellent spots for viewing the Dragon Boat races.

Although you can also watch the races from either side of the river, you'll probably want to be on the Cambridge side because that's where the festival takes place. 

More about the Boston Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon dance at the  Boston Dragon Boat Festival - photo courtesy of Madeleine Ball
Dragon boats in the Charles River
Photo courtesy of Madeleine Ball

In addition to all of the performances, the festival includes activity areas for children, arts and crafts sponsored by the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association (GBCCA), informational booths set up by local Chinese community centers and similar organizations, and lots of wonderful food for sale by many of Boston's top Chinese and other Asian restaurants. 

About 20,000 people typically attend the Boston Dragon Boat races and festival.

Dragon boats participating in Boston Dragon Boat Festival - photo courtesy of Madeleine Ball
Dragon boats in the Charles River
Photo courtesy of Madeleine Ball

Essentials: Boston Dragon Boat Festival

Location: Charles River, between Harvard Bridge (JFK Street) and the Western Ave Bridge, with most of the Festival activities on the Cambridge side of the river
Closest T station: Red Line/Harvard Square
Date:  Check Boston Events Calendar for June for details
Admission:  Free
For more information:  617-259-0286 for information in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English; Dragon Boat Festival website
Hotels:   These Cambridge hotels are close to the Dragon Boat race site:

Restaurants:  Head into Chinatown after the races for dinner at one of these fun Chinatown restaurants

See Boston by Water:  Harbor Sightseeing 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:

Northern Lights Cruises:

  • New Year's Eve Fireworks Cruise - Celebrate the New Year on this fabulous 3-hour fireworks cruise with live music, dancing, appetizers, & more!  Fills up early - so don't wait to book! - Find out more
  • New Year's Day Brunch Cruise - Welcome the New Year on January 1st with a tasty hot 3-course brunch on this relaxing 2.5 hour sightseeing tour Boston Harbor - Find out more
  • An Irish Christmas Carol Cruise - Get into the holiday spirit with Slainte, the Northern Lights' house Irish band.   Raise your glass as you join in singing some merry Irish holiday ballads on this 90 minute Harbor cruise - Find out more
  • Cocoa & Carols Holiday Cruise - Join in singing your favorite Christmas holiday songs led by the Blue Motion Jazz Quartet on this cozy 90 minute Harbor Cruise on the Northern Lights with drinks and snacks available for purchase at the yacht's Main Deck Bar. - Find out more
  • Holiday Sunset Cruise - As the ship's captain points out highlights of passing landmarks and soft music plays in the background, watch the ever-changing sunset colors as the sun sets behind Boston's city skyline on this relaxing 90 minute cruise around the Harbor.  Find out more
  • Holiday Jazz Cruise - Relax to the sounds of jazzy Christmas tunes performed live by Blue Motion Jazz Quartet, and enjoy an adult beverage on this 90 minute romantic evening cruise past iconic attractions along the Boston waterfront - Find out more
  • Holiday Brunch Cruise - See historic sights and panoramic views around Boston Harbor as you enjoy this 2 hour narrated cruise including hot chocolate and brunch (Mimosas, Bloody Marys, and spiked hot chocolate available at the bar) - Find out more
  • Cocoa & Blues Holiday Cruise - Enjoy Boston's sparkling skyline at night along with spiked hot chocolate or a glass of champagne as City of Four, Northern Lights' house R&B/funk band, plays contemporary versions of holiday classics inspired by Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and the Temptations - Find out more

Adirondack III Cruises:

  • Returns in the spring!

Dragon boats
Dragon boats
Photo courtesy of Cardamom

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