Dragon Boat Festival


Boston Dragon Boat Festival 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:

  • Fall Foliage Brunch Cruise on Northern Lights - Enjoy a tasty gourmet brunch, fall foliage, and panoramic views as you cruise around Boston Harbor
  • Fall Foliage Lunch Cruise on Northern Lights - Sip hot cider as you enjoy lunch on this relaxing fall foliage cruise to celebrate seasonal colors
  • Jazz Cruise on Northern Lights - Sunday evenings thru Oct 11- Enjoy live jazz music and dazzling city lights as you cruise around Boston Harbor past scenic attractions
  • 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 - thru Oct 25 - 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 - these sell out fast, so don't wait to book!
  • 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

Coming Soon:

  • Holiday Brunch Cruise - See historic sights and panoramic views around Boston Harbor with friends and family as you enjoy this relaxing cruise with brunch, hot chocolate, and holiday cheer - Book now
  • An Irish Christmas Carol Cruise - Get into the holiday spirit with Slainte, the Northern Lights' house Irish band.   Raise your glass and toast the holidays as you join in singing some merry Irish holiday ballads on this popular Harbor cruise - Book now
  • Cocoa & Carols Holiday Cruise - Sip hot chocolate and treats as the Blue Motion Quartet plays your favorite jazzy holiday music on this holiday cruise - Book now
Dragon boats
Dragon boats
Photo courtesy of Cardamom

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