The Esplanade in Boston is renowned for hosting the nationally-broadcast Boston Pops July 4th concert and fireworks display, but its offerings extend far beyond this grand spectacle.
This verdant park hugs the Boston side of the Charles River, spanning approximately 3 miles from the Museum of Science to Boston University.
However, what you might not be aware of are the myriad free concerts, ranging from popular tunes to classical melodies, as well as family-friendly movies, shows, festivals, and vibrant celebrations. All of these events take place on the Esplanade, boasting a unique outdoor performance stage that overlooks the serene Charles River.
Beyond its role as an entertainment venue, the Esplanade serves as an idyllic destination for leisurely activities such as jogging, strolling, or simply relaxing in a chair while basking in the warm sunlight and observing sailboats gracefully gliding by.
A slender strip of land, affectionately known as “The Island,” stretches into the river and forms a charming pool-like area called “The Lagoon.” Delightful arching footbridges connect these distinct areas, while pathways seamlessly interconnect all sections of the Esplanade.
While the Independence Day concerts attract a considerable number of visitors, throughout the rest of the year, you will primarily encounter locals and temporary residents (often college students) rather than tourists. Perhaps this is because the Esplanade is only accessible via footbridges that traverse the bustling Storrow Drive.
10 Captivating Experiences to Enjoy on Boston’s Esplanade
1. Immerse Yourself in the July 4th Festivities with the Boston Pops Concerts and Fireworks
Undoubtedly, the grandest events on the Esplanade are the July 4th concert held at the Hatch Shell and the awe-inspiring fireworks display, both commemorating Independence Day. These celebrated spectacles draw up to a million spectators, many of whom secure their viewing spots along the Esplanade or on the Cambridge side of the river. Thanks to powerful speakers, the melodious tunes can be enjoyed from both sides of the river. To ensure an unobstructed view of the fireworks, it is advisable to avoid positioning yourself behind towering trees.
2. Witness the Thrilling Head of the Charles Regatta
The prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta, a two-day event occurring every October along a scenic 3-mile stretch of the Charles River, stands as Boston’s premier rowing extravaganza. Nearly 10,000 world-class rowers from across the globe compete in over 50 events, attracting hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic spectators lining the riverbanks and bridges. For precise dates, please consult the October event calendar.
Additional boat races on the Esplanade include:
- Run of the Charles: New England’s largest canoe and kayak event
- Dragon Boat Races & Festival: The largest dragon boat race in the United States
3. Revel in Boston’s Breathtaking Autumnal Splendor Along the Esplanade
From late September to late November or early December, the Esplanade emerges as one of the most captivating vantage points to admire Boston’s resplendent fall foliage. As the city dons golden, orange, and crimson hues, you’ll discover the most captivating views of the autumnal panorama from the footbridges that connect the riverbank with “The Island” and the floating docks adorning the river itself. Alternatively, traverse the pathways lining the Esplanade on foot, by bike, or during a leisurely run to immerse yourself fully in the enchanting colors of the season.
4. Embrace the Arrival of Spring at the Blossoming Esplanade
As April brings forth warm weather, Boston undergoes a remarkable transformation, painting the city with vibrant colors during the enchanting spring season. Amidst this magical period, the Esplanade stands out as the perfect destination to immerse yourself in nature’s spectacle. The Esplanade boasts numerous cherry trees that burst into magnificent bloom, creating a breathtaking sight that seems to unfold all at once.
In truth, the Esplanade is adorned with various cherry tree varieties, resulting in a prolonged blooming period. This offers you ample time to relish the beauty they bestow.
Take a leisurely stroll along the winding paths of the Esplanade, indulge in a picnic, and bask in the splendor that surrounds you.
Where to Stay near the Esplanade
Liberty Hotel – Renowned for its playful jailhouse theme (as it was once an actual jail), acclaimed restaurants and bars, and luxurious accommodations, the Liberty Hotel’s proximity to the Esplanade via the Charles Street Footbridge makes it an excellent choice for those attending the July 4th festivities.
Wyndham Hotel – Offering affordable options with spacious rooms near the Liberty Hotel and MGH, the Wyndham Hotel places you in close proximity to the Esplanade.
The Newbury Boston – With its luxurious amenities, the Newbury Boston is conveniently located near the Fiedler Footbridge to the Esplanade. It serves as an ideal accommodation for attending the July 4th concert and fireworks, while also providing easy access to the vibrant Newbury Street.
Whitney Hotel – Situated in the heart of Beacon Hill, this delightful boutique hotel allows you to experience the charms of the historic neighborhood. It places you within reach of the Charles Street and Fiedler Footbridges leading to the Esplanade.
Discover Hotels near the Esplanade on this Map
Enter your travel dates to explore availability and rates for your desired period:
5. Unwind on the Esplanade’s “Beach”
Although not a traditional beach, the Esplanade offers a pleasant alternative with its five floating docks scattered along the riverbank. These docks serve as a delightful spot to soak up the sun within the city. Moreover, their sheltered location ensures a relatively warm ambiance even on crisp November days.
6. Delight in Free Concerts under the Starlit Sky at the Esplanade’s Hatch Shell
Throughout July and August, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra hosts a series of free evening concerts at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. This picturesque concert stage, where the renowned Boston Pops also performs the July 4th concert, becomes a captivating venue for musical performances. Bring a blanket, low folding chairs, and a picnic dinner to revel in an enchanting night of exquisite music beneath the twinkling stars.
For concert programs and dates, refer to our events calendars for July and August.
7. Engage in Family-Friendly Activities & Enjoy Free Friday Flicks on Boston’s Esplanade
Families adore the Esplanade for its three playgrounds designed with children’s enjoyment in mind. The park offers bike paths, perfect for rollerblading and inline skating, as well as winter activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Additionally, teenagers can partake in sailing lessons, and one of the most anticipated events is the Free Friday Flicks series at the Hatch Shell. From mid-June to August, WBZ NewsRadio 1030 sponsors family-oriented feature-length movies that attract thousands of viewers. These screenings commence at sundown, providing an unforgettable experience for all. Refer to our event calendars for June, July, and August to find detailed information.
The Esplanade’s Playgrounds include:
Esplanade Playspace (near the Hatch Shell and Fiedler Footbridge) – Tailored for kids aged 5-12, this playspace features structures for climbing, zip-lining, spinning, and swinging, fostering upper body strength.
Charlesbank Playground (near the Museum of Science at Charles Street/Longfellow and the Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields) – This playground offers play areas suitable for toddlers, kids aged 5-12, and those with wheeled devices such as tricycles and bicycles. The paved path is perfect for young cyclists. The playground boasts climbing structures, tunnels, slides, and swings.
Stoneman Playground (between Fairfield and Massachusetts Avenue) – Featuring a playground for toddlers (children aged 3 and under) and another one for older kids, this site provides diverse equipment for play. Toddlers can enjoy climbing structures, slides, swings, and even a pretend car, while older children can engage with more challenging features such as a fire pole and monkey bars.
As kids tend to get hungry, feel free to bring your own picnic or visit the Charles River Bistro near the Fiedler Footbridge. This eatery operates from April to October and even offers a Live Jazz Brunch on weekends.
If you seek an adult-oriented area for exercising and recreation, explore the Exercise Course near the Silber Way Footbridge, situated between the Mass Ave Bridge and BU Bridge. This location provides outdoor gym equipment for bodyweight exercises, including pull-ups, as well as stretching facilities.
8. Discover the Plethora of Statues on the Esplanade
Similar to other parks and open spaces in Boston, the Esplanade boasts an array of statues and monuments dedicated to war heroes, politicians, and contributors to the city’s culture. While some names may be familiar, others might elude you.
Among the remarkable statues is the colossal sphinx-like head of the late Arthur Fiedler, the renowned conductor of the Boston Pops, who conducted the first concert at the Hatch Shell in 1929. Sculpted by Ralph Helmick of Newton, the head of Fiedler was meticulously crafted from layers of aluminum varying in thickness.
However, the most intriguing statue is undoubtedly the bronze figure of General George S. Patton, Jr., celebrated for his achievements in World War II. Positioned to gaze across the river toward Cambridge, Boston’s sister city, General Patton holds a pair of binoculars while carrying a gun at his side. One might wonder what purpose this statue serves—Is the General hunting ducks on the Charles or scouting for enemies across the river in Cambridge?
In truth, the original statue is located at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, where the binoculars and gun find their appropriate context. Patton’s father-in-law, the affluent textile tycoon Frederick Ayer, who resided blocks away in what is now known as the Frederick Ayer Mansion on Commonwealth Avenue, sought to honor his famous son-in-law by installing this replica on the Esplanade.
9. Explore the Esplanade on Foot (or Wheels, Skis, or Any Other Means)
The ideal way to immerse yourself in the wonders of the Esplanade is on foot. However, if you prefer alternative modes of transport like biking, rollerblading, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing, fear not. The Esplanade remains accessible throughout the year, except during select events where security perimeters are in place, such as concerts at the Hatch Shell or occasional private fundraising gatherings at the Community Boating Boathouse. Apart from those instances, you are free to traverse the park’s vast expanse.
For those interested in exploring the area by bike but lack their own, a bikeshare station near the Fiedler Footbridge is conveniently available. Learn more about bike tours and rentals in Boston.
If you’re keen on running or embarking on the Charles River Loop—a running path that stretches along the Esplanade and the Cambridge side of the Charles—further information, including the locations of water fountains, can be found.
10. Embark on Sailing and Kayaking Adventures from the Esplanade
Located near the Charles Street Footbridge, the Community Boating boathouse provides affordable sailing and kayaking lessons, as well as opportunities to access boats for pre-teens, teenagers, and adults. Satiate your adventurous spirit by venturing out onto the water and relish the joys of sailing and kayaking.
Boston Esplanade Facts & Trivia
- What is an esplanade? An esplanade refers to a lengthy, level area designated for pedestrians.
- Creation of the Boston Esplanade: In 1910, the construction of the Charles River Dam gave birth to the Boston Esplanade, transforming a previously unattractive expanse of smelly mudflats into a refreshing freshwater basin.
- Original name: The area was initially known as the Boston Embankment.
- Number of trees today: Presently, the Esplanade boasts nearly 2,000 trees.
- Length of the Esplanade: Stretching along the Boston side of the Charles River, the Esplanade spans almost 3 miles.
- Total length of paths: The extensive network of paths on the Esplanade measures approximately 6 miles.
- Most notable Esplanade patron: Helen Storrow holds the distinction as the most influential figure associated with the Esplanade. In 1930, she generously donated $1 million to establish a park along the Esplanade, on the condition that no roads would be built there. Unfortunately, soon after her passing in 1949, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the construction of Storrow Drive, a road that now runs along the Esplanade. It was named in her honor and opened in 1951.
- Did you know: The Esplanade is part of the larger Charles River Reservation.
- The Esplanade’s management: The Esplanade is overseen by the Esplanade Association, a privately funded non-profit organization working in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Their collaborative efforts aim to enhance the Charles River Reservation, preserve green spaces, and provide educational, recreational, and cultural programs for all. The association invests over $1,000,000 annually to maintain and improve the park. To learn more about the Esplanade Association, visit their website.
Navigating to the Boston Esplanade
Reaching the Esplanade
A considerable volume of traffic on Storrow Drive acts as a barrier between the Esplanade and downtown Boston. Therefore, to access the Esplanade, you will need to utilize a pedestrian bridge to cross the bustling six-lane highway.Thankfully, you have a selection of eight different footbridges to choose from. Among them, the two most centrally situated bridges are:
Arthur Fiedler Footbridge (connecting Back Bay and Beacon Hill): Located at the intersection of Beacon and Arlington Streets, adjacent to the Public Garden, this footbridge offers a convenient passage. Upon crossing Beacon Street, veer slightly to your left and continue along Arlington Street (now known as Mugar Way), leading you towards the river. Before long, you will catch sight of the elegantly curved Fiedler Footbridge, gracefully spanning Storrow Drive. Take pleasure in the breathtaking panoramic views as you ascend the ramp. Nearest T station: Green Line/Arlington.
Charles Street Footbridge (linking Beacon Hill and the West End): Positioned at the junction of Charles Street and Cambridge Street, this footbridge is easily recognizable. Simply look out from this corner, and you will spot the bridge in close proximity. Nearest T station: Red Line/Charles-MGH.