I love living in Boston, especially because of the history. This is not a new city, at least by America standards. And there’s no better time to soak up much of that history—or to take part in one of Beantown’s biggest traditions—than on and around the Fourth of July. You’ve got a fantastic fireworks display. You’ve got a top-notch concert by the Boston Pops. (What Independence Day in this city would be complete without the 1812 Overture?)
And you’ve got hoards of tourists and locals alike, all competing for the absolute best spot to take it all in.
As long-time (and in Nic’s case, lifetime) residents, we’ve got the tips you need to get the most out of the Fourth—without popping off yourself.
1. Plan ahead. If you want a prime view of the concert in the Hatch Shell on Boston’s Charles River Esplanade, you’re going to have to get there early. I mean really early. Let me put it this way: The concert starts at 8:20 pm. If you want to have any hope of actually seeing Keith Lockhart, the Boston Pops, and special performers (for 2012, that includes Jennifer Hudson and the Dropkick Murphys), you’re going to have to stake a claim as early as 9 a.m. that morning. Bring a blanket. Bring food (but not alcohol—no open containers are allowed here, and with multiple bag-checks, you’ll likely get busted). Bring a lot of patience, a good attitude, and the willingness to use Port-a-Potties. You’re gonna be there a while.
Note: A great view of the concert does not guarantee a great view of the fireworks, due to foliage from the nearby trees. If seeing the fireworks is more important to you than seeing the concert, choose the fireworks and listen to the Pops either live or on the radio. Or attend the Pops concert a day early on July 3rd. You’ll miss the guest performers and the fireworks, but you’ll be able to focus solely on the music.
2. Ditch the car. Yes, the subway gets crowded on the Fourth, especially after the show. But traffic is worse. Do you really want to contend with the stress of navigating throngs of people, post-fireworks—or the expense and hassle of finding decent parking? The MBTA runs increased service this week. Take advantage of it. The closest stations to the Esplanade are Arlington Street (Green Line) and Charles/MGH (Red Line).
3. Think outside the box. I’ve enjoyed a wonderful view of the fireworks during my visits to the Esplanade—but I haven’t particularly enjoyed the crowds. While you can’t beat the patriotic experience of being in the thick of things, there are plenty of other options that provide an excellent view of the show with slightly more elbow room.
Ideally, you’ll have access to a boat or to a river-facing roof or window in one of the hotels or residential buildings lining the Charles River. If you’re not lucky (or independently wealthy), try one of these alternatives:
- Memorial Drive. Head across the river to the Cambridge side. You’ll still get great views, you’ll still hear the concert (thanks to speaker towers), and you’ll still have access to restrooms and concession stands.
- The bridges. Both the Mass Ave. and Longfellow Bridges offer sweeping views of the fireworks. In fact, many people say that these viewpoints are far superior to the Esplanade—which makes them almost as popular. Get there by 8 p.m. at the latest to secure a spot.
- Farther afield. Get creative. Over the years, I’ve had pretty darn good views of the fireworks from locations as diverse as a condo in Malden, a median strip in North Cambridge, a rooftop in Allston, and various Orange Line stations.
Since moving to Dorchester, Devin and I have gotten in the habit of having a barbecue, then walking 2 minutes uphill to the roof of a local women’s hospital, where neighbors gather for the show. Someone always has the Pops concert on the radio, and—despite a chain link fence and some foliage—we’ve got a great view of not only the Boston fireworks display but other shows north and south of the city. (All of the photos in this post were snapped at our special viewing spot!)