Boston Plans its Biggest Annual Birthday Bash

Dazzling fireworks, rousing concerts and historic reenactments: Harborfest goes all out to celebrate the 4th

Most people know Boston’s Independence Day celebration is set to music by the Boston Pops—Queen Latifah, Arlo Guthrie and The Texas Tenors add star power to this year’s show—but Boston Harborfest also offers revolutionary experiences around the Hub for a whole week. As the howitzers boom, fireworks soar and thousands celebrate our nation’s birthday, here’s what not to miss. 

While the free Pops concert, officially the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, may be the best-known part of the city’s Independence Day festivities, it is only part of Boston Harborfest—the celebration of the push for independence that began in nearby Lexington and Concord.

After taking in the opening ceremonies (and maybe some shopping) July 1 at Faneuil Hall, stroll the Freedom Trail through the restaurant-packed North End to the home of Paul Revere for a 1 pm fife and drum corps performance.

Next, head to Old North Church, where Revere’s “midnight ride” began. Admission includes a pioneering photography exhibit, a chance to make your own “one if by land” lanterns and a historically accurate (and participatory) chocolate tasting. There are also behind-the-scenes tours of spots that are usually off-limits.

On July 1 and 3, area artists will turn Downtown Crossing (DTX) into a curated arts show.

From Mediterranean temptations at BonaPita and saucy Shed’s BBQ to freshly caught fish at Legal Test Kitchen and patriotic Democracy Brewing (which hosts Mel Stiller’s legendary sing-along piano bar Friday night), DTX is a great place to enjoy local flavors. If you love chowder (say it: “chowdah”), July 2 from noon to 2 pm is Boston’s annual Chowderfest, where guests can sample and vote on versions from local restaurants while enjoying live entertainment, games and interactive activities.

That night, Fan Pier is your best bet for viewing festive, illuminated boats at the Parade of Lights & Fireworks, which wraps up with a spectacular fireworks display.

Many of Harborfest’s most popular events take place, naturally, along the harbor. In addition to participatory reenactments of the Boston Tea Party and gas-guzzling rocket rides in Codzilla, the New England Aquarium will offer whale watches, and the USS Constitution Museum and Boston Harbor Cruises will bring sailors alongside “Old Ironsides,” for the annual turnaround cruise. 

July 4th begins with a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall Plaza and a parade to the Granary Burial Ground, where such legends as Sam Adams and John Hancock are buried. Retrace the steps of Adams and Ben Franklin on special Independence-themed tours with Boston By Foot.

While thousands flock to the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade for the Boston Pops concert, savvy locals know the July 3 rehearsal is just as good (albeit without the fireworks), with far smaller crowds. Locals also know to rely on public transportation to get to events—many roads will be closed and parking is near impossible—and to be prepared to walk. No matter when you come the week of July 4, there will be plenty to see, hear, taste and experience in the birthplace of America’s independence.