Red, White, and Boston

Visit one of America's most historic cities during Harborfest, when patriotism explodes.

Boston Harborfest
Photo: Kindra Clineff

We dare you to sleep during Boston Harborfest. The annual celebration, which lasts seven days, features more than 200 activities that will keep even early birds rockin' into the wee hours.

"Harborfest is good food, great people, and maritime culture wrapped in a red, white, and blue bow," says festival president Susan Park. It draws more than 2 million people to Boston's waterfront for activities that include harbor tours, aerial fireworks, and all the rich, creamy chowder you can eat.

We recommend starting out at Chowderfest, a must for soup lovers. For $10 ($7 for the kids), you gain access to your fill of New England's finest clam chowder. Area restaurants, and sometimes crews from visiting Navy ships, set up booths to ladle out their winning recipes. Don't forget to vote for your favorite―participants determine the chowder champ. Looking for something a little less boisterous? Union Oyster House, known as "America's oldest restaurant in continuous service," has been serving chowder since it opened in 1826. With its hand-hewn beams, semicircular oyster bar, and cozy booths, it has changed little since Daniel Webster enjoyed his half-shells here with a tumbler of brandy and water.

After dining, boost your metabolism on a walking tour through some of the festival's venues. It's "the best way to see the city," says Mike Fitzgerald, a guide with the nonprofit Boston By Foot organization. For solo strolling, follow the Freedom Trail, which winds 2.5 miles through the city. It highlights 16 significant sites, including the Paul Revere House, the site of the Boston Massacre (which helped spark the American Revolution), and the slip containing the U.S.S. Constitution―the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world―built in 1797 and still officially in U.S. Navy service.

For an interactive blast from the past, take part in the Boston Tea Party reenactment aboard the Liberty Clipper tall ship. Guides in period garb tell wide-eyed children compelling details of life in the 1700s. "It's fun for everyone, even if you don't get into history," says Capt. Rob James. Tea party sails start in June, and are available throughout Harborfest and into the summer.

You won't have to travel far from the Liberty to reach a sleek, contemporary outpost of Boston-based Legal Sea Foods. The chain's Long Wharf location serves a fresh crab cake combo with grilled shrimp, scallops, and hunks of lump crab. Dining on the patio provides water views and great people-watching, and the seafaring decor inside is both chic and comfortable for drinks or dining.

Don't even think about napping yet. At the New England Aquarium, visitors surround a 250,000-gallon tank replicating a Caribbean coral reef―home to sharks, hundreds of other fish, enormous sea turtles, and coral.

If you're in town at sunset on July 4th, join the more than 300,000 festivalgoers for an annual performance by the Boston Pops Orchestra at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade overlooking the Charles River. The concert is followed by a spectacular fireworks show that kicks off with music from the Pops and continues with a 23-minute soundtrack featuring tunes from various artists.

As the final notes fade, wind down with a midnight snack or cocktail at the lavish Boston Harbor Hotel. Views of Rowes Wharf draw guests through the Italian marble lobby to the posh Intrigue Café overlooking the water. Settle in and relax while enjoying scenes of the harbor. You've earned a few moments of rest.

  Fourth Fun  
 PLAN: For more information on the city of Boston, call 617/227-4500 or visit bostonchamber.com.

 DO: 
• For info on Harborfest, call 617/227-1528 or visit bostonharborfest.com. For info on the fireworks, call 888/484-7677 or visit july4th.org.
• Boston By Foot historic walking tours; 617/367-3766 or bostonbyfoot.com.
Liberty Clipper; 617/742-0333 or libertyfleet.com.
• U.S.S. Constitution tours and museum; 617/426-1812 or ussconstitutionmuseum.org.
• New England Aquarium; 617/973-5200 or neaq.org.

 EAT: 
• Legal Sea Foods; 617/742-5300 (Long Wharf location) or legalseafoods.com.
• Union Oyster House; 617/227-2750 or unionoysterhouse.com.
• The Barking Crab Restaurant; 617/426-2722 or barkingcrab.com.

 SLEEP: 
• Rates for Boston Harbor Hotel's 230 rooms range from $480 to $650 (harbor view) and $420 to $590 (city view); 617/439-7000 or bhh.com.
• Rates for Residence Inn Boston Harbor on Tudor Wharf range from $209 to $309; the inn offers water-view rooms with kitchenettes; 866/296-2297 or marriott.com/property/propertypage/bostw.
• Rates at the Seaport Hotel, which has harbor-view rooms, range from $229 to $489; 877/732-7678, or seaportboston.com.

 Also: See a slide show of Boston during Harborfest.

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