New England is known for being filled with some of the most important landmarks in American history, with Boston often being one of the top destinations for history buffs. But there’s a great deal to see around Boston as well.
If you’re taking a Boston vacation, try taking a day trip to one of the amazing cities and towns that are only a few hours away. Not only will you find tons of history, like museums that show you the real story of the Salem Witch Trials, but you’ll also find coastal getaways, lush forests, laidback islands, and much more.
Are you looking to take a few day trips from Boston? You’re in luck because we’ve compiled a list of the best places to go that are just a few hours or less from Boston to help you plan. Whether you’re looking for cultural hubs, historic locations, or just a place to unwind, you’re sure to find the perfect Boston day trip on this list!
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The 15 Best Boston Day Trips
1. Learn All About the 1692 Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts
Salem is one of the best and quickest day trips from Boston. All it takes is a half-hour drive or train ride to get to this spooky destination. Salem is best known for being the site of the 1692 Witch Trials, which remains an often-questioned point in our country’s history. And you can learn more about the trials and the real story of the witches of Salem at the Salem Witch Museum.
These days, Salem greatly celebrates its haunted history, as you’ll see if you were to visit in October during their massive Haunted Happenings festival. But there’s much more to Salem than its frightening past.
There’s a rich history in Salem that goes beyond witches, as you’ll be able to see in places like the Peabody Essex Museum, which was created thanks to Salem’s maritime roots. Today, it holds the record as the oldest continuously-operating and collecting museum in the United States, with more than a million works of art and artifacts and the only complete Qing Dynasty house outside of China!
2. Explore the Outdoors in Rockport, Massachusetts
About an hour from Boston by car or train is Rockport, an idyllic little town by the sea that’s one of the coolest places to visit near Boston. When many people think of Massachusetts beaches, they picture Cape Cod. But they’re forgetting about the northern cape, Cape Ann, which is where you’ll find Rockport.
Take a stroll over to the famous Motif #1, a simple red fishing shack that stands as the symbol of the area’s maritime history. Surrounded by fishing vessels and other little shacks and houses on the water, visiting this area will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a movie. This picturesque scene is what makes Rockport so worth a visit!
Rockport is also one of the best Boston day trips for those who like to get active. From kayaking to hiking trails, there’s plenty to do that’ll get your blood pumping. For a surefire way to get your heart racing, visit the Rockport quarries. While you can simply swim in the no-longer-active quarries, you can also take a leap off of them into the cool, refreshing water.
But a trip to Rockport simply wouldn’t be complete without having one of the staples of the area: the lobster roll! Though there are plenty of options to give this distinctly Massachusian food a try, one of the most famous places to savor a lobster roll is at the Roy Moore Lobster Company, where the lobster comes fresh off the boat and right into the restaurant.
3. Set Sail in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Also about an hour from Boston by car or train is Gloucester, another Cape Ann destination that’s one of the best Boston day trips. In many ways, Rockport looks like a movie’s version of a seaside fishing village. But Gloucester is a bit less sleek. This proud fishing community has been providing the world with fresh seafood since 1623, making it the oldest fishing port in the US, and you’ll still see fishermen hard at work in the harbor.
There is indeed a lot of history in this coastal town. In addition to being the home of the oldest fishing port in the United States, it’s also home to the oldest art colony in the US, Rocky Neck. Here you’ll find galleries and boutiques by the colony’s members to peruse.
For another historical adventure, you can climb aboard the Schooner Lannon, where you’ll set sail on a one-of-a-kind journey. Though this schooner has only been a part of Gloucester’s history since the 1990s, it was designed to make you feel like you were sailing on a fishing schooner a hundred years ago.
If you’re less into the history side of things, you’ll still find plenty to do in Gloucester, including relaxing on its scenic beaches. Gloucester is also one of the top places to go whale watching on the East Coast!
4. Check Out the Massive Gilded Age Mansions in Newport, Rhode Island
Located about two hours from Boston by car and three hours by bus, Newport is one of the coolest places to visit near Boston if you’re looking for both human-made and nature-made beauty. If you want to get the most out of your trip, you should ideally drive because you’re going to want your car, particularly for the historic Ocean Drive.
How special could one winding road be? The answer is very. In addition to scenic views of the Atlantic, you’ll also cruise by stunning Gilded Age mansions, the massive Victorian estate that is Hammersmith Farm, and multiple state parks.
If you’d rather experience the sea air and stunning vistas of Newport on foot, head to the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile stretch where you’ll get to enjoy both ocean views and a look at the Gilded Age architecture. If you’d like an even closer look at the mansions, including the most famous, The Breakers, tours are available.
If you’re wondering what the best time to visit Newport is, you’ll hardly find a better time than in April, when over one million daffodils bloom for the annual Newport Daffodil Days Festival. Featuring tons of daffodil-themed events, like dog parades and bike races, there’s sure to be something happening anytime you visit during the festival.
5. Get a History Lesson in Providence, Rhode Island
In under an hour by train and slightly over an hour by car, you can be in Providence, which is one of the best day trips from Boston. As one of New England’s oldest cities, you’ll find plenty of history to explore in this charming location.
Traveling with family? Spend a day at Roger Williams Park, which covers 427 acres and is much more than a park. Stroll through the botanical gardens, take a ride on the carousel or the park train, sail around on swan boats, step through time at the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, or get up close to the animals at Roger Williams Park Zoo.
There are many museums and historical locations to visit here, but two must-dos are the RISD Museum and the Providence Athenæum. The Providence Athenæum dates back to the days before public libraries and is one of the few remaining independent libraries in existence. From exploring stolen paintings to partaking in historical lectures, there’s a world of wonder to unlock here.
Speaking of worlds of wonder, you’ll find that the RISD Museum is pretty wondrous itself. The Rhode Island School of Design has a unique museum of art that showcases artwork from across countries and centuries. You’ll find many rare pieces of art, as well as unique artifacts and a student gallery.
6. Explore Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Honestly, putting Cambridge on this list feels a little like cheating because, for many of those who call Boston home, traveling to Cambridge is just a part of the daily routine. After all, getting from Boston to Cambridge just requires a quick half-hour ride aboard the T’s Red Line. But if you’re looking for things to do near Boston, Cambridge is one of the easiest Boston day trips.
You know how when people make fun of Boston, they try doing the “Boston” accent and say, “Park the car in Harvard Yard”? Well, now when you hear someone say that, you can point out to them that a.) you cannot park in Harvard Yard and b.) it’s not even in Boston!
Harvard Yard is actually in Cambridge, and it’s worthy of taking a stroll through. Other Harvard locations you’ll want to explore include the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Harvard Art Museums.
But I’d be remiss not to include the thing that drew me to Cambridge nearly weekly while I lived in Boston: the Brattle Theatre. This historic movie house has lived many lives and has been entertaining the area since the late 1800s.
Today, it’s a one-of-a-kind, extraordinary independent movie theater with just one screen, which shows both classic and contemporary movies. For the best view, take a seat in the first row of the balcony.
7. Go Back in Time in Plymouth, Massachusetts
From Boston, you can get to the first permanent English colony in New England, Plymouth, by either driving for slightly under an hour or taking the bus or train for just over an hour. If you’re an American history buff, you’ll likely find that this option is a perfect fit for a fun Boston day trip.
As you might expect, there are several museums to explore in Plymouth, like the Pilgrim Hall Museum, which has the distinction of being the oldest continuously-operating public museum. But for a more interactive museum experience, head to Plimoth Patuxet Museums, which contains four exhibits where history comes to life: the Patuxet Homesite, the 17th-Century English Village, the Mayflower II, and the Plimoth Grist Mill.
At the Patuxet Homesite, you’ll learn about how the Wampanoag people lived in the early 1600s. Meanwhile, the 17th-Century English Village is a replica of the Plymouth Colony and will show you how the Pilgrims lived. You can even interact with the museum’s actors, who play colonists.
Mayflower II is also a replica, this time of the original ship that transported the English colonists to the New World. The Plimoth Grist Mill is actually slightly away from the rest of the exhibits, but it’s worth the trip if you want to learn about how the Pilgrims would have used it in the 1600s.
8. Eat Your Way Through Portland, Maine
Located about two and a half hours by train or car from Boston, Portland is one of the coolest Boston day trips if you’re looking for a true cultural hub to visit on your day away from Massachusetts. In addition to being a historic city with tons of museums and landmarks to explore, it’s also a perfect day trip for foodies. And there’s much more to be had here than lobsters (though you should definitely get lobster, too!).
Walk along the Eastern Promenade to find food trucks you’re going to want to sample your way through. While you nibble your way around, you can enjoy a quiet, scenic stroll around the harbor.
And while you’re over there, take a ride on the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, which takes you along the promenade and provides views of Casco Bay. Be sure to stop by the museum after your ride!
Are you a craft beer fan? There are few places with quite as good of a craft beer scene as Portland. The Maine Brewers’ Guild can help you put together your own Maine Beer Trail to ensure you stop by every brewery you want to see in Portland.
Before you end your trip, you’re going to want to pick up one last sweet treat. The Holy Donut makes gourmet potato donuts that are seriously rich and seriously delicious. One warning: My eyes were bigger than my stomach here, and I made the mistake of thinking I could eat two donuts. But trust me, since they’re potato, they’re very filling.
9. Take a Ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Since Martha’s Vineyard is an island, there’s no direct route to reach this getaway from Boston by bus or car. You’ll need to take the ferry from the Cape Cod terminals, namely the Woods Hole port. Travel time on the road will be between two hours and two and a half hours.
If you’re traveling on a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can take the CapeFLYER train, which will get you to Hyannis, where you can take a free bus transfer to get to the ferry. Once aboard the ferry, you’re in for a 40-minute ride to Martha’s Vineyard.
There’s so much to see on Martha’s Vineyard, from the famous Oak Bluff gingerbread cottages to the scenic Aquinnah Cliffs. There are also several beaches to explore, with South Beach being one of the top destinations.
Ultimately, you want to take your time to explore the beauty here. Meander your way around historic lighthouses, friendly farms, and the quaint towns on the island. There are plenty of things off the beaten path you’ll want to try, too, like playing the ring game at the historic Flying Horses Carousel or taking an Alpaca Yoga class at Island Alpaca!
10. Visit the Former ‘Whaling Capital of the World’ in Nantucket, Massachusetts
Like Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket is an island, so there’s no way to just drive there for your Boston day trip. And getting there is similar to how you’d get to Martha’s Vineyard, though the ferry ride is a bit longer. You’ll take either a car, a bus, or the CapeFLYER, which is only available on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, to get to Hyannis. From there, it’s an hour-long ferry ride to the island.
This little island has a rich maritime history that dates back 400 years. It was once known as the “Whaling Capital of the World,” a distinction you can explore at the Whaling Museum. Throughout the island, you’ll find many more remnants of its seafaring past, including multiple lighthouses that are more than photo-worthy.
While you can bring your car onto Nantucket, it’s pretty discouraged. Luckily, the island is very bikeable, with 35 miles of multi-use pathways connecting you between the downtown area to the small towns surrounding you to the many beaches throughout the island.
11. Get Your Nature Fix in the White Mountain National Forest
Getting to the White Mountain National Forest from Boston takes a little over two and a half hours of driving time. Stretching across about 800,000 acres between New Hampshire and Maine, White Mountain National Forest is one of only two national forests in New England.
What you experience will vary depending on when you visit. In the spring and summer, you’ll spend time hiking, kayaking, taking a dip in swimming holes, riding on aerial sky rides for incredible views, spotting waterfalls, or sailing down slides at the nearby Whale’s Tale Water Park. Meanwhile, this forest is a prime spot for seeing the fall foliage, which people come from all over to catch sight of.
In the winter, White Mountain turns into a top snow sports destination, while little ones will love visiting Santa’s Village or taking a ride up Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern US, on the Cog Railway with a cup of hot cocoa in hand.
Or you can visit the nearby Ice Castles, where you can race down ice slides, stroll through the Mystic Forest Light Walk and the even more magical Winter Fairy Forest, go snow tubing, hop on a sleigh ride, or grab a frosty winter-themed drink at the coolest bar around.
12. Go Museum Hopping in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Only about an hour and 15 minutes by car or bus away from Boston is Portsmouth, a beautiful, historic seaport that dates back to the early 1600s. You can explore this history throughout Portsmouth’s many museums and landmarks, like the Strawbery Banke Museum, named for the earliest Portsmouth settlement, or the John Paul Jones House, named for a celebrated American Revolution naval hero.
Portsmouth is also home to several beautiful outdoor areas, like Peirce Island, which has plenty of natural beauty, including salt marshes and tidal pools, as well as recreational activities, like a saltwater pool and boat launch. Another place to enjoy some natural beauty is the Urban Forestry Center, with plenty of walking trails among the diverse plant life.
As a seaport, there’s much to do on and around the water here. From kayak rentals to dining on the waterfront to harbor cruises, you’ll end up spending all of your Boston day trip enjoying the waterfront views. While you’re watching the water, look for the famous bright red Moran tug boats moored over on Ceres Street.
13. Check Out the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
If you’re looking for things to do near Boston, getting to Stockbridge from Boston takes a little under three hours of driving time. Stockbridge is a part of the beautiful Berkshires, a region of Western Massachusetts known for its lively outdoor adventures and cultural attractions.
For some outdoor beauty, head to the Berkshire Botanical Garden, a 15-acre garden with more than 3,000 varieties of plants. Or, for some indoor beauty, visit the Norman Rockwell Museum, home to the largest collection of the famous illustrator’s work.
If you’re visiting in the summer, one of the most unique things to do is to see Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Nestled on 500 acres between Lenox and Stockbridge, Tanglewood invites guests to enjoy unbelievable concerts with some of the greatest musicians in the classical music world. In addition to seeing shows, you’re also welcome to tour the stunning grounds outside of performance hours.
14. Learn About the American Revolution in Lexington, Massachusetts
In under an hour of drive time from Boston, you could be in Lexington, one of the most historic cities in Massachusetts. The first battle of the American Revolution took place in Lexington on April 19, 1775, earning it the name of “the Birthplace of American Liberty.”
Visit the Lexington Battle Green, where the first shot of the American Revolution was fired, also known as the “Shot Heard Round the World.” Take a tour of the Lexington Battle Green, and you’ll get the story of many of the landmarks that surround it, like the Henry H. Kitson Minuteman Statue and the Old Belfry, the alarm of which called the militia to the common on that fateful day.
An interesting thing to do is to stop by the Munroe Tavern, which served the British as a field hospital on their retreat to Boston on April 19. Today, you can tour the tavern and learn about the British side of the war. While many of the other attractions here will show you the American side of the American Revolution, it’s unique to receive another perspective.
15. Get More Revolutionary History in Concord, Massachusetts
Just nearby Lexington is the equally historic Concord, which makes for one of the most interesting day trips from Boston. Although, if you have the time, you may want to turn your day trip into a two-day trip so you can see Lexington and Concord together. On April 19, 1775, the British soldiers fought the American militia in Lexington before continuing on to Concord.
While, like Lexington, there are many landmarks dating from or in honor of the American Revolution, there’s also more to see in Concord from the centuries that came later. During the 19th century, the city was home to writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott, as well as sculptor Daniel Chester French.
You can visit the Concord Museum to see artifacts dating back to the Revolution, as well as collections owned by Emerson and Thoreau. You can also visit the famous Walden Pond that inspired Thoreau, as well as see the homes of Emerson, Alcott, and Hawthorne.
There you have it! The 15 best day trips from Boston. Did we miss any cool places to visit near Boston? Let us know in the comments.
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