11 Things to Do Along the Charles River: Boston’s Best Outdoor Activities for 2023

Best Things To Do on Charles River

The Charles River, flowing through Boston, serves as a lively center for activities. Along its shores, different seasons offer scenic views ideal for various outdoor activities. The riverfront attracts both residents and tourists with its peaceful parks and vibrant community events.

I’ve always appreciated the dichotomy of the Charles River. It affords a serene escape from the city’s bustle while simultaneously offering dynamic, urban energy with its close ties to the lively neighborhoods that line its shores. From kayaking under the city’s bridges to participating in the lively celebrations at the Hatch Shell, the Charles River presents opportunities for engagement with both nature and the local culture.

My personal recommendations would be:

  • Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard
  • Enjoy a Picnic by the Esplanade
  • Cycle the Entire Loop

Exploring the Parklands

The Charles River offers a wealth of natural beauty and recreational activities within its parklands. I’m going to share some specific areas that are perfect for outdoor entertainment and relaxation.

Visit the Hatch Shell

Bostons 4th of July at the hatch shell

The Hatch Shell is an iconic outdoor venue on the Esplanade known for hosting a variety of live events. Here, you can catch free concerts and movies during the summer months, which are perfect for enjoying Boston’s cultural scene in an open-air setting.

Picnicking Spots

For picnicking enthusiasts, the parklands along the Charles River are dotted with numerous spots. You can find tables and open lawns offering picturesque views, especially near the area by the Museum of Science which provides a great backdrop for a leisurely meal outdoors.

Public Art Installations

I always recommend exploring the parklands for its vibrant public art installations that enhance the river’s natural beauty. Art pieces are scattered along the paths, giving visitors a unique visual experience as they stroll, jog, or bike along the river.

Water Activities

Paddleboarding in Cambridge

Charles River offers an array of water-based activities that cater to all ages and skill levels. Whether you’re looking to paddle at your own pace or take a structured class, there’s something for everyone.

Kayaking and Canoeing

The Charles River

Kayaking and canoeing are popular ways to experience the tranquil waters of the Charles River. Rentals are readily available, and I often recommend to try them out, even if it is your first time, it would be a moment to remember.

Sailing Classes

For those interested in sailing, the river provides excellent conditions for both beginners and experienced sailors. Some sailing schools on the Boston side offers sailing classes that cater to various skill levels. It’s an invigorating way to learn a new skill while enjoying the city skyline.

Riverside Cycling and Jogging Paths

Adjacent to the water’s edge, the riverside cycling and jogging paths are perfect for those who prefer staying dry. The paths extend for miles, offering a scenic route for my cycling and jogging routines. They are well-maintained and provide a safe space for fitness enthusiasts to enjoy the river’s beauty. After a long jogging session, you can always check out a variety of restaruants and places to eat healthy in the city.

Events and Entertainment

The Charles River offers a vibrant selection of events and entertainment throughout the year. I find that there’s something for everyone, from seasonal festivities that celebrate the changing New England weather to musical performances under the stars, and of course, the excitement of boat races.

Seasonal Festivities

I always look forward to the seasonal celebrations that bring the Charles River to life. In the spring and fall, local organizations host festivals that feature food vendors, crafts, live music, and various family-friendly activities. Around the Fourth of July, the banks of the Charles River are the best place to enjoy spectacular fireworks displays and patriotic performances.

Free Concerts and Movies

Music and film are integral parts of the summer scene along the Charles River. The Hatch Shell is a must-see with its free concerts and movie screenings, bringing together both locals and tourists. These laid-back events are perfect for picnics on warm summer evenings, featuring everything from classical music to contemporary bands and family-friendly films.

Regattas and Boat Races

The Charles River is famed for its regattas. The Head Of The Charles Regatta takes place in October and is one of the world’s largest rowing events. I’m always impressed by the competitive spirit and athleticism on display as hundreds of rowers navigate the winding course, cheered on by enthusiastic crowds lining the riverbanks.

Wildlife and Nature Observation

As an enthusiast of the natural world, I’ve found the Charles River to be an exquisite location for observing a rich variety of wildlife, especially bird species, and the botanical beauty found in carefully curated gardens along the riverbanks.

Bird Watching

  • Location: Charles River Reservation
  • Species: A variety of waterfowl, songbirds, and raptors
  • Best Season: Spring through fall for migrations; winter for hardy resident species

At the Charles River Reservation, I’ve discovered a peaceful escape where birdwatchers can spot an array of birds. The paths winding through this area are ideal for catching sight of local and migratory birds. Avid watchers can expect to see a dynamic tableau of species, especially during the migration periods.

Garden Tours

  • Highlight: Seasonally blooming flora
  • Availability: Scheduled tours or self-guided walks

The Charles River’s edge is punctuated with gardens that echo the changing seasons. I stop by the various gardens for a tranquil moment to observe the plants in bloom. Guided tours bring out the intricate histories and facts about these green spaces that one may not uncover alone.


Is it OK to swim in the Charles River?

Swimming in the Charles River is only allowed with a permit from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. However, the river is safe for swimming 70% of the time due to various initiatives improving its water quality​​​​​​.

How long is the walk around the Charles River?

The Charles River Bike Path, popular with runners and bikers, runs 23 miles (37 km) along the river’s banks​​.

What is the Charles River best known for?

The Charles River is renowned for rowing and sculling, hosting the world’s largest long-distance rowing regatta, the Head of the Charles Regatta. It is also known for various water sports like canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, dragon boating, and sailing​​​​.

Is the Charles River freshwater or saltwater?

The Charles River is home to a range of freshwater fish species and some diadromous species (fish that spend parts of their lives in both fresh and saltwater)​​.

Why is the Charles River called dirty water?

The “Dirty Water” nickname comes from its historical pollution with human sewage, oil, industrial waste, and runoff, although much of this has been addressed over the years​​.

Where is the best place to walk along the Charles River?

A popular walking area is the Charles River Esplanade, a public green space extending from the Boston Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge, offering views of historical monuments and natural features​​​​.

Can you row on the Charles River?

Yes, the Charles River is a popular site for rowing and sculling, with many boathouses and events like the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Where do you park to walk along the Charles River?

Parking is not allowed directly at the Charles River Esplanade park, but there are parking options in nearby Back Bay neighborhood, within walking distance from the park​​.


In my exploration of the Charles River’s offerings, I’ve found an array of activities that cater to every kind of outdoor enthusiast. From kayaking to biking, the river is not just a natural wonder but also a hub of recreation.

  • Water Sports: My experience on the water with a kayak has shown me the serene beauty of the Charles from a unique perspective.
  • Cycling Paths: The 17-mile Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path provided me with both a vigorous workout and scenic views.
  • Walking Trails: A leisurely walk on the Esplanade brought me tranquility and a chance to appreciate the lush greenery.

The consistent factor I’ve noted is the accessibility and variety the Charles River offers, making it a prime location for both tourists and locals. Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline rush or a peaceful escape, the activities around the Charles river deliver.

The Charles River’s enduring appeal is rooted in its blend of natural beauty and cultivated spaces for enjoyment and relaxation. I encourage everyone, regardless of age or interest, to discover their favorite activity along this iconic waterway.

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