The best beyond Boston: top day trips from the city

Destinations

Boston is rich with historic sites, artistic venues, swanky restaurants and outdoor adventure, and if you want to keep exploring, there’s even more to discover in the areas surrounding the city.

Battle sites, beaches, colonial landmarks, creative outposts and of course seafood – plenty of seafood! – are all within striking distance of Boston and mostly accessible by train, boat, bicycle and bus.

From Salem to Cape Cod, here are the best day trips from Boston.

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1. Take the ferry to Provincetown, Cape Cod

Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes

At the outer tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown offers many delights for one little town – a collection of glorious beaches and bike trails through the dunes along the Cape Cod National Seashore, a vibrant artist community with galleries lined along Commercial St and a dynamic LGBTIQ+ scene. Another bonus: top-notch restaurants, such as Canteen, serving lobster rolls and crab paninis.

How to get to Provincetown from Boston: Provincetown is about 115 miles southeast of Boston. If you’re just coming for the day, the best way to get here is by ferry, operated by Boston Harbor Cruises (from Long Wharf) or Bay State Cruise Co (from the Seaport District).

Minute Man National Historical Park marks the spot where the Revolutionary War began in 1775 © Debbie Eckert / Getty Images

Minute Man National Historical Park marks the spot where the Revolutionary War began in 1775 © Matthew Miller / Getty Images

1. Witness history at Minute Man National Historical Park

Travel time: 35 minutes

See where the Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775, when colonial Minutemen stood up to the British Regulars who had marched out from Boston to confiscate their weapons. The two sides faced off first on the village green in Lexington (now called Battle Green), and then near the North Bridge in Concord.

The National Historical Park includes the battle site at the North Bridge, as well as the route the soldiers followed (now called Battle Road). Walking trails weave through the picturesque New England countryside past two informative visitor centers and a handful of historic buildings, where you can see ranger talks and musket demonstrations. Stop for a snack at Via Lago Café in Lexington or the Concord Cheese Shop in Concord.

How to get to Minute Man National Historical Park from Boston: It’s easiest to drive, but it’s possible to take public transport. From South Station in Boston, MBTA commuter trains go to Concord. From the train depot, it’s 1.5 miles to the North Bridge Visitor Center, but you’ll need a vehicle to explore Battle Road. Ambitious travelers can cycle from Cambridge to Lexington on the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway (7 miles) and then continue to Concord via Battle Road (7 miles).

The Witch Trials Memorial in Salem is made up of simple stones inscribed with the names and final words of the victims © sphraner / Getty Images

2. Remember the victims of the witch trials in Salem

Travel time: 1 hour

Salem has a rich but checkered history, from the colony’s tragic persecution of so-called witches in the 17th century to the town’s heyday as a maritime center in the 18th century. A score of sites recall the former, including a moving Witch Trials Memorial in honor of the victims.

Visitors can learn more about the area’s rich sailing tradition at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which incorporates a handful of 18th-century buildings along Derby Wharf. Salem’s uncontested treasure is the Peabody Essex Museum, a wonderful collection of art and artifacts amassed from maritime trade. Stop at Gulu-Gulu Cafe when you need to recharge.

How to get to Salem from Boston: MBTA commuter trains run hourly from North Station to Salem. You can also take a pleasant ferry ride from Long Wharf, operated by Boston Harbor Cruises.

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Experience what life was like for the Native people and recent Europeans settlers at Plimouth Plantation © Andreas Juergensmeier / Shutterstock

A replica of The Mayflower is docked in Plymouth, Massachusetts
Get a hands-on learning experience with a visit to the Mayflower II © KenWiedemann / Getty Images

3. Learn about pilgrims in Plymouth

Travel time: 1 hour

In 1620, a hardy band of Pilgrims set up the first permanent European settlement in New England at Plymouth. Visit the replica Mayflower II to imagine what their journey across the ocean might have been like. Afterward, head to Plimoth Patuxet Museums to experience what life in the settlement was like for the Pilgrims and the Native people who have lived there for more than 10,000 years.

Both sites are historically accurate “living” museums, with costumed actors portraying actual historical figures. You’ll find plenty of places to stop for lunch along Plymouth’s main drag, such as KKatie’s Burger Bar.

How to get to Plymouth from Boston: MBTA commuter trains travel from South Station in Boston.

Sailboats docked at Cape Ann, Massachusetts, with buildings and trees on the land in the background
Cape Ann offers postcard-perfect views and lots of fresh seafood © Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Find an art colony, beaches and whales around Cape Ann

Travel time: 1 hour by car, 2 hours 30 minutes by public transportation

Welcome to “the other Cape,” located along the North Shore of Massachusetts. The heart and soul of Cape Ann is Gloucester, a gritty fishing town with a thriving art colony at Rocky Neck and whale-watching cruises out to Stellwagen Bank.

Gloucester’s quaint, touristy counterpart is Rockport, with Motif No 1 on full display and souvenir shops lined up along Bearskin Neck. The rest of Cape Ann is a patchwork of beautiful coastal beaches and interior walking trails. Get your seafood fix at Causeway Restaurant in Gloucester or Roy Moore Lobster Co in Rockport.

How to get to Cape Ann from Boston: The MBTA commuter rail runs from North Station to both Gloucester and Rockport. The Cape Ann Transportation Authority operates five bus routes to beaches and villages around Cape Ann.

White lighthouse on one of the Boston Harbor Islands, Massachusetts
The more remote parts of the Boston Harbor Islands offer trail walking, bird-watching, fishing and swimming © Kenneth C. Zirkel / Getty Images

Make a quick escape to the Boston Harbor Islands

Travel time: 50 minutes

Some 34 islands are scattered about Boston Harbor, comprising a unique state park that’s an easy jaunt from the city. Take your pick from Georges Island, site of Civil War-era Fort Warren, or Spectacle Island, with a supervised swimming beach and a rewarding lookout.

You can go farther afield to more remote islands that offer trail walking, bird-watching, fishing and swimming. Both Georges and Spectacle have good snack shacks, but there is no food or water on the outer islands. Packing a picnic is recommended.

How to get to Boston Harbor Islands from Boston: Boston Harbor Cruises offers seasonal ferry service from Long Wharf to Georges and Spectacle Islands, where another boat service runs to the outer islands.

Red and tan buildings of downtown Providence, Rhode Island, from across the water
Boston’s younger sibling, Providence, offers fantastic eats and wonderful sights © shunyufan / Getty Images

Admire the architecture in Providence

Travel time: 35 minutes

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is like Boston’s smaller sibling, with attractive walkable neighborhoods, elegant 18th-century architecture, dynamic and artsy student populations, and its own leafy Ivy League campus.

There’s a lot going on here food-wise as well, some of it due to the presence of a world-class culinary school (Johnson & Wale), which means there’s a good meal just around the corner. Try Julian’s for lunch or brunch. On summer nights, the riverside Waterplace Park comes alive with street performers, art vendors, food trucks and dancing flames at WaterFire, a non-profit arts organization.

How to get to Providence from Boston: MBTA commuter trains run from South Station to Providence. Amtrak trains are more expensive and slightly quicker.

Take your day trip up a notch on Martha’s Vineyard

Travel time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Bathed in unique beauty, Martha’s Vineyard attracts wide-eyed day-trippers, celebrity second-home owners and urbanites seeking a restful getaway. The 15,000 year-round residents include many artists, musicians and back-to-nature types.

Just 7 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard remains untouched by the kind of rampant commercialism found on the mainland – there’s not a single chain restaurant or cookie-cutter motel in sight. Instead you’ll find cozy inns, chef-driven restaurants and a bounty of green farms and grand beaches. Enjoy fine dining in gentrified Edgartown or hit the cotton candy and carousel scene in Oak Bluffs.

How to get to Martha’s Vineyard from Boston: It’s about a 90-minute drive from Boston to Woods Hole. From there, the car ferry to Martha’s Vineyard takes around 45 minutes.

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