Summer doesn’t officially start until mid-June but Memorial Day tends to kick off the season of warm weather, beach trips, and family barbeques. From free parades to discounted tours and activities, here are 10 things you can do to celebrate in Boston and beyond.
Go to the beach
If the weather is warm, pack up the umbrella, swimsuit, and towel and head to a nearby beach. While you’ll have to venture out of the city to find a real beach—with sand and room to lounge and play—there are plenty of places close by to soak up the sun and swim. Provincetown is a beautiful spot on the tip of Cape Cod, perfect if you want a day-long escape. Take the ferry to avoid the anticipated holiday traffic.
For those who want to stick closer to the city, check out one of these beaches, all easily accessible by the T. Castle Island is a local favorite with the historic Fort Independence and a great view of the USS Constitution. Revere Beach has a public bathhouse and a range of food vendors. South Boston boasts four beaches that look out onto Dorchester Bay. And, of course, the Boston Waterfront and Harborwalk is a great walk that will take you through Boston neighborhoods.
Visit a park
Assuming the weather cooperates, Memorial Day weekend is a great chance to get outside. Hike, camp, and explore local national parks and enjoy gorgeous views for reasonable prices. It’s a perfect way to spend the holiday with the family. The Green Mountain National Forest in Rutland, Vt. is opening up its campsites just in time for the weekend on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you’d rather do a day trip, Cape Cod National Seashore does not have campsites but offer gorgeous beaches and trails for $15 per vehicle or $3 per pedestrian. Adams National Historical Park in Quincy is another must-see, with preserved historic buildings and farms, including the John Adams and John Quincy Adams birthplaces, the “Old House,’’ and the “Peace field.’’
Planning on staying in the city? Stop by the Boston Common and visit the Garden of Flags, 37,000 flags at the Soldiers and Sailors monument honoring service members. The 68th Annual Memorial Day services will also be held on May 24 at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Park and the Honor & Tribute: Memorial Day Concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on May 26 at the Christopher Columbus Park on the waterfront. Check out all of Boston’s parks and green spaces .
Watch a parade
Salute and honor the troops by attending one of the many parades around Boston. Arrive early to avoid the crowds and get a decent viewing spot. Remember to bring lawn chairs or a blanket! The parade in Cambridge starts at 11 a.m., beginning with a cannon salute on the Cambridge Common and winding up through Harvard Square to the Cambridge Cemetery. There are also parades In Somerville, Lynn, Salem, and Ipswich, to name a few. For a complete list of locations and times, go here.
Attend a festival
There will be a ton of Memorial Day events throughout New England from marathon races to art shows. The Paradise City Arts Festival will be held at the County Fairgrounds and Northampton. It is the third top art fair in the nation and will include a variety of fine crafts, painting, and sculpture, a garden showcase, live music, and a dining tent with the best local chefs. This year’s theme is “Wild Things.’’ A special animal-inspired exhibit will be on display.
Newburyport will also host its Spring Fest, a local fair with music, art, crafts, and foods with special entertainment for kids, including a Teddy Bear Parade.
Take a walking tour
What better way to spend a long weekend than exploring hidden gems throughout the city? Boston by Foot is a non-profit that offers fantastic tours at reasonable prices ($8-$15). Walk through historic Beacon Hill, sample pizza and gelato in the North End, or follow the Freedom Trail from beginning to end. No reservations needed and guides should be paid in cash at the meet-up point. Other fun tours throughout Greater Boston include a chocolate-themed tour, the popular food tour, and the Sam Adams brewery tour.
Stop by a street performance
Enjoy free entertainment at Faneuil Hall Marketplace during the Street Performers Festival. See world-class jugglers, storytellers, acrobats, mimes, dancers, and clowns perform along the cobblestone streets. Best of all, the performances are totally free. Make a day of it and stop by one of the restaurants or the many shops and boutiques.
Cruise to the Harbor Islands
Use the long weekend as an excuse to get away. No matter what activity you have in mind, the Harbor Islands have got you covered. Pack a picnic lunch and hop on the ferry to enjoy a day at the beach, go boating and kayaking, do some fishing, or just explore the local wildlife and scenery. There are also campsites if you’re looking for an overnight adventure.
The Museum of Fine Arts will offer free admission on Memorial Day from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. There will be plenty of family activities and special exhibits, such as a quilt display, an impressionism exhibition, and contemporary Latin American works. If you have either a GoBoston or a Boston CityPASS discount card, you can get in for free any day.
Military families can visit for free at museums across Boston and New England with the Blue Star Museums program. The program is a collaboration among the National Endowment of the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 1,500 museums across America. Aside from the MFA, military families can enjoy the JFK Library and Museum, the deCordova Park and Sculpture Museum(opening May 24), and more for free.
Shopping fanatics can take advantage of Boston’s Memorial Day Weekend deals. A holiday weekend means holiday sales at department stores, local boutiques, and more. Because summer in Boston only lasts about two or three months, summer clothes will already be heavily discounted. Expect the best scores at the Prudential Center for upscale items, Copley Place for high-end designers, and Newbury Street for boutiques and unique shops.
If you’ve really been bitten by the shopping bug, head out to Wrentham Village for the premium outlets and its annual Memorial Day Weekend Sale. Add the already low prices to holiday discounts and you’re pretty much guaranteed a steal from top-of-the-line brands like Calvin Klein, Columbia, DKNY, and Williams-Sonoma.
Enjoy early summer fare
The start of the summer season means lighter, seasonal cuisine. Boston and New England Memorial Day favorites include burgers, hotdogs, pasta salad, baked beans, grilled chicken, and kebobs, among other outdoor barbeque favorites. Stay in with the family or head out to one of the many barbeque joints throughout Greater Boston.
If seafood’s your thing, Memorial Day is a great time to test out the newly opened clam and lobster shacks throughout New England—and to sample some of the best lobster rolls and fried clams around.