July 4th Boston Guide: July 4th Boston Fireworks and Boston Pops Concert

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There’s no question about it: Boston is the best place in American to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Boston is home to one of the most famous celebrations in the country: Pops Goes the Fourth, featuring the Boston Pops in concert, followed by some amazing fireworks.

As a Bostonian, I’ve done the concert, I’ve done the fireworks, and I can tell you this: you need to prepare in advance.  Here is my complete guide to July 4th in Boston!

First things first:

You can go to the concert, or you can go see the fireworks.  You can’t do both.

The Esplanade is surrounded by trees, which makes viewing the fireworks impossible.

Know this early on and you can make the right decision.

July 4th Boston Concert on the Esplanade

Most importantly: get there early.  The concert doesn’t begin until 8:30 PM, but you’ll want to get there by 10:00 AM at the very latest to secure a spot with a view of the Hatch Shell.  The gates open at 9:00 AM, but people line up at the crack of dawn.

Upon arrival, you’ll receive a wristband that will allow you to come and go over the course of the day.  Again, get there early to make sure you get one.

You’ll be there for the next thirteen hours, so be sure to bring a hefty picnic (the food selection on the Esplanade is fine but not anything to sing about).  Bring umbrellas (no matter what the forecast), sunscreen, clothing for all types of weather, and enough entertainment to occupy you for the day.  At the very least, bring a deck of cards!

Alcohol is not permitted.  In fact, no open containers are permitted, and security will check to make sure all water bottles are sealed.  (That doesn’t mean that sneaking in vast quantities of booze is impossible.  Be creative.)

Porta-potties are the only bathrooms available.  If porta-potties skeeve you out, you’ll have to leave the Esplanade and find a Starbucks.  Keep in mind that lots of people will be doing the same thing and the lines will be incredibly long.

If you’re a fan of the featured concert performer, don’t worry about getting a seat up close.  Everyone rushes to the front of the stage anyway.

One last option: there is a Boston Pops rehearsal concert on July 3rd at 8:30 PM.  The featured performer won’t be there, but you’ll hear the full Pops concert!

Image: Stewart Dawson

Where to Watch the Fireworks in Boston

The fireworks in Boston, which begin at 10:30 PM, are easily one of the best experiences Boston has to offer.  Choosing the right place to watch fireworks in Boston will make or break your experience.

Best Spots to See the Boston Fireworks

If you have access to either of the following, congratulations.  You’ve found your July 4th plans.

  1. A building with a roof deck in Back Bay or Beacon Hill.  If you live in one, tell no one.
  2. A boat that you can sail into the Charles River.

Now, most of us don’t have access to either.  Here are the next best options:

The Bridges. The Harvard Bridge (also known as the Massachusetts Ave. Bridge), Longfellow Bridge and BU Bridge each provide breathtaking views of the fireworks.  The Harvard Bridge is the best of the three.  You’ll need to find a spot several hours in advance, however.

Storrow Drive. This one is more of a gamble.  Storrow Drive, running along the river on the Boston side, is closed on the Fourth of July, and there are lots of spots to see the fireworks.  However, there are quite a few trees, and to get a prime spot, you’ll need to get there at least two hours early.  If you get there later, look for gaps in the trees where the fireworks will poke through.

Memorial Drive. This road runs along the Charles River on the Cambridge side, and on the night of the Fourth, it turns into a family-friendly park with games, food stands, light-up toys and more.  Even if you arrive at Memorial Drive shortly before the fireworks begin, you’ll be able to see them.

Project Best Idea Ever. These smart Boston entrepreneurs have thrown parties in the middle of the Charles River in inflatable boats.  Food and beverages are included, making this a floating party!

Other Fourth of July Advice

  • Do not drive. Boston parking is crazy enough the other 364 days of the year.
  • Take the T — the subway — to Arlington (green line) or Charles MGH (red line) for the Esplanade, Hynes Convention Center (green line) for the Harvard Bridge, or Kendall/MIT (red line) for Memorial Drive and the Cambridge side.
  • The T runs for free after 10:30 PM.  Keep this in mind when buying your tickets.
  • Take lots of pictures.  This is one event you’ll never forget!


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24 thoughts on “July 4th Boston Guide: July 4th Boston Fireworks and Boston Pops Concert”

  1. I went in with a big group on my birthday a few years back. We sat on Storrow drive to listen to the concert and towards the end we migrated to the Harvard bridge. It was perfection!

  2. I know of a perfect way to see the concert and the fireworks…go to the rehearsal concert the night before. The D-List pop star will only sing one song, but you get the rest of the show in its entirety. And as for best vantage for fireworks, I’ve had a few luxurious roofdecks and few–well, not so luxurious roofdecks. I think I prefer Mass Ave bridge over both. Great spirit of community there.

  3. Love the article Kate – almost makes me want to go there – just not so sure about the 13 hours with no toilet! I knew I should have gone to Boston when I was on Camp America and then had a friend live there… opportunities missed. Well, I guess it isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps one day.

    Project best idea ever is brilliant – going to tweet it out as a great example of enterprising activity. Have you been on it?

    1. Thanks, Gareth! Yes, the porta-potties issue is the biggest reason why we aren’t doing the Esplanade this year. We’re probably doing what we did last year: run around town all day, have cocktails, and grab a seat on Storrow for the fireworks.

      I have not been on Project Best Idea Ever, but I’d love to! My sister told me about them — either she knows them or she knows some of their friends.

  4. “The Esplanade is surrounded by trees, which makes viewing the fireworks impossible.”

    That is totally untrue. . . unless you are sitting Under a tree.

    This will be my 27th year doing Boston’s 4th. and have NEVER had a problem seeing the fireworks.

    If you end up coming late and getting stuck in the boonies there are many speakers and large screens you can see & hear everything.

    Happy Birthday USA!

    1. Thanks for this post. I am new to Boston and I was hoping to watch the fireworks from the Esplanade (don’t need to hear the Pops). What time should we head down to get a good spot to watch the fireworks.

      1. It depends where you want to watch — I included tips with each location. For Memorial Drive, you can get there anytime, though I’d personally get there by 9:30 at the latest.

        1. Live on north shore and trying to figure out where might be a good T to park at to get into the city later this evening. Any suggestions? Thinking airport blue line as figure every parking lot will be mobbed by time I can get close to Boston. Thinking not able to get to park until 6-7 pm or is this a crazy idea?

    2. Ditto. I’ve done the 4th in Boston twice, and both times I was able to see both the concert and the fireworks. If you leave toward the middle of the 1812 overture, you can get to the Salt & Pepper bridge by the time the fireworks start, which provides a great view.

  5. Can someone pleasse tell me what time the rehersal concert is on Saturday. I’ve been checking the Newspapers and connot find anything about the rehersal.

  6. great tips for the Pops 4th of July concert!!! I’ve gone two years myself and I agree with all of your tips, and I have a few others to share as well :

    – If you want to be on TV since Channel 4 hosts it and then they go live for the nation at 10pm get decked out in your best 4th of July attire the more creative the better and signs are always a great option. When my two friends and I went not only did we end up on TV four times, we were in the Boston Herald as well!

    -Save mementos from your trip (programs, confetti, autographs, etc.)

    – Stick around the Esplanade after the fireworks end since everyone in the free world will be trying to leave all at once, hang out by the metal gates in front of the Hatchshell, you never know who you will meet! I meet Craig Ferguson and it was a great experience I’ll post a photo.

    Happy 4th of July!!!

    Holly M.

  7. Does anyone know who did the fireworks in Boston. I watched Pittsburgh, and Zambelli did their freworks, but Boston fireworks were spectacular!!! If anyone knows, please answer.

  8. Does anyone know if the rehearsal includes the cannons during the 1812 Overture? I’d miss that if it’s not included… thanks!

      1. The concert on the third does include the cannons (Howitzers, actually) with the 1812. They also include the confetti and (usually) pyrotechnics during Stars and Stripes Forever.

  9. Can anyone tell me why the Boston Pops July 4th concert is no longer shown on TV, broadcast or cable? Instead, if you want to view a concert such as this (no comparison with the Pops), your only choice is that patheic presentation in D.C., both on Memorial Day as well as on the 4th.

    Thanks for any insight.

  10. Would it be okay to bring a dog to the Mass Ave bridge to watch the fireworks? Or too crowded and not a good idea?

    1. NO there are so many people on the bridge that you think it will colapse if it rains and heavey clouds the noise down by the hatch shell will be insane enjoy

  11. Thanks Kate. I’m not confident with the 13 hours either without restroom or with the Porta-potti. I plan to stick around Esplanade and enjoy the concert quite a distance from the stage (off the Oval Area), then move to Harvard Bridge for the fireworks. My only concern is whether I can hear the concert/pops well if I am not in the Oval Area. Can you please advise?
    Sorry for this silly question. This is my first time ever going to the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular :).

    Thank you.

  12. This is my first year in the Boston area. How far away can you see the fireworks? I’d like to watch from a distance to avoid the crowds.

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