Mara VorheesLonely Planet author
Considering Boston’s large student population and extensive green spaces, it’s no surprise to see urban outdoorsmen and women running along the Esplanade, cycling the Emerald Necklace and skating the Minuteman Bikeway. For seafaring types, the Charles River and the Boston Harbor offer opportunities for kayaking and canoeing, sailing and sculling, and even swimming in their brisk waters.
Boston is a compact city, which makes it easy to get around on foot. Walking or running the city streets is in fact one of the best ways to get to know the city. Clearly, pounding the pavement is a popular pastime in Boston, where the biggest annual event is a marathon. If you prefer to stay off the streets, miles of trails through Boston’s parks offer an easy escape from the traffic. The Boston Harbor Islands also contain unpaved trails to explore.
Cyclists may have a harder time on the streets, especially if they are not used to urban riding, but there are plenty of off-road routes. One of the most popular circuits runs along both sides of the Charles River between the Museum of Science and the Mt Auburn St Bridge in Watertown (5 miles west of Cambridge). The round-trip is 17 miles, but the 10 bridges in between offer ample opportunity to turn around and shorten the trip.
The best of Boston’s bicycle trails is the Minuteman Bikeway, which starts in Arlington (near Alewife station), leading 5 miles to historic Lexington center, then traversing an additional 4 miles of idyllic scenery before it terminates in the rural suburb of Bedford. You can take your bike on any of the MBTA subway lines except the green and silver lines, but you must avoid rush hours (7am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm weekdays) and always ride on the last train car.
Between the Boston Harbor and the Charles River, boaters have plenty of opportunities to get out on the water. In the last decade, the Charles River has undergone a massive cleanup effort, which has been lauded as successful. Indeed, now the Charles River Swimming Club hosts the annual Charles River One-Mile Swim, the first open-water swim in Boston’s beloved ‘dirty water’. But that does not mean that just anybody can swim in the Charles. The swimming club conducts countless tests, monitors the weather and water flows and makes special arrangements for a safe swimming dock along the Esplanade. The club estimates that the river will not actually be open for public swimming for another 10 years.
The cleanup efforts in the Boston Harbor have yielded more visible results. Beaches in South Boston and at the Harbor Islands are sandy, scenic and swimmable – if you can bear the frigid water!
In Boston there is plenty of winter to go around. The snow usually arrives in December and sticks around until March, if not April. While Bostonians maintain a long tradition of whingeing about the weather, they also know how to endure winter: that’s right, put on your big boots and your warm, woolly hat and go out and play in the snow. Skating on the Frog Pond and skiing on the Esplanade are long-time Boston traditions.
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