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Preplanned City Guides and Travel Itineraries

Charles River Reservation/Esplanade

On this page you find practical information, photos and videos about Charles River Reservation/Esplanade.

Charles River Reservation/Esplanade features in these preplanned City Guides:

3-day Boston City Guide5-day Boston City Guide

Why visit / Interesting facts:

  • Abundance of on-land activities
  • Great spot for water sports
  • One of the most spectacular Fourth of July shows

Time required: 70 minutes

Phone: +1-617-626-1250

Web site:

Public transport:

  • Subway Red Line: Harvard Square
  • Subway Red Line: Charles/MGH
  • Various others

Address: Charles River, Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, Waltham, Newton, Weston, Needham, Wellesley, and Dover, Massachusetts

Things you need to know:

  • The Charles River Reservation is a park stretching from Boston Harbor up the river for 20 miles. The most popular park along the Reservation, from downtown Boston to the Boston University bridge on the Boston side of the river (approximately three miles long), is called the Esplanade
  • The Reservation has countless recreational opportunities, with both paved and dirt paths along the river, benches, and open grass for playing on land, and plenty of ways to head out on the river as well
  • An estimated 2-3 million people visit just the Esplanade each year
  • The Esplanade didn't used to be there - it was created in several stages from landfill, much like the neighborhoods bordering it

What to do there:

  • On-land activities along the Reservation: four athletic fields; bike, walk, and run on Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path (18-mile loop from Boston's Science Park to Watertown Square) and Riverbend Park (Memorial Drive from Eliot Bridge to Western Avenue); eight-station exercise areas can be found upstream of the BU Bridge (Cambridge side) and downstream of the BU Bridge (Boston side); picnic areas, or set up camp on one of the many open grassy spots all along the river; playgrounds can be found in many spots along the river; Daly Memorial Skating Rink in Brighton; three swimming pools (open late June to early September); two tennis courts; concerts, especially in summer
  • On the water: rowing, canoeing, sailing, various boat ramps. Sign up for sailing lessons, or rent a kayak or canoe by the hour. Or, if you prefer to watch, come for Head of the Charles Regatta, the second largest two-day regatta in the world, every October
  • For a great way to get a sense of the area, and if you like a long walk, try hoofing it from Harvard Square (hit the river where JFK Street meets Memorial Way) to downtown Boston, crossing at the Harvard Bridge for great views of downtown (confusing, but found next to MIT, where Massachusetts Ave. hits the river)
  • Come see the Reservation at its best for the Fourth of July. The fireworks display uses 10,000 pyrotechnic shells, making for one of the most spectacular shows in the country. Come by on July 3rd to listen to the free preview concert at the Hatch, so you can avoid the crowds that will be there the next day for the official show

Tips & Insights:

  • This is one of the best spots for a beautiful walk in the area. However, everyone else knows this too, and the pathways are often pretty crowded with walkers, runners, cyclists, and even rollerbladers. Try to not block the paths, and watch for oncoming pedestrian traffic
  • If you want to take a less crowded path, try the Boston side of the river if you're near Harvard, or the Cambridge side of the river if you're closer to downtown Boston
  • Memorial Drive (the street running along the Cambridge side of the river), from Eliot Bridge to Western Avenue, is closed to vehicular traffic every Sunday from 11-19h, between the last Sunday in April through the second Sunday in November. Take advantage!
  • If you're a runner, it can be pretty handy to run along the Reservation - you can find many charts online documenting the distance between the bridges, and customize your run accordingly

Charles River Reservation/Esplanade features in these preplanned City Guides: