Summertime begs for a certain kind of freshness—for a brilliant and cool green that cuts through the hot haze of Boston summer. The need for wide open skies and bright sunlight is unmistakable. But you won’t have to look too far for an escape from the city noise and the pavement’s radiating heat. While greenspaces can feel scarce, there are plenty of ways for you to find a bit of repose and remind you why you love Boston so much. From a mural-lined greenspace that winds through the downtown to a lush and quiet library courtyard, we’re highlighting some of our favorite escapes within the city.
The nearly three-mile-long Charles River Esplanade is peppered with joggers, bikers, and picnickers, beckoning you to join in. The southern bank of the Charles is surprisingly close to the shopping hustle of Newbury Street and the very concrete and urban Back Bay. The Esplanade is an ideal getaway, separated from the rest of the city by congested Storrow Drive and extending from the Boston University Bridge to the Museum of Science. Watch the sailboats and collegiate rowing teams come in from the harbor, picnic on one of the many public docks, or catch the sun sinking down below the skyline of Cambridge just across the water. Make sure to visit the newest addition on the Esplanade, Night Shift Owls Nest – a lively and popular beer garden boasting dreamy river views, soft outdoor lighting, games, and live music – and the Owls Nest is open every night in the summer. With its stellar lineup of summer concerts, outdoor film screenings, and live music and performances, the Hatch Memorial Shell is a go-to. The Esplanade rarely feels busy or crowded, except during the ever-popular Annual 4th of July Fireworks Display that features the Boston Pops (A rite of passage for any Bostonian and worth braving the crowds for.)
It’s difficult to imagine while you stroll along the Rose Kennedy Greenway that it was once a massive overhead highway. It was transformed into a miles-long, winding greenspace full of vibrant murals, public and interactive contemporary art installations, and beautiful landscaping. Beginning with the iconic Chinatown Gate, it runs along the outskirts of the hectic Downtown Crossing and the Financial District, perhaps the most metropolitan spaces you can find in the city. It is the concrete and the sky-shrouding high rises that makes this space so surprising to discover. Follow the Greenway, and you will find lawn chairs inviting you to sit and relax, groves of trees, and even small ponds. Make sure to pay a visit to the Greenway Open Market which features handmade, local, and ethical jewelry, bags, ceramics, and gifts from vendors every weekend. You can also enjoy block parties with live music in the summer, food trucks, and the Trillium Beer Garden. Make sure to meander over to the Rings Fountain, where cool water jets up onto the wharf. The Armenian Heritage Park, which celebrates the immigrant experience, is just off the Greenway and is not to be missed. It features a reflecting pool and labyrinth comprised of delicate inlaid stone which creates a wide, circular path winding through the vibrant green grass meant to serve as a metaphor for life’s journey. The Greenway Carousel, which only features animals native to Boston, is a favorite among families. Following the Greenway completely will drop you off at the Boston Aquarium and Christopher Columbus Park. 185 Kneeland St.
Allow yourself to get lost in Beacon Hill. It is easily Boston’s most iconic neighborhood. One of the quaintest, as well as one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Boston proper, Beacon Hill’s cobblestone streets, richly-hued brick townhouses, and gorgeous Federal architecture have won many a Bostonian’s heart. Admire the brownstones of Louisburg Square, purvey the gas lanterns, small shops, and eateries that line Charles Street, and wander over to Acorn Street, which, steeped in history, reveals the city’s age. Tourists come to gaze at what has been called the most beautiful street in America and is one of the most photographed streets across the country. But Acorn Street is more than a photo opp. Its moss overgrown cobblestones complete with ruts where buddies moved with regularity will remind you Boston’s rich and storied history. Quirky delights also conjure up Boston’s past. The famed purple windows, the Hidden House, and oddly shaped door-knockers make Beacon Hill feel new every time you pass through this quintessential Boston neighborhood.
There is a reason the lines are so long at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. One of the most unique art museums you’ll ever visit was begun as the private art collection and residence of Isabella Stewart Gardner. The museum, completed in 1901, holds one of the most extravagant and spectacular private art collections in the United States including paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, manuscripts, rare books, and decorative arts. After her death, Isabella Stewart Gardner left the museum for the “education and enjoyment of the public forever” and the popularity of the museum speaks to the prolific quality of her vision and her collection. The favorite among visitors is the beautiful interior courtyard which features an ancient Roman sculpture. It is a space inhabited only by women, as all of the figures in the statuary are female. Its ability to make you feel as though you’ve been transported completely endures. The part art exhibit, part home, part garden, and central atrium speak to another time and another place. Fairytale-esque, decadent, and peaceful, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum allows the city to melt away with the hush that falls over everyone who enters in for the first time. 25 Evans Way
You may feel you have stumbled across Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum accidentally. Recently used to film Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, the massive botanical space in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood is like a plum discovery. Free and open to the public every day of the year, America’s oldest public arboretum is 281 acres in the middle of the city and ideal for a leisurely stroll or hike. It is a part of the famous Emerald Necklace, a historic chain of the oldest parks in the city. The space here has a joyful wildness to it as opposed to the mindfully manicured and tamed Public Gardens and Greenway. Botanical enthusiasts fall in love with the Arboretum, which is a favorite for its lilacs, wild roses, azaleas, and crab apples. Plants are tagged and easily identifiable, making it both a gorgeous place to frolic within the city and equally educational (and an opportunity to store up some botanical knowledge to pull out later and impress your friends). 125 Arborway
With its sweeping willow trees, lush green landscape, and famous swan boats you can easily catch your breath in the idyllic Boston Public Gardens. It is decidedly one of the most romantic and relaxing spaces in the city. On summer days, locals sunbathe on the grass and enjoy lunch on the benches by the water. The ornate iron bridges, the majestic statue of Washington atop a horse, and the colorful blooms create an urban park that is unparalleled in drawing you in. Popular with buskers and street musicians, the Boston Public Gardens boast a musicality that is difficult to match. The joyful sounds of saxophones, accordions, and erhus have only to compete with the faint sounds of traffic. The tall glass buildings in the distance jutting into the blue sky are your only reminder that you’re still in Boston’s downtown. 4 Charles St.
The Courtyard at the Boston Public Library is architecturally stunning. The noise of some of the busiest streets in the city fade away and all that remains is a calming quiet. Within you’ll find a cafe inside serving cool drinks, lattes, and snacks plus free public wifi and an ideal place to relax with a book. The gorgeous archways add majesty to the patio feel of the inner courtyard which echoes the stunning entrance to the Boston Public Library itself. You can enjoy the sun here which shines in with a brilliance across the bright green hedges and statue-topped fountain. 700 Boylston St.
Summer is the essential season to frequent the bohemian SoWa Art and Design District. This small corner of the city nestled in the South End is one of the most eclectic and esoteric in Boston. It feels so tucked away that you may feel you have been let in on a well-kept secret. The SoWa Open Market features over 175 makers and vendors. Every Sunday, May through October, the market is open to thousands of visitors who come to enjoy SoWa, taking in not only the farmer’s and arts market but the space itself. The District is made up of dance studios, galleries, artists’ spaces, boutiques, and one massive vintage shop that takes up an entire basement space. The SoWa Art and Design District is colorful, refreshing, local, and a dreamy way to spend a Sunday. 530 Harrison Ave.
Carly Roberts is a writer and poet from Virginia, currently attending Emerson College. Her work is concerned with landscapes, space, and travel. She is a contributing writer and intern for Hip Green Scene.