There are plenty of ways to discover what the city is made of: From the best Boston city tours to the best free things to do in Boston and the best Boston attractions, Beantown is an easily navigable city. But the only way to truly take in the city in all of its glory is through these entertaining, informative and overall beautiful cruises. From a sunset dinner affair to the traditional duck tour, these are the best Boston cruises around.
Best Boston cruises
Boston duck tours
What’s a little quacking among strangers? The city’s most iconic tour lends both land and sea perspectives to our city’s history and architecture, with sense of humor to spare. Tour guests clamor aboard a revamped, World War II-era amphibious vehicle manned by, yes, a “ConDUCKtour.” As you first cruise the streets of Boston, your tour guide divulges intel on such landmarks as the State House, Bunker Hill, Boston Common and Quincy Market, occasionally inviting passengers to give a little quack of hello to locals. Then comes the famed "Splashdown:" a plunge into the Charles River, which grants passengers views of both the Boston and Cambridge skylines and a chance to intermingle with sailboats, kayaks and, yes, local ducks.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Christine
Boston whale watching cruise
It’s fast, it’s exciting and it’s rewarding even if you don’t spot a humpback (though you usually do). The Boston Aquarium whale watch takes passengers to the federally protected Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, home not only to a plethora of whale species—humpbacks, finbacks, minkes, pilots, even the endangered right whale—but also dolphins, seabirds and otters. In lieu of canned speeches, naturalists on board offer detailed knowledge about each species and answer real-time questions. Unlike other slow-moving whale watch boats, the aquarium’s customized (and eco-friendly) catamaran whisks you to the sanctuary at 35 miles per hour, which means more time for whale-tail gazing.
Boston Odyssey brunch cruise
Two hours of boating, eating, drinking and sightseeing? Sure beats your everyday Benedict affair. The Odyssey brunch cruise takes you on a slow meander through the Boston Harbor, sailing by landmarks like the USS Constitution before you tuck into a three-course spread of lobster soup, brioche French toast, braised short ribs and more (reserve a window table for uninterrupted harbor views). The cups of coffee are bottomless; if you’re feeling especially celebratory, you can spring for wine, beer or cocktails from the cash bar. And did we mention the live (but unobtrusive) music throughout the afternoon?
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Larry Lamsa
Spirit of Boston sunset dinner cruise
It’s like an old-school date: dinner and dancing on the deck of a cruise ship, the sun setting dramatically behind you. The two-hour cruise on the newly renovated Spirit vessel starts with a sizeable buffet (salads, pastas, protein entrées, desserts) and then takes you upstairs to the oversized deck for DJed tunes and inimitable sunset views. One more photo opp? A chance to capture the mood of the evening with a few selfies in the on-board photo booth.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ian Lee
Spirit of Boston lunch cruise
This is about as far removed from a sad desk salad as you can get. The two-hour afternoon sojourn includes a buffet meal, live DJ, interactive games like Jenga on the top deck and, of course, those beautiful skyline views. Children under 3 also cruise for free, which makes for a perfect midday parent-and-baby outing.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Christy
Boston Beantown trolley and boat cruise
It’s another two-fer travel experience: a San Francisco-style trolley tour of the city’s historical sites followed by a 45-minute dip into the Boston Harbor. The trolley portion of the expedition lets you hop on and off throughout the voyage, so you can linger over any attraction you wish: the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, the Boston Common and the North End, just to name a few. Once you start itching to try out your sea legs, it’s onto a 45-minute tour of the harbor at your leisure, offering a new perspective of the city’s sites.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Smart Destinations
Boston Odyssey dinner cruise
Looking to make a splash on date night? A gourmet dinner on board a sleek and modern cruise ship is a guaranteed winner. Over the course of the three-hour tour, couples will enjoy cocktails and live music against the harbor backdrop before retreating below-deck for a sit-down meal of shrimp cocktail, wedge salad and jumbo crab cakes (surf and turf is available for an extra fee). Head back up to the top deck for nightline city views, DJed tunes and a final nightcap.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Larry Lamsa
Boston USS Constitution cruise
Here’s what you should know about Old Ironsides: For starters, she was one of the very first ships ever commissioned by the US Navy (1797) and, in fact, is still commissioned today (and yes, her canons still fire, though for ceremonial purposes only). She’s also open for tours—and what better way to access her Charlestown Navy Yard than by boat? This 45-minute tour takes you over to the ship, which you can explore by foot (check out the adjacent Naval Museum too) before hopping back about your cruiser and taking a quick harborside swing around other historical landmarks, including Bunker Hill Monument and Old North Church.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Massachusetts Office of Travel
Boston historic sightseeing cruise
Sometimes it’s best to combine education with your alfresco outings. This 90-minute tour immerses you in the lore of Boston’s waters, detailing heroic happenings during the Revolutionary War; the earlier industrial workings of the city’s ports; and the history of the Harbor Islands National Park Area, consisting of 34 bucolic islands and mainland parks.
Boston sunset cruise
There’s no such thing as a bad sunset cruise (unless it’s raining), but this one adds history and spectacle to an already stunning vista. Over 90 minutes, you’ll sail past some of the harbor’s historical sites, then idle by as the USS Constitution fires her cannons and lowers her flags to acknowledge the end of another day. Finally, it’s time to take in the sunset itself, which lights up the downtown skyline and will be the envy of all you Instagram followers.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kunal Mukherjee