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Portland, Maine
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Maine

The best day trips from Boston

Whatever kind of change of scenery you’re craving, we found everything from Colonial towns to seaside ports

Tanya Edwards
Written by
Tanya Edwards
Written by
Linda Laban
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City living can be intense, and a lot of us need to get out of town every now and then by taking some day trips from Boston. Luckily, one of the best things about living around here is taking advantage of the world of New England getaways at your fingertips. Hop in your car or get on the train, bus or ferry, and you can easily explore the many wonders of our region. The Hub’s main arteries (I-90, I-93 and I-95) give direct, easy access to Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Western Mass and even Vermont. And that means we have lots of enticing day trips to choose from at any time of the year. Once you’ve recharged and returned to the city, keep the fun going by checking out the best Boston attractions, best free things to do in Boston and best museums in Boston.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Boston
RECOMMENDED: The best Boston Airbnbs

Best day trips from Boston

Portland, ME
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Maine

1. Portland, ME

​​Maine's largest city, located about a two-hour drive north of Boston, attracts food lovers from around the country to its cobblestone streets. Wander the charming, hilly Old Port district, where every kind of boutique imaginable touts colorful wares. Pop into one of the many quaint pubs and dimly lit cocktail bars, like the excellent Jewel Box or Blyth & Burrows—the latter of which combines the best in innovative mixology and pairs it with equally scrumptious small plates. In the West End arts district, enjoy the I.M. Pei-designed Portland Museum of Art and the State Theatre, which hosts national acts, both musical, comedic, and theatrical.

The food scene lives up to the hype: Dine at Baharat for progressive twists on Mediterranean meze; Cong Tu Bot for nationally celebrated Vietnamese fare; or Green Elephant for an inventive vegetarian meal.The food scene lives up to the hype: Dine at Evo Kitchen + Bar for progressive twists on Mediterranean cooking, and Union, a vibrant local-centric foodie haunt in The Press Hotel, set in the former home of the Portland Press Herald, the state’s largest newspaper.

The Newburyport Historic District, which encompasses most of the downtown, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This treasure trove of well-preserved Federal period architecture includes the notable Cushing House Museum & Garden, home of statesman Caleb Cushing, and the Custom House Maritime Museum, which also unravels local history. The beautiful Waterfront Park and boardwalk has regular concerts during warmer months.

Catch a play or see a show at the Firehouse Center for the Arts, relax with excellent cocktails and fine pizzas at The Poynt, dine on classic seafood at Michael’s Harborside or head to the Newburyport Brewing Companyoffering a friendly tap room and beer garden.

Newburyport includes part of neighboring, sedate Plum Island, a barrier island overlooking salt marshes. Opt for a deck seat at sunset at the Plum Island Grille.

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The Newport mansions of the Gilded Age still impress with their grandeur—of course, that’s what they were built to do. If you have time to only tour one estate, check out The Breakers. Near the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Audrain Auto Museum houses a seasonally rotating display of impressive cars inside a gorgeous Art Deco building.

Take the Cliff Walk, which has stunning views over the ocean, or relax at the public Easton’s Beach. Stroll past cool shops and eateries on narrow Thames Street. On Marlborough Street, dine at the White Horse Tavern, which claims to be America’s oldest restaurant, or duck over to The Reef at Howard Wharf for dinner and drinks with a view. Near the harbor, Bowen’s Wharf’s buildings date back to the 1700s and today offer an inviting maze of restaurants and shops. Stroll over the causeway to Goat Island where the Newport Harbor Lighthouse is overlooked by the upscale Gurney’s Resort.

Salem is forever linked to its horrifying and fascinating 1692 Witch Trials. The curious flock to the home of presiding Judge Corwin, which today is a museum known as The Witch House. Halloween’s a big thing here—so are new age and cult shops. On a less spooky note, the Peabody Essex Museum houses a wonderful art collection, and Salem is the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The House of the Seven Gables. You can even tour the house he may have been writing about, the 350-year-old Turner-Ingersoll Mansion.

Though it only dates back to 1930, Pioneer Village—nestled between the woods and the ocean, a ten minute drive from downtown, in Forest River Park—reenacts early 17th century colonial life. Eat like a local at Ledger or Bambolina, or nerd out with old school arcade games and pinball machines at Bit Bar, which recently reopened in a new location on Derby street.

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Creative, sassy P-Town—located only a 90-minute ferry ride from Boston—is an artsy LGBT hotspot. It’s got a great mix of galleries, restaurants and nightlife hangouts. Lined with dozens of colorful shops, friendly eateries and local businesses, Commercial Street is the bustling heart of the town. Seek out one of the many events and festivals that fuel the thriving arts scene.

The famous Lobster Pot is the biggest name in town for classic lobster rolls and fresh seafood treats from the sea. Climb the 252-foot granite Pilgrim Monument for dramatic harbor views, then escape to Race Point Beach to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the open ocean.

Eat innovative seasonal dishes at Strangers & Saints and great seafood at Mac’s Fish House, which has crispy fish and chips and Happy Hour buck oysters. Explore the beautifully barren Outer Cape’s stretch of the Cape Cod National Seashore, including Truro’s picturesque Highland Light.

Ogunquit, ME
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Maine

6. Ogunquit, ME

Set on the breathtaking Maine coast, Ogunquit is a popular, classic beach town with a quiet ambiance, particularly in the cooler months when crowds disappear. But it’s also a historic arts community; the Ogunquit Museum of American Art was started in the 1950s by native artist Henry Strater, a student of Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove artists colony.

Wander the galleries around town, explore the Barn Gallery on Shore Road and get tickets to a show at the Ogunquit Playhouse—which boasts eight decades of professional theatre and summertime children’s productions—or another summer stock theater.

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7. Watch Hill, RI

A coastal village that’s part of the town of Westerly, Watch Hill has one of the best beaches on the East Coast, and celebrity glamour to spare. Get to town early and take a walk out on the Napatree Point Conservation Area—at that point, you’ll find the remains of Fort Mansfield and lots of beautiful birds like osprey and piping plovers.

After your nature walk, head into the charming town for a stroll and some shopping. The kids will love the vintage carousel, and lunch at the Olympia Tea Room (supposedly Taylor Swift’s fave—you can take a peek at her house too, because it’s hard to miss) is a must. Finish the day with cocktails at the gorgeous Ocean House, where you can have a drink and bite at the Verandah Raw Bar during war

Stroll to the Old North Bridge and explore the Minute Man National Historical Park’s five-mile Battle Road Trail, dedicated to the Battle of Concord (April 19, 1775), when militia engaged with British troops igniting the Revolutionary War. The 19th century Transcendentalist movement and its influential authors and thinkers—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott and his family—were rooted in Concord, and the Concord Museum is a good place to connect the dots. Located just outside of Concord Center are Walden Pond, which honors Thoreau’s famed naturalist journal, and Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women 150 years ago.

Pick up a picnic lunch at The Cheese Shop. The Saltbox Kitchen’s tasty dishes and its small batch brewery are fueled by produce from its nearby Saltbox Farm. For dinner, Woods Hill Table sources from their farm at Woods Hill in Bath, NH, and the sleek, seasonally-focused 80 Thoreau is worth the day trip alone.

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Providence is a foodie’s dream. Why does this small capital city have so much kitchen talent? Nearby Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts is a major factor. Hemenway’s downtown is the grand dame of area seafood restaurants, Waterman Grille is a vibrant jewel on the East Side near Brown University and Aleppo Sweets is a lauded Syrian bakery and cafe—to name but a few spots. Federal Hill, the city’s impressive Italian neighborhood, is loaded with Italian eateries and shops. 

Waterplace Park is a lovely gathering spot, and it anchors the city’s annual WaterFire program, which runs from spring through late fall; braziers along the Providence River are lit at sunset and stoked with aromatic wood by black-clad figures on boats, while themed music plays.

Providence is home to the notable Trinity Repertory Company, and The Strand Ballroom & Theatre, one of the nation’s best rock venues. The Rhode Island School of Design’s museum includes one the country’s finest university art collections.

Shipbuilders and fishermen put Gloucester on the map; both industries still exist today, but on a smaller scale. The Fishermen’s Memorial on Gloucester Harbor honors all those lost at sea, including the Andrea Gale and its crew, the real life victims of The Perfect Storm. Check out the Cape Ann Museum, which has an amazing collection of art and artifacts specific to Gloucester and its surroundings.

Across narrow Main Street, savor straight-off-the boat seafood at the chic basement restaurant, Tonno. Or head to the Beauport Hotel, whose 1606 Restaurant has a great deck with ocean views, and a cozy fireplace for colder months. Next door to the hotel, Beauport Cruise Lines offers seasonal jaunts around the harbor.

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Settled in 1654, Mystic was once a shipbuilding seaport village that is now a quintessential New England town, packed with mom and pop shops, and lots for the whole family to do. 

 

During warm weather, spend a few hours on the sea with a day sail or sunset cruise from Argia Mystic Cruises, or visit the famous Mystic Aquarium or the Mystic Seaport Museum.  

After working up an appetite, stroll through the village to see the famous weighted Bascule bridge, pick up a sweet treat from award winning Sift Bake Shop and treat yourself to a Connecticut lobster roll at the Shipwrights Daughter, or a hearty grass-fed burger at the Engine Room.  And, if you must eat pizza in Mystic, head to Nana’s Bakery and Pizza for inventive takes on personal pies.

Falmouth is nestled on the southwestern part of Cape Cod, 20 miles south of the Sagamore Bridge. Lined with great beaches, cool boutiques and relaxing spots to eat and drink, it's also one of the Cape’s easiest towns to get to. Do breakfast or lunch like a local at The Pickle Jar or try Bear in Boots Burger Bar, which offers craft beers, great food and fun events.

The Falmouth Museums on the Green brings Cape Cod in the 1700s to life; the Federalist home of Dr. Francis Wicks is wonderfully preserved and packed with original artifacts. The Shining Sea Bike Trail—which hugs the coast past lovely views of both the Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay, runs from Falmouth to Woods Hole. The trail’s name comes from “America the Beautiful,” the famous poem by Katherine Lee Bates, a Falmouth native. (Though once a railroad, the path follows ancient Wampanoag Indian trails.) One more highlight: the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Ocean Science Discovery Center.

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One fun aspect to a day trip in Lexington is that you can easily do it by bicycle along the Minuteman Bikeway, which begins in North Cambridge and runs right through the leafy suburb, some 15 miles northwest of Boston. This posh town is most famous for its historic Battle Green, where the bloody Battle of Lexington followed the 1775 skirmish at Concord, as patriotic Minute Men engaged the British Army on Lexington Common. Many of the original homes flanking the battleground are preserved, including one as a visitor’s center.

Stroll Lexington Center’s mom and pop shops, enjoy homemade ice cream at Rancatore’s or dine at il Casale Cucina Campana + Bar from local chef Dante de Magistris, who traces his family’s roots with handmade pastas, delicious sfizis and classic dishes, all in a rustic-chic atmosphere. For an elegant Sunday brunch or dinner, The Inn at Hastings Park’s Artistry on the Green restaurant is a modern pleasure involving artful, seasonal dishes.

First stop: Bob’s Clam Hut, a sixty-year-old roadside diner with the best fried clams, sustainable local fish, and amazing milkshakes. Next stop? The adjacent Kittery Premium Outlets, which has everything from discounted Calvin Klein wear to Lindt chocolate. Best known for the historic Portsmouth Naval Yard—which is in Kittery, not neighboring Portsmouth, NH—this sleepy town includes Tributary Brewing Company, which has a cool tasting room and live music on weekends, and a sake brewer, Blue Current Brewery.

The heart of Kittery Foreside, which is the downtown area, is Wallingford Square—dotted with all kinds of eateries including the sleek bistro Anneke Jans. Or stop by Lil’s Café, set in a converted bank, where the old walk-in safe is now Vintage Vinyl, a small alcove with used records for sale. Lil’s bakery downstairs turns out some of the best pastries in New England and excellent chai, too.

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Washington, CT
Photograph: Courtesy Mayflower Inn & Spa

15. Washington, CT

For a small town in rural Connecticut, Washington has a big reputation for its arts and architecture. The Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens is set in a once abandoned gas station and boasts lovely landscaping and revolving art exhibits; Bee Brook Park is a pop-up park featuring environmental art by notable muralists.

Every July, the Litchfield Jazz Festival takes place at venues around town and world-renowned modern dance company Pilobolus holds its Five Senses Festival. In September, Gilmore Girls fans take over—the town inspired the TV program’s fictional Stars Hollow. Surrounded by colonial architecture, shop in unique boutiques and treat yourself to dinner (and a room, for a real spurge) at the historic, luxurious Mayflower Inn.

Just off I-90, Stockbridge is the gateway to the beautiful Berkshires, part of the Taconic Mountains. Main Street is home to the venerable Red Lion Inn, a onetime frontier town tavern that maintains a casual eatery called Widow Bingham’s Tavern and a gorgeously original main dining room with traditional favorites and an award winning wine list.

Nature and art dominate the area: Just off Park Street, behind Main Street, take the wooden footbridge and walk the Laurel Hill Association’s beautiful trails. Visit the Norman Rockwell Museum and see where the renowned illustrator and artist lived and worked. Nearby, visit Chesterwood, the home of the Lincoln Memorial sculptor Daniel Chester French, and Naumkeag, a Gilded Age architectural masterpiece. A few miles away in Lenox is the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, is a haven for music lovers. Nearby, take a guided tour of Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount, and learn about the woman behind the building and the books.

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Visit Plymouth Rock and the replica of the Mayflower in the harbor, and Pilgrim Hall, the oldest continuously operating public museum in the country. Nearby, Plimoth Plantation replicates the original Pilgrim village and doesn’t sugarcoat the early intersection of Plymouth Colony and the Indigenous homeland.

All that history can make you thirsty, so visit the Mayflower Brewery and  Independent Fermentations Brewery (they use locally grown barley, wheat, and rye malts), or Plymouth Bay Winery, which produces wine—as well as yummy jellies and sauces—from locally-grown native grapes and berries. Don’t miss Eco Chic Gifts, which carries recycled, up-cycled, fair trade, organic, all-natural, and always chic stuff to ease your consumer conscience. Pair with some serious spa time at Mirbeau Inn & Spa, and add dinner in the hotel’s picturesque bistro overlooking picturesque gardens (at this point you might want to stay over).

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