The Charles River – a Cambridge and Boston Landmark

Wondering whether to choose Cambridge or Boston?  Both?   How far one is from the other?

Many visitors discover that a trip to Cambridge or Boston is a trip to two adjoining cities. Views of each across the river are interesting and beautiful.

9 bridges connect Cambridge and Boston across the Charles River. There’s easy access to see the sights of both cities driving, using the metro or walking.

You might have seen the Charles while flying or driving to the Boston area, but take time during your stay to enjoy the river itself.

Charles River, Boston - visit Harding House Bed & Breakfast, Cambridge, MA, charm and convenience

Starting as a stream in the metro-west suburb of Hopkinton (also the starting point of the Boston Marathon in April), the Charles River flows 80 miles (129km) through  23 towns, fed by 80 streams along the way through 8,000 acres of protected wetlands. Its broad Charles River Basin, lined with recreational parklands, passes between Boston and Cambridge, then towards Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.



In the early 1900’s, the tidal estuary that was the lower Charles underwent a historic transformation. It was engineered to form the Charles River Basin, a habitat for animals, plants and people, providing much-loved urban parks and open space with sweeping views of Cambridge and Boston.  Recreational opportunities today include sailing, kayaking, boating, walking, biking, running and roller-blading along leafy paths and playgrounds.

Esplanade Hatch Shell for concerts, Boston - visit Harding House Bed & Breakfast, Cambridge, MA, charm and convenience

On Boston side of the Charles River is a beautiful three-mile leafy path known as the Esplanade, completed in 1936.  Summer events are held at the Hatch Shell, an outdoor concert hall famous for the Boston Pops concert and Fireworks on Independence Day in July.

Charles River, Boston - visit Harding House Bed & Breakfast, Cambridge, MA, charm and convenience

Among the many landmarks viewed looking across the river, you’ll see Boston University on the Boston side of the river,  Harvard and MIT campuses along the Cambridge side, along with their boathouses.

Bicycle and walking paths are also to be enjoyed on each side. Storrow Drive Parkway, restricted to cars only, runs along the Boston bank; Memorial Drive, a section of which is closed to vehicles on summer Sunday afternoons for pedestrians, runs along the Cambridge side.

Boating is allowed on the Charles but not swimming. Efforts to restore swimming began in the 1960s, with the creation of the Charles River Watershed Association. Learn about their work:   In 1995, the United States Environmental Protection Agency declared a goal of making the river swimmable; races and events have been held to raise awareness of the river’s environmental health and improve the water quality.

Many festivals and events are held throughout the year on the river.
Some highlights:

  • The Cambridge River Festival an annual celebration of the arts, attracting 200,000 per year.The 38th annual Cambridge Arts River Festival will take place on Saturday, June 3, 2017.  This free event features jazz, folk, roots and world music performances, dance, art demonstrations, family art-making activities and over 150 specialty food purveyors and craftfolks and artisans!   Location is the East Cambridge waterfront along Cambridge Parkway between Edwin H. Land Boulevard and the Lechmere Canal.
  • The Dragon Boat Festival on the Charles River, June 2017
    The annual Boston Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival is the largest-running dragon boat race in North America with over 60 teams competing.  Enjoy the spectacular dragon boats, with rowers ranging from novice to expert.  Trials take place on Saturday, and the races occur on Sunday.  Asian arts, crafts, martial arts, and dance performances take place on Sunday from 12 noon – 5pm on the the Cambridge side of the Charles.
  • Head of the Charles Regatta
    The Head of The Charles  is the largest 2-day regatta in the world, with 11,000 athletes rowing in over 1,900 boats in 61 events. It attracts tens of thousands of spectators during regatta weekend.   We always enjoy accommodating rowers and their families At Harding House and Irving House  at Harvard..
  •  Harborfest in July is Boston’s 5-day long Independence celebration, and is the biggest patriotic celebration in the U.S., attracting millions of visitors to Boston from all over the world.Over 200 other events take place daily, including the spectacular July 4th fireworks display over the Charles River.  Whether you participate in a few events, a lot, or even none of them, you’ll see lots of interesting costumes, entertainers, and tempting food vendors.

Playgrounds by the river

Cambridge Park & Playground info: 

Harbor and River Cruises, DuckBoats:

Sailing:  Community Boating

More about the Charles River:

“The Bridges of Cambridge”

Harding House Inn, Cambridge, MA, view of Charles River Esplanade, Boston

If you’re staying at Harding House, we’d be glad to tell you about best ways to get to the Charles River, or to enjoy one of the restaurants, activities or other special places along its banks.