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Know Before You Go: Visiting Boston in Winter

Here’s what to know for a great winter trip to Boston, the City on the Hill.

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Liam Greenwell is a writer and teacher based in Mexico City. He is originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read more of his work at liamgreenwell.com and find him on Twitter @liam_greenwell.

For Boston winter travel tips, look no further: though the city has a (deserved) reputation for deep freezes, travelers will still find plenty to fill a trip to Beantown in the winter months. Winter activities in Boston run the gamut from outdoor annual traditions to special exhibitions that highlight the city’s cultural offerings. Though the weather in Boston in winter can be brutal, with the right packing tips, visitors can enjoy their time and come out unscathed.

What should I do in Boston in the winter?

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Locals spend time outdoors ice skating or strolling the city.

Boston has a masochistic attitude towards winter. “Mild” seasons will arouse the scorn of locals, who decry that a real Boston winter should include hail, snow, ice, and pain. If you want a real taste of Boston in winter, spend time outdoors. Ice skate on the Frog Pond of Boston Common, a short walk from the Make Way for Ducklings Statues and the Massachusetts State House. Alternatively, attend a Boston Bruins game at the TD Garden for rowdy crowds that baptize you quickly into the city's spirit.

What should I wear in Boston in the winter?

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Warm layers and sturdy boots are always a sure bet.

Boston receives 49.2 inches (125 centimeters) of snowfall annually, so travelers should prepare for the worst when visiting the city. Pack layers you can shed if the city receives a surprisingly sunny day—which happens more than you might think, even in winter. Boots are also a good idea since snow in downtown Boston can stick around well into March and April. As Mark Twain said in a speech from 1876, “One of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it.”

When does winter end in Boston?

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Your guess is as good as a local’s.

It’s the eternal question that even a groundhog can’t answer. In the early spring, visitors may be delighted one day with unseasonably warm weather, while the next may plunge back into freezing temperatures. On average, there are 4.4 snowfall days in March, for example—significantly fewer than December, January, and February, but still enough that you would be wise to pack snow and slush gear.

Foul weather doesn’t have to mean giving up on fun, though: it’s a perfect time, for instance, to dig into the city’s culinary traditions in the Italian-American neighborhood of the North End.

Is Boston worth visiting in winter?

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Yes, but start your days early to avoid the evening’s chill.

There’s plenty to do in Boston in winter, including spending days at some of the city’s excellent museums. Wile away an entire afternoon among the classics of American painting at the Museum of Fine Arts or engage with a more modern perspective at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The campuses of the city’s many great universities—Harvard, MIT, Boston University, and Northeastern, among others—will also be buzzing with student life despite any gloomy weather you may confront. Be aware that it can get dark as early as 4pm, so start your explorations early. Once the sun goes down, the chilly weather starts to feel much colder.

Are there special events in Boston in the winter?

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From orchestra to food festivals, there’s plenty to do in winter.

Boston’s cultural offerings are robust in the winter months. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is a world-renowned institution, and the Holiday Pops performance is a family-friendly introduction to classical music. In Cambridge, the Harvard Film Archive and the American Repertory Theater host regular events drawing work from preeminent arthouse filmmakers and playwrights.

The SoWa Winter Festival, which takes place in the South End, is a newer addition, with food trucks, special menus, and artist studios that let visitors peer behind the curtain of the creative process. Visitors can also get out onto the water with a holiday-themed cocoa and carols cruise.

What neighborhoods should I visit in Boston in winter?

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Head out of downtown to explore Dorchester and Roxbury.

Downtown Boston can become a maze of ice and slush in winter as narrow streets become even more treacherous. Avoid driving if you can and branch out beyond the city center. Dorchester and Roxbury have easy transit connections on the Orange and Red Lines of the T and offer diverse cuisine, African American history, and incredible outdoor spaces such as Franklin Park. Jamaica Plain, Allston, and Somerville all provide fun events for a younger crowd and excellent dining options; explore Union Square in Somerville with Viator for an insider’s look at some of the diverse culinary scenes.

Can I spend time outside in Boston in the winter?

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Skiing and hiking are just a short drive away.

Boston has options for most winter sports within a few hours from downtown—and often much closer. At the Blue Hills and Middlesex Fells Reservations, around 30 minutes to the city's south and north, you can snowshoe or hike and find both natural beauty and striking views of the city skyline.

If you have a weekend to explore, resorts like Stowe Mountain in Vermont and Sunday River in Maine offer top-class skiing around three hours from downtown. Alternatively, embrace the backcountry in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire—just make sure to plan your hike carefully, as the weather can turn dangerous instantly.

Is Boston accessible for disabled travelers in winter?

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It depends on where you go.

Certain areas of Boston, such as Beacon Hill, are unfortunately inaccessible due to their narrow streets, poor signage, and uneven sidewalks. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which runs the city’s metro system called the T, has also suffered multiple service outages over the past few years and continues to fail to provide consistent service. However, most train stations are accessible, and service is improving.

Insider tip: Disabled travelers may consider staying in a neighborhood like Seaport, where newer construction and wider streets (as well as easy access to Downtown) may make for an easier trip.

Frequently asked questions

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Everything you need to know about visiting Boston.

  • How should I arrive to Boston? Boston Logan International Airport is close to the city center, though winter storms can disrupt traffic. If you are arriving from a city like New York, consider taking the Amtrak train to Boston instead.

  • What is parking in winter in Boston like? Boston allows overnight parking in winter except for declared “snow emergencies,” reported by the city.

  • Are attractions typically open in Boston in winter? Most museums and attractions are open normally in winter, though some outdoor attractions, such as the Boston Harbor Island ferries, are closed.

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