Charles River Cruise: A Tour of Boston by Riverboat

Taking a cruise on the Charles River is a great way to experience Boston. A guided riverboat tour allows you to see the many historical and cultural sites that line the river. Some of these sites are rather significant in terms of Boston's history, and others are newer additions that have helped to create the city's landscape that exists today. 

About the Charles River

The Charles River begins in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, which is about 36 miles west of Boston. Hopkinton is a small town with a population of less than 3,000 people. But the city is fairly well-known, having gained its fame by being the starting point of the annual Boston Marathon.

From its source at Echo Lake in Hopkinton, the Charles River meanders in a northeasterly direction for about 80 miles until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean via the Boston Harbor.

The inner harbor is formed at the confluence of the Mystic and Charles rivers in Boston. And the outer harbor is fed by several other rivers. Cruises on the Charles River often include the Boston Harbor.

Sites Along the Charles River

Cambridge and Boston are separated by the Charles River. Cambridge is on the north side of the river, and Boston is on the south side. Your riverboat tour guide will be pointing out sites in both cities.

Some notable sites on the Cambridge side of the river include two prestigious universities - Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). Both universities have historical significance. Harvard University dates back to 1636, and M.I.T. was founded in 1860. 

And on the Boston side of the Charles River, there are some of the famous landmarks across the city's skyline. We'll take a look at a few of them.

The Marriot's Custom House is an all-suite hotel that overlooks Boston Harbor. The waterfront resort is located inside the Custom House Tower - a 32-story skyscraper that was built in 1915.

Another famous high-rise along the Charles River is the Prudential Building or Prudential Tower. It was built in 1964 and has 52 stories.

The Hancock Tower (now called the 200 Clarendon) is located on the Boston side of the River. Built in 1976, it's the tallest building not only in Boston, but in New England as well.

Other sites in Boston that your guide might point out during your riverboat tour, include Boston University, Fenway Park and the Esplanade, which is a three-mile path that runs along the Charles River.

Charles River Cruise Packages

While there may be several options for boat tours on the Charles River, we're going to look at two packages. Both sightseeing cruises are wheelchair accessible. They are also family friendly, so bring the kids along!

90 Minute Architecture Cruise on the Charles River

This 90-minute sightseeing tour begins in Cambridge at the Cambridgeside Galleria. Departure times are 10:00 am and 2:30 pm daily. 

Cambridgeside Galleria

By RhythmicQuietude (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

The tour focuses on the historic and contemporary architecture that can be seen from Boston Harbor. Some of the featured sites on the riverboat tour include Marriott's Custom House, the Prudential Building, the Hancock Tower and a spectacular view of many of the best waterfront properties in Cambridge and Boston.

The 90 Minute Architecture Cruise on Charles River is narrated by a volunteer from Boston By Foot. Founded in 1976, it is “a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting public awareness and appreciation of Boston’s rich history and architectural heritage by offering a wide range of guided tours”.

This tour is also presented in partnerships with the Boston Society of Architects, which was established in 1867. It's a non-profit organization that is under the umbrella of the American Institute of Architects.

Additional Notes: Alcoholic beverages are available as well as other food and drink items. Cruises are available from May through October.

Click Here for more details about the 90 Minute Architecture Cruise on the Charles River.

One Hour Charles River Sightseeing Cruise

Although this tour is called the "One Hour", it actually lasts about 70 minutes. Multiple departures from Lechmere Canal Park are available daily.

Lechmere Canal

By Tim Pierce (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This guided riverboat tour will take you past many of Boston's historical and cultural sites. On the Boston side of Charles River, you'll see Beacon Hill, the Back BayBoston UniversityFenway ParkMuseum of Science and Esplenade Park.

And on the Cambridge side you'll cruise past Harvard University and M.I.T.

Additional Notes: Beer, wine, soda and snacks are available for purchase. Cruises are available from May through October.

Click Here for more details about the One Hour Charles River Sightseeing Cruise.

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Lauri Wakefield is a travel writer who specializes in  river cruises in Europe and the U.S. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

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