Boston might be known as the “walking city,” but sometimes there’a just too much ground to cover in a day. That doesn’t mean that you have to go underground on the subway, affectionately known here as the “T.” In recent years, Boston has re-engineered many of the roads in town to include bike lanes and even bike paths that are separated from traffic altogether. This has made traveling on two wheels much safer and considerably less nerve-wracking.
Admittedly, Boston’s streets are notoriously old and narrow. Many are one-way only, making navigation difficult. But with a bit of advance route planning, you can negotiate the roads safely and in just a few blocks you will be riding like a pro.
BlueBikes™: Boston's Bike Sharing Program
The first thing to know is that you don’t even need a bicycle. Boston has a bike-sharing program, BlueBikes, that allows anyone to download an app to their smartphone and rent a bike from one of over 200 docking stations throughout the city. Riders can go wherever they want and dock the bike at a separate station when they arrive. It’s an incredibly convenient program and allows visitors and locals alike to maneuver around the city with unparalleled efficiency while enjoying the outdoors. When the weather is nice, there is no longer any need to wait for the subway.
Ride the Paul Dudley White Bike Path
I recently used BlueBikes to get around quickly while taking photos for the Knockabout Rapid Traveler Boston travel guide. After street hiking through the waterfront and North End districts, I grabbed a bike at Beacon Hill on Charles Street and immediately headed for the Frances Appleton footbridge, one of eight pedestrian bridges that allow access to the Charles River Esplanade. This linear park runs along the south bank of the Charles River and is popular with locals and college students as it provides a scenic route for jogging. The Esplanade is also home to the Hatch Memorial Shell, a summer venue that hosts music performances throughout the summer, including the famous 4th of July Boston Pops concert.
Also located within the park is the Paul Dudley White Bike Path, a 17-mile paved route along the north and south banks of the Charles River. The path was named after a prominent, local cardiologist who was a strong advocate for preventive medicine, and often stated “I’d like to put everyone on bicycles,” when asked about his thoughts on preventing cardiac disease.
The Paul Dudley White Bike Path runs 17 miles along the north and south banks of the Charles River. Pictured here is the path as it runs through the Charles River Esplanade, with Storrow Drive on the left.
Within the Esplanade, the bike path is beautiful and very well maintained. BlueBikes are equipped with a storage area on the handlebars with bungees to secure your gear, so purchasing a picnic lunch and eating on the lawn in front of the Hatch Shell is a great idea, even if you did not bring a backpack. Suggested pack-out lunch spots include Finagle-a-Bagel (sandwiches) and Anna’s Taqueria (burrito bowls and wraps), both on Cambridge Street near the Appleton footbridge.
Continue riding west along the south bank of the river for approximately 3.5 miles until you arrive at the John W. Weeks footbridge. This involves a few street crossings with pedestrian crosswalks, but the path is still separated from traffic. At the Weeks bridge, cross over the Charles River, then continue riding west along the north bank of the river through Riverbend Park. Buildings of Harvard University will be observable from here. Take a right at the next major intersection, John F. Kennedy Drive, and follow it another 1/2 mile into Harvard Square. Dock your bike at any available BlueBike station and start to explore Cambridge, one of Massachusetts’ truly unique towns.
Things To Do in Cambridge
Once you have dismounted your bike, it’s time to explore a bit. Below are a few suggested activities and points of interest that you might like to visit.
- Eat lunch at Grendel’s Den: I enjoyed a quick bite to eat here during my bicycle trip and found the value to be exceptional. Grendel’s offers daily lunch specials for $7.00, making this a great choice for budget travelers. The bar is located at basement level and is great if you are looking for a quiet hideaway, but the venue also has street-level, outdoor seating if the weather is nice.
- Take a walk around Harvard Yard: With a bit of pre-planning, you could even arrange a guided tour. If no live tours are available during your visit, then take the self-guided audio tour with free downloadable campus map and audio files. More information of tours of Harvard University can be obtained by clicking HERE.
- Visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History: Take a short journey into the history of plant and animal life of different continents, explore New England foresets and marine life just offshore in the Atlantic. The exhibits are mostly static, but if you are interested in the natural world, space, or the effects of climate change, then the museum will be sure to hold your interest. Also on display are the famous glass flowers. These exceptionally life-like botanical displays were once used to educate Harvard students before the age of high resolution photography.
- Harvard Science Center Plaza: Located on the north side of Harvard Yard is The Plaza, a courtyard that features food trucks, lunchtime concerts, chair massages, chess, ping pong, a monthly petting zoo for the kids (and students), and a host of other ad hoc activities. It's a great place to hang out for a while and take some pics. Later on, you can tell everyone you went to Harvard. For a schedule of food trucks,click HERE.
- Washington/Longfellow House: This National Historic Site is administered by the National Park Service and was once the headquarters of General George Washington during the Siege of Boston, when Patriot forces surrounded Boston in April 1775 for a full year before finally ousting the British in April 1776. Generations later, the home became the home of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He is best known as the author of the poem, "Paul Revere's Ride."
If you would like to return to Beacon Hill to explore the area further, possibly to see one of the excellent IMAX films at the Museum of Science’s Mugar Omni Theater, then simply reverse order your route. However, I recommend taking a detour across the Harvard Bridge at Massachusetts Avenue to ride and walk some of the Back Bay neighborhood. If you have not been here yet, this would make a great opportunity to do so. You can also visit the Prudential Tower’s large shopping mall walk and shop along Newbury Street (BlueBikes have a small storage area for purchased items), or take in a self-guided architectural tour at Copley Square (Boston Public Library and Trinity Church are considered iconic architectural landmarks).
When you are ready, ride down Commonwealth Ave to Boston Public Garden. Here, you can dock your bike and continue with your walking excursions through the city.
Knockabout Boston Audio Tour
Take a self-paced walk through Boston's most historic neighborhoods. Includes all audio files streamed directly to your smartphone. No apps, no accounts, no passwords to remember.