Boston Marathon: Travel Guide for Attending America's Patriotic Marathon

Things to Know When Traveling to Run or Watch the Boston Marathon

••• Boston Marathon 2010. James Thompson

The Boston Marathon has always been a special event for the locals since it takes place on Boston’s own holiday, Patriots’ Day. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Patriots’ Day takes place on the third Monday of April and commemorates the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. Not only does the Boston Marathon occur, but the Red Sox play an 11 a.m. game, and everyone who has the day off from work hits the streets and the bars to have a good time.

It’s even more important to the city after the bombings in 2013. The Boston Marathon allows over 36,000 runners to cruise 26.2 miles starting outside in the suburbs and ending in Copley Square. Given the holiday and its legacy as one of the best marathons in the world, let alone one of the best sporting events of the year, hundreds of thousands of people like to watch the festivities as well. As with anything else, there are plenty of tips for experiencing the race as a participant or as a spectator. Here are some things you'll need to know for both.

Getting There

Getting to Boston is pretty easy. Logan Airport is the 18th busiest airport in the country and serves as a focus airport of JetBlue and a smaller hub of Delta. JetBlue offers a $10 discount off each way with a promo code for those traveling in for the Boston Marathon. You can fly non-stop into Logan through most major cities in the United States with connections in major cities being offered for those coming from smaller airports.

The airlines could possibly increase their price because of the event (now as event pricing), so be aware that flights could be slightly more expensive than usual. Providence Airport is also within an hour drive if you’re looking for an alternative airport for some reason. The easiest way to look for flight is with travel aggregator Kayak unless you specifically know what airline you want to travel on.

You can also drive to Boston from other places in the Northeast. It’s an hour drive from Providence, under a two-hour drive from Hartford and Portland, less than a three-hour drive from Albany, a three and a half hour drive from New York, and a five hour drive from Philadelphia. There’s also Amtrak rail service in the Northeast Corridor starting in Washington, D.C. and making stops in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, and Providence along with other smaller towns along the way. The train usually takes as long as driving in a car since even the high-speed Acela doesn’t actually go that fast. Bus service from many operators such as Greyhound, Megabus, and Bolt Bus are offered to Boston from major cities in the Northeast as well, but add at least an hour to the trip.

Where to Stay

Since Boston is a major city, there are many hotels to choose from. Unfortunately that availability fills up quickly since everyone’s coming in for the Boston Marathon and hotels will increase their rates (known as event pricing) because of what’s going on in the city. You’ll likely want to stay near Boston Common or Boylston Street so you can enjoy the most of Boston. Every brand name you can think of exists like Four Seasons, Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Ritz Carlton, and Westin.

If you want to stay closer to Faniuel Hall and further away from the race, there’s the Boston Harbor Hotel, the Hilton, and the Marriott Long Wharf. There’s also the Liberty Hotel, an upscale Luxury Collection property that was formerly a prison, that’s closer to the Charles River. The area down by the Seaport has really exploded in recent years and there are a few brand name hotel options there as well.

It’s possible that locals decide to take advantage of the influx of people by offering up their apartments or houses for rent. You can look into those options with AirBNB, HomeAway, or VRBO. This could be where you can cut some costs since hotel pricing will reflect the heavy demand.


There’s a lot of focus on diet leading up to a marathon and Boston’s restaurant scene is diverse enough to provide many options.

Unfortunately you’ll probably have to be specific about your intake before the race and can save the more diverse items for afterwards. Italian food is a favorite as runners look to “carbo-load” before a race and there’s plenty of Italian food on offer. The North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood, can’t be reached directly by public transportation, but is a short walk from the a couple T stations and easily easy to reach via cab. Dolce Vita, Giacomo’s, Lucca, and Mamma Maria are all really good options for a standard Italian dinner. You probably won’t want pizza before the race, but after the race there’s also Regina’s Pizzeria, which is a Boston staple for piping hot pies, although the lines can go down the street during busy times. Save some room for dessert while you’re in the North end so that you can enjoy the cannolis at Mike’s Pasty or Modern Pastry. I prefer Mike’s, but the locals are split between which they like more.

There’s plenty of good seafood around town as well. Legal Sea Foods is the iconic Boston seafood chain, but you may enjoy your seafood more at The Chart House or Island Creek Oyster Bar. There’s also Neptune Oyster or Union Oyster House if you don’t mind battling the lines. The burgers at the Four Seasons Hotel are upscale, but truly deliver. The burger offerings at The Butcher Shop in the South End aren’t as fancy, but are just as good. Galleria Umberto and Santarpio’s compete with Regina’s for the best pizza in town. It’s hard to secure a reservation at Myers + Chang, but the assorted Asian fare keeps the customers happy. Toro is an award winning restaurant specializing in the small plate experience. No. 9 Park has been around for a while now, but its European-influenced menu has held up as well as anything in the city over time.

Finding a restaurant reservation might be tough as people plan well in advance for their night-before dinner.  Open Table is always the best way to book reservations as most restaurants are listed on there. Those that aren’t generally have different online reservations systems on their own website or can be booked over the phone as well. Restaurants do this to pay fewer fees to Open Table on bookings.

Things to Do

Runners are generally advised to stay off their feet on the days leading up to the race and there are plenty of things in Boston to do that. The Red Sox always play at home during the weekend before the Boston Marathon, so you can head over to Fenway Park to enjoy one of America’s best ballparks. It’s also playoff time for hockey and basketball, so you might want to head over to TD Garden for a Bruins’ or Celtics’ game.

You can also catch a show, see a movie, go to a comedy club, or find a number of other things to do. Just save things like the aquarium museums for another time since you don’t want to be walking around them when you’re supposed to be staying off your feet.

Tips for Watching the Race

  • Make sure you know the Marathon route before you figure out where you’re going to be. It provides subway stops so you have help getting around and avoiding the traffic.
  • Track the specific runner you’re following with the mobile app so you know where and when to see the runner or runners you’re cheering on the most.
  • It’s also helpful to dress with plenty of layers. The weather can vary over the day during that time of year and you’ll want to be prepared for anything. At worst you can always take off layers if the sun comes out.
  • The best time to get to the bars is around 10:00 a.m. I personally like to be at the bars near the finish line around that time because you can watch the leaders as they finish the race and the atmosphere is great in that area.
  • Those looking to have fun are better off moving away from the finish line as the day moves on. The area near Kenmore Square becomes a lot of fun once the Red Sox game finishes and the two drinking crowds combine. Just be prepared for it to be very busy.
  • Beacon Street before the race gets to Kenmore Square is a great place to find your friends and family who are participating. There’s a good crowd, but it’s not overcrowded. There are many areas to post up along the rail and cheer your people on.
  • A lot of drinking is done on the streets, but you need to be careful if you do it. Fines are usually $200 if you’re caught drinking on the street during the race. Don’t use red cups or clear plastic cups. Get a little creative and fill ginger ale bottles with beer or mix alcohol into Gatorade or juice bottles.  Just know that containers of one liter or more of liquid are now banned.

Tips for Runners

  • Be prepared to be cold as you wait for the race to begin. Bring clothes that are easily discardable and waterproof if there’s a chance of rain. (It’s all for a good cause since all items are donated afterwards.)
  • Find a porta potty as soon as you get out to Hopkinton. Athlete Village can be overwhelming with a lot to take in, but try to be smart so that you are set when the race begins!
  • Women should remember to bring tissues or toilet paper to go to the bathroom before the race. Porta-potties are generally where women are forced to go throughout the race and they might be frightening inside. By the end of the race most runners are urinating in their pants anyway.
  • Do your best to keep at your pace when the race starts. People tend to let the adrenaline take over and start too fast. That’ll hurt you, especially in the Boston Marathon with the hills coming in the second half of the race.
  • Hydrate as much as possible, before and during the race. The last thing you want is to be de-hydrated when you’re pounding out 26.2 miles
  • Squeeze the cup at the top when you grab it at a hydration station. It keeps the liquid in the cup better and it’s easier to drink
  • The adrenaline really kicks in when you hit Wellesley College at Mile 13. That’s when you’ll be enjoying yourself the most. Use that to keep yourself motivated.
  • You’ve probably heard of Heartbreak Hill, a stretch of the race between Mile 20 and 21 near Boston College. It’s the last of four hills over a four mile stretch, but there’s no reason you can’t handle it. Don’t run too fast on the downhills and you’ll have something left.
  • Make sure to have friends and family supporting you near the finish line so that they can meet you further up Boylston when you finish.