Boston is a historic city with plenty of things to do and places to see, but there’s also lots more to explore outside the city limits. Whether you’re heading north to the mountains to ski or taking the ferry to Cape Cod’s Provincetown, there are day trips to take in every direction. Read on for our recommendations, all within driving distance and some you can even access by public transportation.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth is a historic coastal New Hampshire city that may be small in size but is full of character and popular restaurants. Have drinks along the docks on Bow Street as the sun sets at Pocos, Martingale Wharf or the Old Ferry Landing. For a seafood dinner with a view, try Surf, also on Bow Street. And for a casual yet tasty breakfast, you can’t go wrong with Colby’s.
Those visiting Portsmouth will enjoy walking around Prescott Park and learning about the history of Portsmouth at the Strawbery Banke Museum. Make sure you reserve some time for walking around the downtown area and popping into shops along the way. This city is growing year-by-year, with hotels and condos being built up as it grows in popularity.
Getting There: Portsmouth is about an hour and a half from Boston and the best way to get there is by car. If you don’t have a car, you can also take the C&J Bus Line.
Travel Tip: Pack a beach chair and drive down Route 1A to take in the Seacoast’s beaches. One of the first destinations you’ll come across in Rye is Ordiorne State Park, where you can walk around along the ocean. Eventually, you’ll get to Hampton Beach before you cross back over into Massachusetts.
Boston Area Beaches
On a hot summer day, or even when the sun is shining in the spring or fall, there are plenty of beaches in the Boston area to spend a day relaxing at.
On your way back from Portsmouth, drive south along the ocean until you reach the beaches in Rye, or continue on to the popular Hampton Beach strip, where there’s a big beach and plenty of restaurants. Just over the Massachusetts border is Salisbury Beach, another day trip spot just over an hour north of Boston. Other beautiful beaches on Boston’s North Shore include Wingaersheek and Good Harbor Beaches in Gloucester, Plum Island Beach in Newburyport, Crane Beach in Ipswich, Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea and Revere Beach in Revere.
The South Shore’s beaches are equally as beautiful, with one of the closest options being Wollaston Beach in Quincy, and then many others including Duxbury Beach in Duxbury and Nantasket Beach in Hull. Of course, you can continue south to Cape Cod for plenty more beaches to choose from.
Getting There: Most of these beaches are only accessible by car and the furthest options listed are a maximum of 1.5 hours away, depending on traffic and where you are coming from. If you prefer public transportation, you can get to Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea and Revere Beach in Revere by the Commuter Rail and MBTA Blue Line, respectively.
Travel Tip: If you want to hit the beach but aren’t the type to stay from sunrise to sunset, try one of the beaches on New Hampshire’s Seacoast and then plan to stop explore Portsmouth before or after. The same applies to Plum Island and Newburyport.
Newburyport is another coastal town, which feels similar to downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire in many ways. It was settled back in 1635 but has of course modernized over the years. Newburyport is most popular during the summer months given its location and nearby beaches, including Plum Island. But Newburyport is an ideal day trip from Boston at any time of year, as there are quite a few shops to stop by, restaurants to eat at and scenery to take in.
Getting There: Most people drive to Newburyport from Boston, as it’s under an hour and right off exit 56 on I-95 North. You can also take the Newburyport/Rockland Commuter Rail line from North Station.
Travel Tip: While you’re in Newburyport, drive over to Plum Island to spend some time at the beach, no matter what time of year.
Located at the very tip of Cape Cod is Provincetown (also known as “P-Town”), best known as a gay resort community, but also a beautiful place to visit for a day, weekend or more. While driving to the end of the Cape may not seem like a day trip, it’s easy to get there via a 90-minute ferry through Bay State Cruise Company.
Provincetown is surrounded by water on three sides with several beaches to enjoy. Both during the day and in the evening, check out the downtown area’s restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and more.
If you're not able to make it to Provincetown, there are plenty of Cape Cod towns within a shorter driving range.
Getting There: Take the 90-minute Bay State Cruise Company ferry from Boston, which is the fastest way to get there. The ferry operates daily from mid-May to mid-October, with trips leaving Boston three times a day. If you prefer to drive through the Cape, it will take you over two hours, but typically longer, as the roads are oftentimes single-lane and traffic can be bad.
Travel Tip: You’ll find fresh lobster rolls all over Provincetown, but be sure to stop by The Canteen, which serves both hot and cold options.
Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are two islands off the coast of Massachusetts, both of which are popular tourist destinations, especially during the summer months. Both are doable for day trips, especially Martha’s Vineyard, as it’s a bit shorter of a ferry ride. Both islands are quiet during the winter months, so plan your visit from Spring through Fall.
Vineyard Haven in Martha’s Vineyard, where the ferry drops you off, is full of shops and restaurants. You can also head to nearby Oak Bluffs, where you’ll find the 318 colorful Gingerbread Cottages at Wesleyan Grove off of Circuit Street. If you bring your bike or car along, you can explore the island’s beaches and other downtown areas as well.
Nantucket has different coastal vibe than Martha’s Vineyard and is also smaller in size. Here you’ll find cobblestone streets downtown and picture-worthy homes covered in hydrangeas all over the island. Of course, there are beautiful beaches around the island, along with food, galleries and boutiques. Stop by Cisco Brewers for a taste of local beer, which has become more and more popular throughout New England. And have a drink made with Nantucket’s Triple Eight Blueberry Vodka at one of the bars downtown.
Getting There: Martha’s Vineyard is a 45-minute ferry ride via the Steamship Authority from Woods Hole, which takes you to Vineyard Haven. The fast ferry to Nantucket is through Hy-Line Cruises, takes an hour and leaves from Hyannis. There are slower ferry options available, but these are the most efficient for a day trip. Keep in mind that Hyannis and Woods Hole are both on Cape Cod, so you’ll need to leave time for traffic if you’re traveling during peak hours. Both islands can also be accessed by plane from Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Travel Tip: You can choose to bring a car onto the ferry, but it’s recommended that you make plans for that in advance. That, coupled with the cost, is the reason many people choose to take a bike or get around Martha’s Vineyard through the Vineyard Transit Authority.
Providence, Rhode Island
About an hour drive south from Boston is the city of Providence, Rhode Island, also known as the “Creative Capital.” This city has become a popular tourist spot over the years, with popular attractions including WaterFire, a series of over 80 bonfires along downtown Providence’s three rivers, or the annual Halloween Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular or the Faces of the Rainforest exhibit at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. From November through March, head to the Providence Rink for Ice Bumper Cars.
Providence also has a foodie scene, with chefs coming from Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales opening restaurants within the city, such as Oberlin, a seafood-focused small plates and tapas concept. If you’re looking for Italian, head to Federal Hill, the Little Italy of Providence. The Dorrance is another reputable spot, located within a former bank and serving globally-inspired New England cuisine. And while you’re in town, stop by PVDonuts for delicious and unique brioche donuts in fun flavors like fruit pebbles, butterscotch crunch and brown butter brownie.
Popular Providence hotels include The Dean, built around the city’s history and culture, and the Providence Biltmore, a historic property designed by the architects of New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and the Hotel Providence, another centrally located option that’s great for all types of travelers.
Getting There: Providence is an hour drive from Boston. You can also get there by train, including the Amtrak and MBTA Commuter Rail on the Providence-Stoughton line, both leaving from Boston’s South Station.
Travel Tip: For the best pizza in town, try no-frills Caserta Pizza, also known for their “Wimpy Skimpy,” a spinach pie stuffed with black olives, cheese & pepperoni.
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island is another coastal town within driving distance from Boston. Here you’ll find the makings of a perfect day trip, from the Gilded Age mansions and beaches, to walking along the famous Cliff Walk. Visitors also enjoy exploring the Brick Market Place, a downtown are with more than 25 shops and eateries. If anyone you’re traveling with is into cars, check out the Newport Car Museum, located in nearby Portsmouth.
Favorite Newport restaurants include The White Horse Tavern, America’s oldest tavern, Winner Winner, Scarpetta Newport, The Black Pearl and Mission Burger. If you plan on staying overnight, top-rated hotels and resorts include The Vanderbilt, Forty 1° North, Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina and The Chanler at Cliff Walk. Many of these hotels
Getting There: Newport is an hour and a half drive from Boston and car is the easiest way to get there.
Travel Tip: Even if you’re not staying overnight, many of the top hotels are also great spots to grab drinks with a view if you’re in town for just the day. Head over to Forty 1° North and order your favorite cocktail as you look out on the water.
Nashoba Valley Winery & Other Vineyards
New England may not have a full-blown wine country, but there are several family-owned vineyards that make for great day trips, with at least one option nearby no matter where you are staying. From Boston, your best bet is the Nashoba Valley Winery, where you can sample the vineyard’s wines and also pick your own peaches, nectarines and apples when they are in season and enjoy farm-to-table food at J’s Restaurant.
Another Massachusetts option is Furnace Brook Winery in the Berkshires, about 2.5 hours away from Boston. An hour north of the city, there’s South Hampton, New Hampshire’s Jewell Towne Vineyards. In Rhode Island, try Verde Vineyards or Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard. As you head into Connecticut, follow the Connecticut Wine Trail and try the Lost Acres Vineyard in North Granby, Arrigoni Winery in Portland and Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret.
Getting There: The Nashoba Valley Winery is around an hour drive from Boston in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Travel Tip: If you plan on visiting several vineyards and wineries in one day, make sure you have a designated driver or look for transportation services, such as limos or tours to take you from one spot to another.
Mountains of Massachusetts and New Hampshire
Speaking of Nashoba Valley, this destination is not only home to one of the best vineyards near Boston, but Nashoba Valley Ski Area is also a great winter destination for skiing and tubing if you’re into these activities but not long drives. Other places to ski in Massachusetts include Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Blue Hills Ski Area in Canton and Ski Bradford in Haverhill.
As you head into New Hampshire, popular ski resorts and mountains include Waterville Valley Resort, Loon Mountain, Gunstock, Cannon and more. Another option, Bretton Woods, is not only a ski resort, but also home to the beautiful Omni Mount Washington Resort, which has plenty to do for both skiers and those who prefer après skiing activities.
Getting There: Nashoba Valley Ski Area is less than an hour from Boston by car, and other Massachusetts ski destinations range between 40 minutes to a little over an hour. Most of the drivable New Hampshire mountains are just over two hours away from Boston.
Travel Tip: To make your ski trip even easier, try Liftopia Experiences, a service that will take you on trips from Boston such as skiing at Crotched Mountain or snow tubing at Ski Ward and to a local brewery. Outdoor retailer REI also offers classes and activities, such as a store to slopes shuttle that takes you to Stratton Mountain.
Lincoln, New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s White Mountains is where you’ll find the town of Lincoln, where Loon Mountain is located. But that’s not all Lincoln has to offer. During the winter months, the Ice Castles are a picturesque destination to visit. You can also go ice skating at The Rink at RiverWalk Resort, which was transformed from a 167,000 gallon swimming pool that’s available for guests in the summer. While you’re at the RiverWalk Resort, take a sleigh ride, go snowmobiling or taste wine at the Seven Birches Winery, which is right on the property.
Getting There: Lincoln is about two hours from Boston without traffic and your best bet for getting there is by car.
Travel Tip: Beware of traveling north from Boston during the winter months on Friday afternoons and evenings, as it’s likely you’ll run into traffic leaving the city as locals get out of work and head to the mountains.
One of the best spas in the Boston area is located south of the city in Plymouth at the Mirbeau Inn & Spa. There’s more than just great massages and facials here – there’s a heated foot pool surrounded by lounge chairs to relax in, as well as an outdoor jacuzzi to enjoy while you sip champagne from the bar.
While you’re in Plymouth, take a walk along the water and check out the iconic Plymouth Rock and Pilgrim Hall Museum, America’s oldest, continuously operated, public museum filled with artifacts that came to our country with the Pilgrims. Then head 3 miles down the road to the Plimouth Plantation museum.
Nearby in Carver, the kids will enjoy the Edaville Family Theme Park, which is particularly fun around the holidays with their Christmas Festival of Lights.
Getting There: The easiest way to get to Plymouth is via car, which will take about an hour. There is also a Commuter Rail stop in Plymouth if you prefer public transportation.
Travel Tip: While the Plymouth Rock is certainly a Massachusetts landmark, don’t be surprised when it’s nothing substantial when you see the remains in person. There is still plenty to see and do in Plymouth though!
Portland, Maine may sound far away from Boston, but at two and a half hours away, it’s still doable for a day or weekend trip. This coastal downtown area has developed quite the foodie scene and it’s also a great spot to take in New England’s fall foliage season. Top restaurants include Fore Street, Central Provisions, Duckfat, Eventide Oyster Co. and Holy Donut. If you’re into beer, go for a tasting at Shipyard Brewing Company.
You can spend an entire weekend walking around downtown Portland and popping into shops, restaurants and bars. But another fun activity when the weather is nice to take the short ferry over to Peaks Island, where you can rent bikes or golf carts to cruise around the island and take in the coastal views.
Getting There: Portland is about two and a half hours away from Boston by car. Another option is to take Amtrak’s Downeaster from North Station in Boston to Portland, which takes about the same amount of time.
Travel Tip: Fore Street won a 2018 TripSavvy Editors’ Choice Award as one of the Best Iconic Restaurants & Fine Dining. This restaurant books up far in advance, but they reserve spots for walk-ins. The trick is to put your name in right when they open at 5:30 p.m.
Just south of the city are the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, a shopping plaza where both locals and tourists go to get lots of shopping done at once, especially around the holidays. As New England’s largest outdoor shopping center, you’ll find everything from Off Saks and Tory Burch, to Vineyard Vines and the Nike Factory Store.
Getting There: The Wrentham Village Premium Outlets are located just 35 miles south of Boston, right off exit 15 on I-495. The best way to get there is by car.
Travel Tip: Bring your AAA card if you have one. When you get there, show it at the visitor center to get a coupon book that will give you even more discounts than you get at the outlets.