Want to replace the early morning screech of the T with the sound of the sea? Rather smell salt air than car exhaust on your weekend travels? Massachusetts residents might be surprised to discover that weekend plans and weekday commutes don’t always require a set of wheels, as the Bay State offers a wealth of water-based public transportation options. Here are some of the Massachusetts destinations that you can travel to and from by boat.
Boston Harbor Islands (seasonal): Boston Harbor Cruises offers spring and summer boats to the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, starting in mid-June and running through early September. Seven of the 34 islands can be reached by ferry—Georges, Spectacle, Peddocks, Lovells, Thompson, Grape, and Bumpkin. Travel to some islands will require a boat transfer, depending on port of origin. For pricing and ferry schedules to each island, see the 2023 Ferry Schedule.
Once You Arrive on the Islands: Each island boasts a different experience for visitors. Families can enjoy lifeguard-supervised swimming on Spectacle Island’s sandy beaches, located just south of the marina, while quieter beaches and unsupervised swimming can be found on Lovell’s and George’s Island. History buffs can take in the historical sites (including Fort Warren and Fort Andrews), while lighthouse aficionados should seize the chance to tour three iconic lighthouses, including Little Brewster Island’s Boston Light, the second-oldest working lighthouse and the oldest light station in the United States. For more information about individual islands and activities to make the most out of your trip, see the “Plan your Visit” dropdown list on the About the Park page.
Boston Waterfront: To hitch a ride from one point in Boston to another, hop on a water taxi that runs year-round and services major destinations and interesting stops, including the North End, Fort Point Channel, the Seaport District, and Logan Airport. See the Boston Harbor Cruises Water Taxi website for hours and rates and call 617-227-4320 for a pickup.
Charlestown: Travel options from Long Wharf to the oldest neighborhood in Boston are available on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) ferry. For fares, a map, and weekend and weekday departure times, see the Charlestown Ferry page.
Once You Arrive in Charlestown: The Charlestown Navy Yard, where you’ll be dropped off, was once one of the countries busiest naval ports. It’s also the home of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat today (she was launched in 1797). Take a tour of Old Ironsides and learn more about her fascinating history, then walk a few blocks northwest to climb the Bunker Hill Monument for views of Charlestown and the harbor. If your climb has worked up your appetite, check out MassVacation.com’s Charlestown restaurant page for some of the best restaurants in the neighborhood.
Cuttyhunk Island: A year-round ferry runs from New Bedford to Cuttyhunk, the last and most populous of the Elizabeth Island chain (with a year-round population of a whopping 20-50 people). Boats run frequently between early April and late September, with fewer trips in the off season. For fares and more information, see the Cuttyhunk Ferry Company website.
Once You Arrive in Cuttyhunk: Cuttyhunk is small enough that a vehicle isn’t necessary to explore the area. You can walk the square mile of the island’s expanse or lounge on its quiet beaches—sometimes accompanied by sunbathing seals—or check out cuttyhunk.net for more ideas for island activities.
Hingham & Hull: Transport from Boston to Hingham (one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts—settled in 1633!) and the quaint beachside town of Hull is available through the MBTA ferry. A monthly ferry pass is available for regular commuters. Public transportation to and from the Hingham Ferry Terminal is available on the 220 bus and to and from the Hull Ferry Terminal on the 714 bus. For fares, schedules, and maps, see the Hingham/Hull Ferry web page.
Once You Arrive in Hingham: The Hingham Shipyard is within walking distance of a series of green spaces, including Webb Memorial State Park (with Boston skyline views), Great Esker Park, Bare Cove Park, and Stodder’s Neck dog park (for those traveling with canine companions). The Hingham Shipyard Launch website also offers more options for activities in the area. Once you venture beyond the waterfront, see the 365 South Shore Hingham events list for concerts, movies, and more in the town.
Once You Arrive in Hull: The Hull ferry arrives at Pemberton Point, a quick taxi or bike ride away from scenic Nantasket Beach. Walk down the Nantasket Beach boardwalk for peaceful views of the coast and stop in at the Paragon Carousel, the last remnant of Hull’s historic Paragon Park, an amusement park that operated from 1928 until 1984. For more activities and events on and off the beach, visit the Hull Chamber of Commerce website.
Logan Airport & Long Wharf: The MBTA Hingham ferry also connects Logan Airport with the towns of Hingham and Hull, as well as with Long Wharf on the Boston waterfront. Long Wharf is within walking distance of the Aquarium (Blue Line) and the State Street (Orange Line) T stations. Once you’ve arrived at the Logan docks, the free Massport 66 shuttle bus provides service to and from all airport terminals. More information and a full schedule of ferries are available on the Hingham/Hull Ferry page.
Martha’s Vineyard: A veritable fleet of boats runs to and from the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The Steamship Authority offers passenger and vehicle ferries from their Woods Hole terminal year-round, while Hy-Line Cruises runs passenger ferries beginning in early May until the end of October (see the Martha’s Vineyard Ferries page for fares and more information). From New Bedford, the SeaStreak Ferry runs seasonally, including shuttle service from the parking lot to the pier. From Falmouth, you can board either the Island Queen, running from late May to mid-October, or the Falmouth-Edgarton Ferry, running from late May to early September, each of which only transports passengers. Both Falmouth ferries also offer commuter passes for frequent travelers.
Once You Arrive in Martha’s Vineyard: Those without a car on Martha’s Vineyard often travel by bus or bike when feet fail. The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce outlines different ways to get around the island, including buses available through the Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority. Bikers can check out the Chamber of Commerce Biking on MV page for the many bike paths available on the island. To help plan your trip, the Martha’s Vineyard Times offers a comprehensive directory of activities, restaurants, and upcoming events.
Nantucket: There are multiple options for cruising to this scenic island, depending on departure location. Hy-Line Cruises and The Steamship Authority run year-round service, each with both a traditional ferry, which takes approximately two hours to reach the island, and a high-speed ferry, which takes an hour. The Steamship Authority, which runs boats from terminals in Woods Hole and Hyannis, can transport both walk-on passengers and vehicles. Hy-Line Cruises, operating out of Hyannis, carries passengers only (no vehicles); see their Nantucket Ferries page. A seasonal passenger-only ferry is also available from New Bedford. For schedules and fares, see the SeaStreak website.
Once You Arrive in Nantucket: Nantucket is large enough that most visitors without cars may want to plan for an alternate form of transportation. For those who want to avoid driving, the island’s flat terrain is great for walking and biking. For bikers, both road and off road trails offer opportunities to explore the entire island, as outlined by Town of Nantucket’s Bike Paths map. The Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (NRTA) also offers shuttle buses around the island. To plan your island getaway, check out the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce for information on visiting Nantucket.
Provincetown (seasonal): Trade hours of Cape traffic for a 90-minute boat cruise on one of Boston’s two fast ferries to Provincetown at the very tip of Cape Cod. Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) operates a ferry out of Long Wharf from mid-May through mid-October, as does Bay State Cruise Company from the Seaport. For fares and schedules, see the BHC Boston to Provincetown Fast Ferry page or the Bay State Cruise Company Provincetown Ferry page. A ferry is also available across Cape Cod Bay from Plymouth, including a narrated tour of historic Plymouth Harbor.
Once You Arrive in Provincetown: The Provincetown ferry dock is surrounded by a swoop of beaches—only minutes from the dock is Dyer’s Beach, with Herring Cove Beach and Long Point Beach only a quick drive or bike ride away. The nearby Race Point Lighthouse also offers historic tours and gorgeous views of Cape Cod Bay—for more on the light’s activities and history, see the Race Point Light Station website. For upcoming events and year-round activities, visit Provincetown.com.
Salem (seasonal): Boat service to the Bay State’s spookiest town begins in late May and runs until Halloween, the most popular time of year to visit the home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The ferry runs from Long Wharf in Boston and arrives at Blaney Street Pier in Salem. Schedules and fare information can be found at the Boston Harbor Cruises Salem Ferry page.
Once You Arrive in Salem: The Blaney Street Pier is only a few blocks walk west of the Salem Regional Visitor Center, Peabody Essex Museum, and Salem Witch Museum. For those less supernaturally inclined, Salem Neck, to the east, offers quiet walks and scenic views in Winter Island Park, as well as arcade games, food and vendors, and an outdoor concert venue at the Salem Willows.
Claudia Geib, CZM’s 2015 COASTSWEEP Intern and the author of multiple CZ-Tips, and COASTSWEEP blogs, holds undergraduate degrees from Northeastern University in Journalism and Environmental Science. In fall 2015, she entered the Masters program in Science Journalism at MIT. Claudia is also a scuba diver and underwater COASTSWEEP cleanup coordinator.
For more of Claudia’s tips, see:
Removing Plastic from Rockport’s Reefs with COASTSWEEP - Mass.gov blog, 10/13/15
CZ-Tip - Scuba Diving in Massachusetts - 10/1/15
Calling All Treasure Hunters: Join a COASTSWEEP Cleanup This Fall - Mass.gov blog, 9/8/15
Seeking Local Beach Cleanup Coordinators for COASTSWEEP 2015 - Mass.gov blog, 7/16/15