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How Many Islands are in Boston Harbor?

You probably know that Boston is the capital of Massachusetts. You probably also know a few facts about the Boston Tea Party. If you’re a sports fan, you might follow the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, Boston Bruins, or the New England Patriots.

But did you know there are dozens of islands only a few miles from the city center in the Boston Harbor?

You don’t have to venture to the Florida Keys or the Outer Banks of North Carolina to experience island life. Although they’re not tropical, these islands offer beautiful scenery and historical significance. Let’s learn more so you can start planning a trip to the Boston Harbor Islands!

What Is the Boston Harbor? 

Home to the Boston Port, the Boston Harbor lies adjacent to the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Early Europeans recognized the area as an excellent natural harbor because of its depth and surrounding islands.

The Boston Harbor provided a place of defense and a way to travel inland via the Charles River. Boston became a booming city where almost all imports arrived, heading to the Northeast.

What Is the Boston Harbor Known for? 

In its earliest years, the Boston Harbor was a crucial trading port for the colonies during the 1600s and 1700s. Ships would usually come into Boston first. Trade routes carrying enslaved people and goods stopped at the Boston Harbor before venturing on the East Coast.

The most famous event before the American Revolution at the Boston Harbor was when colonists dumped boxes of tea from a British ship into the harbor in response to increased taxes by the British government. Because of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed the Boston Port Act in 1774, closing Boston Harbor to all ships.

This was a significant blow to the colonies’ economy and eventually led to the American Revolution.

Pro Tip: After exploring the Boston Harbor Islands, head to Alice’s Restaurant in Massachusetts.

Plane flying over Boston Harbor Islands
Explore the 24 islands and peninsulas in Boston Harbor.

How Many Islands are in Boston Harbor?

There are 34 islands and peninsulas in the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. Attracting over half a million visitors yearly, Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park is the most significant recreational space in eastern Massachusetts. Georges Island, Spectacle Island, Thompson Island, and Peddocks Island are famous destinations.

On Georges Island, you’ll find Fort Warren, a training facility for Union soldiers during the Civil War. Spectacle Island offers guests access to a beach with lifeguards and ample outdoor recreational activities. Public access is only on the weekends at Thompson Island, and guests must travel via the ferry. Finally, visit Fort Andrews and a restored WWII-era chapel on Peddocks Island while you enjoy birdwatching or camping.

Was Boston Once an Island? 

Colonists founded Boston on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630. It was never an island to our knowledge. It has an area of about 90 square miles and is the largest city in the Northeast, with over 675,000 residents.

It’s on Massachusetts Bay, which extends into the Atlantic Ocean. The Charles River, an 80-mile-long river in eastern Massachusetts, forms the border between downtown Boston, Cambridge, and Charlestown.

Woman walking in water in Boston
Enjoy swimming, boating, kayaking and more in the Boston Harbor.

Can You Swim in Boston Harbor? 

There are a couple of dozen beaches open to the public in Boston. Parking is limited, however, so plan or arrive early during the summertime. Visitors can take public transportation or ride a ferry to one of the islands for a day at the beach. Swimming and boating are pretty popular in the Boston Harbor, and paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing are popular activities people enjoy on the Charles River.

Which Boston Islands Are Open to the Public? 

Visitors can only access the Boston Islands via private boat or ferry. Boston Harbor City Cruises provides round-trip public ferry rides during the spring and summer. Spring ferry rides only go to Spectacle Island and Thompson Island. Summer ferry rides add trips to Georges Island and Peddocks Island. Adult tickets are $25.95, child tickets are $17.95, senior tickets are $22.95, and children under age three are free.

According to the Boston Harbor Islands website, boat owners can “launch from downtown Boston, or one of several public boat ramps throughout the harbor, cruise among diverse Islands and peninsulas, or take advantage of public mooring sites within the park.” Use caution as Boston Harbor is home to many active shipping channels. You can reserve moorings at Spectacle, Georges, and Peddocks Islands.

Rainsford and Snake Islands, the islands in Hingham Harbor, and the outer islands have little access during bird breeding season from April-August. In addition, Long, Gallops, Moon, Little Brewster, and The Graves don’t have public access. For more information about where you can go and seasonal closures, visit the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park website or call ahead.

Pro Tip: While exploring Boston, drive down the east coast and spend the night at one of these 20 Best Free Camping Spots on the East Coast.

Aerial image of Boston Harbor Islands
Book a private boat or ferry tour to explore the Boston Harbor Islands.

What Is the Name of the Fort in Boston Harbor? 

Fort Warren, a stone and granite structure dating to 1833-1860, is on Georges Island. After its use as a training facility for Union soldiers during the Civil War, soldiers also used Fort Warren for harbor defense through World War II. The military decommissioned it in 1947. Today guests can visit the fort’s bakery, parade ground, and Dark Tunnel.

Dating to 1900, Fort Andrews on Peddocks Island once held 30 structures. It also had one of the Army’s earliest radio transmitting stations. The military held Italian prisoners of war there during World War II, and they decommissioned Fort Andrews in 1946.

Is Boston Harbor Worth Visiting? 

If you love history, you must visit Boston Harbor. To walk the same grounds as early settlers makes guests feel truly “American.” But it’s not just historically significant. The vast wildlife and ecological systems of the Boston Harbor Islands beckon visitors annually. It’s a beautiful area to learn more about our nation’s history and nature.

With the harbor and river access, it’s also an excellent place to enjoy outdoor recreation during the spring and summer. Bring your camera, pack up your beach bag, and head to the Boston Harbor Islands.

Which island in the Boston Harbor will you visit first? Tell us in the comments!

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