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6 Day Trips from Boston by Train—Local’s Guide

September 27, 2020

The Boston skyline at sunset from the Charles River, with a sailboat in the middle

The nice thing about Boston is that you don’t need a car to go to some pretty cool places. This is all thanks to the Commuter Rail, which will take you to many towns within a couple hours of the city. As the name suggests, the train is mainly for commuters, but it also runs on the weekends.

After living in Boston for a year, I’ve done some decent exploring of the area. I want to share my favorite day trips for those looking for a short (and safe) getaway. With the current situation, I know many are wishing they could travel further (me included), but there are actually some neat destinations right next to you.

These day trips range from cities to seaside villages to the countryside. They’re fitting for really any traveler—solo travelers, couples, friends, and families.

How to Get to These Boston Day/Weekend Trips

All of these trips are accessible by the Commuter Rail, on different lines. I’ll be sure to specify which line and direction to take, and which station to leave from. You can always check up-to-date schedules on the Commuter Rail site.

I highly recommend going on the weekend, as you can use the $10 unlimited Weekend Pass, cutting your transportation costs in half. Otherwise, most of these tickets cost around $20 roundtrip. With the Weekend Pass, you can take as many trips as you want for $10. You could even do one day trip on Saturday, and one on Sunday, if you’re feeling especially motivated 🙂

To be extra prepared, you can download the MBTA mTicket app, where you can purchase your tickets on your phone. You can also buy tickets on the train, but you’ll need to pay cash, and it may be more expensive (it’s unclear if Weekend Passes can be purchased on board). I’ve always used the app, and it’s super convenient.

Day Trips from Boston Without a Car

*Please check local mask regulations and double-check business hours before planning your trip. I’ve tried to note any pandemic restrictions in this post, but things are constantly changing.*

Note that this post contains affiliate links, meaning that I earn a small commission on any bookings you complete. This doesn’t cost you any extra, and it’s a great way to support my blog.

1. Providence, RI

How to get there: take the Providence/Stoughton line towards Wickford Junction
Train station in Boston: South Station, Back Bay, Ruggles
Distance: 
1 hour

View of the Providence Athenaeum upon entering The Providence AthenaeumWaterfire in Providence, RI with a fire performer on a boat
Waterfire, a Providence classic seitan spareribs at the Veggie Fun restaurant in Providence
Vegan food at Veggie Fun

While the rest of these destinations are in Massachusetts, one of my favorite day trips is actually in Rhode Island. Being from the Midwest, I always found it mind-boggling that you could drive an hour in the Northeast, and end up in a different state!

Providence is just an hour from Boston by train, and it’s a charming riverfront city. With a population of under 180,000, Providence is highly-walkable, but be prepared for some hills!

Here are some top things to do in Providence:

Wander through the prettiest little library, the Providence Athenaeum (members-only during the pandemic). This library basically screams “insta-worthy.” It’s full of cozy reading corners and study spaces; you’ll probably spot some Brown University students, who are known for frequenting the Athenaeum. The best part is that visiting is free to the public—you even can bring dogs inside!

After visiting the Athenaeum, take a stroll along Benefit Street (right in front of the Athenaeum). This street is known for its lovely houses. You can also walk around the campus grounds of Ivy League school Brown, which is just up the hill.

One of the most famous Providence attractions is WaterFire (on hold due to the pandemic; potentially will start up later in the fall). There are many braziers along the river, which are basically metal containers used to burn firewood. WaterFire is an evening event where all these braziers are lit up. It’s a bit of a strange experience, and feels kind of creepy at times (almost like a satanic ritual lol). The music was spooky, and the people lighting the fires are often dressed in all black. Regardless, the riverfront is especially beautiful with the light of the fire. The event also brings together community vendors, residents, and tourists. In normal years, WaterFire is scheduled about every other Saturday from late May to early November.

In the summer, you might want to stop by the 10,000 Suns sunflower field. The field is against the backdrop of the city skyline, creating a cool contrast.

Active travelers will appreciate the East Bay Bike Path, which also offers views of the city and riverfront. You could rent a bike, or go on a run.

Finally, if you’re looking for a delicious vegan meal, check out Veggie Fun. It sounds like a sketchy restaurant, but the food is well-balanced, it’s conveniently located downtown, and the setting is modern. The seitan spareribs are so savory and filling, and I highly recommend them!

Looking to stay longer than a day, and need a place to stay? You might like this modern room on Federal Hill, or this apartment in the city center.

2. Salem

How to get there: take the Newburyport/Rockport line towards Newburyport or Rockport
Train station in Boston: North Station
Distance:
30 minutes

Sunset at Salem Willows Park on a cloudy day, with boats in the marina
The marina at Salem Willows ParkSalem Willows Arcade Oak+Moss shop in Salem, with hanging plants and an aesthetic white interior
The cutest shop: Oak + Moss

Salem is notorious as the location of the 17th century Salem Witch Trials. Nowadays, the small town really plays up this haunted/witchy reputation, and there are countless witch museums, haunted houses, dungeons, and witch souvenir shops. I actually find the whole thing a little tacky, given the somber historical event. I’m also not a huge fan of “haunted” things, so I have a whole guide on non-witchy things to do in Salem (I’m serious about being a scaredy cat though—I refuse to watch horror movies because I won’t be able to sleep for weeks).

I do think the history of the witch trials is important to learn and understand, so if you haven’t been to the Salem Witch Museum, you might want to visit. The exhibits are educational, rather than spooky. Tickets cost $11-14.

My absolute favorite thing to do in Salem is go to the Salem Willows Park and Arcade, which is on a little peninsula about 1.5 miles from the town center. The Arcade is currently closed, but in normal times, you can play classic games like Skee ball, coin pusher, air hockey, and Deal or No Deal.

At the park, you’ll also find plenty of vendors selling comfort food, like ice cream, pizza, fries, and Chinese takeout. It’s my understanding that the food vendors are currently open. While the arcade is the main attraction and is closed, the park itself is still a nice place to relax. You can stroll along the marina, have a picnic, and watch the sunset.

In the town center, there’s no shortage of cute shops and restaurants though. I personally love the stores Oak + Moss (pictured above) and Mark Your Spot—they’re incredibly aesthetic. For vegan-friendly pizza in a fun, retro setting, I recommend Flying Saucer Pizza Company. It’s a little pricey, but the portions are massive!

Looking to stay longer than a day, and need a place to stay? You might like this Airbnb near the town center.

3. Gloucester

How to get there: take the Newburyport/Rockport line towards Rockport
Train station in Boston: North Station
Distance:
1 hour 15 minutes

The exposed rocks of Wingaersheek Beach at low tide, with kids and adults wading in the water
Wingaersheek Beach at low tideThe pink sunset at Jones Salt Marsh, with a small moon visible and reflected in the light blue waterSunset at Jones Salt Marsh
A restaurant in Gloucester, MA with blue walls and buoys as decorations
A random restaurant I walked through, pre-pandemic

Gloucester is a small seaside town best known for its beaches, whale watching expeditions, fishing, and seafood.

Some popular beaches include:

  • Wingaersheek Beach
  • Good Harbor Beach
  • Half Moon Beach
  • Niles Beach

All of these beaches are at least couple miles from the town center, so expect a longer walk, or be ready to take an Uber/Lyft. Some, like Wingaersheek and Niles, offer residents-only parking on certain days—if you’re driving, be sure to double-check. Even if there is public parking, you may have to pay $30+ per car!

I’ve only been to Wingaersheek, and I especially liked it for its exposed rocks at low tide. The rocks would create little pockets of water which were fun to wade in, and you could also spy the minnows darting around. The tide changes daily, so check tide reports if you want to visit at low tide.

After swimming and wading at Wingaersheek, we walked to Jones Salt Marsh, which was about a mile away. The marsh is a popular boating and fishing destination, but it’s also just a lovely place to watch the sunset.

Many people come to Gloucester to whale watch, as it’s conveniently located between two feeding grounds. I went on a trip with Capt. Bill and Sons a couple years ago, and it was really cool to see the whales in their natural habitat. If you do go, be sure to choose a responsible operator with a naturalist on board. I’d also recommend looking for deals on Groupon, as we saved almost 50% that way (tickets are usually $50/person).

Looking to stay longer than a day, and need a place to stay? You might like this cozy Airbnb room on the top floor, with a great view of the town and harbor.

4. Rockport

How to get there: take the Newburyport/Rockport line towards Rockport
Train station in Boston: North Station
Distance:
1 hour 30 minutes

The insta-famous Ice Cream Store in Rockport, MA The famous Ice Cream StoreThe insta-famous Pewter Store in Rockport, MA Another famous shop: The Pewter ShopVintage bookstore with shelves of old books and old paintingsBullseye Books

Rockport is another seaside village, and it’s just a hop away from Gloucester. You get a totally different vibe from this town though—it feels like more of an artisan’s community. Rockport is perhaps best known for its independent art galleries and local goods. One of the most famous shops is The Pewter Shop, which offers products made by artists in Boston. The exterior of the shop is a popular photo op, with its red siding and bright blue door.

If you like sweets, you’ll want to stop by The Ice Cream Store, which has another Instagram-famous façade. There are unfortunately no vegan flavors, but there is shaved ice that should be dairy-free (there are plenty of vegan ice cream spots in Boston anyways). There’s also the Rockport Fudgery, with a lovely pastel storefront.

After walking past all the adorable shops, you’ll find yourself at Bearskin Neck, a rock-covered peninsula. There’s not much to do there, but there are a couple cafes overlooking the water.

Unlike Gloucester, Rockport isn’t known for its beaches, but there is Front Beach just a short walk from the shopping district. On the way there, you might stop by Bullseye Books—Flyboys, which offers vintage books; along with the old-time music, you’ll feel like you’re back in the 70s.

Finally, it’s not a trip to Rockport without taking a photo of Motif No. 1, a red fishing shack that is reportedly the most-painted building in the world. With the ships in the marina, the fishing shack makes for a lovely seaside scene.

I also want to add that the best time to visit Rockport is in the summer, followed by the spring and fall. In the winter, many shops and restaurants are closed, though you can still find some things to do (I went in January). Just a heads up for y’all!

Looking to stay longer than a day, and need a place to stay? You might like this pristine tiny house (so adorable!) or this quaint bed and breakfast.

5. Plymouth

How to get there: take the Kingston/Plymouth line towards Plymouth
Train station in Boston:
South Station
Distance:
1 hour 30 minutes

The 17th-century English village replica at Plimouth PlantationPhoto of Plimouth Plantation by Chewsty15 on Pixabay

You’ve probably heard of Plymouth (also spelled “Plimouth”) from your elementary school history lessons on the Pilgrims. This town is known as being the first landing spot of these English settlers.

For full disclosure, I’ve never been to Plymouth, but it’s on my list. It seems like an interesting place to learn history, though I do hope the narratives shared don’t glorify colonization or anything. There were Native People in America before the Pilgrims, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

Luckily, it does seem like the historical experiences in Plymouth do properly highlight the stories of the Native People. At Plimouth Plantation, a living history exhibit, you’ll find a Wampanoag Homesite. There, you’ll be able to see typical 17th-century Wampanoag homes, and Native employees practicing traditional skills like belt weaving. The Plimouth Plantation website has a section for how to interact with the Native People in a culturally respectful way.

In a similar vein, you’ll be able to visit a 17th-century English settlement. There will be “Pilgrims” going about their daily lives in historical costumes, and you can speak to these employees to learn more about life as a settler.

Tickets to Plimouth Plantation are a little pricey at $32, but you can also buy a combination ticket for $40, which will also grant you entry to the Mayflower II and Plimouth Grist Mill. The Mayflower II is a replica of the original Pilgrims’ ship, and the Grist Mill is a reproduction of a 17th-century, water-powered mill.

Before leaving town, take a gander at the original Plymouth Rock. It’s nothing special—it’s literally a small rock with 1620 engraved on it—but it’s kind of cool to see the landing site of the Pilgrims.

Looking to stay longer than a day, and need a place to stay? You might like this Airbnb room in a Victorian home overlooking the water.

6. Wachusett Mountain

How to get there: take the Fitchburg line towards Wachusett; requires a 10ish minute Uber ride from the Wachusett stop, though there are free weekend morning shuttles during skiing season (also some Wednesday afternoons)
Train station in Boston: North Station
Distance:
1 hour 40 minutes

the silhouette of me swinging while overlooking a lush green fieldView from a ski lift on Wachusett Mountain in the summer

Waschusett Mountain is probably best-known for its skiing, but the area offers outdoor activities in all seasons. I actually visited in the summer, since I’d planned to run the North Face Endurance Challenge. Unfortunately, I had to sit out of the race due to injury, but I wanted to still enjoy the nature and cheer the runners on.

In warmer months, you can go hiking on the mountain, or go kayaking in the nearby lakes. The area is quite rural, so getting around without a car is a little trickier. I’d recommend taking an Uber/Lyft to the mountain from the train station, and then walking around the countryside the rest of the day.

I think Wachusett Mountain is probably more fitting for a weekend getaway than a day trip; there’s not a lot to do, so it’s really a place to unwind. There are also so many cute Airbnbs! I stayed in one Airbnb that was basically a private basement suite with its own bathroom. It had easy access to the backyard, which had swings overlooking a grassy field. The host was also so sweet, and baked lemon blueberry bread for us.

If you’re looking for more places to stay, you might check out this cabin with a loft and lake access (I believe there are even kayaks for you to use). Or, you might like this large private room and bathroom in a country home.


 

I hope you learned about some new places to check out! If you know of other Boston day trips by train, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

As another reminder, be sure to double-check local regulations and opening times for the activities listed. It’s a very uncertain time, and things are changing daily. I still think it’s possible to travel safely in the local area, but it does require extra planning.

In the future, I may write more in-depth guides about these places, so be sure to bookmark or pin this post to check back. You can also sign up for my mailing list to be notified when those posts come out!

You might also like these posts:
Berkshires Travel Guide: An Outdoorsy Weekend Itinerary
Best Hikes in Maine’s Acadia National Park

Safe travels,

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Pinterest pin with 4 photos, 2 above and 2 below. First photo is of Plimouth Plantation, then the Providence Athenaeum, then the Ice Cream Store in Rockport, then Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester. Pin reads: 6 Day Trips from Boston Without a Car

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About Me

I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
Here is where I document my (mis)adventures and try to offer some helpful advice. Feel free to join me for the ride. Read More

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