A Guide to the Dragon Boat Festival in Boston

By Natalie Saar; Updated August 11, 2017

Colorful competition and festive fun on the Charles River

A Guide to the Dragon Boat Festival in Boston

For approximately 40 years, Boston has hosted its famous Dragon Boat Festival on the Charles River. Every year, on the fifth day of the fifth moon on the lunar calendar, around mid-June, professional and amateur boaters alike make their way to the starting line to compete on the 500-meter course. More than 20,000 people come together to watch the 30-40 teams paddle their Hong Kong-style dragon boats. It’s quite a sight to see, and with some advanced planning, spectators and participants can make the most of the event.

Take the train

When 20,000 people go anywhere, there’s bound to be a traffic jam or two. Then add in street closures, and it gets a little worse. While driving to the festival is convenient for families with small children, parking should be top of mind. Bring lots of cash for the public lots and walking shoes in case the garage is far from the event.

Because of these complications, which can put a damper on an otherwise nice day, it may make the most sense to take the train. The MBTA red line will go to Harvard Square, and from there, it’s only five blocks away. Buses are also an option for travelers who aren’t near a train station.

No matter how you get there, be prepared for crowds and a bit of waiting.

Arrive early

Since the crowds will begin to get bigger around the time the race starts, get there early. While the festival centers around its namesake dragon boat race, you also can participate in lots of other games, shows and activities. Arriving before the race means the crowd won't be as large, and you'll enjoy shorter lines and get a better chance at a front row seat near the finish line.

If it's the activities, not the race, that is enticing you, arriving later may be a good option. By then, the crowds will have thinned out. However, check the schedule for any shows, because performers may pack it up before the afternoon.

No matter when you arrive, prepare to be in a crowd, especially near the time of the race.

Go for free

The Dragon Boat Festival is free for people to attend and watch; however, that’s not the case for those who want to participate. Boat teams from the local area states, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Vermont, will pay a $1,000 entry fee along with a $200 security deposit. Teams from more than 150 miles away pay only $700 to enter.

Though visitors don't have to pay an entrance fee, bring some cash, because the food and activities will likely have a fairly hefty price tag. Stay in budget by bringing a set amount of cash and don't spend any more than that.

Prepare for a long day

As one of Boston’s largest cultural events, you will have lots to see and do. Bring comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a bottle of water. Also, make sure that either a camera or cellphone with a camera is fully charged, because there will be lots to photograph. Check the weather for the day of the festival and determine whether you need to dress in layers.

About the Author

Natalie Saar