Bostonians don’t let the weather stop us, even in the coldest months. This is New England, after all, so we know how to make the most of winter. Join us as we venture out into the icy air or retreat inside to cozy cafes and fireside tables, with food and drink to warm you from the inside out.  

Ice skating on the Frog Pond at the Boston Common is the city's quintessential winter activity © Kimberly Maroon / Lonely Planet

Embrace your inner winter warrior

Sometimes the best way to survive winter is to embrace it – don your warmest coats, hats and gloves, go outside, and play! Boston offers plenty of opportunities to do so, even right downtown at the Boston Common, where there’s sledding on Flagstaff Hill and ice skating on the Frog Pond. But locals know the hills in the outer neighborhoods are even more exciting, such as at the Sugar Bowl in Jamaica Plain, Walsh playground in Dorchester, and Fallon Field in Roslindale. Escape the crowds on the Frog Pond by heading to The Rink at 401 Park, in Fenway, or Skate @ Canal District, in Kendall Square in Cambridge.

You don’t have to venture too far out of the city for more adventurous snowy ski action. West of Boston, Weston Ski Center in Weston and Great Brook Farm in Carlisle both offer picturesque countryside, groomed trails, and equipment rental for cross-country skiing. For downhill, the Blue Hills Ski Area is just 15 miles south, in Canton.

Moki is an outdoor wellness village in downtown Boston with wood-fired suanas, a plunge pool, and relaxation room © Kimberly Maroon/Lonely Planet

If you prefer your winter sports at slower speeds, head to Harbor Way in the Seaport District to try your hand at curling. Don’t worry, it’s a lot more fun to do it than to watch it on TV! For less action and more relaxation, do winter the Nordic way with a visit to Moki Sauna Village on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. This outdoor wellness center offers wood-fired saunas and refreshing plunge pools for the ultimate winter warmup.

Bostonians love their hot chocolate, like this mug of it from The Thinking Cup © Kimberly Maroon / Lonely Planet

No matter what your winter recreation, you’re fortunately never far from a rich and rewarding cup of hot chocolate. Bostonians go cuckoo for cocoa, especially for the French hot chocolate at the Thinking Cup (in the Back Bay, the North End and Downtown) and for the dark hot chocolate at LA Burdick (in Harvard Square and in the Back Bay). For extra oomph, cozy up inside Caffé Vittoria in the North End for hot chocolate spiked with Kahlúa and brandy.

Sacco's Bowl Haven is an iconic spot to beat the winter chill with some candlepin bowling © Kimberly Maroon / Lonely Planet

Escape the winter chill

If all these outdoor activities are making you shiver, never fear. Boston offers an endless array of indoor attractions for those who prefer to escape rather than embrace the cold. Candlepin Bowling is a classic New England pastime – a regional variation on ten-pin that uses cylindrical pins and smaller balls. Try it at Sacco’s Bowl Haven in Somerville, and follow up with fabulous pizza and craft beers from Flatbread Pizza. Missing your favorite summertime activities? Visit PuttShack in the Seaport District to play a round of mini-golf, or PKL in South Boston to battle it out on the pickleball courts. Both have full-service bars serving craft cocktails and draft beers – and you don’t have to go outside to earn them.

Cozy and unique, Beacon Hill Books & Café practically calls to you to come in from the cold © Kimberly Maroon / Lonely Planet

All that activity aside, when the temperatures drop, sometimes you just want to snuggle up with a good book. If that’s the case for you, go directly to Beacon Hill Books & Café. Every exquisitely decorated room of this neighborhood bookstore offers a thoughtful selection of titles to peruse – and plenty of nooks and crannies in which to hunker down and enjoy them. The café’s afternoon tea service will warm up your Sunday.

If you’re still longing for the tropics, Boston has a solution for that, too. The New England Aquarium transports you straight to the Amazon rainforest, the Indo-Pacific coral reef, and other warm-weather destinations. Best of all, the centerpiece Giant Ocean Tank showcases the creatures of the Caribbean Sea. (Pay no attention to those penguins you pass on the way there.)

The 'Winteractive' public art exhibit features installations around the city and is the perfect excuse to visit Boston in the winter © Kimberly Maroon / Lonely Planet

Arts & culture

Boston is a fabulous destination for the arts year-round – but locals know winter is prime time, as the cultural calendar is packed. In 2024, Boston is hosting an exhibit of `Winteractive’ public art (through April), with 16 playful and poignant installations scattered around the streets of Downtown. Download a map – or just wander and discover.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's indoor oasis © Anthony Tulliani/Lonely Planet

If you prefer your art indoors, any of Boston’s world-class art museums is an inviting destination on a chilly day. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a particular favorite for locals, who relish the blooms and greenery in the interior courtyard of this Venetian-style palazzo in Fenway. During the winter months, the garden features glorious tropical plants, including many exotic varieties of orchids.

The performing arts calendar is in full swing all winter, with live jazz and blues heating things up at Wally’s Café and at the Beehive, both in the South End. The Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Ballet both prepare special seasonal programs – this year, the BSO will present Music of the Midnight Sun, a celebration of Nordic composers and artists, and the Boston Ballet’s Winter Experience features three sensuous and soulful ballets by Mikko Nissinen and Helen Pickett.

Sail Loft, in North End, offers a clam chowder so inviting you'll be thinking about it from one winter to the next © Kim Maroon / Lonely Planet

Eat, drink, and be merry

Nothing warms the body and soothes the soul like a hearty meal. A highlight of any trip to Boston is its seafood – in winter, keep it simple with a hot bowl of creamy clam chowder, especially from Sail Loft in the North End or Row 34 in the Seaport.

Crowds flock Hei La Moon, a sprawling, bi-level banquet hall-style dim sum emporium with traditional decor © Kimberly Maroon/Lonely Planet

Another culinary treat is Boston’s globe-spanning international fare. Every weekend from January to March, the Boston Food & Wine Festival plays host to dinners, classes, and exquisite food and wine pairings from around the world. But you don’t need a festival to tuck into a plate of pasta from Arya Trattoria or Carmelina’s in the North End, or to feast on dim sum at Hei La Moon or Empire Garden in Chinatown. Comfort Kitchen in Dorchester is a beloved local option, serving not-so-local fare from the African diaspora all over the world.

Winter is the perfect time to get cozy with your dinner date next to a roaring fire. Book a table downstairs at the South End Buttery or upstairs at Tresca in the North End. Or for Boston’s most romantic and sumptuous setting, request the firelit library at Yvonne’s. For more casual fireside drinks, sample the mead at medieval-themed Grendel’s Den in Harvard Square; or brush up on your history in Charlestown, where folks have been patronizing the Warren Tavern since 1780.

Lookout Rooftop Bar at the Envoy Hotel in Boston © Kimberly Maroon/Lonely Planet

If you appreciate fresh air (really fresh), several venues keep their outside game going all winter. In South Boston, the Lodge at Publico converts the atrium into a seasonal `ski lodge,’ offering all the amenities of après-ski (if not the slopes). Think flannel blankets, fire pits, and artificial snow, as well as special seasonal cocktails. Fire tables keep patrons warm in the year-round beer garden at Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square and in the courtyard at Bow Market in Somerville. And in the Seaport, the Lookout Rooftop Bar features heated igloos for your outdoor drinking pleasure. Wrapped in clear, weather-proof plastic, it’s a perfect (warm) place to sip a cocktail and admire the views of the sparkling city skyline on a crisp winter night.

Evacuation Day in March is an iconic Boston celebration, commemorating the departure of British troops from the city in 1776, and coinciding with St Patrick's Day © CJ Gunther / Shutterstock

Still planning when to book your winter visit? Consider coming for an only-in-Boston holiday. For the first time, the Lunar New Year is an official city holiday, observed on February 10; but the Chinese community will welcome the Year of the Dragon with its festive parade and `cultural village’ in Chinatown on February 18. The following month, March 17 is Evacuation Day, an official holiday commemorating the departure of British troops from the city of Boston in 1776. Of course, this date is better known as St Patrick’s Day – marked by the historic (and now inclusive!) dual-purpose parade in South Boston.

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