As March winds down and the city blossoms into springtime, there are few better ways to celebrate than by getting outside at one of Boston’s fun, family-friendly festivals. With so many to choose from, it seems like the whole city is cheering the warmer, sunnier days with music, art, flowers, and food. And the best part? Many of these special events are free. Mark your calendars now and enjoy the anticipation of balmier, more festive days ahead!
Maple Sugar Festival—Milton
When: March 24-25 from 10am-4pm
Maple syrup is being celebrated all over Boston this time of year, but this late-season festival is one of the closest to town. Follow the smell of woodsmoke to Brookwood Farm in the Blue Hills, where you can watch how sap is boiled own into your favorite pancake topper. Lots of yummy samples, too,
Cambridge Science Festival—Cambridge
When: April 13-22
Bring your budding science and technology buffs to the Cambridge Science Festival, which takes place all over the city—indoors and out—for more than a week in April. There are dozens of activities for kids of all ages. The cost of each event varies, but many are free.
When: April 28 from 10am-5pm
The sheep are shedding their winter coats, too, at Gore Place in Waltham. Watch as professionals use different techniques to remove the fluffy wool from both merino and longwool sheep. Visitors can also enjoy kitting demonstrations, dog sheepherding demonstrations, and dozens of craft stalls.
Somerville Open Studios—Somerville
When: May 4 from 6pm-9pm, May 5-6 from noon-6pm
While an art show may not seem like an ideal place to take kids, Somerville Open Studios is truly a weekend for the whole family to enjoy. To make the most of the free festival, pick up or download a kids’ activity book that comes with a maze and scavenger hunt to keep them engaged. Meet other families at the Kids’ Art Show at the Arts at the Armory (and have your child submit a piece in advance to see their own work on display). And take frequent playground breaks at Somerville’s many parks on your way around the city.
Wake Up the Earth Festival—Jamaica Plain
When: May 5 from noon-6pm
This free festival started in 1979 as a way to stop Interstate 95 from coming into Jamaica Plain and continues today as a celebration of community and creativity. The highlight of the Wake Up the Earth Festival is a huge parade with branches that start in Jamaica Plain Center and Roxbury. You’ll also find music and dance performances, a youth stage and storytelling for all ages. Craft, nonprofit and food vendors round out the fest.
Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum. Photo by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0
Lilac Sunday—Jamaica Plain
When: May 13 from 10am-3pm (Arboretum is open from dawn until dusk)
One of the most special days of the year in Boston is Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum. The free annual festival falls on Mother’s Day each year and you’ll find families galore enjoying this beautiful park during the fest. Get lunch from a food truck or pack your own—Lilac Sunday is the only day of the year you can picnic in the Arboretum.
When: May 13 from 10am-3pm
If you’re not up for the crowds at Lilac Sunday, head to the Boston Common for Duckling Day. A celebration of the classic Robert McCloskey book Make Way for Ducklings, the highlight of Duckling Day is a parade that starts in the Common and goes into the Public Garden near the duckling statue. Before the parade, kids can participate in a vibrant array of family entertainment including crafts, face painters, a magician, and the Knucklebones kids' fitness crew. Registration is $35 before May 6 and $40 on the day of the event.
Harvard Square Mayfair—Cambridge
When: May 6 from noon-6pm
The free 35th Annual Harvard Square Mayfair is a day-long festival of fun for all ages. Kids are sure to be delighted by the live music, dance, and street performers, while parents might enjoy perusing the sidewalk sales and arts and crafts vendors. Attendees can also sample food from all over the world and participate in family-friendly activities.
Families and neighbors jam together at Somerville's PorchFest.
When: May 12 from noon-6pm
In a city home to dozens of festivals, Somerville’s PorchFest stands out as one of the most unique. The day consists of six hours of music in more genres than you knew existed all over the city. It’s decentralized, so bands are literally playing on people’s porches (and in parks, driveways, and other outdoor locations), and the entertainment is completely free. The music starts in one end of Somerville and moves through the city during the afternoon, so it’s best to park somewhere and walk to hear more tunes. Kids who like dancing will love this festival!
Cambridge Arts River Festival—Cambridge
When: June 2 from 11am-6pm
One of the highlights of the Cambridge Arts River Festival is the People’s Sculpture Racing, which was revived last year after a 30-year hiatus. Attendees will delight in watching people push giant sculptures on wheels in a short race next to the Charles River. The free festival also features live music (including a children’s stage) and storytelling.
Dragon Boat Festival—Cambridge
When: June 9-10; races run all day starting at 7am
Take in thrilling dragon boat races and dance performances at the Dragon Boat Festival in Cambridge this June. This unique festival celebrates ancient Asian culture through the boat races, dancing and music performances, arts and crafts and food. Learn traditional Chinese calligraphy, how to use chopsticks and paper folding in family-friendly activities at this free festival.
This article was originally posted in 2016; updated in 2017 and 2018.