One of our favorite things about the Fourth of July is that it is a holiday celebrated among entire communities. Towns across the country come together to participate in parades, listen to concerts, show feats of strength in a variety of eating contests, and oooo and ahhh at fireworks.

Boston and Massachusetts have some great traditions for the Fourth. Obviously the world famous Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular comes to mind, but there are some other smaller celebrations that are worth checking out, too. We’ve included a round up of events that we think are the most unique and interesting—but if you have additions, please let us know and we’ll get them on the list!

Boston & Greater Boston

  • Charlestown Navy Yard  | 
June 29 Check out the Sunset Parade in front of Old Ironsides. This “stationary” parade showcases reenactments and musical selections from the 19th Century—the heyday of our beloved USS Constitution. You’ll get into the Revolutionary groove with fife and drums, the 1812 Marine drill, ship’s guns exercises, and more—culminating with live cannon fire. The show is set to begin at 6:45 pm. Check out the website for more USS Constitution happenings.
  • Black Bostonians of the Revolution  | 
July 4 Here’s something we thought would be really fascinating: a guided walking tour through the roots of the abolition movement in America and an introduction to early African American leaders. The tour starts at the Sam Adams Statue, Faneuil Hall and runs from 11 am-12:30 pm.
  • Charlestown Navy Yard  | 
July 4 Looking for a different sort of parade? Then celebrate the Fourth in true style by joining the Constitution Museum for a harbor cruise that follows the Constitution to Castle Island for her annual 21-gun salute to the nation. (Check out this 2011 video to see what’s in store.) Museum staff provide the narration, and a luncheon buffet is included. Tickets are $95 per person, with a portion of each ticket going to support the Museum’s educational programming, and can be purchased through Boston Harbor Cruises.
  • Sky High Fourth of July | 
July 4 For those who can’t bear the crowds, you can celebrate the Fourth in high style—52 floors above the Back Bay at the Top of the Hub. The evening features a one hour open bar, dinner, a simulcast of the Boston Pops concert, and an ideal vantage point of the fireworks. Reservations required. Prudential Building, 800 Boylston Street
; 7 pm. Cost: $225 per person (including tax and gratuity; does not include beverages purchased after open bar hour).
  • Lexington and Concord | July 4 It’s hard to think of celebrating the American Revolution and not including Lexington and its partner in arms, Concord, in the roundup. Both towns have considerable activities planned and these historic towns are great places to get into the spirit of ’76. In Lexington, there is a Fourth of July Carnival from 1 pm to 11 pm hosted by the Lexington Lions. (Think: funnel cake and fun houses!) In Concord, there’s a glut of events planned running from 10 am through 4 pm—some of which include hot air balloons, henna tattoos (because nothing says America like henna tats), a fun run/5K, and bluegrass bands in Emerson Park.

North Shore

  • Beverly Farms Fourth of July Celebration | June 30-July 4 Beverly does the Fourth right: They’ve got scavenger hunts and races for the kiddies and dances and baseball games for the old timers, as well as a house decorating contest and the Family & Friends Cookout. But the real show stopper is the Horribles Parade and a fireworks spectacular along West Beach.
  • Fishtown Horribles Parade in Gloucester | July 3 Circling through downtown Gloucester, the Horribles Parade begins at 6 pm and fireworks begin at 10 pm. Favorite viewing locations include Stacy Boulevard, Stage Fort Park, Western Avenue.

  • Marblehead Festival of Arts | June 30-July 4 Marblehead Festival of Arts holds an annual 4th of July weekend: free activities include art exhibits, a kite festival, sand sculpture competition, a film festival (an interesting line up of artsy shorts—not all of which are kid friendly), a Horribles Parade, and plenty of outdoor music and entertainment at Crocker Park. There’s even special programming for kids age 10 and under! Parking is available at Marblehead High School with a free Festival Trolley running to exhibit areas from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. At 9 pm on July 4th, there will be a fireworks display at the harbor. There’s a ton going on in Marblehead this weekend, so check out the website for additional information.

South of Boston

  • Adams National Historic Park, Quincy | July 4 Two patriotic and inspiring activities are planned at the Adams National Historic Park. Then get ye ol’ wigs out and head on over the Carriage House to reenact the Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Participants will take on the role of a delegate and debate various issues leading up to the vote for independence. Talk about hands-on history! At 7 pm, grab some grass on the Beale Lawn for the staging of the play “Jefferson and Adams,” a moving and powerful dramatization of the remarkable friendship between two presidents. (Spoiler alert: Mrs. Adams will be playing a major role.)
  • Hingham’s “Let Freedom Ring!” Events | June 30, July 4 and July 7 According to the travel gurus at Lonely Planet, nothing may be more American this year than the celebration in “sweet wee Hingham.” Festivities begin with fireworks on June 30, continue with the wickedly popular Hingham Road Race, a pancake breakfast, and the parade on the Fourth, and end with a vintage baseball game on July 7.
  • New Bedford Summerfest | July 6-8 This folk and arts festival brings together over 70 performers and 90 juried arts and crafts vendors in New Bedford’s beautiful historic district. It’s family-oriented (with an appearance by the ever-popular Toe Jam Puppet Band) and runs continuously from 11am to 9pm on seven sound stages throughout the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. Check out the street carts, food courts, and area restaurants when you need a break—they’re all in on the gig too!

The Cape

  • Fourth of July Parade Chatham, MA | July 4 This is one of the best parades on Cape Cod and it’s easy to see why it attracts thousands of visitors. It’s a true American experience, with floats and bands marching down Chatham’s beautiful Main Street. Stop in and say hello to our pals at Where the Sidewalk Ends. Time: 9 am.
  • Mashpee Wampanoag Annual Pow Wow
| June 29-July 1 Here’s another event that is totally worth checking out: the Mashpee Wompanoag’s Pow Wow. The Native American cultural event promises to include education and fun for the entire family: there are drumming contests, dancing contests, clam bakes and crafts. Tickets are $8 for kids and seniors; $13 adults. Gates open at 10 am. Barnstable County Fair Grounds, 1220 Nation Ellis Highway Route 151, East Falmouth.
  • Woods Hole Independence Day Parade | Woods Hole July 4 If you like Woods Hole, you’ll love this wonderfully quirky parade. The Marine Biology Lab Club sponsors the annual Woods Hole Fourth of July Parade—and everyone is welcome to join or watch the unique, science-themed parade. The parade begins at noon at the corner of Water and School Streets in Woods Hole. Free watermelon and refreshments will be available after the parade in Waterfront Park. If you want to get your squid on (and you’ll know what I mean) well, this one’s up your alley.

  • Fourth of July with Shakespeare & Co. 
Lenox
 | July 4 Now through July 4
 William Shakespeare steps out to help celebrate the American Revolution with the actors of Shakespeare and Co. in Lenox. The Independence Day events open with the community barbecue beginning at 1:30 pm. At 3 pm, actors present a reading of the Declaration of Independence followed by a community barbecue, which last until 5 pm). Rose Footprint Theatre, 70 Kemble Street, Lenox. Barbecue pricing is a la carte.

Western Mass

  • Sturbridge Village |
 July 3-4 Spend July 3 in patriotic style in Old Sturbridge Village. Starting at 6 pm, enjoy carnival activities and shows, attend a reading of the Declaration, and, if you’re feeling particularly colonial, take part in a patriotic fashion show. Stick around for 7:30 pm fireworks. Tickets cost $10 for OSV members, $12 for non-members, and $15 per person after July 1. Bring children under 3 for free! Head back to the Village on the big day for an 1830s Independence Day Celebration.
  • Pittsfield 4th of July Parade July 4 This parade has been called one of the ten best Fourth of July parades in the country by USA Today. Head over to Pittsfield for their annual Independence Day parade, legendary for its outstanding musical acts, balloons, floats, and hometown feel. Parade location is in Downtown Pittsfield beginning at Park Square at 10 am and ending at Wahconah Park.

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on June 29, 2011. The information has been updated to reflect changes in dates and details for 2012’s unique Fourth of July events. We hope you revisit your favorite events from last year or discover new experiences with your family and friends. If you enjoyed this post, please check out our books about the arts, history and culture of Boston and New England. Happy Fourth of July!