The first time we stumbled upon the Charles River Esplanade, we couldn’t believe this beautiful oasis existed within the city limits. Boston may be a quaint and charming place, but it usually isn’t associated as a place plush with the transcendent beauty of nature. The Charles River Esplanade changes that conversation. Just steps from the bustling neighborhood of Back Bay, the soothing calm of the waterfront completely transforms the experience of living in a bustling city. Hugging one of the most iconic rivers in the United States, the Esplanade gives the ideal backdrop for contemplation. As one person reflects, “[it] feels like you're far away from a busy city instead of only being 100 yds away.” With secluded alcoves, arched bridges and BYO hammocks, the Charles River Esplanade offers a versatile landscape to those looking for a daily reprieve. At 64 acres, it’s big enough and long enough to accommodate flocks of people whilst still feeling secluded. Regardless, it is far less trafficked than the more widely known green spaces in the middle of the city like the Public Garden and Boston Common. Most people access the Charles River Esplanade via biking or walking, although an electric scooter is also a good option if you have one on hand. It’s close enough to virtually all major neighborhoods that you can walk here in under 30 minutes. Residents of Back Bay and Beacon Hill can get here within a 10 minute walk. Even from the Harvard campus, locals can get to the Esplanade within a 20 minute bike ride. So let’s explore the Charles River Esplanade a bit deeper together, beginning with a curated list of locations we’ve put together for you. This quintessential getaway will likely give you a different light into Boston than what you've experienced before.


Close to Beacon Hill, many regulars choose to first access the Esplanade right next to the Longfellow Bridge. There’s a narrow pathway called the Frances Appleton pedestrian bridge that takes you directly to the boating docks. On summer weekends, this area tends to be more populated but near sunset and in the mornings, there are a ton of spaces to find solace. Some choose to bring their journals here, while others simply peer out into the calming waters. Some of the docks have Adirondack chairs for you to sprawl out and glisten in the sun. One person says, “This is my favorite spot in the city. There's so much you can do and it's just nice to get outside and enjoy the views. I usually jog along the esplanade but have also gone to lay out and read or relax on the docks along the water.”



If you prefer a more active experience, the walking path that extends down through the entire Esplanade is the perfect environment to do so. From the start of the path around the boating docks, it takes just 11 minutes to walk the entire thing, so many regulars do multiple loops during their visit. There are so many sights and sounds to take in whilst you walk the pathway.  One person reflects, “walking along the river feels like a world away.” If a stationery visit sounds more appetizing for your personality, there are many alcoves for you to rest upon along the walkway. As mentioned before, it is here that many bring their own hammocks to set along the Charles River Esplanade. “Sat under a tree for a few hours and watched the world go by. Very pleasant,” says another person. The walkway is also plush with benches for your enjoyment.



One of the most picturesque parts of the Charles River Esplanade is the Storrow Lagoon, complete with the arched bridges that extend across it. You can’t help but stop and take it all in as you cross the bridges, as the diverse landscape feels like a balm to the human soul. There are four bridges that are evenly spaced across the lagoon and are necessary to walk across if you’re entering the Esplanade from the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path. You’ll find numerous benches spread across the perimeter of the lagoon, which provide another delightful option to contemplate, reflect and soak in the environment.



As you’ll discover, the Charles River Esplanade stands in contrast to city life. One person captures this perfectly saying, “a little way off the hustle and bustle of the city, Charles River Esplanade flatters the senses of the visitors by its beauty of greens, the sparkle of the river surface, the sound of the birds as well as the smell of the wind.”  This is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to highlight it as one of our Boston getaways. As it hugs the eastern part of the city, it provides you with a contemplative reprieve from the competitive demands of a city like Boston. In a remarkable report from Yale University, we learn, “the studies point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.” The science is clear: getting at least two hours each week in green spaces is essential for our well-being. The goal of visiting the Charles River Esplanade then, would be to start developing a lifestyle of reflection and contemplation. Long before these scientific discoveries were made, we see Jesus adopting these same rhythms in ancient Israel, often retreating into nature. This would later be coined silence and solitude, just one of the compelling rhythms we see built into his way of life. For Jesus, what happened in the wilderness became the fuel for him to go back out and be equipped to engage the culture around him. You may agree that this has never been more relevant than in modern-day times. When we’re out in nature and captivated by its beauty, it often produces a wonder and heightened awareness of the world around us. How could such a beautiful place exist? That wonder can lead to an awareness of the One who created all the transcendent beauty that surrounds us. And here’s the transformative part — we can allow that awareness to drive us into connection with God. For Jesus, this is what getting away was all about. Being out in nature was about who he connected with whilst he was out there. When we encounter God in these environments of refreshment, we are able to acquire the strength and perspective we need to go back out into the world. We need this to love other people well. To create the change we long to see. To become the truest and best version of ourselves. These rhythms are essential for our well-being. As we see from the science, they are built into the very fabric of our existence. We benefit spiritually, mentally and physically from these environments of refreshment. For much of human history, these were our natural habitats. You could argue that the construction of modern city life is unnatural in this sense, as the constant busyness and distraction prevents us from getting perspective and moments of reflection. So especially living in Boston, modeling this “in-and-out lifestyle” will help us thrive amidst the weariness of 24/7 connectedness and hustle culture. We’ll leave you with a few practical tips before you wander into the magical Charles River Esplanade, which include:

1) Pick a time & place

Scheduling time to get away is essential. The bustling nature of life in Boston increases the need for intentionality. So consider where you will regularly visit in the Esplanade and when it's practical to do that. Is it before work in the morning? Is it midday during lunch?

2) Start small & build

When it comes to developing contemplative rhythms, success simply equals to showing up. Nothing more. If you’re making the effort to get away regularly, you’ve already hit the goal. But remember, habits are formed by starting small. Rather than saying we’re going to visit the Charles River Esplanade for 90 minutes every morning, try retreating for 30 minutes at least 2-3 times a week. If you get in a rhythm doing that, maybe increase that to an hour in the Esplanade for 2-3 times a week. And so forth.

3) Put your phone on silent

Consider keeping your smartphone on silent. Why? Because to be connected while you’re attempting to disconnect would be counterproductive. Resist the urge to pull it out and over time, build up your tolerance.

4) Consider your wiring

While some of the spots we’ve featured in the Esplanade are stationery, there is no “right” way to do this. If you like to be active, consider engaging your body by walking through the pathway for a short stroll. Take in all the sights and sounds.

5) Bring a blanket or hammock

This is a great option, especially if you regularly visit the Esplanade. Stash it in your backpack and enjoy the experience of laying out in the alcoves alongside the river.

6) Bring a journal

Learning to be present with yourself means taking a regular temperature of your thought-life. That said, fight against the urge to stuff away your thoughts by actively processing them through this form of feeling prayer. How are you feeling? Why are you feeling that way? Write it down. Name the emotions coming up - envy, greed, sadness, grief, etc. Like Jesus, our emotions are a place to meet with God.

7) Contemplate scripture

This ancient practice, called Lectio Divina, involves picking a small passage to meditate on. Even if you haven’t read scripture in ages (or ever), this could be as small as a Psalm, a Proverb or the words of Jesus in the gospels. Let’s say a verse comes up about humility or loving your neighbor, we then pray for a greater understanding of how to model that in our lives. See what comes to mind. You can pick up a copy of the new Passion Translation here.

8) Practice gratitude

Gratitude is hard for us. Sometimes it feels like we suffer from chronic short-term memory loss, only able to see what we don't have or how our circumstances are less than ideal. And while there might be truth in that, this perspective causes us to miss the precious things of life that are sitting right in front of us each and every day. Take some time to write down prayers of gratitude, even for the smallest of things.

9) Be silent

With the city at a distance, the Esplanade is the ideal environment for silence. Which goes to say, consider the concept of a “silent retreat”. Embrace the sounds around you. The birds. The breeze. And start becoming more aware of yourself.

We’ll leave you with this: start today. The Charles River Esplanade is an oasis in the middle of Boston, take advantage of it. You can literally be there later today or tomorrow. This quintessential getaway is waiting to give you a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of city life.


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