Boston to Provincetown, by ferry

Provincetown Art Association and Museum; top, Boston’s Long Wharf.
Provincetown Art Association and Museum; top, Boston’s Long Wharf.

Another in a series of New England getaways on public transportation

Provincetown is the espresso of summer destinations. It’s so concentrated that a little bit can be just enough. If you depart Boston on the first fast ferry of the day and return on the last one, you will have 10 hours to see the dunes and seashore, survey the art scene, shop, eat, and generally immerse yourself in the surreal parade that is P-town in summer. It’s like running off to join the circus — and coming home the same night.

The Ride: Boston to Provincetown
Fast Ferry

The Boston Harbor Cruises ( ferry departs from Long Wharf at 9 a.m. and the 90-minute cruise allows plenty of time to get in a vacation state of mind. Decks of the big catamaran stand high above the water and the boat cruises at 33-34 knots. Within minutes we were passing Castle Island, the wind turbines and digesters on Deer Island, and Boston Light. There was, alas, no narration to explain the sights.

Though we didn’t have any luck, Captain Jason Nicastro says he often sights whales (minke, humpback, and finback), dolphins, and the more sluggish basking sharks and giant ocean sunfish. “The end of August is giant tuna season,” Nicastro says. “They come right out of the water.”



Boston Harbor Cruises recommends arriving a half-hour early and it’s a good idea if you want to score one of the window-side booths on the second-level deck. There’s a small snack bar aboard in case you missed breakfast. The ferry docks at the end of MacMillan Wharf — literally in the middle of Provincetown. You can walk everywhere, but if you flag, hail a pedicab (Ptown Pedicabs, 508-487-0660). The fee is “what you want to pay,” generally $6 per person.

What to do

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Throughout our trip, on-board concierge Donal O’Sullivan advised passengers on Provincetown sights and activities. He usually suggests a one-hour van tour of the dunes with Art’s Dune Tours (4 Standish St., 508-487-1950,, one-hour tour adults $27, children ages 6-11 $18). “It’s a good way to see the natural beauty of the area,” he explains.

If you would rather visit the Cape Cod National Seashore on your own, take the Shuttle from MacMillan Wharf (800-352-7155, cape, $2 per ride, seniors $1, day pass $6, seniors $3) to the Province Lands visitors center. You can walk down through the dunes to the beach at Race Point. With traffic and scheduled stops, the Shuttle can be a bit slow, but it’s also easy to pedal out to the Province Lands. One good bike rental shop is Arnold’s (329 Commercial St., 508-487-0844, half-day rental $16).

If you find a special stone, shell, or piece of beach glass, leave time to stop at The Dragons Treasure (MacMillan Wharf, 925-586-4782), where artisans can turn your found object into a pendant while you wait.

The natural beauty of Provincetown has long been a lure for artists. Some of their best work is shown at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (460 Commercial St., 508-487-1750,, $7, free 12 and under and Friday evenings for all), where a major exhibition of work by Robert Motherwell is up through September. The town also owns a terrific art collection, much of it displayed at the Provincetown Public Library (356 Commercial St., 508-487-7094, free). The second floor of the library is filled stem to stern with a 66-foot half-scale model of the Rose Dorothea, the 1905 Grand Banks fishing schooner that won the Lipton Cup in 1907.
A short video tells the tale.


When you get hungry, Nor’ East Beer Garden (210-212 Commercial St., 508-487-2337,, sandwiches and entrees $12-$24) offers a great beer list and spot-on pub grub (fish taco, fried chicken sandwich) in a garden setting. Locals favor the big plate of fish and chips at Bubala’s by the Bay (185 Commercial St., 508-487-0773,, sandwiches and entrees $10-$32), a prime people-watching location.

You’ll even have time for an early dinner before returning on the 8:30 p.m. ferry (Thu-Sun through Labor Day, more limited thereafter). New this year is 9 Ryder (9 Ryder Street Extension, 508-487-9990, entrees $17-$33), where chefs Fred Hemley and Francis Iacono prepare Southern Italian coastal cuisine in the cozy restaurant that sits on a wharf. Best bet is broiled catch of the day with white wine, olive oil, lemon, and herbs.


We paid $83 each (seniors $73, 4-12 $63) for the round trip with Boston Harbor Cruises. Think of it as two cruises with a visit to Provincetown in between. Bay State Cruise Co. ( also offers 90-minute service to Provincetown from the World Trade Center (round trip adults $83, under 12 $62) on a slightly different schedule.

If you need a double espresso, book a room at the gorgeously renovated Sage Inn (336 Commercial St., 508-487-6424, sageinnptown
.com, doubles $130-$275) so you can stay another day.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at