The Emerald Necklace: Exploring Boston’s Greenways

If you want to explore Boston’s parks and green areas, a great place to start is the 9-mile, one-way walk along the Emerald Necklace. Starting at the Boston Common, you will wander through the Public Garden, Back Bay, through the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, the Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park.

Given that we wanted to minimize public transportation transfers, we shortened the walk to 7 miles and ended at the Arboretum, skipping Franklin Park. That said, we may come back with a car to visit the Zoo and finish the entire walk at that time.

Getting There

To get to the starting point at the Boston Common, you can either take the MBTA to the Park Street stop or park your car at the Boston Common Garage. The Friends of the Public Garden have more specifics on transportation options.

If you choose to end your walk early, simply use your phone to get directions to the nearest MBTA or bus stop to get you back to your origin.

We chose to end at the Forest Hills Orange Line MBTA station by the Arnold Arboretum. If we would have continued to Franklin park, we would have had to start with a bus, then transfer to the MBTA, which in Covid-19 times, was unappealing. The Orange Line has stops quite close the Boston Common (Downtown Crossing), though we chose to get off a few stops earlier to conclude the walk through Back Bay.

Boston Common

Driving in from the suburbs, we decided to park in the Boston Common Garage, which is underneath part of the Boston Common.

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From here, you can head towards the Public Garden and enjoy the stroll through the park.

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If you have kids in tow, consider stopping at the Tadpole Playground. And if you are visiting in the winter, you may want to go iceskating at Frog Pond. Otherwise, there are plenty of paths to explore and monuments to see.

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Public Garden

Once you cross the street to the Public Garden, spend some time enjoying the delightful flower arrangements. Having recently moved from California, we found the tiny palm trees an interesting addition, although I don’t think there is a chance of them surviving the winter.

There are also plenty of interesting monuments, beautiful footbridges, and cute ponds to see.

Back Bay

When you exit the Public Garden, make sure you choose the Commonwealth Avenue (“Comm Ave”) exit, putting you on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall greenway through Back Bay.

Enjoy the path through the city, enjoying the trees and monuments on the way.

Don’t forget to also look to the side and admire the beautiful brownstones.

There are also plenty of churches and views of the city.

Back Bay Fens and Fenway Park

Once you get to the Harvard Bridge, which actually leads to MIT, you will need to cross over to the sidewalk and continue until you reach the famous Citgo sign, a somewhat odd symbol of the Boston skyline.

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At this point, we should have gone to the Back Bay Fens area, but we actually wanted to take the boys by Fenway Park, home of the famous Red Sox, so we decided to take a shortcut and skip the Fens.

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As you walk by the ballpark, it will feel a bit grittier and less, but there are still some nice buildings to admire. If you want lots of green, stick with the Back Bay Fens instead of this shortcut.

The Riverway

Getting back on the Emerald Necklace at the Riverway, we were delighted with all the greenery again.

Eventually, we decided to detour to a nearby Subway sandwich shop and took our lunch back to the river to enjoy.

This area had a really nice feel to it and I could see wanting to live near this delightful path.

Olmsted Park

Eventually, we got back on the streets for a bit until we reached Olmsted Park.

We were up on a hill above it, but the paths below us looked delightful. If we wouldn’t have been worried about running out of steam, we may have gone down and explored some more.

Jamaica Pond

This area was immediately followed by Jamaica Pond.

While swimming isn’t allowed, there is a nice boat dock.

Traditionally, this area was used as summer housing for the very wealthy, but since it is no longer countryside, the area is much more mixed today. Make sure you enjoy looking at the houses as you walk down the Arborway.

Arnold Arboretum

As you continue, you will eventually reach Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, which is always worth strolling through.

Given that we had recently been here, we just enjoyed views from the outside.

Franklin Park

We could have continued onto Franklin Park, but since there is the Forest Hills subway station between the arboretum and Frankline Park and the kids didn’t want to double-back, we decided to hop on the MBTA back towards downtown.

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The Return to Our Car

The original plan was to take the Orange Line to the Downtown Crossing stop and walk back to the Boston Common through downtown. To our delight, the train wasn’t very crowded and looked fairly clean, but as we got closer to the center, more people started to get on. We decided that it might be fun to walk back along Newbury Street, and got off at the Massachusetts Ave stop. Note that this probably added an extra mile or so to our walk.

As you walk down Mass. Ave., turn onto Huntington Avenue, there is the Christian Science Church headquarters, with a beautiful reflecting pool with nice views of the city.

We continued onto Boylston Street, then eventually turned onto Newbury Street. I had wanted to stop by the Rothy’s shoe store, but realized that due to store covid capacity limits there was a line to get in. Newbury Street was a little crowded for our taste, even with masks, so we moved one over to Boylston Street. In Copley Square, we bought some drinks from a street vendor, and made our way back to our car.

What a lovely day!

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