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Five Northeast Road Trips for a Fantastic Fourth of July

America's birthday is an all-out affair in the nation's birthplace, Philadelphia.

From backyard barbecues and patriotic parades to fireworks that shoot across the sky, the Fourth of July is a birthday bash for America that everyone’s invited to attend. Communities throughout the country celebrate Independence Day, but some go all-in with blowouts in the name of freedom.

Everybody knows pomp reigns in Washington, D.C., with its parade down Constitution Avenue and fireworks that explode above the Capitol dome as the National Symphony Orchestra plays. In New York, the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks illuminate the Manhattan skyline. Several barges on the East River send sparks soaring, with new colors and effects added every year. Spectators view the show from multiple points in the city and even some places in New Jersey. Plus, the New York and D.C. celebrations are broadcast nationally. Both are bucket-list destinations for a fantastic Fourth of July, but they’re not the only ones. Check out five more within road-trip range.

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New York celebrates the Fourth of July with the Macy’s fireworks display.

(Photo: Kent Miller / Macy's, Inc.)

1. Bar Harbor, Maine

Fun on the Fourth begins early in Bar Harbor, with an outdoor blueberry pancake breakfast. A lunchtime a seafood festival highlights another local treat – lobster plucked right offshore. In between are relay races around scenic Mount Desert Island, craft fairs and a traditional Independence Day parade. Expect lobster races, too. Music fills the quaint village green throughout the day, and at night, fireworks burst over Frenchman Bay. Besides going red, white and blue, Bar Harbor also goes green by using disposable utensils made from cornstarch at its seafood festival.

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The Boston Pops perform at the Hatch Shell on the esplanade as part of the annual spectacular.

(Photo: David Fox)

2. Boston

Revolutionary War history fuels a weeklong Harborfest celebration culminating on the Fourth of July with a reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House, a flag-raising ceremony, a parade and the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular (complete with real cannon fire). Fireworks illuminate the esplanade along the Charles River, and afterward, church bells ring citywide. Activities before Independence Day include a Chowderfest, historical re-enactments, a screening of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in Christopher Columbus Park and special programming along the Freedom Trail. 

Related reading: 10 Signature Boston Foods and Eateries.

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3. Bristol, R.I.

This town bolsters its reputation as America’s most patriotic town with a claim to the oldest continuously held Fourth of July celebration in the nation, an event that’s been evolving since 1785. Festivities begin on Flag Day, June 14, by proclamation of the town crier and conclude on Independence Day with a parade that travels down Hope Street, the center of which is painted in red, white and blue stripes. A visiting naval ship, nightly concerts at Independence Park, patriotic speakers, a Fourth of July Ball and a prestigious drum and bugle corps competition round out the celebration, along with brilliant fireworks over Bristol Harbor on July 3. 

Related reading: Charming Bristol, R.I., Leaves a Lasting Impression.

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4. Ocean City, N.J.

Fireworks give the sand and surf at Ocean City a warm glow on Independence Day. Launched from a barge just beyond the Ocean City Music Pier, which was dedicated on July 4, 1929, it’s a true beach and boardwalk bash. The day starts with a bicycle parade that honors the most patriotically adorned ride. Pie-eating, kite-flying and even hula-hooping contests follow. Plus, bands play under the covered loggia of the pier before and after the fireworks, creating a casual old-time dance party atmosphere.

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art and Benjamin Franklin Parkway are alight with fireworks on the Fourth of July.

(Photo: George Widman)

5. Philadelphia

America’s birthplace celebrates the Fourth with countless free events, from open museums and movie screenings to fireworks displays, during the Wawa Welcome America Festival. A free Hoagie Day honoring our troops kicks off the celebratory week, which climaxes on the Fourth with Declaration of Independence recitations, a parade with historical characters, a Liberty Bell tapping and a fete hosted by Betsy Ross, who shares a huge flag crafted from cupcakes. Plus, a block party sprawls down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Museum of Art’s “Rocky” steps, where an outdoor concert (Pitbull this year) precedes a fireworks finale. 

Related reading: The Top 10 Things to Do in Philadelphia, Pa.

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How will you celebrate the Fourth of July this year? Tell us in the comments.

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