The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (tel. 888/733-2678 or 617/536-4100; www.bostonusa.com) operates a regularly updated hot line that describes ongoing and upcoming events. The Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events (tel. 617/635-3911; www.cityofboston.gov/arts) can provide information about specific happenings. If you're planning at the last minute, the arts sections of the daily Boston Globe and Boston Herald are always packed with ideas.
For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday Celebration, various locations. Events include musical tributes, gospel concerts, museum displays and programs, readings, speeches, and panel discussions. Check special listings in the Globe for specifics. Third Monday in January.
Chinese New Year, Chinatown. The dragon parade (which draws a big crowd no matter how cold it is), fireworks, and raucous festivals are part of the celebration. Special programs take place at the Children's Museum (tel. 617/426-8855; www.bostonkids.org). For more details, visit www.chinatownmainstreet.org. Depending on the Chinese lunar calendar, the holiday falls between January 21 and February 19. In 2012, it's January 23.
Boston Wine Festival, Boston Harbor Hotel and other locations. Tastings, classes, lectures, receptions, and meals provide a lively liquid diversion throughout winter. Check ahead (tel. 888/660-9463; www.bostonwinefestival.net) for details. January to early April.
African-American History Month, various locations. Programs include special museum exhibits, children's activities, concerts, films, lectures, discussions, readings, and tours of the Black Heritage Trail led by National Park Service rangers (tel. 617/742-5415; www.nps.gov/boaf). All month.
School Vacation Week, various locations. The slate of activities includes special exhibitions and programs, plays, concerts, and tours. Contact individual attractions or check the Globe for information on programs and extended hours. Third week of February.
St. Patrick's Day Celebrations, various locations. Concerts, talks, special restaurant menus, and other offerings celebrate the heritage of one of the country's most Irish-American cities. Note that the parade, along Broadway in South Boston, is not a city-sponsored event; the organization that runs it is private and therefore free to bar any group it wants to from marching. That includes gays and, at least once in recent years, antiwar veterans. March 17; parade is on the closest Sunday.
NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional, TD Garden (tel. 617/624-1000; www.tdgarden.com). The team that survives the weekend advances to the Final Four in Dayton, Ohio. Expect giddy crowds, sold-out hotels, and packed sports bars. March 22 and 24.
Big Apple Circus (tel. 800/922-3772; www.bigapplecircus.org), City Hall Plaza, Government Center. The New York-based "one-ring wonder" performs in a heated tent with all seating less than 50 feet from the ring. Proceeds support the Boston Children's Museum. Early April to mid-May.
Red Sox Opening Day, Fenway Park. Even if your concierge is a magician, this is an extremely tough ticket. In 2012, the centennial of Fenway Park, even a regular game will be a challenge. Check ahead (tel. 877/733-7699; www.redsox.com) when tickets go on sale in December. If you can't get tickets to Opening Day, try to see the 10am game on Patriots' Day, the third Monday in April. The early start allows spectators to watch the Boston Marathon afterward. Early and mid-April.
Swan Boats Return to the Public Garden. Since their introduction in 1877, the Swan Boats (tel. 617/522-1966; www.swanboats.com) have been a symbol of Boston. Like real swans, they go away for the winter. Saturday before Patriots' Day (April 16, 2012).
Patriots' Day, North End, Lexington, and Concord. Festivities commemorate and reenact the events of April 18 and 19, 1775. Lanterns glow in the steeple of the Old North Church (tel. 617/523-6676; www.oldnorth.com). Participants dressed as Paul Revere and William Dawes ride from the North End to Lexington and Concord to warn the minutemen that "the regulars are out" (not that "the British are coming" -- most colonists considered themselves British). Musket fire rings out on the Battle Green in Lexington and then at the North Bridge in Concord. For information on reenactments and other events, check the websites of the Paul Revere House (tel. 617/523-2338; www.paulreverehouse.org) and the Battle Road Committee (www.battleroad.org). For information about the riders' destinations, where the festivities traditionally include pancake breakfasts, contact the Lexington Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (tel. 781/862-1450; www.lexingtonchamber.org) or the Concord Chamber of Commerce (tel. 978/369-3120; www.concordchamberofcommerce.org). Third Monday of April (April 16, 2012).
Boston Marathon, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Boston. International stars and local amateurs join in the world's oldest and most famous marathon (www.bostonmarathon.org). Competitors start in stages, with the first setting out at 9:25am. Cheering fans are welcome until the last weekend warriors stagger across the Boylston Street finish line in the late afternoon. Third Monday of the month (April 16, 2012).
Freedom Trail Week, various locations in Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, and Concord. This is another school vacation week, with plenty of crowds and diversions. Family-friendly events include tours, concerts, talks, and other programs related to Patriots' Day, the Freedom Trail, and the American Revolution. Third week of April.
An Evening with Champions, Bright Athletic Center, Allston. World-class ice skaters and promising local students stage two or three performances to benefit the Jimmy Fund, the children's fundraising arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Sponsored by Harvard's Eliot House (tel. 617/942-1392; www.aneveningwithchampions.org). Mid-April (tickets on sale in Jan).
Independent Film Festival of Boston, various locations. Features, shorts, and documentaries by international filmmakers make up the schedule for this increasingly buzz-worthy event. Check ahead (www.iffboston.org) for the schedule. Late April to early May.
Lilac Sunday, Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain. The arboretum (tel. 617/524-1717; www.arboretum.harvard.edu) allows picnicking only once a year, on Lilac Sunday. From sunrise to sunset, wander the grounds and enjoy the sensational spring flowers, including more than 400 varieties of lilacs in bloom. Mid-May.
Street Performers Festival, Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Everyone but the pigeons gets into the act as musicians, magicians, jugglers, sword swallowers, and artists strut their stuff. Late May.
Boston Pride Parade, South End to Government Center (tel. 617/262-9405; www.bostonpride.org). The largest gay pride march in New England is the highlight of a weeklong celebration of diversity. The parade, on the second weekend of the month, starts in the South End and ends at City Hall Plaza, where the Boston Pride Festival takes place. Early June.
Dragon Boat Festival, Charles River near Harvard Square, Cambridge (www.bostondragonboat.org). Teams of paddlers synchronized by a drummer propel boats with dragon heads and tails as they race 1,640 feet. The winners go to the national championships; the spectators go to a celebration of Chinese culture and food on the shore. Second or third Sunday of June.
Cambridge River Festival (tel. 617/349-4380; www.cambridgeartscouncil.org), Memorial Drive from John F. Kennedy Street to Western Avenue. A salute to the arts, the festival incorporates live music, dancing, children's activities, crafts and art exhibits, and international food on the banks of the Charles River. Mid-June.
Boston Harborfest, downtown, the waterfront, and the Harbor Islands. The city puts on its Sunday best for the Fourth of July, a gigantic weeklong celebration of Boston's maritime history. Events surrounding Boston Harborfest (tel. 617/227-1528; www.bostonharborfest.com) include concerts, children's activities, cruises, fireworks, the Boston Chowderfest, guided tours, talks, and USS Constitution's turnaround cruise. In 2012, for the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Tall Ships and other vessels of Operation Sail (www.opsail.org) will visit Boston for the holiday; make your reservations early. Beginning of the month.
Boston Pops Concert & Fireworks Display, Hatch Shell, on the Esplanade. Spectators start showing up at dawn (overnight camping is not permitted) to stake out a good spot on the lawn and spend all day waiting for the sky to get dark enough for fireworks. Others show up at the last minute -- the Cambridge side of the river, near Kendall Square, and the Longfellow Bridge are good spots to watch the spectacular aerial show. The program includes the 1812 Overture, with real cannon fire and church bells. For details, check the website (www.july4th.org). July 4.
Puerto Rican Festival & Parade, Franklin Park. This 3-day event, instituted in 1967, is part street fair, part cultural celebration, with plenty of live music and traditional food. The highlight of the final day is a lively parade. For details, search Festival Puertorriqueño on Facebook. Late July.
Italian-American Feasts, North End. These weekend street fairs begin in July and end in late August with the two biggest: the Fisherman's Feast and the Feast of St. Anthony. The sublime (fresh seafood prepared while you wait, live music, dancing in the street) mingles with the ridiculous (carnival games, tacky T-shirts, fried-dough stands) to leave a lasting impression of fun and indigestion. Visit www.fishermansfeast.com or www.saintanthonysfeast.com for a preview. Weekends throughout August.
August Moon Festival, Chinatown. A celebration of the harvest and the coming of autumn, the festival includes dragon and lion dances during the parade through the crowded streets, and demonstrations of crafts and martial arts. It's also an excuse to stuff yourself with tasty mooncakes. For details, visit www.chinatownmainstreet.org. Mid-August.
Cambridge Carnival, Kendall Square, Cambridge (tel. 617/863-0476; www.cambridgecarnival.org). This Caribbean-style celebration of diversity and unity features live music, ethnic food, kids' activities, and a festive parade of costumed revelers. Sunday after Labor Day.
Boston Film Festival (tel. 617/523-8388; www.bostonfilmfestival.org), various locations. Independent films continue on the festival circuit or make their premieres, sometimes following a lecture by an actor or filmmaker. Most screenings are open to the public without advance tickets. Mid-September.
Salem Haunted Happenings, various locations. Parades, parties, a special commuter-rail ride from Boston, fortune-telling, cruises, and tours lead up to a ceremony on Halloween. Contact Destination Salem (tel. 877/725-3662) or check the website (www.hauntedhappenings.org) for specifics. All month.
Oktoberfest, Harvard Square, Cambridge. This immense street fair is a magnet for college students, families, street performers, musicians, and crafts vendors. Sponsored by the Harvard Square Business Association (tel. 617/491-3434; www.harvardsquare.com). Second Sunday of October.
Head of the Charles Regatta, Boston and Cambridge. High school, college, and postcollegiate rowing teams and individuals -- some 4,000 in all -- race in front of tens of thousands of fans along the banks of the Charles River and on the bridges spanning it. The Head of the Charles (tel. 617/868-6200; www.hocr.org) has an uncanny tendency to coincide with a crisp, picturesque weekend. Late October.
Thanksgiving Celebration, Plymouth (tel. 800/872-1620; www.visit-plymouth.com). Plymouth observes the holiday with a "stroll through the ages," highlighting 17th- and 19th-century Thanksgiving preparations in historic homes. Menus at Plimoth Plantation, which re-creates the colony's first years, include a buffet and a Victorian Thanksgiving feast. Reservations (tel. 800/262-9356 or 508/746-1622; www.plimoth.org) are accepted beginning in June. Thanksgiving Day.
The Nutcracker, Opera House, Boston. Boston Ballet's annual holiday extravaganza is one of the country's biggest and best. This is the traditional way to expose young Bostonians (and visitors) to culture, and the spectacular sets make it practically painless. Buy tickets (tel. 617/695-6955; www.bostonballet.org) as soon as you plan your trip, ask whether your hotel offers a Nutcracker package, or cross your fingers and check when you arrive. Thanksgiving weekend through late December.
Boston Tea Party Reenactment, Old South Meeting House (tel. 617/482-6439; www.oldsouthmeetinghouse.org) and Tea Party Ship and Museum, Congress Street Bridge (tel. 617/338-1773; www.bostonteapartyship.com). Chafing under British rule, American colonists rose up on December 16, 1773, to strike a blow where it would cause real pain -- in the pocketbook. A re-creation of the pre-party rally at the meetinghouse is a lively all-ages audience-participation event; call ahead to see whether the ship has reopened during your visit. Mid-December.
Black Nativity, Blackman Auditorium, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Ave. (tel. 800/514-3849 [tickets] or 617/585-6366; www.blacknativity.org). Poet Langston Hughes wrote the "gospel opera," and a cast of more than 100 brings it to life. Mid- to late December.
Christmas Revels, Sanders Theatre, Cambridge. This multicultural celebration of the winter solstice features the holiday customs of a different culture each year. Themes have included American folk traditions, Victorian England, and Romany Gypsies. Be ready to sing along. For information and tickets, contact the Revels (tel. 617/972-8300; www.revels.org). Last 2 weeks of the month.
First Night, Back Bay and the waterfront. This is the original arts-oriented, no-alcohol, citywide New Year's Eve celebration. It begins in the early afternoon and includes a parade, ice sculptures, art exhibitions, theatrical performances, and indoor and outdoor entertainment. Some attractions require tickets, but for most you just need a First Night button, available for less than $20 at visitor centers and stores around the city. Fireworks light up the sky above Boston Common just before 7pm and over Boston Harbor at midnight. For details, contact First Night (tel. 617/542-1399; www.firstnight.org) or check the newspapers when you arrive. December 31.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.