One of the best small towns in America, Provincetown has a rich history and culture as an LGBTQ hotspot and artist community. Discover the best of Ptown in this guide for first travel travelers. What to expect, and special travel tips and highlights to make the most of your trip!
We couldn’t stop smiling. I watched him, my boyfriend, as we made our way through Boston on the way to the fast ferry. Getting to Provincetown wasn’t difficult, but it also wasn’t easy. There were a lot of steps getting to Provincetown from NYC. But as we were walking through Boston on our way to the ferry port, I saw him smiling and couldn’t help but smile myself.
As soon as we’d picked up our reserved fast ferry tickets, waiting in line to board the boat, that joy was suddenly palpable. Something about that sea breeze, then the ferry moving through the Boston Harbor Islands until we were out in the open sea. Ninety minutes to Provincetown and we were flipping through the on-board brochures, getting tips from the boat’s concierge, our excitement bubbling over.
We were on the way to Provincetown for the first time. (I’d been once before: but just for lunch.)
Provincetown is a seaside beach town at the very tip of Cape Cod. It’s where the pilgrims landed first on the Mayflower in 1620, before they eventually reached the more famous Plymouth Rock.
A longtime home to artists, musicians, writers, and every other type of creator and misfit, Provincetown has seemingly always been a haven to the LGBTQ community. A safe space to create and to just be. It’s had a reputation as a fun and free town for as long as I’ve known about it.
But other than a town famous for its LGBTQ-inclusivity, its art, and its beaches, I didn’t know much of what to expect. From the moment we stepped on the ferry to Provincetown, though, it was obvious this place wasn’t going to be like anywhere else. Everyone seemed so happy and so excited.
By the time we stepped off the boat, we were already fans of Provincetown. You could just feel from the others on the ferry that this was going to be somewhere special. That joy stayed with us for the whole week.
Provincetown for the first time
Things To Know For First-Time Visitors
When to visit Provincetown
Because it’s a town famous for its art and culture, there’s seemingly something to do every week of the year, but in the summer, a handful of big events make the town especially popular.
That means higher hotel prices and less space on the streets, but those events are probably worth it. Whether it’s family week, Carnival (the biggest event of the year), Bear Week, or lesbian week (Girl Splash), there’s something for everyone in Provincetown, almost any time of year, too.
What to wear
In the summer, Provincetown is hot and thankfully not so humid. But with so many drag queens and parties literally every night of the week, it’s important to have a lewk while in Provincetown.
Pack fun party clothes as well as your typical beachwear, and don’t be afraid to show some skin! Themed parties take place at various gay bars, such as leather nights and underwear parties, so you’re going to want to be prepared. But don’t worry if you’re not! Because there are plenty of shops in Provincetown that sell fun outfits easily customizable; House of La Rue is my favorite.
Where to stay
Provincetown is a small town with a lot of big events, and yet finding a place to stay is never too much of a challenge. There are a handful of larger hotel properties, but many of the most unique Provincetown accommodation options are actually smaller bed-and-breakfast types. With so many cute houses and homes in the area, many have been converted to boutique hotels and b&b’s.
Some hotels are located directly on Commercial Street—the main drag of Provincetown. And while that’s a great location, anything on one of the surrounding streets or crossroads will be equally convenient and far more quiet.
Here are some more useful tips for traveling to Provincetown if it’s your first time!
Travel Tips for First-Time Travel to Provincetown
1. Book the fast ferry in advance
There are a few ways to get to Provincetown, but the easiest is the fast ferry from Boston. No rental car necessary! In the summer months, the fast ferries run a handful of times per day, taking about 90 minutes each way. Because of the limited seats and departure times, it’s smart to book your fast ferry tickets in advance.
There are two companies serving Provincetown from Boston on a 90-minute ferry: Boston Harbor Cruises and Bay State Cruise Company. Prices are comparable. With BHC, there’s an on-board concierge to help with any travel recommendations, but the ferry also accommodates nearly 500 passengers, while Bay State Cruise Company runs a smaller boat with nearly 1/5 the passengers.
2. Provincetown is very gay
Okay, that’s probably not a surprise for most visitors to Provincetown, but Ptown is a very gay, very welcoming town. Its history as a gay hotspot go back a very long time, with the town always serving as a getaway for those on the fringe.
A booming theater and arts community throughout the 20th century made it a regular summer destination. That can be dated back to the 1920s and 1930s when the town was a sort of Artist’s Colony. Since the 1970s and 1980s, annual LGBTQ festivals (including the famous Provincetown Carnival each August) have brought in more and more LGBTQ travelers.
3. You’re going to want a bike rental
Yes, Provincetown is a relatively small beach town. In fact, there’s apparently only one 4-way intersection with a streetlight in town! And it’s almost entirely walkable, especially if you’re staying in town. But there’s a special joy in using a bicycle to get around. Especially because Commercial Street (the town’s main street) allows 2-way bicycle traffic (as well as being a one-way street for cars, and a pedestrian road, too!).
With a bike rental in Provincetown, getting around is so much easier—and enjoyable. Plus you can take advantage of the bike trails through Provincetown and the surrounding Cape Cod National Seashore. There are a handful of bike rentals in town, but I used Ptown bikes on my last visit and loved how the bikes rode—smooth and comfortable!
4. The best lobster roll is at The Canteen
Controversial to make such a blanket statement like this, but hear me out. Being a seaside town (on the Cape no less), you’re going to find amazing seafood just about everywhere, but after much review and discussion, I’ve decided the best lobster roll is at The Canteen.
Sure, you can find similar New England–style lobster rolls at other Provincetown restaurants, but the one at The Canteen is special. First off, it’s delicious and surprisingly full of lobster meat. But secondly, The Canteen’s backyard terrace is beautiful. It’s sandy, right on the beach (and with beach access), and just the perfect place to lounge. Oh, and the Brussels sprouts are great, too!
5. Everyone loves Bear Week
So, I’ve never been to Provincetown during Bear Week, but it doesn’t matter who you meet: they’re going to tell you about it. Maybe there’s some sort of town-wide ordinance that requires everyone to say one nice thing about the July festival once a day, or something, because everyone talks about it. Before I could even plan my trip to Provincetown, multiple friends more well-traveled than myself suggested I plan my holiday around Bear Week.
Here’s the thing about Provincetown Bear Week. As a 9-day festival, the word on the street is that it’s the town’s friendliest festival. As town already famous for being inclusive and welcoming, apparently during Bear Week, the town goes all out and both the locals and tourists love it.
6. Visit the dunes
Of all the tourist things to do in Provincetown, the one that stands out the most is a tour of the sand dunes. There’s only one company that runs dune tours into the national park, and they’ve been doing them for decades.
Art’s Dune Tours is a really special experience where you learn the history, culture, and ecology of the national park in a small group tour. Because of its origin story, this area of Cape Cod has been safely preserved. There are even 19 different dune shacks that still exist in the park, and while it’s impossible to visit them on the tour, it is possible to rent them during the summer months as part of an artist & writer residency program.
7. Order the rum punch at the Boatslip Tea Dance
In the summer, there’s an everyday event that literally everyone shows up to, and that’s the Boatslip Tea Dance. Located at the Boatslip Resort, right on the seaside, the pool area and dock turns into a mega party each afternoon at 4pm. It’s an outdoor dance party famous for its high energy, fun crowds, and beautiful people. The best part is it’s the most social event in town, and a great place to make friends and meet new people.
FYI: it’s a cash only event, and the atmosphere is electric so you’ll want to spend some money. Luckily there’s a way to experience the Tea Dance on a budget. If you’re drinking, order the rum punch cocktail; it’s super strong (they even pour an extra sip down the straw) and you’ll only need two for the duration of the party. The Tea Dance is a great place to start a night out, and it runs seven days a week!
8. Visit the art galleries
Provincetown has always had a close association to the art community. As an artist enclave, it’s no surprise that there are so many small and independent art galleries in town. Don’t be afraid to pop in and out of them because you just might be surprised what you find!
Many of Provincetown’s art galleries are on the East End, on Commercial Street. Start an art visit at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) for an introduction to the town’s local artist community.
9. Go to the beach
Duh. You’re on the Cape and surrounded by beaches. There are many beaches in the town center, directly off Commercial Street, but because it’s also the harbor area, they’re not the cleanest waters. Most visitors to Provincetown head to the more spacious beaches at Herring Cove Beach and Race Point Beach. They’re relatively easily accessed if you’ve got a bike, or there’s also parking for cars.
10. There’s too much to do!
For being such a relatively small town, there’s plenty to see and do in Provincetown—enough to fill months of activities! It’s why you’ll see many Provincetown tourists opting to stay for up to a week (or two).
And there are plenty of others, especially artists and performers, who plan their entire summers around an extended stay in Ptown. And it’s easy to see why!
There’s just too much to do!
There aren’t too many tourist towns that still surprise me, but after a long trip to Provincetown, I was immediately hooked. The energy, excitement, and joy from everyone in town. The ease of getting around, and the super queer environment, make Provincetown a truly unique and special destination.
It’s the type of place that will surprise you. It’ll exceed any expectations and, like most places, it’s the people you meet that make it that much better. And the people in Provincetown: they’re seemingly always happy and joyful, excited to share their town.
My visit to Provincetown was supported and sponsored by the town. Discover more travel tips for Ptown on their tourism website. Additional LGBTQ tips and a guide to the town is produced by the Provincetown Business Guild.
Hey Adam, as a 20+ year Ptown veteran visitor, I’m glad you had a great time on your trip (I think we were there the same week, actually). Here are a few additional things for your readers who now want to go to Ptown for the first time.
1) There are a lot fewer hotels/guest houses than there used to be (many of them were sold and are private residences or condos), and plenty of people reserve for next year as they’re leaving this year. There are also minimum stays in the summer. The same goes for places you’d rent on VRBO or other sites. Plan ahead. Guest houses/hotels will have registration open for next year already. The rental sites generally open up in January, once owners figure out the schedule.
2) Canteen is good in general, but people also like them for their central location and convenience. Their lobster rolls are also among the most expensive in town. If you’re looking for the Connecticut-style roll (hot with butter), you can also try the seafood place in Whaler’s Wharf. (Then take it an eat it at the Aqua Bar, where you can also get a drink.) For the cold one, Fanizzi’s in the way east end is just as good and cheaper. Plus you get sides with it. It’s a nice walk or bike ride to get there. Not the scene of Canteen, but you can hit Canteen for other food, too.
3) Get the bike helmet if you’re riding on the dune trails. I’ve seen someone wipe out and have to be taken off the trail in an ambulance.
You can reserve your bike ahead online, too. Bike rental places may run out during the busy theme weeks.
4) I’m thinking of starting a swap shop for all the clothes guys buy in Ptown that they then realize they can’t wear anyplace else. Skimpy-Casual is a good look, but not everywhere. So think before you buy.
Hope to see you there next year!
Hey Tom – this is a really useful comment, thank you for sharing your Ptown tips! You’re definitely right to book accommodation ahead of time; I noticed a lot of “no vacancy” signs and I can only imagine it’s more challenging to find a place to stay during peak festival weekends!
And that’s a great idea for a swap shop. I’m pretty sure I left the town with more than I came with!
Oops – meant the Aquarium and Not Whalers Wharf for the lobster roll…
There is too much to do! Join me next time on a bike tour and I’ll give you the insider lowdown on what’s you had such a great time! -Rik from Pedal Ptown Bike Tours
Should have said “what’s new and things you may have missed on your first visit. Glad you had such a great time!” -Rik
Thank you Rik!! Definitely have a lot more to explore in Ptown. There’s always more to see and do there, and already planning my next visit!
As a local, just a couple corrections … Brussel sprouts not on menu at Canteen this season and I recommend their fried oyster roll. Also, never strong drinks at the Boatslip. The planters punch is mixed ahead in large batches. (Maybe s/he knew you were writing this article!)
Hi James, thanks for commenting! I definitely ate Brussel sprouts at Canteen this month, so maybe they’ve already put them back on!
Great article and so happy you discovered the magic of Provincetown. I might suggest adding some water activities to your list. Renting a kayak or sailboat from Flyer’s and heading out into the bay and marshes has a certain feeling of peacefulness you can’t get on the street. Or, for more of an ocean experience, join a whale watching trip or charter a sunset sailboat to take you out of the harbor. Each of my visits includes a few days of quiet solitude (books on the beach, dinners at home, biking on the trails, tennis on the clay courts; kayaking through the marshes; art gallery tours) followed by high social times (poolside sunbathing; Boatslip Tea; drag shows; theme parties; late night Spiritus pizza). It’s a special place.
Thank you Paul – I almost did a boat cruise, and so wanted to do a whale watching cruise on my visit, but ran out of time! The kayak tours sound great! I think you’re spot on with a Provincetown trip to balance high-energy with calm, relaxing things to do, too!
Really this website is very useful for new SEO users thanks Admin
I like reading an article that will make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!