Things to Do in Provincetown
The Best Provincetown Attractions in Cape Cod
Provincetown is unlike anywhere else. Site of the Pilgrims’ first landing in 1620, the town is rich in history and culture. Located at the very tip of Cape Cod, it is home to the oldest artist colony in the country. This once thriving whaling port is now home to dozens of art galleries located along Commercial Street, as well as The Fine Arts Work Center and The Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Also located along Commercial Street are a variety of retail shops, restaurants, clubs and boutiques.
The town is renowned for its diversity and acceptance. It is a haven for the LGBTQ community and every summer it celebrates this with a variety of events culminating in the annual Carnival Festival in August.
For the outdoor enthusiast, almost three-quarters of Provincetown are protected and part of The Cape Cod National Seashore. Consisting of breathtaking beaches, paved bike paths and hiking trails, it offers something for everyone.
Whether you consider yourself an outdoor enthusiast or simply enjoy relaxing, there is never a shortage of things to do in Provincetown. We’ve compiled list of all the best things to do in Provincetown, from exploring the many beautiful beaches to enjoying a night out on the town.
One of the town’s hidden jewels is the bike trails. Eight miles of paved trails weave through the dunes and Beech Forest with dramatic views of the ocean. You will also discover many hidden ponds in the valleys of the forest. There are many trails—you don’t have to do the entire eight miles. If you enjoy biking, this is not to be missed. This is also a great way to get to the beach. For bike rentals, check out Ptown Bikes.
There are two gyms in town:
- Mussel Beach – 35 Bradford Street, 508-487-0001
- Provincetown Gym – 81 Shank Painter Road, 508-487-2776
Treat yourself to a relaxing massage. Here are a few that we recommend:
Provincetown has two tennis clubs:
- Bissell Tennis Courts, 21 Bradford Street Ext., 508-487-9512
- Provincetown Tennis Club, 286 Bradford Street, 508-487-9574.
Golf can be found nearby in Truro. Highland Golf Links, Highland Road, 508-487-9201. It has great views in the shadow of Highland Lighthouse.
If you arrived in town by air, you may have noticed that the town actually occupies a very small part of what is Provincetown. The National Seashore owns about three quarters of the land which is preserved and known as the Provincelands.
There are many trails to hike. The closest is a one-mile hike in the Beech Forest around a pond covered with water lilies. They have a parking lot just off Race Point Road. For the more adventuresome there’s a beautiful hike around Clapps Pond. This will take you about an hour at a brisk pace.
One of the best Provincetown attractions is the Dune Shakes. The Dune Shacks have a very special place in Provincetown’s history. After being abandoned for many decades, in the 1940s and 50s they became home to many writers and artists. At any rate, there are two ways you can see the shacks. First, you can hike out to them. It will take you about an hour each way. Bring water — on a warm day, the dunes can seem like the Sahara. Please respect the privacy of the current occupants. People still live there — that’s another story.
An easier way is to have an actual guided tour. Art’s Dune Tours will take you there in a van and tell you their complete history. I highly recommend the Sunset Tour. He stops on the beach and everyone hangs out and watches the sunset.
Speaking of sunsets…two places to go are Herring Cove beach to the right of the parking lot. You can also get a permit at Town Hall and barbeque on the beach. Another option is to go to “High Head” in Truro where you’ll see the sun set behind the Provincetown skyline. Just ask us for directions.
Art / Museums:
Provincetown was established in 1899 as the first “plein air” art colony by the American Impressionist Charles Hawthorne. Today the art world flourishes with several art institutions and a thriving gallery scene as well as working art studios. The Provincetown Art Association and Museum recently opened their new wing. Friday nights, beginning about 7pm, the galleries host weekly openings. Here you can meet the artists at several wine and cheese parties. Galleries are open generally from about noon to about 11pm.
The Pilgrim Monument and Museum has an interesting collection of art, theater and overall Provincetown history. This year marks the centennial of the Monument. You can also climb to the top of the monument (mostly ramps and some stairs) for a great panoramic view of the tip of Cape Cod. You’ll find discount coupons in our brochure rack.
Theatre and Performing Arts
Provincetown has a long history in the world of theatre. The performing arts are is major Provincetown attractions for both locals and tourists alike. Eugene O’Neill wrote many of his early plays here. Tennessee Williams was living in a cottage near Beachpoint, putting the final touches on “A Streetcar Named Desire” when Marlon Brando hitchhiked to Ptown to read for the role. At the “Little Bar” at the Atlantic House, you’ll notice some photos from those days. Our new theater is now open with works performed by The Provincetown Theater Company and The Provincetown Repertory Theater year-round. Many independent plays are also produced at different venues around town.
You’ll find just about everything here from comics, drag shows, cabaret, plays and concerts. Some of the shows this year will include: Kate Clinton, Pam Ann, Judy Gold, Randy Roberts, Lea Delaria, Margaret Cho, Miss Richfield 1981, Suzanne Westenhoeffer, Varla Jean, Jimmy James and Ryan Landry’s Showgirls. Most shows are performed at The Crown & Anchor, The Art House, or The Provincetown Theater. Each year there are special concerts throughout the summer. Some of the entertainers who have performed during past seasons are; Jane Olivor, Lisa Lampanelli, Jennifer Holliday, Linda Eder, Bea Arthur, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook, Eartha Kitt, Michael Feinstein and Betty Buckley.
If none of the above interests you there’s always Shopping, a Movie or People Watching!
If you’re looking for traditional things to do in Provincetown, why not visit one of the beaches? Provincetown is practically an island surrounded by miles of beautiful beaches managed by the National Seashore. There are beaches for Gay men and Lesbians as well as families. The two main beaches are Race Point and Herring Cove.
Race Point Beach
Race Point Beach has been named #6 by the Travel Channel as one of the country’s most beautiful beaches. It has steep dunes that overlook the Atlantic. If you walk to your right you’ll be able to find a quiet place. The main beach is basically occupied by families. It offers stunning vistas of the landscape and ocean. With its northern location facing the ocean, it is ideal for sunbathers. Due to its rougher waters, it tends to have a strong undertow which makes it difficult for swimmers. If you’d like to hike or bike instead, the paved Province Lands Bike Trail is nearby.
Herring Cove Beach
Once voted by The Travel Channel as one of America’s Best All-Time Beaches, this bayside beach is the most popular beach in Ptown. Warmer than Race Point with calmer waters, it is more enjoyable for swimming and water activities. Traditionally, heading to the right past the guard shack is considered more family oriented, while heading to the left is more gay-friendly. At the far end of the left side of the parking lot you’ll see a path to the beach. The first part of the beach tends to be occupied by women. As you walk further to your left, it becomes mixed and eventually all men. The Bath House is located to the left of the guard shack. Far Land Provisions offers delicious food for purchase (cash only) including dinners.
The sunsets at Herring Cove are spectacular. It is one of the few spots on the East Coast where you can watch the sun set over the water. If you turn right after the guard shack you will be able to park directly in front of the beach and enjoy the sunset from either the beach or your car.
Transportation to Provincetown Beaches
You may pay a daily entrance fee or purchase a pass for the season that is valid at any National Seashore Beach. If you’re here for a week or more and plan to go to the beach every day, the season pass would be a better buy. Parking to the left of the guard shack entails a short walk down to the beach. Turning right after the guard shack you will be able to park directly in front of the beach.
One of the nicest ways to get around Provincetown is by bike. You rent a bike at several locations hourly, daily or weekly. Ptown Bikes has the best selection — they’re located on Bradford Street across from Mussel Beach Health Club. There’s also Arnold’s across from The Patio.
Do be aware of poison ivy. It is everywhere in the dunes. When you trek this far, keep in mind that the snack bar is near the parking lot. You might want to bring some food and certainly something to drink since it is quite a walk back and forth.
In the high season, the bus runs every 20 minutes. It will take you right to the main parking lot of the beach. Click here for a schedule and map.
If you’re not a beach person and prefer a pool, there are three options to choose from. These are pools at hotels that allow non-guests to use their facilities. Many offer cocktail service and lunch by their pools.
- Crown & Anchor: In the center of town. A more extensive lunch menu.
- Provincetown Inn: At the extreme West end of town. Popular with locals, mixed crowd. Lunch is very basic snack bar fare.
- Boatslip: Until Tea Dance. Mostly men. Lunch consists of grilled burgers and sandwiches.
A night out on the town is one of the best things to do in Provincetown. Most of the clubs are gay and lesbian, although there are a few places for straight people and everyone is welcome at all of the clubs. First of all, Provincetown nightlife ends at 1 am. Although we may be one of the most liberal places on the face of the earth, we have the most conservative closing time. After the bars close everyone converges on Spiritus Pizza. Just follow the flow of people. They close the street and everyone hangs out for hours. Below are selections of nightclubs, bars, cafes and lounges as well as entertainment in the area.
Cover Charges at clubs vary depending on the night and time of year.
Tea Dance is a Provincetown Tradition. It starts at the Boatslip from 4-7 PM. There’s dancing inside and a large deck overlooking the beach that draws a crowd especially on July and August Weekends. Cover charges vary from day to day at the above from $5-$10.
The Porchside Bar at the Gifford House is a favorite meeting place as well as The Little Bar at the Atlantic House. There is also The Monkey Bar and Wave at the Crown. For women, there’s the Lounge Bar at Sage.
Clubs & Bars
Everyone is welcome at any of the above clubs. For those looking for a straight club, there’s the Governor Bradford. They have pool tables downstairs, live music, backgammon, chess and a restaurant.
The Squealing Pig is also a popular casual bar on the east end.
Many of the restaurants have casual bars where one can hang out once the dinner crowd is finished. The Commons has a nice outdoor area with great frozen drinks. The Mews also has a bar in their café upstairs. The Monkey Bar has become a popular hangout. The Landmark has a bar with a piano player on many nights as does the Lobby Bar at the Gifford House.
The Atlantic House (The A-House) has been The dance club for years. There is also an outside area since it gets really crowded on the dance floor. There are theme parties every Friday night but don’t feel you have to dress for the party — only a handful usually do except on major holidays such as the 4th of July and Carnival.
Paramount at the Crown has state-of-the-art light and sound. You can also sit outside by the pool if you want some fresh air and some new scenery. Purgatory downstairs at the Gifford House also has a dance bar Wave at the Crown is a video bar with pool tables. A casual hangout any time of day.
The Vault at the Crown, the Macho Bar, and upstairs at the A-House are the main haunts. You’ll find a good crowd there on any night after 11 pm in the high season. On weekends there can be lines to get in since they fill to capacity.