Massachusetts : Safety by City
- Cape Cod
- Fall River
- Martha’s Vineyard
- New Bedford
I’m starting this article about Somerville, Massachusetts, with my mind blown by how one city of 81,000 people can hold so much history, innovation, and attractions in one densely populated four square miles.
I guess that is why there are so many triple Decker homes here.
Somerville’s cup runneth over with history that includes a stone two from the Revolutionary War, the notorious neighborhood of Whitey Bulger and the Irish mob’s Winter Hill Gang, and Tufts University, founded in 1852.
It sits next door to Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, Bunker Hill, Charleston, and the Mystic River.
It’s also just across the bridge from downtown Boston.
This is a city of squares, where intersections of roads bring intersections of lives.
With a healthy mix of college students, young professionals, and generations of Boston families, on top of a multicultural community, this is an inclusive and diverse place with something for everyone.
Somerville is eight miles from the airport and on all major transportation routes, making for easy access to the wide variety of things to do in Boston.
Warnings & Dangers in Somerville
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall crime risk, with crime rates impressively lower across the board in all violent and property crime categories. It's also filled with many unique neighborhoods, so you're never left wondering if there is something to do.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MTBA) is the public transportation system throughout the region. It's nicknamed "The T." Buses and trains can get you around Somerville, the metro region, and even to Cape Cod if you'd like. This isn't the best city to drive a car around as parking is scarce and fees are high, but it's very walkable and bikeable, with plenty of taxis or rideshares if you need them.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
For a city with so much going on in different neighborhoods, the 27 pickpockets from 2021 aren't too concerning, but it's worth noting that low crime rate cities still require smart safety practices. Be especially careful if you're bringing backpacks or mobile devices/laptops to this area, as those will be the main targets of thieves.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
A little bit of everything can impact Somerville - flooding, winter storms, hurricanes, nor'easters, and severe thunderstorms. Extreme temperatures can happen in the winter and summer. Read the Hazard Mitigation Guide on Somerville's Emergency Management website to learn the best safety practices.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Robberies are 65% lower than the national average, and of the 29 that did happen in 2021, just six were highway robberies. While this is a relatively safe city day and night, remember that this is part of a larger major metro area and use appropriate safety precautions.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Boston holds so much importance in history, technology, and port shipping that it will always be considered a potential target. This risk comes with elevated safety precautions at a local, state, and federal level, but you should always do your part to "See Something, Say Something" if you notice anything suspicious. The police department has "7 Signs of Terrorism" information on its website to review.
SCAMS RISK : MEDIUM
The potential risk here is high, but the actual numbers don't always support that. Treat every aspect of your trip with a medium risk, from avoiding rental scams to protecting your personal electronic information to not being pressured by panhandlers. If you suspect fraudulent activity, call Somerville Police Department (SPD) at 617-625-1600 Ext. 7250.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here if you use smart safety measures. Since the social scene is active here, it's easy to get carried away, drink too much, or get lost. Because of so much foot traffic, you'll rarely find yourself walking on a dark street. If you're here visiting one of the colleges, you can get safety information on campus for the greater region.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
Somerville's water utility states the quality is "excellent," and all standards were met or exceeded. More information is detailed in the 2021 Water Quality Report (or whatever the most recent year is when you read this article. New ones are posted by June). If you're staying in an older hotel, ask if the pipes have been renovated to remove the risk of lead in the water.
Safest Places to Visit in Somerville
I’m surprised Somerville doesn’t have its own tourism website, but you can visit the Somerville section of Boston’s official tourism website, Boustonusa.com.
Somerville has two main sections; you can look at Boston Neighborhoods or Greater Boston Regions under the PLAN category.
The city is designed around neighborhood squares, such as Davis Square, Union Square, and Ball Square.
Each one has its own personality, but Davis Square is happily (or begrudgingly) known as the hippest place to be.
You can read details about each on the Somerville Squares section of the Boston tourism website, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Assembly Square includes Assembly Row, a multipurpose entertainment district complete with an outlet mall and riverside park.
Legoland Discovery Center is also here, making for a full day before you even get to a different neighborhood!
Legoland’s renovations have closed it until spring 2023.
You can sign up for alerts about the opening, events, and discounts on its website.
Prospect Hill is a neighborhood and a national landmark.
The vantage point is as advantageous today as it was during the Revolutionary War, and a tower still stands with docent-led tours in the “warmer months.”
I won’t ruin the tour details, but pay special attention to the flag that flies atop it and ask about it if it’s not brought up during the tour.
For outdoor spaces, Assembly Square has a riverfront park with a great playground for the kids.
Torbert Macdonald State Park is just three miles from Somerville, along the banks of the Mystic River.
You can drive or walk (30 minutes) 1.4 miles to the core of the museums at Harvard University.
They are open to the public, but unless you’re a student or resident, you’ll pay a well-invested fee.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History, three art museums, the Peabody Museum of Archeology & Ethnology, and the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East (formerly the Semitic Museum) are some of the top places to put on your itinerary.
In nearby Charlestown, you can visit the Bunker Hill Monument, the USS Constitution (and associated museum), and the Naval Shipyard.
The Boston Water Taxi has a stop in Charleston Harbor with nearly 20 stops throughout Boston Harbor.
What Harvard Law Student who would eventually become President of the United States lived at 365 Broadway?
Stop by and read the garden plaque to find out!
Places to Avoid in Somerville
Somerville consistently ranks as one of the top places to live, especially for families.
The safe nature of this community leaves no parts of the city to avoid, but staying in the squares and tourist areas will always be the safest option.
Winter Hill isn’t a place to be avoided, but don’t go there with hopes that locals will spill all the Irish Mob secrets or talk about Whitney Bulger.
Two places most frequented by the mob are still standing, but one is a church, and the other is a bakery – a far cry from the plotting and brutality that once walked these streets.
This isn’t Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill anymore, and some would argue he wasn’t really part of the city, to begin with.
One woman even stated that the mob kept drugs out of the neighborhood.
The Inner Belt and Brickbottom shouldn’t be avoided for bad reasons.
It’s just more of an industrial area with little to see or do for the average tourist.
The Brickbottom Gallery might bring some art lovers to visit the local exhibits.
This free space allows artists to showcase their work through exhibitions throughout the year.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Somerville
- SPD has a website listing the most recent crime logs front and center. This is a great way to see crime trends closer to your trip. The information provided is brief but helpful, and you can also see a tally of car break-ins.
- Sign up for emergency alerts through the city’s website. This system is geared toward winter storm road conditions, road construction updates, and major event information or associated closures. You can get the alerts in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or Creole.
- You’ll also want alerts from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Those will cover incoming severe weather, storm preparations, and aftermath safety concerns. You can also get information if there’s a missing child, terror threat, or civil emergency.
- If your wallet/purse is stolen or lost, you must file a report with the police department. You can also call the department at 617-625-1600 to see if anyone turned in your missing item.
- Strongly consider if you want to drive a car here. No other New England city has this dense of a population. You can’t park in a residential zone without a guest pass, and you can’t get a guest pass unless a resident of Somerville purchases it for you. If you choose to drive a car, download the Parkmobile app to keep track of parking lots, fees, and meter expirations. With so many cars here, police aren’t going to hesitate to give tickets or tow cars.
- Nibble Somerville is a website and a guide to help you navigate the restaurant scene here. Check the schedule, especially outside of winter, to see what tours or classes are being held during your visit. The Arts Council sponsors this program, so you know you’re getting good recommendations.
- During the summer of 2022, a 70-year-old bicyclist died while riding in a bicycle lane. The driver of a parked car opened their door into the bicycle lane. In fact, it’s the law that “no person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.” The mayor ordered removing some street parking to make way for bicycle safety barriers.
- Pedestrians face their own safety risks walking the streets, and the Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets offers solutions and progress to the pain points where foot, bike, and motor vehicle traffic compete. You can review the different safety devices used on the roads here on the alliance’s website.
- Follow @SomervilleCity and @SomervillePolice on Facebook to get updated information during your visit. Another good one is the emergency management department @MassachusettsEMA.
- You might be wondering if Charlestown is as dangerous as the movie The Town made it seem. While there is some truth to the story that was told, you’ll have to go to Charlestown to see Bunker Hill and the Naval Shipyard. The tourist areas are not sketchy at all, and Charlestown has come a long way since the days of “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re gonna hurt some people.”
So... How Safe Is Somerville Really?
I laughed out loud when I read a Redditor’s comment, “(I’ve) walked around all hours of the day and night in various states of dress and inebriation.
Just keep your eyes open, walk like you own the place, and wear a big pair of heavy boots.”
In Somerville, the violent crime rate is less than half the national average, and theft is 40% lower than the national average.
In 2022, SafeWise named Somerville #40 Safety City to Raise a Family.
Nearby Cambridge is also safe.
You really need to be more focused on the road and sidewalk than crime statistics.
While Somerville is still just one cog in a major metro area wheel, it’s very crowded and popular.
You should start to get concerned about safety in parts of Boston, including East Boston, South Boston, Dorchester, and Roxbury.
However, your safety tactics should be the same whether you are in Dorchester or Somerville.
How Does Somerville Compare?
|Siem Reap (Cambodia)||63|
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)||61|
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
- Visas - Getting a U.S. Travel Visa is time-consuming, but the U.S. State Department vows to shorten the process in 2023 and beyond. That could take some time to adjust, so apply for the visa as early as possible. Updated rules about in-person interviews and visa waivers can be read on the department's website.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use in Boston. While there are plenty of banks where you can exchange currency in Boston, you'll get lower fees on that transaction at home. You can sell back unused cash for a small fee at the end of your trip.
- Weather - Winter can be brutal in Boston, and with the narrow streets and density of Somerville, you'll need winter boots - the taller, the better. Wind chills and blowing snow can make walking challenging during winter storms, so bundle up. Spring and fall can still be chilly, especially at night and early morning. Summers will be hot and humid, and you'll want bug spray, sunscreen, and comfortable walking shoes. I cannot stress how much walking there is to in Somerville.
- Airports - Boston Logan International Airport is 20 minutes away without traffic, but you'll have to cross two bridges on the nine-mile drive to get there. It will take you 45 minutes to get there using public transportation.
- Travel Insurance - In a city that can get severe weather every month of the year, travel insurance just makes sense to protect your investment in a trip to Somerville, Massachusetts.
Somerville Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|