A year in Boston

Planning a visit to Boston? Here's what you have to look forward to depending on what time of year you plan to arrive:

JANUARYFirst Night Boston:Spend your New Year's Eve in downtown Boston at the First Night Boston event Dec. 31, which typically begins in the afternoon and runs until midnight. With the purchase of a First Night button, party-goers gain admission to museums, theaters, churches and performance centers as they host music, dance, visual arts and theater performances. Popular stops include the Family Festival at the Hynes Convention Center, which includes storytelling and puppets, the giant ice sculptures on Copley Square and the Boston Common; the Mardi-Gras-style Grand Procession through the streets of Boston; and the fireworks display.

FEBRUARYBoston Wine Expo:If you enjoy a glass of fine wine, don't miss the annual Boston Wine Expo at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center. It's the largest wine exposition in the country with more than 1,800 wines from 440 wineries to sample. In addition to guided tastings and seminars, the expo also typically includes a multi-course dinner in which wines are paired with the various foods served.

Beanpot Tournament:Hockey fans will get a kick out of the Beanpot Tournament in which four local colleges – Boston University, Boston College, Harvard College and Northeastern University – square off on the ice.

MARCHSt. Patrick's Day Parade:The first-ever St. Patrick's Day celebration in America took place in Boston in 1737, and today Boston still hosts one of the biggest St. Patty's Day parties. About one in every five New England residents have Irish ancestry, so there is always a big turnout – nearly a half million visitors – for the St. Patrick's Day Parade in South Boston, a distinctly Irish neighborhood near the Boston Harbor. The parade typically features dozens of bands from Ireland and throughout the United States.

New England Spring Flower Show:Get your first glimpse of spring at the New England Spring Flower Show, where you'll see and smell a wide variety of flowers on display in the garden exhibits. Horticulture professors and authors lecture on a variety of topics, including the secrets of successful gardening, and experts provide how-to demonstrations, including tips on repotting houseplants and starting herb gardens. The show also includes a Garden Marketplace, where exhibitors sell everything from garden tools to high-end garden antiques.

APRILThe Boston Marathon:People come from all over the world to participate in the Boston Marathon, some to run and others to watch the athletes. It's the world's oldest annual marathon. More than 20,000 runners typically participate in the race, which begins in rural Hopkinton west of the city and goes for 26 miles and 385 yards into Boston. The toughest part for many runners comes at "Heartbreak Hill," just past mile 20, where competitors face a 200-foot uphill climb. The marathon typically takes place on the third Monday in April on what is known locally as Patriots' Day, which commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War. Since many locals are out of work that day, the city is filled with well-wishers who cheer on the participants and hand them water and Gatorade as they run past.

Patriots' Day Re-enactment:To commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington– the first battle of the American War for Independence – the Lexington Minute Men, a civic re-enactment organization, and local British Revolutionary War re-enactors depict the skirmish that took place on the Lexington Green on April 19, 1775. On that day, the growing discontent in the colonies flared into open hostility. The battle, which started the American Revolution, began with a quick brawl at Lexington Green and led to fighting throughout the original 13 colonies and Canada.

MAYArts First Festival:Harvard University's Office for the Arts hosts the Arts First Festival, which was first instigated by Harvard grad and actor John Lithgow. The festival features music, dance and drama performances as well as visual art.

Duckling Day Parade:Children – and even some adults – dress up as their favorite characters from the book Make Way for Ducklings (which is all about ducks waddling through Boston) during the annual Duckling Day Parade.

Lilac Sunday:There are thousands of flowering plants in the 265-acre Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, which is a great place to walk, jog or ride a bike. It's an especially pretty place to walk in the spring, when about 200 types of lilacs are in full bloom, not to mention all the flowering trees and wildflowers. Mother's Day is Lilac Sunday, when the lilac is singled out for a day-long celebration. Garden enthusiasts gather at the Arboretum to picnic, watch some English folk dancing and take tours of the lilac collection.

JUNECambridge River Festival:The Cambridge River Festival, held along the banks of the Charles River on a mile-long stretch of Memorial Drive, celebrates the city's diversity through music, dance and the arts. The festival typically includes multiple music stages, plus more than 100 artists and craftspeople selling handmade items.

JULYFourth of July on the Esplanade:Boston's Fourth of July celebration is ridiculously crowded and the day is usually scorching hot, but most people who have sat for hours waiting for music and fireworks in previous years will tell you the experience is worth the trouble. The celebration, held on July 4, attracts between 400,000 to 700,000 to the Esplanade, the grassy park and concert area along the banks of the Charles River near Storrow Drive. The Boston Pops have entertained Fourth of July revelers since 1930. The concert is followed by a massive fireworks show. The best place to see the fireworks is on the Cambridge side of the Charles River, where it's less crowded and you've got the Boston skyline as your backdrop. Get there early for the best spots, and look for space on Memorial Drive between the Mass Ave. and Longfellow bridges.

Chowderfest:Sample New England clam chowder from some of the best area restaurants and vote for your favorite at Chowderfest. More than 2,000 gallons of New England's signature dish is usually ladled out to a crowd of more than 10,000 chowder lovers. Restaurants also put their soups to the test, vying for the title of "Boston's Best Chowder."

AUGUSTAugust Moon Festival:Legend has it that in 1368 the Chinese overthrew the Mongol Yuan dynasty with the help of moon cakes, which held hidden messages. Every August moon cakes are featured during the August Moon Festival in Chinatown, where people go moon-watching and carry brightly colored lanterns while they celebrate with music and dancing.

SEPTEMBERBoston Blues Festival:During the last weekend of September, head to the Hatch Memorial Band Shell on Boston's Charles River Esplanade to catch a variety of blues bands performing during the Boston Blues Festival, a free two-day event. The festival is considered the highlight of Boston Blues Week, which features Blues-related events at area nightclubs and restaurants.

OCTOBERHead of the Charles Regatta:Find a piece of grass along the banks of the Charles River and check out the Head of the Charles Regatta, the world's largest two-day rowing event. More than 7,500 athletes from all over the world compete in 50-plus different racing events. The regatta, first held in 1965, grew to a two-day event in 1997 and now attracts up to 300,000 spectators during the October weekend.

NOVEMBERChristmas Craft Festival:Get a jump start on your holiday shopping at the Christmas Craft Festival. About 300 artisans sell a variety of goods, including jewelry, paintings, clothes and handmade greeting cards. You can also sample or buy gourmet foods. And if you're crafty yourself, enter the gingerbread house competition.

Faneuil Hall Lighting Ceremony:Head to Faneuil Hall as city officials flip the switches to more than 300,000 holiday lights throughout the square, including those on the Christmas tree. Meanwhile, enjoy the seasonal music by bell ringers, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a capella choirs.

DECEMBERBoston Tea Party Re-enactment:Step back in time more than 200 years as you experience a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party. The Old South's Tea Party Players put on their historic clothes and descend upon the Old South Meeting House to discuss what to do about the tea held aboard ships docked in Boston Harbor. After recreating the debate in which Samuel Adams declared that "this meeting can do no more to save this country," the audience watches an account of the dumping of the tea into the sea.

Dina Gerdeman is the author of USATODAY.com's Boston City Guide.