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Best Things To Do In Massachusetts

by Pankaj Upreti
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Things To Do In Massachusetts

Massachusetts is the most populous state of the New England region
Massachusetts | Photo Credit – massmatt

Massachusetts is the most populous state of the New England region of the northeastern United States America. Nicknamed as “The Bay State”, it is surrounded by three large bays. These bays dominate and shape the livelihood of the state’s coastline. Massachusetts is home to the famous Greater Boston metropolitan area.

This region has its one importance as a place that has been influential on American history, academia, and industry. That is why it is popular among both domestic and international students for higher education. Don’t let this fact reduce the enthusiasm of your inner traveler.

What is Massachusetts known for?

Massachusetts is also a popular destination among tourists. It is home to many historical sites, rich culture, shopping destinations, and diverse regional cuisine bursting with flavors. History lovers will have a time of their life while exploring the state’s role in the American Revolution.

There is diversity even in the landscape of the state. The region from Gloucester to Plymouth, including Boston, has a very metropolitan urbanscape on the eastern Massachusetts Bay. Drop by here for great cooking, fresh seafood, and to enjoy the vibe of some of the best academic institutions in the world.

Then there is Cape Cod to the south of Boston. It is also a very popular vacation spot. On the west of Boston, Blackstone Valley National Corridor has a beautiful large corridor of rolling hills and small towns of the East Coast. Here you’ll also find an abundance of vineyards. Various trails and hills excellent for skiing can be found in the region to the west of Boston. Hence, apart from providing quality education, Massachusetts also provides a traveling experience worth every penny.

Below is the list that has been curated for a prospective traveler to have the best time in Massachusetts. Read ahead to find your guide to the best things to do in Massachusetts.

Click here for the state’s official tourism website.

NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM

One of the best places to visit for art lovers in Massachusetts
NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM | Photo Credit – Massachusetts Office Of 

One of the best places to visit for art lovers in Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum goes with the tagline “the home for American Illustration”. And truly it is! It’s an art museum dedicated to the life and work of Norman Rockwell and is home to the world’s largest collection of his original art.

The museum is in Stockbridge, MA as Rockwell spent the last 25 years of his life here. There are 998 artifacts (original drawings, paintings and sketches) from Rockwell’s work here including the Four Freedoms, the Family Tree, the People We All Live With etc. 

Norman Rockwell Museum also features Norman Rockwell Archives. This archive has a collection of over 100,000 various items, which include photographs, fan mail, and various business documents. Art and history fanatics will be fascinated by exploring Norman Rockwell’s contribution to society and pop culture. 

There are free parking and a gift shop from where you can buy souvenirs at the Norman Rockwell Museum. The museum also hosts a variety of events and tours dedicated to the artist year-round. Find their calendar of events here

OLD STURBRIDGE VILLAGE

OLD STURBRIDGE VILLAGE | Photo Credit – Massachusetts Office Of

This attraction of Sturbridge is a great way to experience historical New England. Old Sturbridge Village is one of the biggest living outdoor museums that provides an opportunity of living in rural New England from 1790s to 1830s.

The museum is spread out in a 200-acre field. It houses 59 antique buildings, three water-powered mills, and a working farm. It is a must-visit place for history lovers. Old Sturbridge Village provides educational guided trips where period costumed guides explain 19th-century life to the visitors. 

The village has interactive exhibits like Center Village, Countryside, Mill Neighborhood, etc. These exhibits feature meetinghouses, homes, a district school, bank, country store, working farm, various trade shops, three water-powered mills, firearms, herb garden, lighting devices, glass displays, etc. 

Various fun and hands-on activities from that period are provided here. Reenactment of wars as well as lifestyle including animal husbandry is done here by the volunteers.

SALEM

A historic coastal city in Essex County of Northeastern Massachusetts.
Salem Harbor | Photo Credit – massmatt

A historic coastal city in Essex County of Northeastern Massachusetts, Salem is infamously popular it’s Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The city is home to attractions like the House of Seven Gables, Salem State University, Pioneer Village, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Salem Willows Park, and the Peabody Essex Museum. It is one of the best places to go on a day trip from Boston. If you want to spend your day off doing something different, visit Salem. Numerous historical and art tours available here in Salem make it worth exploring. 

Halloween is the best time to visit Salem as the town hosts 0ver 140 events.

This town also has a lot of historical districts showcasing the architectural evolution of the country. The largest district is The Chestnut Street District. It is surrounded by Broad, Flint, Federal, and Summer Streets. Near this district is Salem Maritime National Historic Site. It is a 9 acre land along the Salem waterfront. The attractions here are a historic custom house, two colonial residences, and a full-scale replica of the 1805 ship the “Friendship.”. 

Other historic districts of Salem that any architecture enthusiast must visit if they have enough time are – the Federal Street District, Salem Willows Historic District, Downtown Salem District, Charter Street Historic District, Crombie Street District, Derby Waterfront District, Bridge Street Neck Historic District, Essex Institute Historic District, Old Town Hall Historic District and the Common Historic District. The Pickering House is the oldest continuously lived-in house by the same family in here. House tours are provided. 

Your visit to this town will be incomplete without dropping by at some of its quirky restaurants, gift stores, and shops. 

PLYMOUTH

Plymouth, Massachusetts | Photo Credit – Zdenek Svoboda

The Plymouth is a coastal town that has a lot of importance in popular American history, folklore, and culture. The town is the place where the first settlement of the Pilgrims happened in 1620. Popularly known as America’s hometown, Plymouth offers a view of a picturesque harbor with a trip down into colonial history of the State. Noted for being a tourist destination for its heritage, there are a lot of historic sites here. Visit historic homes and plantations, cranberry farms etc. to spend your day.

Plymouth Rock is a boulder in Pilgrim Memorial State Park that is known to be the place where settlers landed on the shore of New England. It is housed in a Neoclassical portico called Plymouth Rock Monument in Pilgrim Memorial State Park. A life sized replica of the ship that carried the Pilgrims across the Atlantic is also anchored at the park.

Pilgrim Hall Museum showcases exhibits that features knowledge about the history of Plymouth. Burial Hill is one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States. The hill also provides a beautiful view of the harbor. Plimoth Plantation is another popular attraction of the town. Art galleries here provide insights into the art scene of the settlers.  

FREEDOM TRAIL

Brick marker for the Freedom Trail in Boston, Massachusetts
FREEDOM TRAIL | Photo Credit – Ben Schumin

The Freedom Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Boston, MA. The trail is best known for being a unique experience full of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic sites. The Freedom trail is a 2.5-mile red brick circuit that starts from Boston Common and ends at the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. The trail leads the visitors to 16 attractions.

These attractions include Park Street Church, Faneuil Hall, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, Benjamin Franklin statue, former site of Boston Latin School, Old Corner Bookstore, Old South Meeting House etc. Discover the American Revolution and its history including mob agitations, high treason, revolutionary actions, and the partisan fights on this trail. 

It takes about 90 minutes to complete Freedom trail but visiting the sites along the way can make it a whole day affair. The end of the trail is at the USS Constitution Museum. Walking the Freedom trail can be one of the best things to do in Boston. The trail is open to the public for free. However the guided tours and a few sites along the trail are not for free.

NATIONAL HISTORIC PARKS

NATIONAL HISTORIC PARKS | Photo Credit – Massachusetts Office Of

There are many National Historic Parks in Massachusetts. These include Adams, New Bedford Whaling, Boston, Lowell, and Minute Man National Historical Park. 

Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, MA was home of two American presidents and their generations. The park is dedicated to protecting the grounds of personal property of the four generations of the Adams family. These resources are then utilized to spread awareness about history in public. 

Boston National Historical Park showcases the role of Boston in American history of freedom and struggle. For an insight into the industrial revolution in Massachusetts, visit Lowell National Park in Lowell, MA.

Minute Man National Historical Park preserves 970 acres of land in and around the Massachusetts towns of Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord. It is home to the popular house of three American authors including Nathaniel Hawthorne called the Wayside. 

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park was the world’s prominent whaling port during the 19th century.  It includes a visitor center in the Old Third District Courthouse. And has attractions like the New Bedford National Historic Landmark District, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Seamen’s Bethel, the schooner Ernestina, and the Rotch–Jones–Duff House and Garden Museum. It was known as New England’s real seaport.

A guide to national historic sites in Massachusetts can be found here.

FANEUIL HALL

FANEUIL HALL | Photo Credit – Massachusetts Office Of

Voted as one of the most visited places in America, Faneuil Hall is a marketplace and meeting hall located at the Boston waterfront. The hall is also known as Cradle of liberty as many provoking speeches that led to America’s independence from Great Britain were made here.

It has witnessed a timeline of numerous events from American history. It still continues to host various public addresses by government officials and debates like the O’Reilly Factor. Today, it is a government center and is part of the Freedom Trail. The hall is built in a Georgian style. 

Faneuil Hall is a part of the festival marketplace. It is called Faneuil Hall Marketplace and is one of the four historic buildings of the complex. Faneuil Hall Marketplace includes three historic granite buildings called North Market, Quincy Market, and South Market. It operates as both an indoor and outdoor mall and food eatery.

CAPE COD

This island always makes it up to the list of best things to do in Massachusetts.
CAPE COD | Photo Credit – Rachel Jacobs

This island always makes it up to the list of best things to do in Massachusetts. Cape Cod is a hook-shaped peninsula in Massachusetts’ Eastern end. It is a popular summertime local and international tourist destination. The island is home to small peaceful villages, seafood shacks, lighthouses, ponds and bay, ocean beaches, art galleries, antique shops and many fine-dining restaurants. The abundance of historic sites around the miles of beaches and natural attractions calls the explorers from around the world here. 

The Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge carries railway freight and provides limited passenger service onto the island. Cape Cod extends from Provincetown in the northeast to Woods Hole in the southwest. Plymouth is to the northwest of the island. The popular Kennedy Legacy Trail starts from the John F. Kennedy Museum and winds along through downtown Hyannis. Here ferries depart to the resort islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. 

Activities like golfing, fishing, swimming amidst ancient shipwrecks, boating, jet-skiing are popular here. Whale watching is one of the people’s favorite things to do here. These bays have the best whale watching points at Barnstable and Provincetown. Parasailing in Dennis and Provincetown offers people of all ages different flight heights and photos of your experience. The abundance of biking and hiking trails along the idyllic island landscape makes hiking and biking the most popular activities of Cape Cod.

NEW BEDFORD

NEW BEDFORD | Photo Credit – Lee Wright

It is a city on the Southern Massachusetts Coast. New Bedford has excellent ports and harbors that serve as fishing industries.it used to be one of the wealthiest cities in America. This could be seen in the jaw-dropping architecture of the various districts here. These districts have grand Victorian Mansions. The County Street features some of the most majestic architecture. 

Apart from the fishing industry, the city is also home to a thriving artist circle. It is ranked as the 7th most artistic city in the US. New Bedford is home to many art galleries, studios in its old textile mills and marine warehouses. One of the most popular events of the city is AHA night (Art, History, and Architecture).

It is observed on every second Thursday night of the month year-round. During AHA night, free admissions are offered at all of the galleries downtown, and special events at neighboring bars and restaurants, and public musical and theatrical performances by Your Theater. The New Bedford art Museum is also part of this event. 

New Bedford Museum of Glass is also one of the top museums of the state that showcases a huge collection of antique and art glass to modern glass artists. It features from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, to the golden age of Victorian New England glass making. New Bedford Whaling Museum exhibits artifacts showcasing the whaling history of the city including skeletons of blue whales, and giant vessels.

Other activities here include Balloon Adventures of New Bedford, Carabiner’s Indoor Climbing, etc. Whaling city expedition here includes harbor tours, sunset cruises, etc. 

NANTUCKET

NANTUCKET | Photo Credit – Doug Kerr

This Nantucket Island is known to have been a refuge for Native Americans during European settlements in the 16th century. Today it is home to some of the most costly real estate properties in the USA. and is a popular summer tourist destination. The attractions of the island include peaceful harbors, adventurous cliffs, fun beaches, picturesque lighthouses, beautiful mansions and trimmed gardens.

It is one of the favorite things to do in MA of artists and writers looking for a creative retreat to get over their creative block. Nantucket also hosts an annual music festival. It is also popular among families with kids as it is one of the safest places in the country. Visitors here deluge in fishing, beach activities, festivals, and tours. Daffodil Festival, Nantucket wine festival, Nantucket film festival, etc. are unique festivals of the city.

MARTHA’S VINEYARD

Martha's Vineyard is the largest island of New England in  Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard – Massachusetts | Photo Credit – David Berkowitz

Martha’s Vineyard is the largest island of New England in  Massachusetts. It is situated just in the Atlantic to the south of Cape Cod. It is also a summer holiday destination in New England. The island features harbor, ports, schooners, lighthouses, beaches, farmlands. It’s accessible only by boat or air. Vineyard Haven is on the eastern end. It is a ferry port and the island’s commercial center.

Oak Bluffs has Carpenter Gothic cottages and an iconic carousel. Visitors here will be able to do a lot of celebrity sightings here. The beaches here are ideal for swimming or surfing, or just enjoying panoramic views of the Atlantic from cliffs on the island. Lighthouses, including at Edgartown, add a jewel to the scenic beauty of the island. Famous movie “Jaws” had its many segments shot here.

Events like the annual Grand Illumination in Oak Bluffs, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival, the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival are other popular attractions of the town. These film festivals screen movies and works of both independent and established filmmakers. If you happen to be here during these festivals, make sure to drop by here to catch some cinematic experience at the coastal town. 

NORTHAMPTON

NORTHAMPTON | Photo Credit – Doug Kerr

The Northampton in the Pioneer Valley is a college town that has a bustling downtown like any other college city. The downtown here has many art galleries, restaurants and stores and shops, cafes and performing arts centers that come alive past sunset. Prestigious and popular colleges like Smith College are located here.

The presence of this environment makes Northampton a very liberal and modern space that is safe for everyone. Take a stroll along its green streets where you’ll find students busy with their activities. The streets still manage to have calm vibes. Cultural activities include a vibrant music scene and an annual film festival. Northampton is known as an academic, artistic, musical hub.

PLUM ISLANDS

Plum Island Tree | Photo Credit – Sam LaRussa

If you want a change in scenery, Plum Island is the place for you. The island is named for the wild beach plum shrubs that grow on its dunes. It is located in Essex County. 

A must visit place for nature lovers, Plum Islands is where bird watchers come to have a treat. Migrating birds are frequently seen here. It is also the breeding ground of shorebirds. A single bridge from Newburyport joins the island to mainland Massachusetts. 

Like all other islands, there is an abundance of public beaches here. Hence, fishing both from the shore or boat is a great activity to indulge in. There are numerous overnight staying options on the island, including bed and breakfasts, inns, and rental cottages.

EAT AND DRINK

Because of being a bay state, coastal cities of Massachusetts are blessed with great shellfish including, lobster, clams, and oysters. A New England clambake is the most popular dish here which is equivalent to Hawaii’s luau. Clam Bake is cooked by following an extensive procedure of cooking the seafood underground. Lobster, fish, clams, mussels, potatoes, and ears of corn are slowly cooked to bring out their juicy flavor. 

The New England boiled dinner came to the state via many Irish immigrants. It is also a slow cooked pot meal of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and sometimes turnips. Horseradish, mustard. Vinegar, salt and pepper, and a few spices are used for flavors..

Clam chowder is the local’s favorite recipe here. Haddock and cod are the local fish that comes under “scrod” on menus. Southeastern Massachusetts is one of the world’s largest cranberry producers. A lot of colorful berries are harvested in early October. Far eastern and far western Massachusetts’s rocky soils are popular for producing crops like tomatoes and apples. Most apple and tomato orchards are family-owned. 

The favorite drink of the locals is a warmed fresh cider mulled with cinnamon, clove, and other spices. Find the cues on how to explore Massachusetts orchards here.

Microbreweries and brewpubs are becoming more common in urban areas and college towns. 

GETAWAYS FROM THE STATE

Massachusetts provides the opportunity of exploring other popular tourist destinations. Places like Rhode Islands, Connecticut (home to the remaining part of the Knowledge Corridor), New Hampshire, New York, Vermont etc. If you have enough time on your hand and are tired of exploring this large state, then you can always visit these nearby attractions anytime.

Please also read about things to do in Chantilly.

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