WHY VISIT MASSACHUSETTS
The Pilgrims knew they were onto a good thing when they arrived in Massachusetts, and today this northeastern gem is an irresistible blend of high-class culture, idyllic beaches, and adventures galore.
You can explore the nation’s early history, walk in the steps of the Pilgrims, tour battleships, catch the excitement of a Boston Red Sox baseball game, or be awed by whales drifting along the coastline.
The gateway to New England, Massachusetts was the destination of the Mayflower in 1620 and the site of the Boston Tea Party, which helped ignite the American Revolution in 1773. Boston’s Freedom Trail is a must-do, but Massachusetts is more than a history lesson.
From masterpieces at the Museum of Fine Arts to a world-renowned symphony orchestra, Boston’s cultural scene is world-class. (It has a cheeky side too – you can eye up complete disasters at the Museum of Bad Art.) Across the river, Cambridge is brainiac central, where both Harvard and MIT show off their share of fascinating museums. With all these genius academics come hip neighborhoods buzzing with bakeries, bookshops, and indie boutiques.
Cape Cod curls like a jester’s shoe and serves up simple seaside pleasures: unspoiled beaches, fresh lobster, excellent hiking, terrific sailing, and a golf course for every week of the year. It’s one of the world’s best whale-watching spots – minkes, humpbacks, pilots, and blue whales all swim offshore. And it’s a short hop to the slow-paced islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket with their beachfront cottages, historic lighthouses, and homemade ice cream.
Drag yourself from this blissful life to the Berkshire Hills. Hike, bike, or raft by day, then bring a picnic to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, for an unforgettable evening.
WHAT TO SEE IN MASSACHUSETTS
- Boston: the past, present, and future fuse together in Boston to create one of America’s most vibrant and engaging cities. A walking tour is a must, preferably along the historic Freedom Trail that takes in the lovely Beacon Hill and North End neighborhoods. From the colorful streets around Harvard Square to the calm of the Charles River, there are endless ways to entertain yourself here. Its art museums are superb, its historic neighborhoods are sparkling gems, and its sports teams are the object of intense fanaticism. Don’t short-change yourself with anything less than four days.
- Cape Cod: more than 300 miles of coastland at the Cape are home to 15 impossibly quaint New England villages like Woods Hole and Hyannis. Beaches like Nauset are fantastic for summer play, while posh hamlets like Wellfleet boast art galleries and chic bistros. Arguably the highlight of Massachusetts, Cape Cod has been an escape for rich urbanites for centuries. Its seafood is sublime, the shopping fantastic, and the inns overloaded with charm. Just a stone’s throw away from Boston, it is well worth a few days of indulgence.
- The Berkshires: tucked between two mountain ranges in the far western corner of Massachusetts, the Berkshires are just about as idyllic as it gets in New England. This natural wonderland has been a popular getaway for Bostonians and New Yorkers for centuries. It’s primarily a summer destination that peaks during the epic coloring of fall. You can indulge in all kinds of outdoor recreation from hiking to fishing until the snow flies and the ski resorts open. The towns are charming, the lodging rural farm inns, and the history apparent at every bend in the road.
- Boston Museum of Fine Arts: truly one of the world’s great art museums, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) boasts four floors containing an astounding 53 galleries. Each collection is a treasure in its own right, spanning everything from Impressionist works to ancient wonders from Egypt and Asia. The newly opened Art of the Americas Wing brings even more incredible artifacts to the venue, and the MFA is refreshingly welcoming to children with its cool scavenger hunts and special kids programs.
- Pioneer Valley: a magical land of patchwork farms and gentle wooded hills carved out by the Connecticut River, the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts has been home to Americans since the first days they stepped onto the continent. The north end is home to colonial-era towns like Deerfield and Turners Falls with five of America’s leading universities tucked away on well-heeled campuses throughout. Stick to Route 5 for a stunning drive through old mill towns and past picture-perfect farms as a road trip is an absolute must.
- Martha’s Vineyard: the island of Martha’s Vineyard is quintessential maritime New England. Its villages contain ship captain’s homes, lighthouses dotting the headlands, and miles of beaches and pastoral farmland. The towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven down-island are the most popular to stay at, whereas up-island, villages like Chilmark still embody the rich maritime heritage and are far more sedate. Wherever you go, you will find impeccable food, quaint lodging, and obvious devotion to craftsmanship.
- Nantucket: once the whaling capital of the world, the little island of Nantucket turned to tourism after the industry became outdated. Its sole town is the historic star, with cobblestone streets featuring an addictive array of trendy boutiques, excellent restaurants, and relaxed old-world pubs. Nearly all of the island’s 110-mile-long coast is open to the public, so there are ample places to hit the beach in summer. Check out the Whaling Museum to learn about Nantucket’s past life and indulge in seafood and unrivaled arts and crafts.
WHEN TO GO TO MASSACHUSETTS
The best period to visit Massachusetts is from June to September.
As part of New England, Massachusetts enjoys the same mercurial climate as the rest of the region. The old adage that if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes is largely true, so the best advice is to dress in layers that can be easily removed or put back on as necessary. The climate on the coast is more temperate than in the far west of the state, which tends to be colder.
Summers are rather uncomfortable in most of Massachusetts, as high levels of humidity and temperatures in the ’80s (°F) conspire to create sweaty, sticky conditions in July and August. The coast offers some relief and by September the air has dried up and cooled off. Fall is the prettiest season, and arguably the best time for a visit. Spring, on the other hand, is painfully brief and known as mid-season for good reason. Melting snow and ice turn much of the state into a muddy swamp through most of April though the daytime temperatures are typically a balmy 65°F.
In winter, you can expect to see plenty of snow if you stay inland. The farther west you go, the colder it gets, especially in the Berkshires. Temperatures average in the upper 30’s (°F) and low 40’s (°F) from December until the end of February, whereas the coast will be a good 5°F warmer. Bring down jackets and a good pair of boots for a winter visit to Massachusetts.
WHAT TO DO IN MASSACHUSETTS
Walk the Freedom Trail
The Boston Freedom Trail covers what may be the two most consequential miles in U.S. history. You’ll see the Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party started, the site of the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, and Paul Revere’s house. You’ll also pass through historic cemeteries and churches, and tour the USS Constitution, a 1797 warship dubbed “Old Ironsides” that’s the oldest in America. It all ends (or begins) in Boston Common, where during winter you can ice skate and during summer you can pack a picnic and enjoy the sunshine.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations in Massachusetts.
- St Patrick’s Day Parade: Boston, with its deep Irish heritage, held the first St Paddy’s Day parade in 1737 and is still going strong every March. It’s one of America’s top destinations for the green occasion, featuring a colorful float parade and lots of amazing food. Starting at Broadway, the parade runs to Andrew Square and is easily the highlight. But after, the party really gets going at virtually every bar in the city and is in full party mode for a few days afterward.
- Mayfair: the six-block area around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts turns into a street carnival each spring for the very popular Mayfair celebration. Three stages are set up to feature live music, while a host of street performers, clowns, and other entertainment wander the streets keeping everyone in good spirits. It’s a superb day for kids, but the overall party atmosphere makes it just as fun for adults. The food is excellent and an arts and crafts fair has 200 stalls of creative work from around the world.
- Berklee Bean Town Jazz Festival: every September as the summer draws to a close, Boston gears up for fall with a superb jazz festival. Held outdoors along Columbus Avenue, the event sees three stages set up with top musicians from around the country. It’s free and backed up with tasty food vendors, craft stalls, and a special family fun zone where parents and kids can hang out together.
- The Big E: the largest fair in the northeastern United States takes place in Springfield, Massachusetts. This classic state fair is held at the city’s Eastern States Exposition, usually around the end of September or early October, and features everything you’d expect from a true Americana get-together. There are carnival rides, livestock shows, concerts, games, a circus, food, and fun. With 17 days of events, it’s hard to go wrong with the Big E.
- Martha’s Vineyard Food & Wine Festival: each October, this lovely island takes a week off to indulge itself in great food and wine. Every village in Martha’s Vineyard participates in its own way and the emphasis is on regional and local fare. You can enjoy wine tastings, cooking classes, samples, and other special events centered around everything gourmet.
- Head of the Charles Regatta: the largest rowing race on the planet takes place in Massachusetts, and is a spectacle well worth a trip to Boston in October. In an international regatta, the team with the best time wins the title “Head of the Charles River”, which is a big accolade. With so many teams competing in waves of three-mile races, it is really something to see.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH MASSACHUSETTS
No matter where you travel in Massachusetts, you are going to want to have your own transportation. The only exception could be Boston, where driving is not recommended or practical and walking is the ideal way to get around the city. Unfortunately, taxis are expensive and not easy to find. They often wait in front of major hotels and at taxi stands at major transportation centers.
However, due to the cost of taxis, you may find it is just as economical to rent a car during your stay. The airports and all the major tourist towns have car rental offices. While you won’t need one in Boston, a vehicle is essential if you want to drive inland to the Berkshires or Pioneer Valley. A car is also very handy for exploring Cape Cod and the islands and the scenic drive down the coast is one of the highlights of any trip to Massachusetts.
Water taxis from Boston run right to the airport and operate every day, all year long, from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. and later in the summer. You don’t need a reservation, but it might be useful to have during peak travel seasons.
Ferries are also an ideal way to reach Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Provincetown. There are both car ferries and passenger-only boats, but all of them reward travelers with inspiring views, both coming and going. Ferries depart from several harbors in Boston and along the Cape, including Falmouth Harbor and Woods Hole. Nantucket is the farthest island, taking two hours by slow ship and one hour on a high-speed catamaran.
Boston is a major stop along Amtrak’s east coast routes. There are three train stations in Boston, each of which has an MBTA subway stop. Amtrak trains run from Portland, Maine, all the way south to Florida, and offer a slow and scenic way to reach Massachusetts from other states. Boston’s MBTA commuter rails provide easy train service to towns around the coastal region, like Salem and Gloucester. Amtrak cars are comfortable, but the fares are hefty, comparable to domestic flights.
Traveling to and around Massachusetts by bus is more practical since the public transportation network covers most of New England’s small towns. Greyhound and Peter Pan are the two big names and can take you as far as Cape Cod where ferries continue on to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Prices are reasonable and the comfort is just fine for a few hours.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON MASSACHUSETTS
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5 (-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN MASSACHUSETTS
Typical food in Massachusetts
- New England Clam chowder
- Orchard fruits
- Marple syrup
- Seafood: lobsters, scallops, scrod
Souvenirs from Massachusetts