One of the original 13 colonies, Massachusetts boasts historical landmarks dating back to the very beginnings of European settlement in the United States. Boston's Freedom Trail is often the first stop for history buffs and weaves past many of the city’s numerous historic spots. The beautiful beaches of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard offer relaxing beach vacations. Here are the best places to visit in Massachusetts.
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Located on the slopes of Green Mountain, the Berkshires is a quaint rural region in western Massachusetts, about 2.5 hours from Boston. With its charming small towns and villages, rolling green fields, fertile farms, and lively art scene, the area is a popular tourist destination. The best times to visit are fall, with the colorful spectacle of fall foliage, and the summer, when several festivals attract thousands of visitors. Music lovers come for the concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which resides at the Tanglewoood Music Center in Lenox during the summer. There is much more for art lovers, including the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and MASS MoCA. Outdoor lovers can enjoy hiking, rafting, fishing, kayaking, and golfing and, when the snow covers the hills, it is time for skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding.
2. Cape Cod
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Cape Cod is a peninsula that extends out from the State of Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean and one of the top Massachusetts destinations. It is an area of sandy beaches, romantic sunsets and windswept dunes. Cape Cod is a natural treasure and features seemingly endless outdoor activities. It is one of the best places in the US for whale watching.
Your best chances of spotting a whale are between March and October. Beyond the beaches that attract many visitors, the forests, marshlands, ponds, and cranberry bogs are just waiting to be explored on foot or by way of the many miles of cycling trails. The towns in Cape Cod are full of history and shopping opportunities at the local boutiques as well as in antique and souvenir shops. Things to Do in Cape Cod
3. Martha's Vineyard
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Martha's Vineyard is an island located to the south of Cape Cod. It is a popular summer getaway for the very wealthy and many of the homes on the island are vacation rentals and summer homes, although a few people call Martha’s Vineyard home all year round. The island is primarily a destination where people go to relax and enjoy the beaches and surrounding areas, however the towns do offer a few recreational options.
A small number of boutique shops dot the streets. Visitors can tour the connected Chappaquiddick Island and its lighthouse. The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse offers weekly entertainment as does the popular summer film festival. Things to Do on Martha's Vineyard
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Salem played a key role in Puritan American history and is famous for the 1692 Salem witch trials, where several local people were executed for supposedly practicing witchcraft. There are several Salem attractions related to this time in the town’s history. The Witch House was the residence of a trial judge.
The Peabody Essex Museum displays a large collection of art and artifacts from around the world, including local art as well as a substantial Asian collection that features a restored Qing-era Chinese house. Other area attractions include Nathanial Hawthorne’s birthplace, Canobie Lake Park, and the Bakers Island Lighthouse.
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Nantucket is an island located in the Atlantic Ocean about 14 miles south of Cape Cod. It is a popular summer destination for the affluent, and home values here are some of the highest in the US. The island features many examples of New England seaport architecture from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
There are several beaches to relax on and lighthouses to explore. Other attractions include the Nantucket Whaling Museum, the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, and the Maria Mitchell Association. Several small islands are located nearby, including the Muskeget and Tuckernuck islands, which can be reached by boats that depart from Nantucket Harbor. Things to Do on Nantucket
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Provincetown> is a seaside town on the northern point of Cape Cod. The town is well known for being the site of the 1620 landing of the Mayflower. The landing site is commemorated with the Pilgrim Monument, while the nearby Provincetown Museum features exhibits related to the Pilgrims, the Mayflower voyage, and other local history.
The town has long been known as a safe haven for LGBT travelers and residents and is home to many artists. The lively Commercial Street is lined with art galleries, eateries, clubs, cabarets, and shopping. The Race Point Light is a historic lighthouse located in Provincetown that offers overnight accommodations in the bed-and-breakfast-esque Keeper’s House. Next read: Best Romantic Places to Stay in Provincetown
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Plymouth is a small town with big historical significance. This coastal town is the location of the first Pilgrim settlement and the oldest town in New England. Plymouth is a popular tourist destination during the Thanksgiving holiday season as it was the site of the first Thanksgiving feast.
Pilgrim Memorial State Park is home to a boulder that is claimed to be the place where the pilgrims first touched land. A replica of the original Mayflower, called The Mayflower II, is typically moored at the park. Plimoth Plantation, a popular family destination, is a living history museum with a recreation of the original settlement, craft activities, and several live animals.
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Amherst is a college town in the Connecticut River valley and is home to two colleges and a university. Several famous people have lived in Amherst, including Emily Dickinson, whose birthplace and home is now a museum about her work and life. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books can also be found here and features children’s books from all over the world.
Rounding out the museum scene are the Beneski Museum of Natural History and the eclectic Mead Art Museum. Nearby Mount Norwottuck and Bare Mountain as well as Mount Holyoke Range State Park provide ample opportunities to explore the outdoors through hiking and other activities.
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Centrally located, Worcester is an easy drive from many of Massachusetts’ major cities. The town features several museums such as the Worchester Art Museum and the Worchester History Museum. For families, there is also an ecology museum called the EcoTarium, which features indoor and outdoor exhibits geared towards children. Visitors can relax and experience the outdoors at one of the several city and state parks nearby.
Salisbury Park features a 56-foot-high stone tower that looks like a castle and makes for an interesting visit. Indian Lake and the Wachusett Reservoir provide opportunities for fishing and boating during the warm months. Things to Do in Worcester
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Hyannis Main Street is a charming all-American Main Street in Hyannis, Massachusetts, commonly referred to as the capital of Cape Cod for its prime geographic location on the Mid-Cape. The town is best known as the home of Barnstable Municipal Airport, which serves as a major transportation hub for most of the rest of Cape Cod and nearby destinations such as Martha's Vineyard. A wide array of quaint restaurants, cafes, and shops line the town's Main Street, ranging from beachfront favorites such as ice cream parlors and surf shops to fine dining establishments in a variety of international cuisine styles. The JFK Hyannis Museum explores the region's connection to United States President John F. Kennedy, while Bismore Memorial Park, located on adjacent Ocean Street, is home to an Art Shanties colony of artisan vendors.
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Newburyport is a small coastal town and historical seaport in northeastern Massachusetts. Typically, many boats are moored at the port, which is still quite active. The town’s former customhouse is available for touring and is the location of the Custom House Maritime Museum, dedicated to maritime history.
Another historical attraction in the city is the Cushing House Museum and Garden, which is a federal-style mansion with beautiful gardens. Outdoor activities include nearby Plum Island, which features a national wildlife refuge along with beaches, lighthouses, and opportunities for fishing and birdwatching. Other opportunities to spend time outdoors around Newburyport include Lake Attitash and Maudslay State Park.
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Cambridge is famous for being home to two prestigious universities - Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The city is located just across the Charles River from Boston but is known for being more progressive, tolerant, and liberal than its neighbor. The city was established in 1630 and has many interesting historical buildings, gardens, cathedrals, and museums.
Some of the historic places of worship include the Church of St. Mary the Great, Holy Sepulchre, Ely Cathedral, and All Saints’ Church. There are numerous museums located throughout Cambridge, including the Fitzwilliam Museum, which is an art museum, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science, the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, and the Museum of Cambridge. Things to Do in Cambridge
13.Places to visit in Massachusetts: North End
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North End is the oldest neighborhood in the city of Boston, having been inhabited since it was first settled in the 1630s. The neighborhood is considered Boston’s ‘Little Italy’ and is known for having a large Italian-American population. It is a popular place to go for fine Italian cuisine.
Many historical places are located in North End, including the Paul Revere House, Old North Church, and the Clough House, which is one of the oldest brick homes in Boston. The neighborhood’s many restaurants, shopping opportunities, and events attract visitors from near and far. Make sure to stop by Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop to try some 18th-century chocolate.
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Boston is a city with a vast cultural and historical heritage. The city is one of the oldest in the United States and played a key role in the Revolutionary War. History buffs should certainly check out the Freedom Trial, which is a 2.5-mile-long path that passes many of the historically significant locations in Boston.
The sites are marked with special ground markers explaining their significance and include sites such as the Bunker Hill Monument, Boston Common, the Paul Revere House, and 13 others. Other popular Boston attractions include the New England Aquarium, Fenway Park, the Boston Children’s Museum, and many more. Things to Do in Boston
15.Race Point Beach
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Race Point Beach is a beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown. The beach features a wide stretch of sand backed by sand dunes. The Province Lands Bike Trail leads from the beach to the nearby Herring Cove Beach. Part of the beach is protected, but surfing is permitted on other parts.
The beach features a gorgeous landscape and is popular among sunbathers because it receives good sun all day long. Make sure to pack bug spray as the bugs can get quite bad. There is a strong undertow off shore, so it is recommended that only very experienced swimmers swim in the deeper areas.
99 Marconi Site Road, Wellfleet, MA 02667, Phone: 508-255-3421
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Barnstable is a town made up of several villages which together comprise the largest town on Cape Cod. The town has a few cultural attractions, such as the Cahoon Museum of American Art and the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, which is dedicated to the legacy of the former President.
The U.S. Customshouse is also located in Barnstable and is a historic customs house that also houses a museum devoted to the Coast Guard. Several beaches are located in the area, including the South Cape Beach State Park, Follins Pond, Mashie and Wakeby Ponds, and Craigville Beach. Shawms-Crowell State Forest is a popular destination for overnight camping.
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17.Halibut Point State Park
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Halibut Point State Park contains 55 acres of preserved ocean-side land on Cape Ann. The park is located on the site of the former Babson Farm granite quarry, which operated until 1929, and the quarry itself is now filled with water. There are very few trees in the park, but there are many bushes and wildflowers growing throughout.
Small creatures such as snails, sea stars, and hermit crabs are often sighted in the tidepools. The park’s trails and tidepools are a haven for nature lovers, who often come to enjoy a picnic or take in the expansive ocean views. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour to learn about the history of the mining industry on the point. There is a small museum in the former fire control tower as well.
Gott Avenue, Rockport, MA 01966, Phone: 978-546-2997
18.Bridge of Flowers
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The Bridge of Flowers was once owned by the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway and carried trollies across the river. The railway operated until 1927, and the history of the railway is preserved in the nearby Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. After the railway went out of service, some community members had the idea to turn the abandoned trolley bridge into a beautiful landmark.
The bridge is now covered with gardens featuring a wide variety of plantings throughout the year. It blooms from at least April to October, beginning with bulbs, perennials, and flowering shrubs in the spring and changing throughout the year according to the season.
22 Water Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370, Phone: 413-625-2523
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19.Places to visit in Massachusetts: Minute Man National Historical Park
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Minute Man National Historical Park is a park managed by the National Park Service that includes 970 acres commemorating the opening battle of the Revolutionary War. Sites within the park include the North Bridge in Concord, where militia men were first ordered to return fire at the British.
The Battle Road Trail is a 5-mile stretch between the history-rich towns of Lexington and Concord and includes a restored colonial landscape, a monument at the place where Paul Revere was captured, and the Hartwell Tavern, which is a restored 18th-century tavern that sometimes presents living history programs. Several other historical sites, monuments, and trails are located throughout the park.
174 Liberty Street, Concord, MA 01742, Phone: 978-369-6993
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The Charles River weaves an 80-mile-long path from Hopkinson through 23 cities and towns and empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Boston. The river is many people’s favorite outdoor spot in the city and has virtually everything you could want: stunning views of the skyline, running trails, and a variety of places to relax.
Visitors can pack a picnic or eat at one of the many dining spots nearby. Kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards are available for visitors who would like to paddle the river. Guided tours of the river depart from several locations throughout the city and are a fun way to see the city and learn about the history of the area.
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21.Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
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Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area comprises a collection of islands, along with part of the mainland, which are preserved as a recreation area by the National Park Service. Several hiking trails weave throughout the various islands and picnicking and fishing opportunities abound. Georges Island is home to Fort Warren, a Civil War-era fort.
The oldest lighthouse in the United States, Boston Light, is located within the park on Little Brewster Island. Seasonal ferries connect Georges Island and Spectacle Island with Boston and Quincy. Several of the islands are part of the Boston Harbor Islands State Park, which is included in the National Recreation Area.
15 State Street, Boston, MA 02109, Phone: 617-223-8666
22.Massachusetts Destinations: Good Harbor Beach
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Good Harbor Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand which faces the Atlantic Ocean. During low tide, it is possible to walk to Salt Island from the beach. High tide brings with it the opportunity for boogieboarding and surfing.
During the summer, lifeguards are on duty and surfing and inflatable objects are prohibited. Good Harbor Beach features many services and amenities, while the concession stand offers refreshments, beach toys, and other items you might need. The beach also features restrooms, showers, and paid parking. Good Harbor is handicapped accessible and provides access to a beach wheelchair to visitors who need it.
99 Thatcher Road, Glouchester, MA 01930, Phone: 978-281-9785
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The Aquinnah Cliffs are clay cliffs located on the western side of the island of Martha’s Vineyard, near the town of Aquinnah. The cliffs are also known as the Gay Head Cliffs and are one of the most popular locations on Martha’s Vineyard. They were formed by glaciers several million years ago.
Visitors can follow trails along Moshup Beach to get an up-close look at the cliffs or follow the top of the cliffs to take in the picturesque landscape. From the top, you can see the Gay Head Light and the Elizabeth Islands. The Aquinnah Cliffs are a part of the Wampanoag reservation and are protected and visitors are advised to pay particular attention to the posted regulations.
65 State Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535, Phone: 508-645-2300
24.Cape Cod Rail Trail
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The 22-mile-long Cape Cod Rail Trail follows a former railway through several towns in the mid-Cape area of southeastern Massachusetts. It runs from Dennis to Wellfleet. The trail is paved and is an easy ride with few hills and well-denoted automobile crossings.
The trail features a cycle path as well as an unpaved section designated as multi-use. The trail is popular among cyclists, walkers, joggers, and horseback riders. In the winter, the trail is also used for cross-country skiing. The trial passes through many scenic areas of Cape Cod and is a relaxing and beautiful place to spend a few hours or days.
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25.Places to visit in Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Seashore
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Cape Cod National Seashore comprises more than 44,000 acres on Cape Cod. The protected seashore includes ponds, woodlands, and nearly 40 miles of beaches and shoreline on the eastern shores of Cape Cod. There are two visitor centers, namely Salt Pond, which is open all year round, and Province Lands, which is seasonal.
Both centers include a book and gift store as well as exhibits and films about the park. The Cape Cod National Seashore features a wide range of recreational activities, including swimming, hiking, surfing, biking, and more. Visitors can also participate in ranger-guided canoe trips around the area. There are several historical buildings that can be toured, including a whaling captain’s house and several lighthouses.
99 Marconi Site Road, Wellfleet, MA 02667, Phone: 508-255-3421
25 Best Places to Visit in Massachusetts
- The Berkshires, Photo: Courtesy of DAC - Fotolia.com
- Cape Cod, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Martha's Vineyard, Photo: Courtesy of jansandford - Fotolia.com
- Salem, Photo: Courtesy of kankankavee - Fotolia.com
- Nantucket, Photo: Courtesy of Steven - Fotolia.com
- Provincetown, Photo: Courtesy of jaypetersen - Fotolia.com
- Plymouth, Photo: Courtesy of mheston - Fotolia.com
- Amherst, Photo: Courtesy of Tadija Savic - Fotolia.com
- Worcester, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Hyannis, Photo: Hyannis Main Street
- Newburyport, Photo: Courtesy of Vinoverde - Fotolia.com
- Cambridge, Photo: Courtesy of jStock - Fotolia.com
- Places to visit in Massachusetts: North End, Photo: Courtesy of Tupungato - Fotolia.com
- Boston, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Race Point Beach, Photo: Courtesy of cindygoff - Fotolia.com
- Barnstable, Photo: Courtesy of quasarphotos - Fotolia.com
- Halibut Point State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Kina - Fotolia.com
- Bridge of Flowers, Photo: Courtesy of Cheryl - Fotolia.com
- Places to visit in Massachusetts: Minute Man National Historical Park, Photo: Courtesy of Martina Krause - Fotolia
- Charles River, Photo: Courtesy of Hawkeye - Fotolia.com
- Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, Photo: Courtesy of Nomadic Lens Photos - Fotolia.com
- Massachusetts Destinations: Good Harbor Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Eric BVD - Fotolia.com
- Aquinnah Cliffs, Photo: Courtesy of Vidu Gunaratna - Fotolia.com
- Cape Cod Rail Trail, Photo: Courtesy of haveseen - Fotolia.com
- Places to visit in Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Seashore, Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Seufert - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Seufert - Fotolia.com