Things to Do in Massachusetts | New England Series Fall Finale

Extras, Tours & Attractions — By on October 21, 2010 at 6:00 am

New England is best known for its fall foliage but the region has plenty of natural attractions to see this time of year. From Maine to Massachusetts, this mini-series highlights what each of its states has to offer outdoors while the weather is still warm.

By Michele Herrmann

For Massachusetts, Boston embraces history and activity, while Cape Cod and Cape Ann connects to the sea. The Berkshires are an arts-minded retreat, while Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are a ferry-ride away. The state is the birthplace of the American Revolution, has the first city subway system in the United States and can boast being home to America’s “Royal Family” and a now curse-free baseball empire. Get educated on this state’s Colonial past while enjoying its vibrant present.

Things to do in Boston

Boston is best explored by subway and on foot. Each of the city’s 21 neighborhoods is distinct in culture and background: blue collar to blue blood, native to immigrant, banker to student.

The North End, populated by Italian Americans and young professionals, has quick access to the waterfront along Commercial Street. Dorchester is an architect’s delight with Victorian homes of wealthy Bostonians and multi-family dwellings of immigrants.  It incorporates The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, next to the University of Massachusetts.

Home to Fenway Park, Fenway/Kenmore has cultural institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts and encompasses the Back Bay Fens, the first park in the Emerald Necklace system. The neighborhood has an academic presence with Boston Latin School, America’s first public school, as well as several higher ed institutions.

Boston’s Chinatown is the third largest Chinese neighborhood in the U.S. The Leather District is made up of old leather factories transformed for residential/commercial use. Here find part of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a mile-long stretch of parks, gardens, and plazas. Take a walk in the admirable Public Garden, but unfortunately wait until spring to enjoy a ride on the Swan Boats, a 130-year-old Bostonian tradition.

Across from the waterfront, Faneuil Hall Marketplace maintains an over 250-year presence in the city’s livelihood with shops, pushcarts, full-service restaurants, and a comedy nightclub.  It encompasses four historic places in one location — Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market. Find 35 food stalls in the Quincy Marketplace Colonnade featuring delicacies from around the world.

The Haymarket is a nice contrast to Faneuil Hall, its around the corner neighbor. On Fridays and Saturdays, the open-air market bustles with produce stands and shouting vendors. Newbury Street is eight blocks of salons, boutiques, and dining.

Even if you’re an unlikely student, take a campus tour of Harvard University or MIT and explore surrounding Cambridge.

History Comes Alive

Brush up on your American history. Boston’s Freedom Trail links 16 historic sites, many of them associated with the Revolution and our nation’s early days. Markers identify the stops; plaques point the way from one to the next. Popular stops include Boston Common (the starting point), Bunker Hill Monument, and The Paul Revere House. The Freedom Trail Foundation is a great resource.

The towns of Lexington and Concord are where the fight for independence began in April 1775. Start in Lexington, where colonists and British troops first clashed, and visit The National Heritage Museum. At Concord’s Minute Man National Historical Park, the five-mile Battle Road Trail connects historic sites and personal stories about lives altered by what took place here.

Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth shows the relations between the Wampanoags and the Colonial English community in the 1600s.  Talk with the characters who “live” here. The famous Plymouth Rock is located on the waterfront in downtown Plymouth near where Mayflower II is anchored. The Pilgrim Monument and Museum celebrates the arrival and stay of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge showcases what early New England life was like, specifically from 1790 to 1840. Interpreters dressed in period costume portray daily community activities.

Learn more about John Adams, our nation’s second president, than a biography can say at Adams National Historical Park in Quincy.

Salem, Haunting and MA’s Daring Side

Halloween fanatics should flock to Salem. Salem Haunted Happenings are held throughout October in various locations. Parades, parties, cruises, and tours all lead up to a ceremony on Halloween.

The Salem Witch Museum takes visitors back to the year 1692 with stage sets with life-size figures and a narration about the Witch Trials of 1692. In that year, teenage angst from a group of girls ignited a frenzy over witchcraft that led to 19 people being hanged and one stoned to death. A 1992 memorial for the victims has 20 granite benches surrounding an area adjoining the Old Burying Point. Get spooked at the Salem Wax Museum, with eerily life-like London made wax figures.

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast/Museum in Fall River is where Lizzie Borden might have killed her father and stepmother (she was tried and acquitted) with a hatchet in August 1892. Tour the home. If you’re brave enough, pay to spend the night there.

For a day of amusement, go to Six Flags New England in Agawam. To exercise your wallet, go on a scented candle spree at Yankee Candle’s flagship store in South Deerfield.

Read and Tour Lives of Mass Writers

Make your English teacher proud. See these sources for America’s greatest prose.

In Concord, Orchard House is where Louisa May Alcott penned Little Women. Visit the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a fellow Concord resident, essayist, poet, and great thinker. Lenox has The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate and gardens while Moby Dick author Herman Melville’s digs, Arrowhead, are found in Pittsfield.

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst is made up of the Homestead (where the poet was born and lived most of her life) and the Evergreens (which housed her brother and his family). Salem’s The House of the Seven Gables, the oldest surviving 17th-century wooden mansion in New England, inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his same-named novel.

Lowell honors its wayward son Jack Kerouac at the Jack Kerouac Commemorative in Lowell National Historical Park and with the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival every October. Find his resting place in Edson Cemetery. Like a rock god in his day, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has his name preserved at the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge.

At Walden Pond State Reservation, also in Concord, see where Henry David Thoreau found solace and material for his book Walden. It’s credited with helping to inspire the conservation movement.  Pay your respects at the Concord graves of Alcott, Thoreau, Hawthorne,  and Emerson in the Authors Ridge’s section in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Mass Arts

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is the center of life, art, and spirit of the great illustrator. Devoted entirely to anthropology, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology in Cambridge houses one of the most comprehensive records of human cultural history in the Western Hemisphere. Worcester Art Museum has a massive 35,000-piece collection that spans over 50 centuries.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston’s Fenway section has three floors of galleries surrounded by a garden courtyard. Find everything from paintings and sculptures to tapestries, furniture, and decorative arts.  Mass MoCA, an arts-eccentric campus in downtown North Adams, sprawls over 13 acres.

In downtown Springfield, the Springfield Museums are a grouping of five institutions dedicated to art, science, and local history. The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden features the author’s (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) whimsical characters as full-scale bronze sculptures.

The Rocky Neck Historic Art Trail in Gloucester highlights just about every artist that has been inspired to paint in this region with 12 sites of art historic significance. Enjoy the Boston Symphony Orchestra at its summer residence, Tanglewood, an estate and music venue in Lenox and Stockbridge.

Scenic Routes

The scenic Mohawk Trail has 63 miles of unsurpassed splendor and 50,000 acres of state parks and forests as an East-West highway excursion. More than 100 diverse attractions such as the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown and North Adams’ Western Gateway Heritage State Park are found en route.

Concord Bike Tours offers tours by April through November and has a choice of popular routes or can  customize an excursion. The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition promotes a bicycle-friendly environment with two chapters in Metro Boston and Pioneer Valley. Learn more about the state’s bicycle trails in the Statewide Bicycle Transportation Plan.

Cape Cod Bike Guide is a one-stop resource for road cycling and mountain bike information for this island. The Cape Cod Rail Trail follows a former railroad right-of-way for 22 miles through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet.

If you dig cranberry juice or sauce at holidays, learn about the more than 14,000 acres of cranberry bogs nestled among the towns and villages of Southeastern Massachusetts. The Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association has created a cranberry harvest trail guide. Or, if apples strike your fancy, visit these orchards.

Hitting the Waterside

Enjoy the grandeur of a seaside estate with Ipswich’s Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, noted for a broad lawn running down to the shore. Hammond Castle in Gloucester, a medieval-style castle built in the mid-twenties, was a home and backdrop for owner John Hays Hammond Jr.’s collection of Roman, medieval, and Renaissance artifacts.

Though you now have to until next summer, it’s easy to explore the Boston Harbor Islands, 12 diverse islands and 22 more that form an island wilderness. Cuttyhunk Island was the first site of English settlement in New England. Today its small beach, few houses, and harbor provide an isolate retreat, accessible by water taxi or ferry.

Enjoy whale watching offered by companies set in Provincetown or Gloucester.

Head near the water Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23 and 24, for the 2010 Head of The Charles Regatta to watch as rowing teams plus some sporty individuals race along the banks of the Charles River and on the bridges spanning it.

Learn more about Massachusetts here:

Massachusetts State Parks

Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

Visit Massachusetts

Massachusetts Tourism

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  • Alexis says:

    Nice post and lovely descriptions and information.

    However, readers and potential travelers beware:

    The JFK President Library and Museum is not in the North End (and is quite far from it). It is located near UMASS Boston – take the red line to the JFK stop.

    Also, many of the activities mentioned are seasonal and have already closed- they are spring and summer activities, not fall. For example, the swan boats in Boston Common and the ferries to the Harbor Islands have closed for the season. So just check before you go. But Boston is still a lovely place to visit in the fall and there are some great suggestions here. I would also add apple picking at one of MA’s many orchards or taking a wine tour at the Nashoba Valley Winery.

  • Michele Herrmann says:

    Thanks Alexis. I pulled the info on the JFK museum directly from a Mass gov site, but I’ll double back and fix it if necessary.

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