Backpacking in Massachusetts, USA

Complete guide to Boston and surrounding areas

Massachusetts is small in terms of size for the United States of America, and yet it still packs a big punch. It’s a bit of a dream for backpackers and travellers, and that’s because there’s so much to see and do.

Located in the heart of New England, about four hours north of New York City, Massachusetts offers urban nightlife, winding country roads, authentic seaside villages, and vast beaches with rolling sand dunes. From the historic and vibrant capital city of Boston, to the beaches of Cape Cod, to the gorgeous Berkshire Mountains in the western part of the state, there’s something for everyone.

And if its history you’re after, Massachusetts has a little of that too. Plymouth is where the pilgrims landed, Boston is where the first shots of the American Revolution rang out, and of course, the state is made famous by Harvard University, dating back to 1636. You may have heard of it…

So if you’re travelling to the USA on a gap year, make sure you see Massachusetts; it’s something won’t regret…

Introduction to Massachusetts

Although quite small in size, Massachusetts is one of the top five mainland states in the US visited by international travellers, and it’s easy to see why once you’ve travelled there.

Located in the heart of New England, about three to four hours north of New York City and about the same distance south from Montreal in Canada, Massachusetts offers urban nightlife, winding country roads, authentic seaside villages, and vast beaches with rolling sand dunes. From the historic and vibrant capital city of Boston, to the beaches of Cape Cod, to the gorgeous Berkshire Mountains in the western part of the state, there’s something for everyone.

Massachusetts is home to 15 National Parks, mostly in the eastern part of the state. These are mostly historic and cultural parks, designated as such due to the importance they have in the history of the US. The largest is the Cape Cod National Seashore, created in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy and located on the forearm of Cape Cod. Consisting of nearly seventy square miles (176 square kilometers) of pristine sandy beach, marshes, ponds, and uplands, the Seashore is dotted with lighthouses, cultural landscapes, wild cranberry bogs, beaches and walking and biking trails. Boston National Historical Park, which features the Freedom Trail, a permanent brick line on the sidewalk leading to 16 significant historic sites in the oldest part of the city, is a national treasure.

“The Bay State” as Massachusetts is known, is home to more than 100 colleges and universities (60 in the Boston area alone). The thousands of students from all over the world that pour into dormatories and apartments every August from Boston to the Berkshires help give the state a youthful edge.

Some of the most famous schools are Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University, Boston University, Berklee College of Musicand Wellesley College, all in the Boston area; and AmherstSmith and Williams Colleges, all in Western Massachusetts. The college towns across Massachusetts provide residents and visitors alike with a bit of a laid back, intellectual-yet-funky atmosphere offering tree-lined streets dotted with cafes, bookstores and locally-owned boutiques and gift shops.

The arts and culture scene in Massachusetts is vast and bubbling over with energy. The state is home to half a dozen major art museums, plus equally as many niche art museums showcasing everything from children’s book art to contemporary crafts to art from the Far East and Oceana. It’s also the only state of its size that can boast four independent colleges of art and design, each with its own public art galleries that showcase student and professional works.

The lively theatre scene stretches from Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, to Gloucester on the North Shore, and from Boston to the culturally rich Berkshires, where in July and August the performing arts are showcased through live events of all kinds. Here, world-class musicians, actors and dancers perform outdoors, under nature’s canopy.

Take the time to explore the state and see all that there is to offer for the young, and the young at heart, in Massachusetts!

Cape Cod and the islands

Massachusetts’ most popular beach vacation spots, Cape Cod, Plymouth, and “the Islands” are the perfect place for those hungry for seafood. Lounge on the beach, go for a hike, visit a heritage museum. And at night, crack open a lobster or order a plate piled high with fried clams. Here you’ll find long sandy beaches, bike paths, and plenty of activities for land and sea. Hike, picnic, or swim at the Cape Cod National Seashore or bike the 25.1-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Don’t forget Provincetown, an eclectic arts and fishing community where the Pilgrims fist landed. Plymouth bills itself as “America’s Hometown.” The region also offers picturesque harbors, historic lighthouses, state-of-the-art golf courses, and acres of cranberry bogs. Whale watch cruises, harbor tours, and party fishing boats leave from Plymouth Harbor. Not just extensions of Cape Cod, the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are in a world all their own. The slower pace of life on the islands offers visitors ample time to bike or walk to explore the islands’ lighthouses, conservation land, and unspoiled beaches.

About Cape Cod

Whether you’re on the Outer Cape, Mid-Cape, or Lower Cape you’ll find long sandy beaches, bike paths, and plenty of activities for land and sea. Hike, picnic, or swim at the Cape Cod National Seashore or bike the 25.1-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail. Catch a game of the premier Cape Cod Baseball League. Discover ocean life at the NOAA Aquarium, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Exhibit, or the ZooQuarium’s live sea lion shows.

Along with the traditional Cape Cod trimmings – go karts, mini-golf, and ice cream stands – galleries and antiques can be found along Old King’s Highway (Rte. 6A). Don’t limit your golfing to the miniature kind; there are more than 25 golf courses throughout the Cape. Catch a first-run double feature at the Cape’s only drive-in, Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre. Take in a dune tour in Provincetown or have dinner on a train of the Cape Cod Central Railroad. Hy-Line Cruises, Island Queen and the Steamship Authority get you to the islands and back on high-speed ferries.

Driving Time from Boston: 90 minutes to 2 hours

About Martha’s Vineyard

The one hundred square-mile Island of Martha’s Vineyard lies seven miles off Cape Cod, accessible by ferry or airplane. Whether one visits urbane ‘down island’ (Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown) or pastoral ‘up island’ (Chilmark, Aquinnah and West Tisbury), there’s ample enchantment for all on New England’s largest island. Multiple personalities—summer and ‘other’ seasons—captivate visitors year-round.

People know summer best, but autumn’s ‘festival season’ (food & wine, film, fishing, more) is also popular for weddings. Winter’s serenity and spring’s renewal are palpable. Beaches are broad; hills are low; rolling meadows are edged by stone walls and woods thick with black tupelo and red cedar; healthy hinterlands are pond-speckled. There is no fast food here. New traditions of slow food incorporate farm- and ocean-to-table culinary arts at restaurants island-wide.

Driving Time to Ferries from Boston: 90 minutes to 2 hours

About Nantucket Island

Thirty miles off the Massachusetts coast, this crescent-shaped island is in a world by itself. Cobblestone streets and an array of stately Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival homes reflect Nantucket’s history as a prosperous whaling port. Nearly 40 percent of Nantucket is protected conservation land. Several areas and habitats, natural groups of plants and animals, are rare to this region and even the world. Walk the sandy beaches, swim in the still, sparkling waters of Nantucket Sound, stroll the boutique shops and explore the art galleries and museums.

Driving Time to Ferries from Boston: 90 minutes to 2 hours

About Plymouth

As the landing location and subsequent settlement for the Mayflower’s Pilgrims in 1620, Plymouth is home to one of the greatest dramas in the founding of America. It was here in 1621, that the Pilgrims celebrated what is now known as “The First Thanksgiving” with their Wampanoag neighbors. Situated about 40 miles south of Boston along Massachusetts’ South Shore, Plymouth unfolds along a scenic harbor of blue waters and picturesque boats.

Known as “America’s Hometown”, historical highlights include: Plymouth Rock (which when moved in 1774, “split asunder” and was transported to Liberty Square as a symbol of the ‘split’ with England), Pilgrim Hall Museum, the National Monument to the Forefathers, the Mayflower II (a full-scale reproduction of the original ship), and the area’s premier attraction Plimoth Plantation, offering a Visitor Center and Orientation film, museum shops and dining, a Wampanoag Native American Homesite, 17th-century English Village and Craft Center.

Driving Time from Boston: 45 minutes

Dining and Nightlife

When you explore Plymouth, Cape Cod and the Islands, be sure to sample the area’s diverse mix of unforgettable restaurants and dining experiences, ranging from upscale elegant eateries and waterfront restaurants to old-fashioned Cape Cod clambakes and seafood shanties.  While this region is renowned for serving the freshest seafood, area restaurants have a wide range of dining options – everything from sushi, Brazilian barbecue and Chinese to Italian cuisine, Indian curry and French & Continental fare. Pizza and ice cream parlors, bakeries and coffee shops are never hard to find!

For nightlife on Cape Cod, Provincetown can’t be beat. A historic fishing port with a diverse history, Provincetown is situated at the tip of the Cape. It’s been home to sailors, pirates, fisherman, painters, and authors for centuries. Not only is it America’s oldest art colony, this town is also known for being one of the top gay resorts in the country. At night in the summertime and shoulder seasons, expect, well, anything. Provincetown’s renowned entertainment and nightlife is eclectic, diverse, and never disappoints. There are numerous entertainment venues, including cabarets, piano bars, drag shows, theater, movies, and more. Additionally, Provincetown is known for its famous tea dance, bar scene, and dancing venues.

Bars and pubs dot the shore from Plymouth to Cape Cod. But the other hub of nightlife on the Cape is Hyannis. The nightlife scene takes place around the harbor, and on Main Street. Hyannis, the “Homeport of Cape Cod,” boasts the area’s largest concentration of businesses, shops, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment spots. Lots of college kids working at the local hotels, attractions and restaurants for the summer spend their evenings in Hyannis’ bars and pubs. Note: Hyannis is a village in the town of Barnstable; Barnstable is smoke-free in all public places.

Woods Hole on the southwestern tip of Cape Cod, although still a seaside fishing village, is home to an international scientific community, and can be considered a “college town” of sorts. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is known historically for discovering the Titanic but has now become the largest private non-profit oceanographic institution in the world. From Woods Hole you can board a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard from the harbor. Woods Hole has great energy, with a slightly more avant-garde flavor than neighboring Falmouth.

On Martha’s Vineyard, the town of Oak Bluffs is the local scene for young people, with the main drag, Circuit Ave, as well as the waterfront a haven on summer evenings for pubcrawlers. Shops, restaurants and ice cream parlors line these streets as well, and there are plenty of families out for a good time.

Vineyard Haven is the artsy little sister to Oak Bluffs, much more mellow and calm – partly due to the town ordinance making it “dry” (meaning no alcoholic beverages are sold in any of its restaurants). But this doesn’t stop it from having a bit more of a bohemian character, with art galleries and women’s clothing shops lining the main drag.

Nantucket is Martha’s Vineyard’s upscale cousin, offering a slightly more sophisticated atmosphere, cobblestoned streets and generally higher prices. Be sure to experience island specialties including its world-famous Nantucket Bay scallops, farm fresh tomatoes and corn, bluefish patéand beach plum jelly. There’s only one town on the island, so once you find it, you’ll know where to go for island nightlife.

Boston and Cambridge

Boston, one of the country’s most historic cities, comes alive with museums, restaurants, tours and sports. Watch the Bruins or Celtics at the TD Garden, or check out the Red Sox at historic Fenway Park. Or head over to the Boston Public Garden for a spectacular walk in the summertime, and ice skating at the Frog Pond in the winter. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Boston Ballet, and the Institute of Contemporary Art are only a few of Boston’s many cultural and artistic hotspots.

For the history buff, there’s the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile self-guided or guided tour steeped in Boston history. One of the stops is Faneuil Hall, where visitors can stop to shop, eat, or catch a street performance. The Duck Tours are a perfect way to spend the day exploring Boston.

Perhaps Boston can best be described as a welcome contradiction: Hip alongside historic. Skyscrapers surround parks. Gourmet meets pizza. Boston is a wonderful blend of stylish sophistication and historic New England charm. You can easily uncover the city’s past while enjoying its distinctively modern edge. Year round, Boston’s calendar is brimming with exceptional musical and theatrical productions and annual performances, new exhibitions and timeless favorites, walking tours or trolley tours, ethnic festivals and festivals of food and wine.

A walk through the Public Garden, the Boston Harbor, and Boston’s many shops and galleries are great for any time of year. It’s a big city, but you can cover the center on foot in just a couple of hours. There are annual events which need no further introduction: Boston Marathon, 4th of July or First Night. And there are many seasonal specialities near and dear to Bostonians which visitors should try to take advantage of: Lilac Sunday or the Ducklings Day Parade in springtime. Boston Pride Festival for an entire week every June.  The Head of the Charles Regatta in fall or a Nutcracker performance to get you into the holiday spirit. Boston’s calendar is brimming with things to do, places to go, people to see.

Just across the river from Boston, Cambridge offers an exciting multicultural setting where visitors from around the world mingle in the shadow of two of the world’s premier educational institutions: Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Teeming with cafes, bookstores, and shops of all kinds, Cambridge is often referred to as “Boston’s Left Bank.” Home to five distinct neighborhoods, Cambridge is an eclectic mix of boutiques, restaurants, and nightlife.

Central and Harvard Square offer cuisine, music, and entertainment close to Harvard University and MIT. Inman Square is home to many immigrant populations, and the Portuguese community permeates this neighborhood. Kendall Square, home to MIT, the Cambridgeside Galleria, and the Museum of Science offers guests numerous things to explore. Porter Square, boasting the region’s largest concentration of Japanese eateries, offers guests antiques shops, gift stores, and sidewalk cafes.

College Scene

College students and those in their twenties tend to flock to where there are others their age; and can you blame them? We all want to meet new people in comfortable, relaxed atmospheres where we can be ourselves.

Young people interested in music will want to check out Massachusetts Avenue – on the Boston side, you’ll find clubs and venues where performers from nearby Berklee College of Music, the Boston Conservatory and the New England Conservatory play everything from classical to bluegrass to jazz, pop, funk and hip hop. A short distance walk is Landsdowne Street adjacent to Fenway Park, where the club scene continues into the night. Closer to Boston University, head down Commonwealth Avenue from Kenmore Square towards BU’s main campus and follow the crowds into the neighborhood of Allston.

For the Cambridge scene, follow Massachusetts Avenue over the Charles River and into Cambridge. Central Square is the music and nightlife mecca of Cambridge, with venues showcasing indie rock, jazz, blues, Latin, funk and more.

The area around Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston is still a fun place for people young and old to hang out on weekend nights. Irish pubs and local bars often have live music or DJ’s spinning well into the early morning.

Keep in mind, although some bars stay open until 2:00 a.m., the MBTA stops running at 1:00 a.m. Don’t miss the train, or you might get stranded! But there are usually plenty of cabs near the bars at closing time.

Be forewarned: Some music clubs do require you to be 21 years old to enter.

Check out the Neighborhoods section to learn more about the college scene in various neighborhoods.

Dining and Nightlife

Boston has a little bit of everything when it comes to dining. Not an upscale city to speak of, you can find fine dining just as easily as you can find good pub food. Looking for local, fresh caught seafood? Outstanding Korean, Thai or Ethiopian cuisine? Gourmet pasta and pizza? Vegetarian and vegan? Food truck fare? You can find it all in Boston and Cambridge, in diverse varieties.

The Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism has launched an “Ask a Local” mobile app for iPhones that offers commentary from local residents on where the best places are to eat. It’s a free download on iTunes. Locals also use Zagat, Yelp, Trip Advisor and Google to search for restaurant reviews. Also, pick up a free Boston Phoenix newspaper for the latest news on grub in Boston neighborhoods.

Check out the Neighborhoods section to learn more about cuisine in various neighborhoods.

As for nightlife, remember that Boston was founded by Puritan dissenters. Many of the Blue Laws that were on the books in 1630 came back in the early 20th Century. Bars close between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. (check the websites for hours). And bartenders and bouncers adhere to strict state laws checking identification to ward off underage drinking.

Sightseeing

“Quack quack!” your way through the city on the famous Boston Duck Tours in Back Bay, where an amphibious bus-boat drives you through Boston streets and waterways. Or take a stroll through Boston Common along the Freedom Trail to see first-hand how “Massachusetts invented America.” The Public Garden is in full bloom, adding to the romance of the legendary Swan Boats in the park’s lagoon. Stop by the Cheers bar, where the burgers are hot and “everybody knows your name.” Learn the riveting story of Massachusetts’ 1783 ban on slavery as told along the Black Heritage Trail.

Shop for high-end couture on Newbury Street or indoors at Copley Place. The shopping and restaurants at the Prudential Center will certainly lure you in and keep you there until dinner upstairs, at the Top of the Hub, will awe you with the breathtaking views and scrumptious dinners served nightly.

Use the Charlie Card on the MBTA (the U.S.’s first subway system) to get around while you’re here. Faneuil Hall, often referred to as the “Cradle of Liberty,” comes alive in the summer. Festive street performers wow you with magic, acrobatics, and feats of balloon-twisting among lots of other entertainment. All the incredible shopping at the adjacent Faneuil Hall Marketplace will certainly work up an appetite, although you’ll have a hard time choosing just one place to eat, as the marketplace has an unrivalled number of delicious restaurants and cuisines from which to choose.

Eat freshly shucked shellfish at the Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country. Believe it or not, the Chart House on the harbor once served as the office of John Hancock himself. In the adjacent North End, Boston’s Little Italy, grab a cappuccino, gelato, or pastry along Hanover Street.

But don’t forget Boston classics new and old: the Boston Ballet, Blue Man Group, the Boston Pops, the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the newly renovated Boston Children’s Museum, the vast Museum of Science, the outlying gems of Boston Harbor, the Boston Harbor Islands, and the quintessential summertime seafaring adventure: whale watching.

Across the Charles River is Cambridge, home of academic havens Harvard University and MIT. Stroll through real Boston-ivy-covered Harvard Yard and see the famous “Statue of Three Lies.” Nearby is the Longfellow National Historical Site, which served as George Washington’s headquarters during the American Revolution. Visit the Mount Auburn Cemetery, where Bernard Malamud, Winslow Homer, and Oliver Wendell Holmes lie in rest.

Along Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge comes alive in “squares.” Central Square is home to delicious diverse food offerings – Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, and Mediterranean, to name a few. Harvard Square is home to Harvard University’s comprehensive Art Museum, shopping, and famous street performers. Porter Square, Inman Square, and Davis Square all further illustrate Cantabrigians’ diverse culture as “Mass Ave” approaches Somerville.

Listen to live jazz at Regattabar or Ryles Jazz Club. Take in a performance at the American Repertory Theater, too, to add a little drama to your stay.

North of Boston

Miles of rocky coast and sandy beaches make up this beautiful part of Massachusetts. Nature enthusiasts can visit the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, or the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Of course, visitors can’t miss Salem! Salem boasts an array of museums, including the Witch Museum where guests can learn about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 that made the city famous.

Further up the coast, whale watching trips leave from Gloucester and Newburyport, both beautiful towns with small, intimate beaches. While in Gloucester, be sure to stop by the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, an interactive spot that traces the fishing history of the town. Just west of here lies the Merrimack Valley. Every Patriots’ Day, a band of Patriots and Redcoats gather to reenact the famous battle of Lexington and the ‘shot heard ’round the world.’

The Merrimack Valley is also home to the Industrial Revolution, and guests can visit the Lowell National Historical Park, an historical site that chronicles Lowell’s transformation from farm to factory. You can also find the New England Quilt Museum and Revolving Museum, both in Lowell. Try to plan your trip around the Lowell Folk Festival in July, a three day celebration of the city’s multicultural heritage.

Gloucester

Gloucester, settled in 1623, is America’s oldest seaport. Situated at the center of Cape Ann, Gloucester has a working waterfront, bustling with fishermen and lobster boats, and remains one of the busiest fishing ports on the Eastern seaboard. The world-famous “The Man at the Wheel” statue was commissioned in 1923 in memory of thousands of fishermen lost at sea. The harbor is alive and bustling with sightseeing cruises, and deep-sea fishing. Some of the world’s best whale watching is just off her coast. In October 1991, a rare combination of meteorological factors created a so-called “storm of the century” in the North Atlantic. The crew of the Andrea Gail, a fishing boat out of Gloucester, attempted to sail home through the tempest. Their ordeal is featured in the George Clooney movie The Perfect Storm.

Gloucester’s scenic beauty has inspired artists since the early 19th century, as it does today. Perhaps the first painter of note was native-born Fitz Henry Lane, whose home still exists on the waterfront, and whose works hang at the Cape Ann Museum, as well as at museums in Boston and New York. Others attracted here include William Morris Hunt, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, John Sloan, Maurice Prendergast, Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley. Smith Cove is home to the Rocky Neck Art Colony, the oldest art colony in the country, still dotted with art studios that you can explore today.

Lexington & Concord

The town greens and monuments of Lexington and Concord attest to the region’s critical role in the American Revolution. Every Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April, a band of ‘Patriots’ and ‘Redcoats’ gathers on the Lexington Green at dawn to reenact the Battle of Lexington and the ‘shot heard ’round the world.’ Located between the two towns is Minute Man National Historical Park, which brings that battle to life, letting visitors explore the battlefields and learn about the first skirmsih of the American Revolution. Concord lays claim to some of the greatest names in 19thCentury American literature: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Visit the authors’ houses to learn about their life and times. A visitor trolley called the Liberty Ride, run by the Town of Lexington, brings visitors between the two towns and from the 18th to the 19th Century to learn about these two histories. It operates seasonally and begins in downtown Lexington.

Lowell

Lowell’s preserved mill buildings are reminders of the city’s prominent role in the American Industrial Revolution. Exhibits and guided tours of the Lowell National Historical Park chronicle the shift from farm to factory, the rise of immigrant labor, and the industrial technology that fueled these changes. Its Boott Cotton Mills Museum features an operating weave room whose 88 power looms generate a defeaning clatter. Just steps away, you’ll find a cluster of lively art museums and galleries. Lowell is the blue collar town where the movie The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, was based. It was shot here, too, using a lot of local talent as extras in the movie.

Rockport

Rockport is a charming town on the tip of Cape Ann. Part of Gloucester until 1842, it is located just to the north. The town’s name is a reference to the granite industry that thrived until the World War I era. Once that industry dwindled, the town’s art scene boomed. In 1921, the art colony was founded and named the Rockport Art Association, the first art organization of its kind in America.

The iconic image of Rockport is a fishing shack known around the country as ‘Motif #1,’ so-named because it was always the first subject to be painted by artists who came to town. This non-descript building was saved from possible destruction in the early 1930’s by local artists and was used for a while as a studio by painter John Buckley. The shack is one of the most painted structures in America and was recently a symbol on a Massachusetts U.S. postal stamp. Hollywood movies filmed in Rockport include Stuck on You and The Love Letter.

Salem

Tourists know Salem as a mix of important historical sites, New Age and Wiccan boutiques, and Halloween-themed attractions. However, Salem’s real importance in American history lies at its status as an often used port for East Indies trade. The city played a leading role in the American China trade. Salem is home to a large collection of Federal Style mansions. Many of these were the work of architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire, for whom the city’s largest Historic District is named. Salem is also a college town, home to Salem State University. Its nightlife is pretty strong, especially in the summer and fall. A visit to Salem in September or October – as Halloween approaches – can be an experience to remember.

Driving Time from Boston: 30 minutes

Western Massachusetts

In Western Massachusetts, travellers can visit a myriad of local farms producing everything from goat cheese to apples to zucchini (that’s courgette don’t you know)! The Blackstone River Valley provides a showcase for the area’s industrial heritage, as well as opportunities for hiking, boating, biking, and fishing.

There so much to see and do in Western Massachusetts; the Berkshires provide a year-round destination for outdoor fun and activities’ Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, offers a great outdoor spot for music lovers to enjoy many different concerts; the Hancock Shaker Village offers tourists insights into the Shaker way of life. Also, for those winter enthusiasts, the Berkshires boast 13 ski areas with a variety of terrains for skiers and snowboarders alike.

Pioneer Valley, Springfield & the “Five College Region”

In blue collar Springfield, relive the history of basketball at the Basketball Hall of Fame, where three levels of exhibits and fun celebrate inventor Dr. James Naismith and his game. Lose your breath at Six Flags New England, the largest theme amusement park in the area. And visit museums that pay tribute to the legends behind children’s books – the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden.

Stroll along Main Street in Northampton, a laid-back college town with a vibrant arts community and an eclectic selection of restaurants, boutiques, and cafés. Hike the 25 miles of trails in the Northfield Mountain Recreation Area or, by whitewater, raft the Deerfield River. If history is more your thing, unwind with a stroll through 330-year-old Historic Deerfield. Enjoy an afternoon at the flagship Yankee Candle store, where the fudge is homemade and the candles are hand-dipped… by you!

Berkshires

The Berkshires provide a year-round destination for outdoor adventure and culture. Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, offers a great outdoor venue for music lovers to enjoy many different concerts. The Tanglewood Jazz Festival, held the first weekend in September, is world-famous. The Berkshires is a great destination for museum lovers, with the Normal Rockwell Museum, MASS Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), the sculpture museum of Chesterwood, the Clark Art Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art. The Hancock Shaker Village offers tourists insights into the Shaker way of life. For those winter enthusiasts, the Berkshires boast 13 ski areas with a variety of terrains for skiers and snowboarders alike, with hiking and biking in summer.

College Scene

The scene for college students and twenty-somethings in Western Massachusetts can be pin-pointed at the intersection of Main Street and Pleasant Street in Northampton. The Northampton area is often called the “Five College Area” due to the close proximity of Smith College in Northampton; Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts in neighboring Amherst; and Mount Holyoke College in nearby South Hadley. Additionally, the region is home to several other private, state, community and technical colleges. More than 29,000 students call this region home. Forty-five minutes to the northwest lies pristine Williamstown and lively Williams College.

This area is enriched by a high concentration of higher education, which brings intellectual curiosity and thoughtful leadership; community mindedness; youthful energy and spirit; artistic, cultural, and athletic events; not to mention beautiful campuses for peaceful strolling.

Outdoors

The Berkshire mountains have that name for a reason – from lovely foothills to the highest mountain in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock. At 3,491 feet, Greylock rises above the surrounding Berkshire landscape, offering dramatic views of 60-90 miles distant. Bascom Lodge at its summit is a rustic stone and wood Lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s to provide accommodations for hikers, vacationers, and nature enthusiasts. It has private and group rooms available for overnight stay. The large dining room with its high ceiling and hand-cut oak beams offers lunch and dinner. An enclosed porch with wraparound windows overlooks the finest views in the Berkshires.

The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail that runs through the towns of Lanesborough, Cheshire, and Adams is a former railroad corridor, now converted into a paved 10-foot-wide, 11-mile long, universally accessible path. It runs parallel to Route 8 along the eastern shore of Cheshire Reservoir. The word Ashuwillticook (ash-oo-WILL-ti-cook) is from the Native American name for the south branch of the Hoosic River and literally means “at the in-between pleasant river,” or in common tongue, “the pleasant river in between the hills.”

The name was adopted for the trail as a way to reconnect people to local history and the natural environment. The former railroad ran for some 145 years (1845-1990) under different names. Seeing the potential for recreational use of the corridor, citizens organized to preserve the right-of-way. The Ashuwillticook River Trail Committee soon formed and worked to gain the local and political support needed to make this rail trail a reality.

Getting around Massachusetts

Getting around Massachusetts, like most states in the US, is incredibly easy. However, Boston is unique in its tram system – it’s awesome and just another reason to visit the state. So, how do you get around Massachusetts?

Logan International Airport

Logan Airport is located three miles from downtown Boston and is easily accessible by public transportation and taxi. A free shuttle bus stops at each airline terminal, bringing passengers to the Airport subway station on the Blue Line.

In the summer of 2012, passengers heading into Boston from Logan can ride for free on the MBTA’s Silver Line. The pilot programme continues through to the 3rd September, so catch it while you can (literally…)

You can also get into the city via water shuttle. Year-round scheduled and on-call vessels serving Logan’s dock provide direct connections to downtown Boston and other popular waterfront destinations in Boston’s Inner Harbor, and the towns of Quincy and Hull on the South Shore. Enjoy fantastic views of Boston Harbor and the city from a climate-controlled waiting area. The Massport Route 66 Shuttle Bus provides free shuttle service to and from the Logan Dock and all airport terminals.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA” or “T”)

The city’s transit system is the oldest and fifth largest in the nation. The T helps protect the region’s natural resources by providing an alternative means of transport for more than one million people every day. The combination of Boston’s compact city layout and its convenient transportation system allows visitors to come to Boston without a car, take mass transit, and explore the city on foot. Bonza!

Your way around Boston is a Charlie Ticket – named for Charlie, the character in the 1959 hit song “Charlie on the MTA” (as the MBTA was then called) performed by the Kingston Trio. The song’s lyrics tell of Charlie, a man who gets aboard an MTA subway car but learns he can’t get off because he hadn’t brought enough money for the “exit fares” that had been established (you won’t have this problem!).

The T subway system is comprised of the Blue, Orange, Green, Red, and Silver Lines(which is not a subway line but Bus Rapid Transit).

Amtrak

The Northeast Regional and Acela Express trains run multiple trips daily in between Virginia Beach and Boston, stopping in Washington, DC; Philadelphia; New York; and Providence, among many other stops in between.

Car Rentals

To see those back roads and hidden byways, the best way is by car, of course. Most major car rental agencies are located near Logan Airport and some are also located in downtown Boston. A full current driver’s license and a credit card are required. It’s best to start your rental when you leave the city.

Ferries

There are multiple seasonal and year-round ferry options for seeing various parts of coastal Massachusetts.

Martha’s Vineyard – You can get to Martha’s Vineyard from both Woods Hole (via Steamship Authority; vehicles allowed) and Hyannis (via Hy-Line; passengers only). You can also get to Martha’s Vineyard on the Island Queen from Falmouth (passengers only), and on the New Bedford Fast Ferry from New Bedford (passengers only). Cost: US$8-36, one-way. A fairly new ferry service from New York City called Seastreak brings passengers from the Big Apple to Martha’s Vineyard and back, starting at US$155, one-way, for adults.

Nantucket – You can get to Nantucket only from Hyannis on either Hy-Line (passengers only) OR Steamship Authority (vehicles allowed). The nearby town of Harwich also has a special seasonal ferry called Freedom Cruise Line, passengers only and free parking. Cost: US$18-39, one-way.

Provincetown – There are two companies offering 90-minute “fast ferry” as well as slow boat options that take passengers from Boston to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, for the day or however long you wish to spend: Boston Harbor Cruises and Bay State Cruise Company. Cost: US$23-53, one way.

Salem – The Salem Ferry operates seasonally, carrying commuters and travellers between Boston and Salem from May to October. Cost: US$12-15, one way.

Trolley Tours of Boston

Trolley tours offer an entertaining and informative tour highlighting the best of Boston. Travellers can hop on and off while exploring the sites at their own pace. There are several companies running trolleys throughout the city.

Boston Duck Tours are popular with tourists. These are WWII-style amphibious landing vehicles that give an entertaining overview of the city by land and water. Tours are 80 minutes long. They’re fun, trust us…

History of Massachusetts

From the first landing of the English Pilgrims in 1620 at Plymouth Rock, to the infamous Salem Witch Trials; and from the first shots of the American Revolution to America’s literary Renaissance and Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century, Massachusetts can’t be beat for historic sites. It’s got the birthplaces of honored presidents, the homes of patriots and poets, and the hallowed halls of the most prestigious universities in the country. Between the historic houses and period buildings, world-class museum collections, and heritage trails, there’s something to look at and learn from all angles and for all interests.

The town of Plymouth is “Pilgrim Central.” The first stop should be Plimoth Plantation, which features a recreated village circa 1627 based on the one built by the English colonists in the midst of the Wampanoag homeland. Here you can interact with the costumed role players portraying real people from the colony. The Plantation also features a Wampanoag Homesite where visitors can meet real Native People (no “characters” here) to learn about traditional Wampanoag family life. In downtown Plymouth, the Plantation also runs the Mayflower II, a recreation of the Mayflower ship on which the Pilgrims sailed to the New World.

The North Shore city of Salem brings visitors face to face with both a difficult past and an engaging future. Many people associate the city with the Salem witch trials of 1692, which the city embraces both as a source of tourism and culture. Salem’s also had a real significance in American history, playing a leading role in the American China trade. View exquisite artifacts from this era alonside world-class art at the Peabody Essex Museum. But if it’s witch history you want, they’ve got it in droves. The Salem Witch Museum brings you there, back to the Salem of 1692, with a dramatic history lesson using stage sets with life-size figures, lighting and a narration – an overview of the Witch Trials of 1692.

Although the American Revolution officially began with Lexington & Concord’s ‘Shot heard ’round the World’ in 1775, more than just tea was brewing in the years leading up to that historic day, and many of the events leading up to the start of the war were just as important as its early battles. Walk the Freedom Trail in Boston to learn more, it’s literally like stepping back into history. Sixteen significant historic sites are found along the 2.5 mile redbrick walking trail.

The sites along the Freedom Trail encompass areas where townspeople educated their young, proclaimed their rights as groups, buried their dead, governed their own churches and protected their property from the British Crown. Along the Freedom Trail tourists can see individual collections of museums, meeting houses, churches, graveyards, parks, a ship and historical signs that tell a true tale of the American Revolution and beyond. Then explore Lexington and Concord to hear about the details of the opening battles of the War for Independence. The Minute Man National Historical Park features exhibits and historic trails, and the two towns flanking it offer tours of their historic houses and town commons.

Drive out to Sturbridge in Central Massachusetts to journey into the past during a very special period of our nation’s history. In the years 1790-1840 a new nation took shape. In rural towns across New England, ordinary people worked to better their lives, build strong communities, apply new technologies, and define the meaning of democracy. Year-round, you’ll discover the allure of history with all five senses at Old Sturbridge Village, which features a re-created rural 1830s New England town set on a historical landscape encompassing a Center Village, mills, and pastoral countryside.

The American Industrial Revolution began in the Blackstone River Valley of Central Massachusetts – the swath of land along the Blackstone River extending from Worcester, MA to Providence, RI. Learn about this innovative history by visiting the city of Lowell. The Lowell National Historical Park documents and presents the birth of large-scale textile manufacturing, the significance of the machine shop, the city’s important canal system, and the use of water power. There are profiles of factory workers, from mill girls to immigrant labor; and exhibits on the difficult working conditions in the mills and what life was like living and working in this bustling, new company town.

Visit the south coastal city of New Bedford to learn all about Massachusetts’ history as a famous whaling community. New Bedford was the mid 19th century’s preeminent whaling port and for a time “the richest city in the world.” The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park includes a 13-block National Historic Landmark District and the preeminent New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Key facts about Massachusetts

Capital of Massachusetts – Boston

Population of Massachusetts – 6.5 million

Population of Boston – 600,000

Language – English

Currency – Dollar (US$)

Exchange rate – 1:1.55 (£:US$)

Time zone – Eastern Standard (-5 GMT)

Drives – On the right

International calling code – +1

Colleges / Universities – Around 110 in Massachusetts; 60 in Greater Boston

Drinking age – 21

Bars close at – Anywhere between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., depending on the city / town

LGBT – Massachusetts was the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2004. The town of Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, has been a gay resort for decades, and gay and lesbian travellers flock there in droves in the summertime. Inland, the small city of Northampton, which also happens to be a college town (home to the prestigious all-women’s Smith College) has a high lesbian population. All parts of Massachusetts, but especially Boston, Provincetown and Northampton, have welcomed same-sex couples wishing to tie the knot.

Geography / weather – Massachusetts’ climate features shifting weather patterns and wide temperature swings in a matter of days. Summers are sunny, hot and humid, and winters are cold, windy, wet and snowy. Dress in layers to adjust to the changing weather conditions. Spring tends to bring some rain. Generally, it’s 5-10 degrees (Farhenheit) cooler on the coast in the summer, and 5-10 degrees (Farhenheit) cooler inland, in the winter. Summer temperatures on Cape Cod and the Islands do not typically warm up until July, with the average temperature in the low 70s. Summer nights there can be cool, with lows dipping into the mid 60s.

Sports in Massachusetts

There may be no bigger sports city in the US than Boston, and no bigger fan base than Massachusetts and New England. Baseball’s Red Sox, who finally broke their curse for the first time in decades in 2004 (and again in 2007) with their World Series win, play on the hallowed grounds of historic Fenway Park, which turned 100 in 2012 and is the oldest standing baseball stadium in the U.S.

Throughout the years, Fenway Park has been used not only for Major League Baseball (MLB), but also for other sports such as football, soccer, and hockey. It has also hosted many non-sporting events including concerts by Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones. Find it on the Big Screen in Field of Dreams (1989), Fever Pitch (the American version from 2005), The Town (2010), and Moneyball (2011). There are tours daily on non-game days.

Known by locals as “The Boston Garden”, TD Garden is a multi-purpose arena and home to hockey’s Boston Bruins and basketball’s Boston Celtics, both of whom have won their leagues’ top title prize in the last several years. The New England Sports Museum in the Garden exhibits the history of all sports and sports teams in the Boston area, including the Boston Marathon, the famous Beanpot hockey tournament, and Boston’s role in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team gold medal.

American Football’s New England Patriots play at Gillette Stadium, about 45 minutes south of Boston. The stadium, which is just a decade old, also houses the New England Revolution soccer team. Adjacent to the stadium is Patriot Place, a 1.3 million square foot lifestyle and entertainment center which includes an open mall, health center, movie theatre, four-star hotel, and “The Hall” museum. The Hall is a two-level interactive museum honoring the New England Patriots’ accomplishments and multiple Super Bowl championships.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the Western Massachusetts city of Springfield honors exceptional basketball players, coaches, referees, and other major contributors to the game worldwide. It is dedicated to preserving and promoting basketball at all levels. Since 1959, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has inducted 313 major contributors to the sport.

The landmark structure of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame museum is one of the world’s most distinctive monuments. The museum features hundreds of interactive exhibits and serves as an extensive library on the history of the sport. 2009, the Basketball Hall of Fame celebrated its 50th anniversary.

The Volleyball Hall of Fame is located in Holyoke, in Western Massachusetts, where the game of volleyball was invented in 1895 by William G. Morgan at the local YMCA. The Volleyball Hall of Fame opened in 1987 and pays tribute to extraordinary players, coaches, and other leaders who have made significant contributions to the game of volleyball. It also features an exhibit dedicated to the history of the sport.

Did you know baseball was invented in Massachusetts? Although it was first created in the Berkshires, it’s Cape Cod that has made going to the beach synonymous with going to a ballgame. The Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame is located in the heart of Cape Cod on Main Street in Hyannis. The Hall of Fame features the plaques of all 81 inductees as well as memorabilia from the 10 teams in the league. The Cape Cod Baseball League was featured in the 2001 movie Summer Catch.

The Boston Marathon, undoubtedly the most beloved American marathon, was started in 1896 and continues to this day to be the most popular and most difficult to qualify for. Every year on the third Monday in April, thousands of runners depart from the Boston suburb of Hopkinton and run, jog or hobble the 26-mile trek through pristine villages and winding country roads, past Boston College, up Heartbreak Hill and down Commonwealth Avenue to the finish line in Copley Square. It’s a spectacular event you have to see in person to truly experience.

Studying abroad and volunteering

Massachusetts is known all over the world for its outstanding colleges and universities. Boston is certainly the hub for education, with 60 schools in the metro area, including Harvard and MIT in neighboring Cambridge, Tufts University in Medford, and Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern University in Boston, among many others.

Other pockets of higher education in the state are the suburban towns of Waltham and Wellesley, where you’ll find prestigious Brandeis University and Wellesley College; and the business-oriented Babson and Bentley Colleges.

Heading further west is the city of Worcester, where another cluster of colleges lies: Clark University, Holy Cross, Assumption College and Worcester Polytechnical Institute make up about half of them.

The Pioneer Valley is also known as the “Five College Region” to those academia-oriented visitors. Here is where the famous women’s colleges of Smith and Mt. Holyoke are located. Nearby are preppy Amherst College and artsy Hampshire College, and down the road is the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the flagship campus for the state university.

In the northwesternmost part of the state is Williamstown, home to Williams College. Although closer to Burlington, Vermont than to Boston, Williams makes up for its rural location with the prestige that comes with often being named the top liberal arts college in the country.

The top five colleges in Massachusetts for international students are Harvard; Boston University; MIT; Northeastern University; and the University of Massachusetts (UMass). The international student population at these schools is quite strong. But that is not to say that foreign students are hard to find elsewhere. On the contrary, so many colleges in Massachusetts are so well known around the world that their dormatories are loaded with young people speaking many different languages, from all over the globe.

Additionally, many Massachusetts colleges run summer study programs for high school and college students where you can earn college credit by taking a few courses. This often helps open the door to the American application process for foreign students.

The American Association of Intensive English Programs is a resource for those interested in learning English; there are 18 affiliate schools across Massachusetts with programs for foreign students. Most are in the Boston area, with the exception of the International Language Institute of Massachusetts, Inc. which is located in Northampton, close to Smith College.

Youth hostels and camping

Hostelling International – New England manages six youth hostels in Boston, Cape Cod, the town of Harvard in Central Massachusetts and on the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

A new “green-designed” and energy-efficient hostel in Boston opened in 2012. Located in the heart of Chinatown and the Theatre District, the hostel is a short walk from Amtrak’s South Station. It offers a new group kitchen and dining room, community room, 480 beds including more than 20 semi-private rooms.

Hostelling International’s three hostels on Cape Cod are located in Hyannis, close to the ferries that go to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket; in Eastham, just above the elbow of the Cape, and in Truro, offering private access to the beautiful sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

There are loads of other affordable options in all parts of the state, as well from motels to small bed and breakfasts.

Campgrounds are also fairly easy to find across the state. In summer and early fall, especially on weekends, it’s best to make reservations several weeks in advance.

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]