For a small state, Massachusetts punches far above its weight for its place in American history and culture.
Given the state’s outsize contributions to the arts, science, technology, sports and politics, it’s jam-packed with memorable sites, top-tier educational institutions and world-class museums. It’s also beautiful, from the wave-pounded Atlantic coast to the forest-covered Berkshires to vibrant cities and charming small towns.
Massachusetts’ compact nature makes it easy to explore, yet it would be impossible to do everything the state has to offer. Depending on your time and interests, you could make a grand sweep through the state, sampling its diverse regions or pick a hub to explore in depth. However you proceed, these are the best places to visit in Massachusetts.
Start in Boston, with museums, sports and urban nature
From the Freedom Trail to Fenway Park, the Italian food of the North End to the Venetian palazzo–style Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston’s attractions are legendary.
A hub of American history that’s infused with a passion for sports and the arts, Boston brims with character. Next to the city’s iconic sites, diverse neighborhoods and artistic and architectural treasures are lesser-known attractions like the Boston Harbor Islands, a mix of history and nature, and the Black Heritage Trail, which provides insight into Boston’s 19th-century Black community.
Enjoy intellectual pursuits and diverse dining in Cambridge
A multicultural city with an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, Cambridge is home to two of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.
Though you can’t “pahk ya cah in Hahvahd Yahd,” you can stroll across its leafy quads, explore the excellent campus museums and soak in the intellectual atmosphere.
Further west, Mt Auburn Cemetery contains the graves of dozens of famous figures such as Clement Morgan (founder of the NAACP), Eleanor Porter (author of Pollyanna) and Joyce Chen (restaurateur and TV personality). Mt Auburn is also a magnet for bird-watchers, especially during the spring migration.
Get witchy with it in Salem
Best known for the infamous 1692 witch trials, Salem draws crowds with its witch-related attractions. Yet this small and charming city has much more to offer.
Visit the Salem Maritime National Historical Park to learn about its past as a leading 18th- and 19th-century seaport. And be sure to explore the outstanding Peabody Essex Museum, a treasure trove of objects seafarers brought back from far corners of the world.
Don’t miss the House of the Seven Gables, which dates from 1668 and inspired one of Salem-born author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s best-known novels. And for more historic architecture, wander through the McIntire District, filled with well-preserved homes spanning 400 years of building styles.
Admire the scenic coastline of Cape Ann
Located in the northeastern part of the state, Cape Ann has an identity intimately tied to the sea: think beautiful beaches, great seafood – the fried clam was invented in Essex – scenic harbors and lighthouses and coastal parks. Founded in 1623, the city of Gloucester is the oldest fishing port in the United States and a top whale-watching destination, with tours operating from April to October.
Along the harbor, the gripping Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial and Fishermen’s Wives Memorial honors those lost to the sea over the centuries, as well as the strong women who kept families and the community going.
Seek out revolutionary and literary landmarks in historic Middlesex County
The peaceful, affluent suburbs northwest of Boston may not look like hotbeds of revolution now, but they played an integral role in shaping the USA. Dozens of sites in Lexington, Lincoln and Concord commemorate the dramatic events of April 19, 1775, when armed clashes between British regulars and Colonial militiamen sparked the American Revolutionary War. Concord was also the home of several prominent 19th-century American authors, including such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau.
Further north, Lowell’s textile mills and factories were at the heart of a different revolution: the Industrial Revolution. A host of significant locations are preserved in Lowell National Historical Park, including the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, where visitors can recreate working in a weave room in the 1920s.
Plymouth is best for early colonial history
The city of Plymouth is made for US history buffs. Climb aboard the Mayflower II, a full-scale replica of the original ship that brought the first English colonists to Massachusetts’ shores in 1620.
And don’t forget Plymouth Rock, the famous (if rather underwhelming) boulder that the Pilgrims supposedly landed. The Pilgrim Hall Museum houses original artifacts from the early settlement, including personal possessions like a cradle, cupboards, a razor kit and one silk shoe.
At the Plimouth Patuxet Museums, costumed interpreters bring the past to life at four sites, including a 17th-century English village and a Wampanoag Native American home site.
Find glorious beaches and classic summer fun in Cape Cod
Cape Cod calls up images of sandy dunes, long curves of beach, picturesque lighthouses, cranberry bogs and kettle ponds.
Much of the outer Cape is protected as the Cape Cod National Seashore and offers a wealth of recreational opportunities and wildlife spotting. Nature lovers will also love the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and its trails through woodland and salt marsh, and Nickerson State Park, with its campgrounds and swimming areas.
Make a preppy getaway to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket
South of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are islands containing quaint towns, gingerbread-style wood houses, intriguing museums, lovely beaches, lighthouses and wildlife refuges. It’s no wonder many well-known artists, authors and even a few US presidents have found comfort among the sweeping dunes on these islands.
Their permanent populations swell significantly in summer (the high season) with the influx of seasonal residents and short-term visitors. Book lodging – and ferry tickets, if you want to bring a car – well in advance.
Feast on seafood and seafaring history in New Bedford
Situated on the shore of Buzzards Bay, New Bedford is called “the city that lit the world” for its central role in the 19th-century whaling industry. The New Bedford Whaling Museum and New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park explore this past and such other topics as natural history, conservation, immigration, cultural diversity and New Bedford’s important role as an abolitionist hub on the Underground Railroad.
If whaling’s not your thing, New Bedford is also home to the well-presented Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Military Museum, a thriving arts community and the largest Portuguese-speaking population in the USA. The city teems with seafood restaurants and hosts the world’s largest Portuguese cultural festival, the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament.
Worcester is great for families
Worcester is New England’s second-largest city, and its attractions include the excellent Worcester Art Museum, the family-friendly EcoTarium, a thriving craft brewery scene and the minor-league Worcester Red Sox baseball team.
West of the city is the Old Sturbridge Village, a recreated 1830s New England town filled with more than 40 restored buildings spread over 200 acres. Re-enactors teach the history of the village and the roles everyday folks played in it. Moore State Park, located in Paxon and northwest of Worcester, is an 18th-century mill village on 400 acres filled with trails for hiking, cross country skiing and hunting.
The Berkshires offer endless outdoor adventures
In westernmost Massachusetts, The Berkshires enchant with a delightful mix of natural beauty, cultural attractions and year-round outdoor recreation.
The region hosts world-class performing arts events in warmer months like the Tanglewood Music Festival, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and Williamstown Theatre Festival. Art lovers won’t want to miss the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Clark Art Institute or Mass MoCA.
The many interesting historic houses in the region include the birthplaces of activists Susan B. Anthony and W.E.B. DuBois, the homes of authors Edith Wharton and Herman Melville, and Naumkeag, a Gilded Age mansion and gardens.
With the arrival of autumn, glorious fall foliage cloaks the hills and mountains, drawing leaf peepers galore, followed by winter-sports enthusiasts as soon as there’s enough snow.
Soak in the college-town vibes of the Pioneer Valley
A creative spirit flourishes along the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, a region with numerous top-notch educational institutions and museums surrounded by gorgeous scenery. In Amherst, highlights include the home of poet Emily Dickinson and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
In Springfield, The Amazing World of Dr Seuss celebrates the city’s most famous native son, while the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is an essential stop for fans of the sport invented here in 1891.
Stop in Historic Deerfield Village for a taste of 18th-century life or visit Dinosaur Footprints for a trip much farther back in time. Stroll across the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, then take to one of the region’s many excellent hiking trails boasting panoramic views of verdant mountains, farmland and the winding river.