New England's most populous state, Massachusetts packs in appealing variety, from the sandy beaches of Cape Cod to college towns of the Pioneer Valley to the woodsy hills of the Berkshires. The state's rich history oozes from almost every quarter: discover the shoreline in Plymouth, where the Pilgrims first settled in the New World; explore the battlefields in Lexington and Concord, where the first shots of the American Revolution rang out; and wander the cobbled streets and old ports of Salem, Nantucket and New Bedford, where whaling and merchant boats once docked.
Modern-day Massachusetts is also diverse and dynamic. Boston is the state's undisputed cultural (and political) capital, but smaller towns such as Provincetown and Northampton also offer lively art and music scenes, out and active queer populations and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Massachusetts.
Home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912, Fenway Park is the oldest operating baseball park in the country. As such, the park has many quirks that make for a unique experience. See them all on a ballpark tour of this Boston landmark, or come see the Sox playing in their natural habitat. The Green Monster The 37ft-high left-field wall is only 310ft away from home plate (compared to the standard 325ft), so it's popular among right-handed hitters, who can score an easy home run with a high hit to left. However, batters can just as easily be deprived of a home run when a powerful but low line drive bounces off the Monster for an off-the-wall double. As all Red Sox fans know, "the wall giveth and the wall taketh away." The Green Monster was painted green in 1947 and since then it has become a patented part of the Fenway experience. Literally. The color is officially known as "Fence Green" and the supplier will not share the formula. At the base of the Green Monster is the original scoreboard, still updated manually from behind the wall. Come and see a game at "America's Most Beloved Ballpark" © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock The Pesky Pole The Pesky Pole, Fenway's right-field foul pole, is named for former shortstop Johnny Pesky. Johnny "Mr Red Sox" Pesky was associated with the team for 15 years as a player and 46 as a manager, coach and special instructor, until his death in 2012. The Triangle Many a double has turned into a triple when the ball has flown into the deepest, darkest corner of center field (where the walls form a triangle). At 425ft, it's the furthest distance from home plate. The Red Seat The bleachers at Fenway Park are green, except for one lone red seat: seat 21 at section 42, row 37. This is supposedly the longest home run ever hit at Fenway Park – officially 502ft, hit by Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams in 1946. The Red Sox have a racist history and now work hard to promote diversity and inclusion © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock Yawkey Way: race and the Red Sox For more than four decades, the road on the west side of Fenway Park was called Yawkey Way, named for the former owner of the Red Sox. In 2018, with the blessing of current Red Sox ownership, city officials changed it back to its original Jersey St. Namesake Tom Yawkey – Red Sox owner from 1933 until his death in 1976 – was revered for the good work of his family foundation. But during Yawkey's tenure, while society and baseball changed, the team and the city did not, sparking allegations of racism. Red Sox management resisted efforts to integrate, and Yawkey passed on the chance to sign baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. The Red Sox were the last all-white team in the major leagues, holding out until 1959 to sign their first African American player. The racist legacy of the organization, as well as the city, plagued the franchise well after Yawkey’s death. Even now, this seemingly progressive city has a reputation for overtly racist displays, especially by sports fans. The Boston Globe documented that athletes reported more incidents of being targeted by racial slurs in Boston than in any other city in the past 25 years (including one highly publicized incident in 2017). In an attempt to make Fenway Park more welcoming to all, current Red Sox owner John Henry led the push to revert the street name, telling local newspapers that he was "haunted" by the club's history. The Red Sox are also involved in the Take the Lead Campaign, an initiative to end hate speech and to promote diversity and inclusion on the fields. Incidentally, the former Yawkey Way Ext is now known as David Ortiz Dr, after the Dominican-born slugger, who led the Sox to three World Series victories before retiring a hero in 2016. Fenway Park tours Tours operate year-round. Hour-long tours depart at the top of the hour, but there are short 15-minute tours for those in a hurry. All tours are fully accessible. Tickets can be bought online in advance. There's also the option of a virtual guided drone tour of Fenway Park. Boston Red Sox tickets If you want to see a game, it's best to buy tickets well in advance. Limited game-day tickets go on sale (one per person) at Gate E, 90 minutes before the game, but people start lining up five hours ahead of time.
America's oldest college, Harvard University is one of the country's most prestigious universities. It was originally founded in Harvard Yard in 1636 by the General Court of Massachusetts with donations from Reverend John Harvard, and was intended to educate men for the ministry. Harvard University's notable alumni Alumni of the original Ivy League school include eight US presidents, and dozens of Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991. Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, went to Harvard as did actress Natalie Portman and actor Tommy Lee Jones. Tours of Harvard University campus At the time of writing, only virtual tours are available. When visitors are once again welcome on campus, they should contact Smith Campus Center for information on historical tours. Self-guided tours are also available – start with the historic buildings clustered around Harvard Yard. Harvard Yard remains the center of university life © travelview / Getty Images Harvard Yard While the university now occupies vast areas in Cambridge, Allston and further afield, its geographic and historic heart remains at Harvard Yard. This is where red-brick buildings and leaf-covered lawns exude academia, where students congregate to study and socialize, and where graduates proudly receive their degrees. Flanked by its oldest buildings, the yard's main entrance at Johnston Gate opens up to wide lawns, gracious architecture and a buzzy academic atmosphere. The John Harvard Statue is also known as "the statue of three lies" © S. Greg Panosian / Getty Images John Harvard Statue The focal point of the yard is the John Harvard Statue, where every Harvard hopeful has a photo taken (and touches the statue’s shiny shoe for good luck). Daniel Chester French’s sculpture, inscribed "John Harvard, Founder of Harvard College, 1638", is known as the "statue of three lies": it does not actually depict Harvard (since no image of him exists), but a random student; John Harvard was not the founder of the college, but its first benefactor in 1638; and the college was actually founded two years earlier in 1636. The Harvard symbol hardly lives up to the university’s motto, Veritas, or "truth." Massachusetts Hall and Harvard Hall Flanking Johnston Gate are the two oldest buildings on campus. South of the gate, Massachusetts Hall (1720) houses the offices of the President of the University. It is the oldest building at Harvard and one of the oldest academic buildings in the country. North is Harvard Hall (1766), which originally housed the library. Memorial Hall was built to honor Harvard's Civil War heroes © Tupungato / Getty Images Memorial Hall North of Harvard Yard, just outside Bradstreet Gates and across the Plaza, this massive Victorian Gothic building was built to honor Harvard's Civil War heroes. The impressive Memorial Transept is usually open for visitors to admire the stained-glass windows and stenciled walls. Most of the building's artistic treasures are contained in Annenburg Hall, which is not open to the public.
The educational playground that is the Museum of Science has more than 600 interactive exhibits. Favorites include the world’s largest lightning-bolt generator, a full-scale space capsule, a world population meter and an impressive dinosaur exhibit. Kids go wild exploring computers and technology, maps and models, birds and bees, and human evolution. Exhibitions and presentations frequently change, but here are some of the permanent highlights. Hall of Human Life The Hall of Human Life takes visitors on an interactive journey into the human body. You'll explore biology, consider aspects of what makes you you, and look at how well you manage your health. Join a live presentation at the Museum of Science © James Kirkikis / Shutterstock Live presentations See bolts fly around in the world's largest Van der Graaff generator in Lightning! and see science brought to life in a rotating schedule of presentations in Science Live! Live Animal Care Center More than 120 furry, feathered and scaly creatures feature in daily live animal presentations at the museum. Go behind the scenes at the Live Animal Care Center to see how they live and how they're cared for when they're not taking part in a demonstration. Charles Hayden Planetarium The Charles Hayden Planetarium boasts a state-of-the-art projection system that casts a heavenly star show, as well as programs about black holes and other astronomical mysteries. Mugar Omni Theater For total IMAX immersion, check out the space-themed and natural-science-oriented flicks at the Mugar Omni Theater. A sweet sound system will have you believing you’re actually roving around Mars or being attacked by sharks. The museum's dino models have evolved following new skeleton discoveries © Jon Davison / Lonely Planet Dinosaurs: Modeling the Mesozoic With life-size models, fossils, bones, footprints, and dino dung, see how paleontologists piece together information to form our understanding of pre-historic beasts today. Discovery Center The Discovery Center (temporarily closed) is a hands-on play area for kids under the age of eight. Tickets and other practicalities Timed-entry tickets must be booked in advance. There is an additional charge for the Planetarium, Omni Films and 4D films. There are accessible features throughout the museum including wheelchairs, assistive listening devices, and ASL interpreters. The Riverview Cafe is a food court–style cafeteria on-site; food must not be consumed in the Exhibit Halls.
Three miles south of Plymouth center, Plimoth Plantation authentically re-creates the Pilgrims’ settlement in its primary exhibit, entitled 1627 English Village. Everything in the village – costumes, implements, vocabulary, artistry, recipes and crops – has been painstakingly researched and remade. Costumed interpreters, acting in character, explain the details of daily life and answer your questions as you watch them work and play. During the winter of 1620–21, half of the Pilgrims died of disease, privation and exposure to the elements. But new arrivals joined the survivors the following year, and by 1627 – just before an additional influx of settlers founded the colony of Massachusetts Bay – Plymouth Colony was on the road to prosperity. Plimoth Plantation provides excellent educational and entertaining insight into what was happening in Plymouth during that period. In the crafts center, you can help artisans as they weave baskets and cloth, throw pottery and build fine furniture using the techniques and tools of the early 17th century. Exhibits explain how these manufactured goods were shipped across the Atlantic in exchange for Colonial necessities. The Wampanoag Homesite replicates the life of a Native American community in the same area during that time. Homesite huts are made of wattle and daub (a framework of woven rods and twigs covered and plastered with clay); inhabitants engage in crafts while wearing traditional garb. Unlike the actors at the English Village, these individuals are not acting as historic characters but are indigenous people speaking from a modern perspective.
The route that British troops followed to Concord has been designated the Minute Man National Historic Park. The visitor center at the eastern end of the park shows an informative multimedia presentation depicting Paul Revere’s ride and the ensuing battles. Within the park, Battle Rd is a 5-mile wooded trail that connects the historic sites related to the battles – from Meriam’s Corner, where gunfire erupted while British soldiers were retreating, to the Paul Revere capture site. Minute Man National Historic Park is about 2 miles west of Lexington center on Rte 2A.
Harvard University was originally founded here in 1636, and Harvard Yard remains the historic and geographic heart of the university campus. Flanked by its oldest buildings, the yard's main entrance at Johnston Gate opens up to wide lawns, gracious architecture and a buzzy academic atmosphere. Free historical tours depart from the Smith Campus Center, or you can take a self-guided tour.
The magical DeCordova Sculpture Park encompasses 35 acres of green hills, providing a spectacular natural environment for a constantly changing exhibit of outdoor artwork. As many as 75 pieces are on display at any given time. Inside the complex, a museum hosts rotating exhibits of sculpture, painting, photography and mixed media. From Concord, drive east on Rte 2 and turn right on Bedford Rd.
Cape Cod National Seashore extends some 40 miles around the curve of the Outer Cape and encompasses the Atlantic shoreline from Orleans all the way to Provincetown. Under the auspices of the National Park Service, it's a treasure trove of unspoiled beaches, dunes, salt marshes, nature trails and forests. Thanks to the backing of President John F Kennedy, this vast area was set aside for preservation in the 1960s, just before a building boom hit the rest of his native Cape Cod. Access to the park sights is easy: everything of interest is on or just off MA 6. The year-round Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham is the place to start. The Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown is smaller and open seasonally, but it has similar services to the Eastham center plus a fabulous ocean view. Beach parking permits cost $20 per day or $60 per season and are valid at all National Seashore beaches, so you can use the same permit to spend the morning at one beach and the afternoon at another; pedestrians and cyclists pay $3, motorcyclists $10. The fees are collected only in summer – from late June through early September, when lifeguards are on duty – and on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day (late May) to the end of September. Outside these times, beach parking is free.
Boston has become a focal point for contemporary art in the 21st century, with the Institute of Contemporary Art leading the way. The building is a work of art in itself: a glass structure cantilevered over a waterside plaza. The vast light-filled interior allows for multimedia presentations, educational programs and studio space, as well as the development of the permanent collection. The ICA collection showcases both national and international artists, including the likes of graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, video artist Christian Jankowski, photographer Boris Mikhailov, Boston-born artist/sculptor Josiah McElheny, sculptor Sarah Sze and hybrid artist Wangechi Mutu. Look for all manner of art, from paintings to video to multidimensional mixed-media mash-ups. The ICA building is arguably as much of an attraction as the art itself, skillfully incorporating its surroundings into the architecture. In the Founders Gallery, which spans the entire width of the building, a glass wall virtually eliminates any barrier between viewer and seascape.