Massachusetts is one of the most desirable places to live, in both the country and in New England. It’s popular because you have everything at your fingertips, from skiing beautiful mountains to soaking up the sun at the beach.
The seasons also offer a rotating list of activities, so you are always on your toes. This list of things to do in Massachusetts, known as “The Bay State,” is truly an incredible list that I can personally vouch for.
From historical sites, like Plymouth, to taking in the incredible art culture, like the Institute of Contemporary Art or the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — there is so much to see and do. Here are 23+ of the best things to do in Massachusetts that you just can’t miss.
If you were paying attention in history class then you are likely to recognize the town of Plymouth. If you weren’t paying attention, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Plymouth is home to Plimoth Plantation, although the name has now been officially changed to the Plimoth Patuxet Museum. Here you can take a step back to the 17th century and learn about the Native Americans’ lifestyle when the Mayflower II and the English colonists arrived.
This American history museum truly has a lot to offer and can be a great place for not only adults, but kids as well. Founded in 1947, the goal of this museum is to recreate the Plymouth Colonization through several exciting exhibits. One of the best kids activities is their program to teach kids about Pilgrim life, while letting them be an actor/actress in a show later that day!
Plymouth is one of the best places to visit in Massachusetts.
OLD STURBRIDGE VILLAGE
Speaking of incredible museums to visit, Old Sturbridge Village has to be at the top of your list of things to do in Massachusetts. This living museum and working farm spans over 200 acres, and features more than 30 exhibits! This is the place to be if you have a lot of time on your hands, and you want to truly experience what it’s like to lead a life without technology during the 1830s.
Popping in and out of the 40 antique buildings truly is like walking through a movie during this time period. Some of the more fascinating buildings are the Cider Mill, Shoe Shop, and Friends Meetinghouse. It’s also worth paying a visit to their gardens, since farming was in fact a major way of life.
A visit here is a great way for kiddos to burn energy, as there is so much open land to see.
WALK THE HALLS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY
Calling all geniuses! Harvard University is a great place to visit, and personally, Cambridge happens to be one of my favorite spots in Boston. (Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not a part of Boston, because it truly is.)
First let’s take a look at Harvard. There are a few different options for tours, and you can sign up on their website for private or group walking tours. Or you can skip the group and download the app to take yourself on a self-guided tour that takes 45-60 minutes, with 14 different stops. The tour includes a stop at the famous Harvard Book Store, where you can buy souvenirs.
Harvard Square is also a great place to get a bite to eat or take in a true cup of Beantown coffee! Pavement Coffeehouse is worth a stop in.
ENJOY THE PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM
Hopping back on the museum train, one that is certainly a great stop is the Peabody Essex Museum. The museum is located in the historical city of Salem, Massachusetts, where the witch trials took place.
PEM takes a look at a vast collection of artwork and artifacts from the 1700s all the way to today! Interestingly enough, it also draws its inspiration from all over the world, from places such as Africa, Asia, India, and more.
Maritime life is incredibly important to the history of New England, and specifically the coastal towns in Massachusetts. The museum is another great spot for the family, and thanks to its modern approach combined with a classical history, it’s not a museum you will find many yawning at.
DODGE THE GHOSTS AT BOSTON’S OLD BURYING GROUNDS
Salem, Massachusetts, is not the only haunted place to explore. Boston’s Old Burying Grounds offers some really scary sights, with skulls and crossbones planted right on the front of gravestones. For those who like a little thrill, it’s best to go on a gloomy day.
It’s the oldest cemetery in the city of Boston, and was established in 1630. One of the most sought out headstones belongs to Joseph Tapping, and you can find it closest to the Tremont Street entrance. Sadly he passed at 23-years-old and is Boston’s most well-known gravestone, due to the unique engraving of the hour glass that sits on top of the skull. The symbolism represents appreciating the time you have.
CHARLESTOWN NAVY YARD
Charlestown Navy Yard National Historic Site in Boston was one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in the U.S. Navy. Established in 1801, the yard closed in 1974, after years of building, repairing, and modernizing ships.
Today, you can visit the Charlestown Navy Yard Visitors Center, where you’ll find interactive exhibits and more. The main draw is the two historic warships found here. Walk the decks of the USS Constitution and the USS Cassin Young — two ships that call the Navy Yard home.
Additionally, you can explore the USS Constitution Museum.
EXPLORE ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM
If you haven’t already watched the Netflix series on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, then it’s worth a look before visiting. If you don’t have the time, that’s OK too, because this is one of the most interesting and appealing museums for several different reasons.
For starters, you are walking through a real crime scene! It’s home to one of the world’s largest mysteries — two men stole 13 works of art in April of 1990. The crime is the single largest property theft in the world.
In addition to that interesting history, the museum today has a number of fantastic exhibits, from modern and contemporary art to fine art and history of Europe.
One of the most attractive parts of the museum are the beautiful gardens. The Courtyard features different displays of seasonal flowers and installations making it a peaceful spot to read a book and enjoy the space.
FERRY TO MARTHA’S VINEYARD
Martha’s Vineyard is one of the two hottest islands off the coast of Massachusetts to visit! The best part is that you don’t have to stay overnight if you don’t want to. Taking the Steamship Authority Ferry from Woods Hole and Falmouth is a great option. If you want to take your car, you can, but keep in mind that you want to make sure there is return availability on the ferry as well.
If you don’t have a car, no need to stress, because the MVTA has tons of bus routes to take you to all the best places. Gay Head Lighthouse is a beautiful place to visit, where you can take in the red clay cliffs and grab a bite to eat at their restaurant overlooking the ocean. Oak Bluffs is also a great little town that offers tons of shopping, boutique art galleries, and fine dining.
Ultimately Martha’s Vineyard is known for having some of the best beaches and lobster rolls. Because it can get so packed in the summer, it’s never a bad idea to visit early spring or early fall. The weather is still nice and you can take advantage of renting bikes and exploring the island this way.
VISIT THE NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is home to the Norman Rockwell Museum, which contains the largest collection of original Norman Rockwell art. For those who love and appreciate his works that reflect true American culture, this is a must-visit.
The museum has permanent exhibitions featuring his work, but to keep things fresh, they have a constant rotation of exhibits centered around the same concepts and ideologies.
TOUR FENWAY PARK
If you’re going to be in Beantown, you’ve got to take a historic tour of Fenway Park. The best part of seeing one of America’s most beloved ballparks? You can check out the Green Monstah, which is a massive green seating section overlooking the entire field.
Fenway has a rich history, and a walking tour of this ballpark is the perfect family-friendly activity. When taking photos, the famous Citgo sign is a picture perfect memory, so make sure to grab a selfie!
Going with a group? Check out Fenway’s area. There are tons of bars and good eats, which is why going to an actual ball game is a lot of fun. Bleacher Bar is among the favorites of locals, and gets packed on the weekends and game days.
OVERNIGHT IN THE BERKSHIRES
The Berkshires is known for some of the best skiing and the best hiking in all of New England. In the fall, you will take winding roads up and down throughout the mountains while looking at valleys and small ponds below. The Berkshires is also home to quite a few art museums and history, which makes for a good break when you need a break from the slopes.
The Berkshire Art Museum is definitely a favorite, and it’s located inside two repurposed buildings. One of the buildings resembles a beautiful church structure — which is amazing to see. While it may feature older architecture on the outside, it offers a modern take on the inside. Both permanent and temporary exhibits are featured within the 25,000 square foot space.
SEE THE ART AT MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, or MFA, is the 20th largest museum in the world. Here you can take in 8,161 paintings and 450,000 pieces of artwork! For art lovers, this is the ultimate destination, and features a vast collection of artwork from all over the world.
Some of the more recent exhibitions have taken a new look at the Winnie the Pooh, Japanese artwork, and more. If you can’t make a trip here in person, their virtual tours on their website make a great alternative.
GET YOUR HISTORY ON AT LEXINGTON COMMON NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Massachusetts is home of The Revolutionary War (American Revolution) and some of the most important battles and events in history took place in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. In fact, this is where the first shots were fired. Stepping onto the green here is a history lover’s dream.
There is such a wide variety of activities at the Lexington Common National Historic Site, from reading the plaques that sit on the outer edges of the park to just sitting back and enjoying a picnic. This park is close to many walking trails and hiking sites, as most of Lexington and Concord is wooded areas designated as state parks.
SEE THE LIGHT(HOUSE) AT BOSTON HARBOR ISLANDS NATIONAL REC AREA
The Boston Light is a lighthouse that was built in 1716, and it’s one of the many amazing things you can see at the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. The lighthouse sits on Brewster Island, and can cast a light beam 27 miles. It has withstood major storms and blows during the American Revolutionary War, and is considered to be the first lighthouse in the United States.
Take a 2-hour Boston Harbor Lighthouse cruise, to not only get magnificent views of the lighthouse, but also Boston’s Harbor. The tour is narrated by the National Park Service and U.S. Coast Guard, and it gives you a detailed history of its use and occupation.
FANEUIL HALL MARKETPLACE AND QUINCY MARKET
While in Boston, make sure to visit the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, located on Boston’s historic Freedom Trail.
At the marketplace, you’ll find shops, dining, entertainment, and live music. It is the place to be!
Quincy Market is the largest and oldest food hall in the country! You’ll find all types of delicious eats here — from seafood to hot dogs to international cuisine and plenty of yummy desserts.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market is a one-stop-shopping experience you can’t miss.
STEP BACK IN TIME AT BOSTON COMMON
Make way for the ducks! The Boston Common is a beautiful green space that sits right in the middle of downtown Boston, and it’s a place where swans, ducks, visitors, and locals walk, relax, and grab a meal.
Well known for its fun swan boat rides, Boston Common is a historic part of the city. You can take in beautiful views of the skyscrapers, as well as the Massachusetts State House.
The common is also part of the Freedom Trail (more below) and is surrounded by activities and amazing sights, that are worth checking out.
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile trail that 16 historic sites, including churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, and more. The historic buildings not only tell America’s freedom story, but give insight into the rich history of Boston.
There are several group tours that you can enjoy, including North End Tours and A Walk Into History. If a self-guided tour is more your style, there are a number of apps that offer amazing walking tours.
NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM
One of my personal favorite things to do in Massachusetts is exploring the New England Aquarium, because who doesn’t love watching sea otters play? It’s not too far from downtown Boston, and it can serve as the connector between The Commons and Seaport. It also is uniquely positioned right on the Boston Harbor.
As I mentioned, the New England Aquarium is home to some pretty adorable sea otters, but what really draws the crowd is the giant ocean tank, which features some scary sharks. You’ll also find other exhibits, like the Indo-Pacific Coral Reef, Penguin Colony, the Olympic Coast, and more.
BOSTON TEA PARTY SHIPS AND MUSEUM
Boston Harbor is home to some incredible ships. These sailboats were an incredible part of historical events, like the famous Boston Tea Party.
The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum is actually a lot of fun, because they have a multi-sensory experience, including live actors reenacting the series of events. The full scale replica of the 18th century ship is truly a marvel to take in.
Boston is known for its picturesque cobblestone streets and little alleyways, and Beacon Hill is the heart and center of this. You can weave in and around the Massachusetts State House, as Beacon Hill sits just above the Boston Commons. It’s also home to some of the best coffee shops and breakfast spots in all of the city.
For instance, Tatte Bakery (now numerous throughout the city) is one of these go-to spots. They have a massive selection of coffee and teas, as well as a killer pastry menu. Don’t forget about their incredible breakfast or lunch menu, as this is the place to be. Highly recommend!
BOSTON PUBLIC GARDEN
The Boston Public Garden was established in 1837, and is the first botanical garden that opened to the public in the United States. It’s often confused for The Commons, because it actually sits right inside the park. Here, you’ll notice the swan boats in the summer and beautiful flower displays that reflect Victorian times.
Tip: The best place to take pictures is over the foot bridge that overlooks the pond and park. Beware if it’s spring time, you will get a lot of graduates looking to do the same thing. You can also likely find someone to do a caricature, if this is more your speed.
HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM
Hammond Castle Museum in Gloucester, MA, was the home and laboratory of John Hays Hammond Jr. Now, this beautiful estate is a museum, cultural arts center and venue welcoming guests daily throughout the season.
Hammond is known as “The Father of Radio Control,” and was one of America’s most prolific inventors of his time. The castle’s architectural style is a mix of a medieval castle, medieval French village, and a Gothic cathedral.
Visitors can explore the castle and grounds, learning more about Hammond along the way.
ADAMS NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK
Adams National Historic Park in Quincy, MA, is a 13-acre park that honors members of the Adams Family. The park is comprised of the Birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams; the Old House at Peace field, home to four generations of the Adams family; and the Stone Library.
You may register take a guided tour of the historic homes, and learn more about the family and the contributions they made to the United States.
MINUTE MAN NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK
Minute Man National Historic Park sits in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and brings visitors right back to the American Revolution. Here, you can take part in both history and spending time outdoors. Walking these grounds are like walking the actual battlefields, with many places to stop and read information about the park.
It’s also home to some incredible literature, as the Alcott family lived here at Wayside. But this is not the only reason why you will see hundreds of visitors here. It’s also a very popular park to go birdwatching and observe other animals, from bunnies to deer. The wooded area makes it the ultimate place to spend time with nature.
Explore the hiking trails at Minute Man National Historic Park, including the Battle Road Trail, a 5-mile trail connecting historic sites from Meriam’s Corner in Concord to the eastern boundary of the park in Lexington.
SOAK UP THE SUN AT CAPE COD NATIONAL SEASHORE
For those who just love a beautiful shoreline, there is none quite like the Cape Cod National Seashore. There are six major beaches here that are all worth a visit. Definitely make time to visit Race Point Beach and Nauset Light Beach, as these are two of the most popular beaches for good reason. You are guaranteed to have a good time here.
In addition to the beaches, there are also a number of great walking, hiking, and biking trails to explore, and some of them offer amazing views.
While you’re in Cape Cod, make sure to take part in a whale watching tour! Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises allows you to see these stunning creatures up close and personal and I couldn’t recommend it more. See the whales at the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, where is noted as the premier whale watching destination in New England and the East Coast.
CAST A SPELL AT SALEM WITCH MUSEUM
Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, is certainly a bucket list item. However, if you can’t make it out for the spooky holiday, it is still worth a visit, any time of year.
In Salem, you’ll find many different museums dedicated to the history of The Salem Witch Trials. You’ll also find haunting graveyards to explore, and amazing tours offered here.
In addition to the historical significance in the area, you can also find great eateries, boutique shopping, and more.
BIKE THE ISLAND OF NANTUCKET
Nantucket is the sister island and competitor to Martha’s Vineyard. Some like to say it’s the classier version, but to be honest, you really can’t go wrong with either. Nantucket also maintains beautiful little towns with tons of places to hop off your bike for a bite to eat, or a cold one on a hot day.
The Steamship Authority also offers daily ferries if you want to make this a day trip. It’s worth riding your bike to the Nantucket Lobster Trap for one of the world’s finest lobsta’ rolls.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO MASSACHUSETTS
- YOUR MASSACHUSETTS VACATION
- MARTHA’S VINEYARD: 36 Phenomenal Things To Do In Martha’s Vineyard
- NANTUCKET: 20 Fun Things To Do In Nantucket You Can’t Miss
- BOSTON: 40 Awesome Things To Do In Boston For A Good Time
- AMUSEMENT PARKS: 4 Best Amusement Parks in Massachusetts
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