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New England Day trips from Boston

Boston is the Walking City, where no car is needed to see all the famous sights. Nearby towns and historical attractions are also easily visited without a car. Here are 13 great New England self-guided day trips. All are less than two hours from Boston and all are easy to get to by public transport. Go by train, bus, ferry – or on a private bus tour. And, just for fun, there’s a shopping trip, too!

See also: Guided Day Tours Departing from Boston

Friendship at Salem Martime National Historic Site - credit Len Burgess-Discover Salem

SALEM, Massachusetts

Much more than witches
Salem is nicknamed the Witch City after the notorious trials back in 1692. To find out what triggered the hysteria, visit the Salem Witch Museum. But, there is much more to Salem than witches. The Peabody Essex Museum started as a collection of sea captains’ souvenirs and is now one of New England’s best museums, with Asian export art, Japanese art and maritime art. The city’s great days of trade are recalled at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, with the Friendship. This is a reconstruction of the 171-foot three-masted ship that was built in 1797 and would have sailed for “the farthest ports of the rich East,” to quote the motto of Salem.

As for historic homes, Salem has them aplenty – particularly along Chestnut Street. The Phillips House is a Colonial Revival-style home open to the public through Historic New England. Then there is the House of the Seven Gables that inspired author Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose nearby birthplace is also open for visits.

Old North Bridge (MOTT) - Concord, Massachusetts - New England (credit: MOTT)

CONCORD, Massachusetts

“The shot heard ‘round the world!”
One of New England’s prettiest towns, Concord also has one of the most famous sites in American history: the North Bridge, where British soldiers and colonists clashed on April 19, 1775. A century later, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau launched another revolution – in American philosophy. These writers all spent time in the Old Manse, right next to the North Bridge. Fans of Little Women head for Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote her much-loved story in 1868.

Political and literary history come to life in the Concord Museum. See the lantern immortalized in the poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and also Ralph Waldo Emerson’s study. Linking Concord to Lexington is the 5-mile Battle Road Trail that follows the route taken by British soldiers and minutemen on April 19, 1775. The Minute Man Visitor Center, with The Road to Revolution multi­media program, explains the hows and whys of the buildup to the War of Independence.

Getting around: the Liberty Ride (costumed guide, free re-boarding) stops at the main sites in Lexington and Concord, including the Minute Man Visitor Center.

Monroe Tavern - Friends of Minute Man National Park - Lexington, Massachusetts


‘The First Blood’ in the American Revolution
In the center of Lexington is Battle Green, where the Minuteman Statue honors the local Colonists, who faced British soldiers on April 19, 1775. When eight minutemen were killed, “the first blood was spilt in the dispute with Great Britain” according to George Washington. In summer, guides in Colonial dress are on the Green, ready to explain all and give free tours. Nearby, the Lexington Visitors Center has information on all the sights.

Do visit the three historic houses run by the Lexington Historical Society: the Buckman Tavern, the Munroe Tavern, and the Hancock-Clarke House, where John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, was staying. Pick up a self-guided walking tour brochure at any of the houses.

Getting around: the Liberty Ride (costumed guide, free re-boarding) stops at the main sites in Lexington and Concord, including the Minute Man Visitor Center.

  • Subway/bus: subway to Alewife Station (Red Line), then bus #76 or #62 to Lexington (25 min.)
  • Tour: Gray Line

Lowell Historic Mills, Massachusetts (Credit-Kirk Kittell)


Magnificent mills, Jack Kerouac and The Fighter!
Recent movies have put the spotlight on two of Lowell’s famous sons: poet Jack Kerouac and boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (in the Oscar-winning The Fighter). But it was the waterpower of the Merrimack River that put Lowell at the heart of America’s Industrial Revolution. Learn more in the giant, red-brick mills in the Lowell National Historical Park, where you can see and hear how textiles were produced in the noisy weave room in the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.

Other nearby museums include the American Textile History Museum. From weaving and spinning in days gone by to “new” clothing made from recycled plastic soda bottles, the revamped exhibitions are fascinating for all ages. For quilters, the New England Quilt Museum is a must. The only quilt museum in the Northeast, it has a collection of more than 300 antique and contemporary quilts, plus regularly changing exhibitions.

Board a boat for a guided tour on the city’s canal system; ride a replica trolley along the original rails; explore the burgeoning art scene in small galleries.

  • Train: Boston’s North Station to Lowell (Lowell Line) – 45 minutes
  • Shuttle buses run between the station and downtown Lowell

New Bedford Whaling Museum (MOTT) - Massachusetts, New England


A whale of a time
In 1841, Herman Melville left New Bedford on a whaling boat and that voyage inspired his novel Moby-Dick. Still America’s largest commercial fishing port, the main attractions are in the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.

Don’t miss the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Among the world’s largest collection of whaling artifacts are the 66-foot blue whale skeleton and the Lagoda, the largest ship model in the world: 89 feet long and so big that you can climb aboard! Across the street is the “Whaleman’s Chapel,” or Seamen’s Bethel, still an active church. The pulpit, looking like a ship’s prow, was featured in Moby-Dick. Along the waterfront is the 108-year-old schooner Ernestina, the official vessel of Massachusetts.

Bus: Boston’s South Station bus terminal to New Bedford with DATTCO (1 hour, 20 minutes)

Plimoth Plantation - Plymouth, Massachusetts - New England


The Pilgrims – how they got here and how they lived
Back in 1620, the arrival of permanent settlers in the north-eastern corner of the USA changed the course of history. Docked at the State Pier is Mayflower II, a replica of the 106.5-ft. long vessel that carried the 102 men, women and children across the North Atlantic. This group of early colonists became known as the “Pilgrims,” and Plymouth Rock commemorates their landing. Three miles away is Plimoth Plantation, one of America’s best living history museums. Watch pilgrims go about everyday life in a 17th century English Village; talk to Native People about their heritage in the Wampanoag Homesite.

  • MBTA Commuter Rail (WEEKENDS ONLY): Boston’s South Station to North Plymouth station is about a 60-minute ride and arrives and departs Plymouth four times a day. Catch the earliest train possible to enjoy a full day. It’s best to prearrange a taxi pickup from the station (South Shore Taxi 508-406-8908); Plimoth Plantation 15 minutes, Mayflower II 8 minutes).  There is a local GATRA bus which can be hailed by crossing Court Street (just west of the station) but it makes infrequent stops, so taxis are the best option.
  • Bus: Boston’s South Station and Logan Airport to Plymouth Park/Ride Lot, Exit 5 (Plymouth & Brockton). The GATRA Bus also stops here, but taxis are, again, the best option. GATRA does not operate on Sundays.
  • If you plan to stay overnight, Hampton Inn & Suites has a conventient shuttle to pick up guests and bring them to the various attractions.
  • America’s Hometown (trolley) Shuttle runs from June 24 through September 1 and can be used in place of GATRA for getting around Plymouth.
  • Tour bus: Gray Line

Portsmouth, New Hampshire - New England


Great history, great fun!
One of New England’s oldest cities, Portsmouth makes a terrific day out. Check out the local history at the Discover Portsmouth Center, then head for the Strawbery Banke Museum. Here, workplaces and carefully-restored homes recall life in this seaport over the past 400 years – while artisans and costumed role players bring it to life. Dedicated to the people of Portsmouth is the museum in the John Paul Jones House, where Colonial America’s first naval hero lived back in 1781.

For many, the city’s charm is its historic homes, cobbled streets and glorious gardens in Prescott Park. Seafaring types enjoy the Albacore Museum, where the USS Albacore was built. Go aboard this submarine, the U.S. Navy’s most advanced until the advent of nuclear-powered vessels. Or visit the Smuttynose Brewery, the state’s largest craft brewer. Named after nearby Smuttynose Island, the brewery produces award-winning beers and ales.

  • Bus: Boston to Portsmouth (Greyhound, 1 hour) into the city itself, or C&J bus service from South Station or Logan Airport in Boston to Portsmouth Terminal. Upon arrival at C&J’s Portsmouth station, COAST trolley service is available to take visitors to downtown stops, year-round at select times. Limousine and taxi services are also available for the 5 minute ride to downtown (Blue Star Taxi).

Provincetown, Massachusetts, Cape Cod, New England - credit-MOTT


Pilgrims, painters and poets
At the very tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is a mix of history and beaches, fishing and art. Busy Commercial Street is the main thoroughfare, lined with galleries, shops and restaurants. On the docks, fishermen unload their catch, while visitors board boats for whale watching trips to the nearby Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Behind town, the century-old Pilgrim Monument stands atop the bluff. Climb 116 stairs for expansive views. Rent a bike and pedal to Herring Cove Beach (1 mile from town) or Race Point Beach (2 miles, with surf and a lighthouse).

Long known for its Bohemian atmosphere, Provincetown has a tradition of artists, playwrights (Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams) and theater, as well as a gay and lesbian community.

Stay longer and explore Cape Cod without a car by riding the buses of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority from Provincetown to villages such as Wellfleet, Brewster, and Harwich.

Old House - Adams National Historic Park - credit-NPS


Home of an American political dynasty
Two U.S. presidents – father and son – were born in this city just south of Boston. John Adams was the second U.S. President; his son, John Quincy Adams, was the sixth. Find out more in the Adams National Historical Park. Start at the Visitor Center, then walk or ride the free trolley bus to their respective birthplaces and to the grander “Old House.” With its original furnishings, this was home to four generations of the Adams family from 1720 to 1927. Next door, the Stone Library holds the Adams library and papers.

Quincy also has a long shipbuilding history. Tour the USS Salem, a heavy cruiser that was once the flagship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. It was built in the former Quincy shipyard that is now the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum. And, the shipyard is where the expression “Kilroy was here” originated during World War II – so they say!

  • Subway: take the MBTA Red Line subway train to the Quincy Center Station (25 min). The National Park Service Visitor Center is within walking distance.

Providence, Rhode Island (credit-Providence CVB) - New England

Providence, Rhode Island

City of culture
The Rhode Island capital matches history with 21st-century fun. College Hill is the home of prestigious Brown University. The oldest building on campus is University Hall (1770), which served as a hospital for Colonial soldiers during the American Revolution. Take a walking tour along Benefit Street, nicknamed the “Mile of History,” with grand mansions, such as the 18th-century John Brown House. Art lovers head for the Rhode Island School of Design’s own museum, with great paintings by Cézanne, Monet and Renoir, as well as art from Asia and the Ancient World.

Back in the 1990s, Providence rediscovered its waterfront, creating Waterplace Park and Riverwalk. Three rivers flow through the city: cruise along them in a gondola; watch as WaterFire combines music with the sparkle of 100 bonfires on the water. To the west is Federal Hill, with its distinct Italian flavor, delis, restaurants and cafés. Dominating all is the State Capitol, with the world’s third largest unsupported dome that is topped by the gilded statue of the Independent Man. Inside, see the charter granted to Rhode Island by King Charles II in 1663.

  • Train: Boston’s South Station to Providence on AMTRAK (45 minutes), or the MBTA (one hour).

Rockport Massachusetts Harbor - (credit - Tim Grafft-MOTT)

GLOUCESTER, Massachusetts

Heritage, fishing and art
At the entrance to Gloucester, the 8-ft tall “Man at the Wheel” statue of a fisherman is a reminder that this is not only “America’s Oldest Fishing Port,” but still a fishing town, and the inspiration for the book and movie The Perfect Storm. Cape Pond Ice still provides ice for the local fishing fleet. Take their tour to see ice sculptures and the working wharf, and learn about The Perfect Storm connection. From spring through autumn, whale watching cruises are a must: the kings of the sea feed only 15 miles offshore.

But the shimmering light has also attracted artists like Fitz Henry Lane, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer and Mark Rothko. See art works at the Cape Ann Museum; follow the Rocky Neck Historic Art Trail, America’s oldest working art colony. Nearby Rockport is another artists’ colony (4 miles east), with a harbor, studios and art galleries. But, the center of attention is a red fishing shack on Bradley Wharf. Nicknamed “Motif No. 1.,” this is one of America’s most painted and photographed buildings.

Train: Boston’s North Station to Gloucester and Rockport (Newburyport/Rockport Line 1 hour to Gloucester, 70 min. to Rockport)

Wrentham Premium Outlets - Wrentham, Massachusetts - New England


A shopper’s delight
When the going gets tough…the tough go shopping at Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, where stores offer savings of between 25 and 65 percent every day. Halfway between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, this is one of the U.S.A.’s most popular outlet shopping destinations, where 170 stores are set in a village-like complex. Stores range from Banana Republic, Barneys New York and Burberry to Salvatore Ferragamo, Vera Bradley and more. Get there and back by bus; trips include free VIP coupon books.

Custom House Maritime Museum - Newburyport, Massachusetts


Seafaring and shopping, culture and Coast Guards
At the mouth of the Merrimack River, this harbor town has been a busy place since it was settled in 1635. Today, the bustle comes from shops, art galleries and restaurants, as well as the Custom House Maritime Museum. This is the place to learn about Newburyport’s role as the birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as its shipbuilding traditions. To see how wealthy sea captains lived, visit the Cushing House Museum, one of many grand homes. But there is much more history here. William Lloyd Garrison, the anti-slavery campaigner, was born in Newburyport and is commemorated with a statue opposite City Hall; on Sundays, Paul Revere’s bell still rings out from the 250-year-old Old South Church. In summer, enjoy harbor tours, whale watching cruises and free outdoor concerts. Get out on the water in a sea kayak or on a stand up paddle board. And, year-round, catch theater shows, concerts and art exhibits at the lively Firehouse Center for the Arts.

Getting there: MBTA Newburyport/Rockport Line (1 hour). Market Square is a mile from the station along State Street, or call Seacoast Taxi at (978) 912 2265.

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