The start of the American Revolution, the founding of American literature, the first college, even the invention of email 40 years ago; they all happened in Massachusetts. But the Bay State is more than heritage. There are hundreds of miles of coastline with beautiful beaches, the Berkshire Hills in the west, charming small towns, and some of America’s best living history museums — plus the sophistication of Boston.
America’s oldest city is the Gateway to New England, and matches contemporary culture with 400 years of history. In this ‘Walking City,’ stroll along cobblestone streets and delve into American history on the 2.5 mile (4km) Freedom Trail. Just across the river from Boston is the city of Cambridge, world famous for its prestigious universities of Harvard and MIT, but offering many off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods. Use the excellent public transport system to get around quickly. Shop in stylish stores, dine on dishes prepared by America’s finest chefs, stay in classy hotels and B&Bs.
Also see: Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, Boston Duck Tours, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston Public Garden & Swan Boats, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Museum, New England Aquarium, The North End: Boston’s Little Italy, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Adams National Historical Park (Quincy), Boston TV & Movie Tours
"The shot heard round the world" triggered the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. To find out how, why, and where, head for Concord and Lexington, small towns just west of Boston. Start at the Minute Man National Historic Park. Concord was also home to influential authors: Louisa May Alcott wrote and set Little Women in Orchard House; Walden Pond inspired Henry David Thoreau to write the first "environmental" book more than 150 years ago. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne lived and wrote in The Old Manse, overlooking the North Bridge.
Just 20 minutes north of Boston, lies Cape Ann and the villages of Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Manchester-by-the-Sea. Gloucester is the real-life town in the movie The Perfect Storm; cruise on a schooner, go on a whale watch. Rockport is an artist’s colony; Essex, Ipswich and Newburyport are Colonial gems. Perfect for family vacations and romantic getaways, plan to take a river cruise, eat famous fried clams, and shop for antiques.
As well as being a great seaside destination, what locals call "the North Shore" is rich with heritage. Salem, best known for its infamous 1692 Witch Trials, was also a wealthy port: see the Friendship, a reconstruction of a 200-year-old three-master; take a guided tour of Salem Maritime National Historic Site; admire treasures and a Chinese merchant’s house at the Peabody Essex Museum.
What were the Pilgrim Fathers like? How did they speak? What did they think of their new country? Visit Plimoth Plantation, south of Boston, and you can ask them yourself. In this living history museum the clocks stopped in 1627. Costumed interpreters always stay in character and provide a real flavor of the tough conditions that settlers confronted. In the Wampanoag Homesite, Native Americans carve canoes and build huts. In Plymouth itself, Mayflower II is a replica of the tiny craft that carried 102 passengers across the Atlantic in 1620.
"The Cape" is famous for its long, clean, glorious beaches — and there are 115 from which to choose! But there is much more: romantic inns and B&Bs, arts and crafts galleries, and clam shacks. Stretching some 60 miles (96 km) into the Atlantic Ocean, the peninsula is studded with some of America’s oldest villages, from Sandwich (1637) and Chatham (1656) to Wellfleet (1650). On the Outer Cape, the 50-mile (80 km) long Cape Cod National Seashore includes Eastham’s Coast Guard Beach, rated one of the best in the USA. At the tip of The Cape is Provincetown, a bohemian enclave with artists and restaurants, beaches and whale watching cruises.
South of Cape Cod, two islands attract presidents and celebrities alike for "away from it all" vacations. Less than an hour from the mainland is Martha’s Vineyard, with unspoiled beaches, shingled cottages, excellent biking, fine shops, and restaurants. Some 30 miles offshore is picture-perfect Nantucket. Once a great whaling port, this is now a sophisticated holiday destination, offering the simple things in life: fishing, days on the beach, first-class shops, and restaurants.
One of America’s great cultural destinations — that’s the Berkshires, 3 hours west of Boston. On summer nights, listen to the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, watch international dance companies at Jacob’s Pillow, see fine acting during the Williamstown Theater Festival, at the Barrington Stage Company, and at Shakespeare & Company. Clustered together are world-class art museums: The Clark and Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, plus MASS MoCA, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams. Prefer the outdoors? Hike up Mount Greylock or Monument Mountain, raft down the rushing Deerfield River or explore the Mohawk Trail, one of America’s first scenic drives.
What was rural life like in America in the 1830's? Find out at Old Sturbridge Village, a recreated 1830's American town in central Massachusetts. With more than 40 original buildings, including a country store, bank, sawmill, and blacksmith shop, the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast is busy with demonstrations of hearth cooking and the making of local artisan goods. Ride in a stagecoach or watch a 19th-century baseball game!
Thar she blows! Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, begins in New Bedford in Southeastern Massachusetts, once the ‘whaling capital of the world.’ Although this is still a fishing port, whaling is long gone. But this once vital New England industry is explained at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, with its 35-foot (10m) skeleton of a young humpback whale and model of the whaling ship Lagoda, the largest ship model in the world. This is part of the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, one of many National Historic Parks worth visiting in Massachusetts.
As for shopping, Massachusetts has it all. Boston boasts all the top international designers. Check out Newbury Street, charming Charles Street, Copley Place, the Shops at Prudential Center, and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Looking for a bargain? Then head for the factory outlets where brand names can be found at incredibly discounted prices. With 170 designer outlet stores, the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets is 45 minutes southwest of Boston (a bus offers daily trips from major Boston hotels). Massachusetts offers a treasure trove of antiques and local crafts; good hunting grounds are along Route 7 in the Berkshires, along Route 6A on Cape Cod and in Essex, north of Boston.
For more travel adventures in Massachusetts: www.massvacation.com