One of the most populous areas in the United States, Eastern Massachusetts is anchored by the city of Boston and home to some 4.5 million people. Comprised of five Massachusetts counties, visitors will discover many sites significant to the American Revolution, literature, and politics. Boston has been known as the "Cradle of Liberty" ever since patriots conspired to cast off the yoke of 18th-century Britain. Later, the broader region would become central to the abolitionist, temperance, and transcendentalist movements. In 2004, it was where same-sex marriage was first recognized in the U.S. Two political dynasties—Adams and Kennedy—hail from the area; each taking full advantage of its highly regarded academic institutions.
|Merrimack Valley |
Along the mighty Merrimack river you'll find 19th-century industrial mill towns blended with modern suburbs, rural farms, and quaint orchards.
|North Shore |
A charming collection of wealthy towns and fishing villages; this region's many beaches make it a notable summer destination.
As the name implies, this is a collection of commuter suburbs and superb historic attractions just west of Boston.
|Greater Boston |
The most populated region in New England, this is the urbanized collection of towns that tightly surround the eponymous city.
A collection of forests, rural communities and bedroom suburbs on the way to Providence, Rhode Island.
|South Shore |
Stretching south to the Cape, it's here where you'll find the "Irish Riviera"; a handful of beach communities nestled along the Atlantic.
Discover a deep history of whaling and fishing, Portuguese roots, agriculture, and a once powerful textile industry.
- 1 Boston — Capital since 1630, in a variety of ways Boston finds itself in the center of it all. Explore the Freedom Trail and Quincy Market, or catch a game at baseballs "shrine"; Fenway Park.
- 2 Brockton — The "City of Champions" largely because of its boxing native sons.
- 3 Fall River — "The Spindle City", home of Battleship Cove and Lizzie Borden.
- 4 Framingham — This sprawling former manufacturing town is a suburban tech hub with an ethnically diverse population.
- 5 Lowell — This gentrifying mill town skillfully combines museums and galleries with an infusion of Cambodian culture. Its many historic mills, canals, and factory buildings have been preserved within Lowell National Historical Park.
- 6 New Bedford — Once a powerful whaling center, the "city that lit the world" is steeped in Portuguese culture and cuisine. Today it features a well preserved waterfront filled with narrow cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and upscale restaurants.
- 7 Newburyport — Coastal town and popular tourist destination with beautiful natural areas, water activities and fine dining.
- 8 Rockport — This hotspot features a concentration of seafood, shops, and galleries along scenic Bearskin Neck.
- 9 Salem — Location of the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials, today the Peabody Essex Museum and House of Seven Gables pack the tourists in all year long. It gets pretty spooky here the last weekend in October.
- 1 Adams National Historical Park — Visit the birthplaces of two US presidents and the dawning of the great American political experiment.
- 2 Boston Harbor Islands — Where you can remove yourself from civilization without having to give up good cell phone reception.
- 3 Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site — Visit Fairsted, Olmsted's exqusiste office and personal estate.
- 4 Harvard University — Founded by Puritans in 1634, this Ivy League granddaddy is perhaps the most prestigious in the world. An endowment north of $50 billion keeps numerous museums, libraries, and artifacts available for visitors to enjoy.
- 5 Minute Man National Historical Park — Follow in the footsteps of Paul Revere and walk the Battle Road Trail; before crossing the Old North Bridge, where "the shot heard round the world" was fired in the opening salvo of the Revolutionary War.
- 6 Plimoth Patuxet — Set in a picturesque seaside town, this living history museum recreates the lives of early Mayflower colonists and native peoples.
- 7 Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site — America's earliest ironworks, founded in 1646 and powered by seven large waterwheels.
- 8 Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary — This nutrient rich ocean area makes for one of the best whale watching opportunities in the world. A wide diversity of species come here to feed during the summer months.
|“||Poor dull Concord. Nothing colorful has come through here since the Redcoats.||”|
—Louisa May Alcott
Eastern Massachusetts was first inhabited by many Indigenous groups; including the Nipmuc, Wampanoag, and the eponymous Massachusett people. They share an Algonquian language, and a common history of being violently forced off their land.
As with the rest of the country, English is the lingua franca in Eastern Massachusetts. Being familiar with a second language can still be helpful, however; depending on where you're going. For example in Merrimack Valley, Lawrence is overwhelmingly Hispanic and you may find some basic Spanish knowledge helpful. Along the SouthCoast you'll find strong Portuguese roots. Any knowledge of the language will certainly go a long way towards impressing the locals.
Flying? Boston Logan International Airport offers a wide variety of international and domestic carriers, serving over 25 million passengers a year. Logan will be your best bet for finding the most direct and affordable route into the region. Just beyond the regions borders, the much smaller Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport in Warwick provides a few additional options. Both are connected by the MBTA's Providence Line commuter rail service.
For drivers, the primary east-west route is I-90. It intersects with I-95, connecting Boston’s urban core with Newburyport and Providence, Rhode Island, and the I-495 beltway through the outer suburbs. I-93 slices through Boston and connects to I-95 before heading up to Lawrence. US-3 connects Lowell from I-495 to I-95, and then from Boston to Plymouth, and US-1 takes you from the SouthCoast to Newburyport. I-195 is another southerly ring road connecting Providence to the Cape.
If you're arriving by "iron horse", Amtrak offers four routes that you may find interesting. The most popular are the Acela Express and Northeast Regional. Together, they make the trip between Boston and New York City roughly every hour from 5AM-9PM, daily. Headed in the other direction, the Downeaster runs about 5 trains a day north from Boston to Portland, Maine. There's also the epic once a day Lake Shore Limited, running overnight to Chicago. Finally, the MBTA offers a train connection to the Cape, but only on summer weekends and the timetable isn't the best. Check out Boston § By train for many more details.
Just like everywhere else, Eastern Massachusetts has a network of buses that can get you where you want to go. Pretty much all of them will pass through Boston's South Station at some point, and close to a dozen companies offer competitive service to New York City. All the big providers like Greyhound and Peter Pan are here, plus a handful of smaller carriers that serve the greater New England region. Check out Boston § By bus for more.
There are a few ferries plying their trades between Boston and Provincetown, and another company connects Plymouth to P-town. They're all seasonal, so plan your boat ride for good weather. A New York-based service, Seastreak, offers seasonal connections between Manhattan and New Bedford on their way to the Cape and the Islands. See Cape Cod § By boat for more.
While you could easily fill a multi-day itinerary here without a car, having one will make getting out into the countryside a breeze. You'll find interstates and highways here in good repair, while some arterial and local road conditions may be spotty. The annual frost heaves, heavy traffic, and constant construction combine to take their toll on road quality. Plows are out in force during winter, and snowfall shouldn't greatly impact your trip. The traffic here, however; can be some of the worst in North America. Definitely plan ahead and check if mass transit makes sense for your trip.
By public transit
Many cities and towns in Eastern Massachusetts are connected to Boston by public transit, provided by eight separate carriers. Welcome to New England! The MBTA—or "T" for short—is by far the biggest, and the one you're most likely to use. MBTA Commuter Rail trains can easily move you throughout the region and beyond. MBTA buses rarely offer service beyond the Greater Boston region, so you may need to find a different bus company to get where you're going. Generally speaking, there's less service in smaller towns and service is reduced on weekends and holidays. Check out Boston § Get around for all the details about the MBTA. Elsewhere, regional agencies offer popular bus routes within larger cities, sometimes connecting mid-sized towns. For all those details, please check out the specific sub-region pages.
While it's not for everyone, Eastern Massachusetts can be a great place to explore by bike. As a region colonized on horseback, towns are generally pretty close together and streets are relatively narrow and safe for bikes, and routes featuring new cafés in old mill buildings are easily planned. Additionally an extensive collection of disused railroad tracks have been converted into bike paths. Major rail trails are well signed and travelled. Some good cycling infrastructure exists in the larger cities, including bike rentals. Smaller towns won't have much to offer, but their lower populations can make cycling less intimidating. You won't be able to ride 100% of your route away from cars, but the bits where you must share the road shouldn't be too unpleasant. Generally the best routes in the area are to the north and west of Boston. South of the city, as between Boston and the North Shore, there are few accommodations for cyclists.
The Plimoth Patuxet Museums are living history exhibits showcasing early colonial life and indigenous homelands. Learn how the whaling industry shaped the region at the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park. Boston has many options like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art. In Cambridge, Harvard University has at least a half dozen museums worth exploring. The world class Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is the oldest museum in America.
- The Crane Estate on Castle Hill, an oceanside historical estate and nature preserve.
- Plum Island also known as the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge contains beaches, sand dunes, saltmarshes, and maritime forests.
- The Ames Mansion in Borderlands State Park was created by well-heeled artists a century ago, and has been featured in major motion pictures.
- American Industry Tour — When exploring the industrial heritage of the Northeastern United States, why not begin at the beginning?
- Amtrak Downeaster — Hop aboard this northbound line connecting downtown Boston with a dozen scenic New England college towns and seaside vacation destinations.
- Bay Circuit Trail — This 230 mi (370 km) T-accessible hiking trail encircles Boston, providing a bounty of options for outdoor enthusiasts.
- Black Heritage Trail — This trail covers ten sites important in American black history scattered throughout Boston's Beacon Hill.
- Essex Coastal Scenic Byway — A 90 mi (140 km) drive along the Atlantic Ocean, where you'll pass scores of historical sights and breathtaking views.
- Freedom Trail — Seventeen historical sites in downtown Boston that are crucial to understanding revolutionary era America.
- From Plymouth to Hampton Roads — Showcasing the nation's early history, from the first Anglo-American settlements in the 17th century through the American Civil War.
If you're a more serious athlete, check out the options at New England § Skiing; otherwise the skiing here is all about having a great day out, fun with the family, or for anyone new to the sport. Nashoba Valley is the largest in the area, it offers 16 runs and is about 45 min from downtown Boston. Blue Hills Ski Area is the smallest with 8 runs, but it's only about 20 min from downtown. Similar to Nashoba, Ski Bradford has 15 runs and is about 45 min away.
- You can't go wrong with the Boston Children's Museum. Don't miss Martin's Park and the Boston Fire Museum, both are designed for kids and right next door. Little ones also love the Frog Pond on Boston Common, and the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden makes a great photo op. City Hall Plaza has perhaps the largest and most thoughtful playground in the region.
- Discovery Museum - immersive hands on science and learning experience.
- Drumlin Farm - meet a variety of farm animals, or walk any of the scenic trails.
- Fun and Games - modern arcade for older kids.
- Salem Willows Arcade and Park - rides for smaller kids and games for the older ones.
- Stage Fort Park - several playgrounds and a short "hike" featuring beaches, overlooks, and old cannons.
- Thomasland - for Thomas the Tank Engine aficionados.
- St. Patrick's Day Parade — March 17th, South Boston. What the rest of America calls St. Patrick's Day, Boston calls Evacuation Day; a local holiday marking the expulsion of occupying British forces from the city. The parade ostensibly celebrates Irish culture, although in practice it's more of an excuse to drink in public. Draws crowds of close to a million revelers some years.
- Patriot's Day Reenactments — Third Monday in April, Concord. Head to the Old North Bridge at 8:30AM to witness a dramatic re-enactment as costumed Colonial minute men and British regulars exchange musket fire for control of the bridge. A variety of additional colonial events and workshops take place throughout the weekend.
- St. Peter's Fiesta — Last weekend in June, Gloucester. Watch scores of manly men walk "the Greasy Pole" and unceremoniously fall into the ocean on their quest to capture the flag and secure bragging rights for the day.
- Lowell Folk Festival — Last full weekend of July, Lowell. The oldest and second-largest folk festival in America, and it's free to boot. The festival features three days jam packed with traditional music and dancing, local artisan demos, parades, and street food.
- Feast of the Blessed Sacrament — First weekend in August, New Bedford. Munch on beef skewers and sweet malassadas, grab a cup of specially imported Madeira wine, and take in a traditional Fado performance during the largest celebration of Madeiran Portuguese culture in the world.
- Bread and Roses Festival — First Monday in September, Lawrence. Celebrate the true meaning of Labor Day at the site of the famous workers' strike of 1912. Hundreds of vendors set up shop for one day, offering ethnic foods and artisan crafts. Informational booths detail everything from history and labor relations, to modern social justice movements.
- Topsfield Fair — Last weekend in September, Topsfield. America's oldest county fair began in 1818 as a one-day cattle show. Today local farmers show their stuff at a variety of exhibition halls. Cows, goats, bunnies, chickens; fruits and flowers, even bees! The Great Pumpkin Weigh Off is a highlight, with modern winners tipping the scales at over 2,000 lb (910 kg).
- Halloween — October 31st, Salem. Perhaps the largest Halloween celebration in the world, Salem welcomes half a million costumed party-goers annually. Visit "Witch City" to join the fun, and experience a variety of parties, parades, tours, and attractions; haunted or otherwise.
- National Day of Mourning — Fourth Thursday in November, Plymouth. Observance takes place at noon on Cole's Hill, acknowledging European settlement as the beginning of the genocide and forcible relocation of millions of Native Americans. Non-Native supporters are welcome to listen in on stories of historic and current Indigenous struggles.
Generally speaking, this is the safest metro area in America and you'll be fine taking the same basic precautions here you'd take anywhere else. Remember to lock your doors, take your earbuds out, and hide any flashy personal items. In the unlikely event you are the victim of a crime, call 911 immediately to receive assistance.
Cars are the only true hazard visitors here are likely to encounter. Roads can be twisting, narrow, and in need of maintenance while sight-lines are often obscured. Drivers may be impaired for several reasons, and distracted driving is a routine occurrence. Motorists may be lost and checking their phone for directions. Ride hail and delivery drivers swarm the region, so be ready for traffic to come to an abrupt stop at anytime.
Bane of outdoorsy folks everywhere, poison ivy will cause a painfully itchy and irritating rash for any who brush against it. Heed the common expression "leaves of three, let it be" and keep a sharp eye out for anything with a slightly shiny patina, especially if it's attached to a tree-climbing vine. If you do come into contact, apply calamine lotion as soon as possible and try not to scratch it. With proper treatment, the ordeal should be over in a week or so.
Deer ticks can transmit Lyme Disease unless promptly removed. The best defense against the deer tick is to use insecticides and wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. After walking in woods, brush or tall grass; inspect your clothing for dark spots 1/8" to 1/4" diameter. If the insect has already attached itself, touch it with something hot to encourage it to let go.
- Bristol County (Rhode Island) — Visit the land Massachusetts lost during the great border compromise of 1746.
- Cape Cod and the Islands — The state's premier summer vacation area of beaches, art and antiques.
- Central Massachusetts — Outdoor opportunities abound in this region of contrasts.
- Newport County — Comprised of Aquidneck, Conanicut, and Prudence islands; Newport dominates the county.
- Seacoast (New Hampshire) — New Hampshire really makes the most of its only outlet to the sea.