The best time to visit Massachusetts is in September and October, especially if you want to catch a glimpse of colorful fall foliage. In September, the weather is still quite warm but some fall leaves start popping up here and there. The end of September and early October can remain mild with temperatures in the 70s. October is a great time for touring around on foot as fall colors peak and the weather is still pleasant. The chillier air usually arrives in late October, and the fall foliage display continues into early November. If you’re lucky, you may get to experience a New England “Indian summer” – sunny and clear weather with above normal temperatures, carried on breezes from the south and southwest, which may occur anytime from late-September to mid-November. If you live within weekend driving distance or are planning a two-week vacation there, here are some of our favorite places to see in Massachusetts.
Freedom Trail – Boston’s iconic Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick path through Boston’s historic neighborhoods, stopping at patriotic places that tell the story of the American Revolution. From the Old North Church and Faneuil Hall to the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill at the far end, the famous Freedom Trail connects 16 nationally significant historic sites, each one an authentic landmark of the Revolutionary Era. Thanks to preservation efforts, these cultural treasures are still intact, which makes Boston truly unique as one of the few places in America where you can experience the actual sites and learn the history they tell while walking through modern city streets. The trail takes about 90 minutes to complete, but if you want to stop and visit all the sites along the way, it can be a whole day affair.
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum – Accessed from the Congress Street Bridge, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum is an interactive, high tech, floating museum that sits on a barge in the water. Now you can be a part of the famous event that forever changed the course of American history through a multi-sensory experience that includes live costumed actors, interactive exhibits, and three full-scale replica 18th-century sailing vessels modeled after the ships carrying East India Company tea, which were overrun by colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians. Learn about the dramatic events surrounding the Boston Tea Party, the “single most important event leading up to the American Revolution,” through a guided experience in the order in which these events occurred in 1773. Voted #1 “Best Patriotic Attraction” by USA Today. The child-friendly tour lasts approximately one hour to an hour and 15 minutes.
New England Aquarium – The New England Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the country. It is located on the waterfront at Boston Harbor. Children of all ages love to explore the exhibits, from the penguins to fur seals to the Giant Ocean Tank. In addition to the main aquarium building, the New England Aquarium Whale Watch operates from April through November.
Museum of Fine Arts – More than 100 galleries of art make the Museum of Fine Arts one of the top things to do in Boston. MFA Boston is the 14th-largest museum in the world, with a comprehensive collection that exemplifies the breadth, richness, and diversity of artistic expression from prehistoric times to the modern day. It contains more than 450,000 works of art including 8,161 paintings, surpassed only by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. World-renowned paintings by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cassatt—as well as the finest group of Monets outside of Paris—share space with mummies, sculpture, ceramics, and gold from ancient Egypt, Greece, the Near East, and the Roman Empire, and masterpieces of African and Oceanic art from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The MFA’s collection of Asian art is unrivaled in size, scope, and distinction in the Western world, encompassing Japanese, Chinese, and Indian painting and sculpture; Japanese prints and metalwork; and Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese ceramics. Paintings, sculpture, furniture, decorative arts, and fashion from North, Central, and South America are displayed in the context and era of their origin, including one of the finest collections of art from the United States. All modern art media are represented: painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper, performance, installation, decorative arts, craft, design, and film and video. The MFA is HUGE and you could easily spend a whole day here, so it’s best to prioritize what you’re most interested in seeing if your time is limited.
Museum of Science – Science lovers of all ages will enjoy the science museum. The Boston Museum of Science offers visitors over 700 interactive exhibits, live presentations, and shows at the Charles Hayden Planetarium and the Mugar Omni Theater, the only domed IMAX screen in New England. The museum is also an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is home to over 100 animals.
Cambridge – Located just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge has a distinct vibe that is noticeable immediately. Cambridge is home to two of the world’s most prestigious universities: Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Harvard, founded in 1636, is the oldest institution in the United States and the most selective Ivy League school. Since 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has played a key role in the development of modern science, engineering, mathematics and technology, and it is also one of the most selective schools in the country with an acceptance rate of only 6.7%. There are also many other great colleges and universities in the greater Boston area, including the Tufts University School of Medicine, one of the world’s best medical research institutions.
Plymouth Rock – The Pilgrims had originally signed a contract with the Virginia Company to settle near the Hudson River, but rough seas and storms prevented the ship from reaching its initial destination. After 66 days, it came upon the shore of Cape Cod, anchoring at the site of Provincetown on November 21. The Pilgrims sent an exploratory party ashore, and on December 18 docked on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. Plymouth Rock doesn’t look like much after being weathered, broken in half, and chipped away by souvenir hunters over the last three centuries, but it’s still notable as the traditional site of disembarkation of William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony in December 1620.
National Monument to the Forefathers – This 81-foot-tall granite monument has stood in its present location since 1889, on an approximately 11-acre hilltop site on 70 Allerton Street in Plymouth. It is within easy walking distance from Plymouth Rock and Pilgrim Hall. Originally looking down on Plymouth Harbor, this little-known statue erected by the Pilgrim Society is now surrounded by a residential neighborhood. The monument is prominently featured in Monumental (2012), a 90-minute documentary that follows Christian actor and film producer Kirk Cameron across Europe and the U.S. as he seeks to discover America’s true “national treasure” – the people, places, and principles that made America the freest, most prosperous and generous nation on earth. If you prefer to drive, there is plenty of parking beside the monument. The monument can be easily reached by traveling just a block west on Rte. 44 where it intersects with Court Street (Rte. 3A) and continuing north on Allerton Street for a little more than a block.
Plimoth Plantation (now called Plimoth Patuxet) – Today, the original colony of Plymouth is a living museum, a recreation of the original 17th-century village and a Wampanoag Homesite. Visitors can taste colonial food, see a restored Mayflower II, and attend reenactments of the first Thanksgiving, when the Wampanaogs joined the settlers to celebrate the autumn harvest. Henry Hornblower II started the Plimoth Plantation museum on Plymouth’s waterfront in 1947, and in July 2020 it was renamed Plimoth Patuxet Museum for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival on the shores of a former Patuxet village. Squanto, who played an important role in the survival of the Pilgrim colony, was the last of the Patuxet, who were part of the Wampanoag tribal confederation.
WEYMOUTH & QUINCY
The Town of Weymouth is the second oldest township in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, dating to 1622 when it was founded as the Wessagusset colony—just two years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Renamed Weymouth in 1635, the town was boosted in that year by the arrival of 100 settlers from its namesake town in England.
Abigail Adams Birthplace – Located at 180 Norton St, Weymouth, MA 02191. Built in 1685, the Abigail Smith Adams Birthplace was home to this exceptional woman for the first twenty years of her life. Born November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Abigail was educated at home, where she took advantage of the extensive library of her father, a minister. At nineteen, she married the young Harvard-educated lawyer John Adams and moved to Braintree (now Quincy). Abigail Adams, First Lady to the second President of the United States and mother of the sixth President, was one of the most respected and influential women of the Revolutionary and Early Republic periods of American history.
Adams National Historic Site – In Quincy, Massachusetts, there is not just one but three presidential homesteads from our second and sixth presidents – John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. The home where the first John Adams was born and the home he purchased when he married his wife, Abigail, are located on the same property. John Quincy Adams was born in this second house just as his father began his career in politics, and it was also his presidential homestead. Just down the road is the Adams’s retirement estate, Peacefield. It is surrounded by beautifully manicured rose gardens. Peacefield is also the location of Stone Library, a collection of over 12,000 books handed down through generations of the Adams family. The property was enjoyed by all generations of Adams men including U.S. envoy to Great Britain Charles Francis Adams, and writers and historians Henry Adams and Brooks Adams. These homes are now operated by the National Park Service as Adams National Historical Park, offering visitors a wealth of history and beauty.
HULL & HINGHAM
Hull is a narrow peninsula surrounded by two waterfronts, the “beach side” and “bay side.” Nantasket Beach in the town of Hull was settled not long after Plymouth Colony. Hingham is also one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts, having been settled as early as 1633.
Boston Lighthouse – Boston Light is located on Little Brewster Island in outer Boston Harbor. The first lighthouse on the site dates back to 1716. It was the first one to be built in what is now the United States. The current lighthouse, which dates back to the Revolutionary War, is the oldest continually used and last manned lighthouse in the country. You pass this lighthouse when on a boat either coming into Boston or on your way out. The National Park Service and US Coast Guard provide 3½-hour tours to the lighthouse starting at the Boston Harbor Islands Welcome Center. Board the ferry for a 45-minute ride to the island, then climb the 70 steps to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy beautiful 360-degree views.
Fort Revere Park – Formerly known as Fort Independence before being renamed in honor of Paul Revere, Fort Revere is an 8-acre historic site located atop Telegraph Hill on a small peninsula in Hull. Check out the remains of this fort dating back to the American Revolution, said to be the most haunted fort in Massachusetts, as nearly 200 French soldiers were buried there after dying of smallpox. This seaside keep, completed in 1777, was used to defend Boston Harbor for centuries, up until World War I and II before it was retired from military service in 1947. Enjoy panoramic views of Boston Harbor and reminders of past military history. The park’s 120-foot Water Tower, built in 1903, was the first reinforced concrete water tower in the U.S.
Nantasket Beach – Nantasket Beach on the South Shore of Boston is one of New England’s top ten beaches and is one of the busiest beaches in greater Boston. This long sandy beach stretches for more than a mile on the Atlantic coast. Explore the beachfront shops and restaurants or the adjacent towns of Hingham and Hull.
LEXINGTON & CONCORD
Lexington & Concord – The American Revolutionary War began with the battles of Lexington and Concord. The British Army set out from Boston to capture rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington, as well as to destroy the American store of weapons and ammunition in Concord. The colonists were warned ahead of time by riders – including Paul Revere – that British troops were approaching. The American Minutemen met the British Redcoats at Lexington, and shots were fired, although it is unknown who shot first. More than 900 acres of Minute Man National Historic Park run along the route of the battles of Lexington and Concord.
Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House – Immortalized by Louisa May Alcott in the beloved classic Little Women, Orchard House (c. 1670) in Concord is best known for being where the groundbreaking novel was written and set in 1868. One of the oldest, most authentically-preserved historic sites in the country, Orchard House provides inspirational accounts of the Alcott family’s contributions to the fields of literature, education, and philosophy.
Walden Pond – Located 30 minutes northwest of Boston, this internationally famous National Historic Landmark is considered the birthplace of the modern Conservation Movement through its association with author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau.
Old Sturbridge Village – Old Sturbridge is the largest living history museum in New England, covering more than 200 acres. The Village recreates life in rural 1790s-1830s New England with 59 antique buildings, 3 water-powered mills, and a working farm. Costumed interpreters demonstrate 19th-century arts, crafts, cooking and agriculture. Sturbridge is just off I-90 about an hour west of Boston.
Springfield Armory – Springfield is an hour-and-a-half drive west of Boston on I-90, or about a half hour from Sturbridge. In 1777, General George Washington established the Arsenal at Springfield. During the Revolution, the Continental Army safely stored its muskets, cannons, and ammunition there, in a village safe from coastal raids. The Springfield Armory was the first federal armory and one of the first factories in the United States dedicated to the manufacture of firearms. For nearly two centuries, the arms used by American soldiers came from Springfield, Massachusetts, until its closing in 1968. The armory houses the largest collection of historic military firearms in the United States.
Dr. Seuss Museum and Sculpture Garden – In downtown Springfield, five minutes away from the armory, is the Dr. Seuss Museum and Sculpture Garden dedicated to Springfield’s most creative resident. Also, Mulberry Street, famous as the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ very first book And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, is just off Maple Street not far from downtown.
SCENIC DRIVE ALONG THE ATLANTIC COAST
The trip from Boston to Rockport on the tip of Cape Ann is a scenic drive along the Atlantic coast. Salem is a 30-minute drive from Boston. The journey time between Salem and Gloucester is around 30 minutes and covers a distance of around 16 miles. The sleepy seaside village of Rockport, home to a number of lobster fishermen and artists, is another 10 minutes after that. The picturesque “Motif #1” fishing shack is often cited as the most frequently painted building in America.
Salem – America’s spookiest city is just a half hour north of Boston. Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery is a unique museum dedicated to horror movies, monsters, zombies, and other scary subjects. They host a seasonal haunted house that is considered one of the best in the country and is a must-do for horror fans who visit close to Halloween. The infamous Salem witch trials were what originally made this small town a common household name. The Witch House, officially known as Judge Jonathan Corwin’s House, was built between 1620 and 1640 and is the only remaining structure to have had direct ties to the 1692 witch trials. The Salem Witch Museum is dedicated to this dark period of time in Salem’s history. The Witch Dungeon Museum features a replica dungeon that resembles those where accused witches may have been held. The Old Burying Point Cemetery, the town’s oldest cemetery, is just behind the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. Salem is also home to The House of the Seven Gables, built in 1688 and best known as the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 Gothic novel. Salem’s 1630 Pioneer Village was opened in 1930 as the first living history museum in the country. CAUTION: the Witch Museum strongly portrays modern Wicca in a favorable light, and suggests that racism was the reason black women were accused of witchcraft. Also, the international headquarters for The Satanic Temple is located in Salem.
Hammond Castle – In the fishing village of Gloucester, there is a Medieval-style castle overlooking Gloucester Harbor. The castle was built between 1926 and 1929 by eccentric inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. The house today is open as a museum. Rumors persist that Hammond Castle is haunted and it’s been featured on “Ghost Hunters.” Driving to Hammond Castle takes about 45 minutes from Boston or 25 minutes from Salem. Gloucester is also known for its gorgeous sandy beaches and whale watching. Don’t miss the Fisherman’s Memorial dedicated to all the sailors and fishermen who lost their lives at sea.
CAPE COD AREA
Cape Cod Peninsula – Head to Cape Cod to enjoy the beach and coastline strewn with quaint harbors, windswept beaches, sand dunes and lighthouses. Explore Cape Cod National Seashore, bike past cranberry bogs on the Rail Trail, visit the artist colony in Provincetown, or saunter around Sandwich, the Cape’s oldest town. The nearby islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were brought to prominence in the 19th century by the whaling industry.
Martha’s Vineyard – Martha’s Vineyard is an island located south of Cape Cod, perhaps best known today as a popular summer colony for the rich and famous. In 1974, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Jaws on Martha’s Vineyard, most notably in the fishing village of Menemsha and the town of Chilmark.
Nantucket – Nantucket is an island about 30 miles by ferry south from Cape Cod. The town of Surfside, on the south side of Nantucket, features some of the most beautiful shorelines on the island. Surfside is the southernmost settlement in Massachusetts.
What is your favorite place in Massachusetts? Leave a comment!