A quaint town in west central Massachusetts, Amherst is one of the top college towns in New England being the home of the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts as well as prestigious Amherst College. Amherst is also famous for being the home of celebrated American poet, Emily Dickinson. With such so many young adults living in the area, there are plenty of things to do in Amherst Massachusetts that belies its small town size. And, its location in the Western Massachusetts lowlands area nicknamed “Pioneer Valley” means there is plenty of things to do near Amherst as well.
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Things To Do in Amherst Massachusetts
Settled in 1727, Amherst broke away from nearby Hadley in the Connecticut River Valley to become its own township in 1759. The settlement was named after Baron Amherst, the British commander during the French and Indian War. In a foreshadowing of future United States expansion, settlers from Amherst went north to settle Bennington Vermont.
Amherst Massachusetts has two famous prior residents, Noah Webster, creator of the Webster Dictionary, and Emily Dickinson, American poet.
Here are the top fun things to do in Amherst Massachusetts.
A locally-owned, well-curated bookshop with lots of new, used and rare titles to browse. Amherst Books is exactly what you would expect to find in a small college town surrounded by prestigious colleges.
Amherst College is exactly as you would picture a stately intellectual institution from the 19th century. Along with UMass Amherst (see below), its part of the Five Colleges Consortium in the Pioneer Valley which includes the prestigious colleges of Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire Colleges as well.
The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College has more than 16,000 works of American and world art, especially Japanese prints, West African sculpture and Russian modernist paintings.
The Beneski Museum of Natural History has a treasure trove of fossils, including the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks and a wooly mammoth skeleton. The Amherst College Museum of Natural History is free to visit and open all year.
Amherst has its own art gallery as well, the Eli Marsh Gallery.
Pre-eminent New England poet, Robert Frost taught at Amherst College intermittently over a period of 40 years. Although the most significant manuscripts of Robert Frost are held at Dartmouth College, The Robert Frost Library at Amherst College has a significant collection of materials related to Robert Frost’s career.
Amherst History Museum
Opened in 1916, Amherst History Museum is filled with items from Amherst’s nearly 300 years of history. The Museum closes for the winter.
Atkins Farm Country Market
Atkins Farm Country Market started out as a small apple farm in the late 19th century. Now, Atkins Farms is a locally-owned business which works with local farmers and business to showcase a wide range of Pioneer Valley products.
Atkins Farm has achieved wide renown for its apple cider donuts. It’s also got a great deli counter where you can get sandwiches and meals to go.
Emily Dickinson Museum
As one of the most influential poets of American literary history, visiting the Emily Dickinson Museum is one of the best things to do in Amherst, Mass and a bucket list item for visitors to Massachusetts.
Both she and her brother’s houses have been turned into museums displaying a multitude of artifacts the pair collected throughout their lives. The Dickinson family were renowned art collectors and their pieces are proudly displayed in Emily’s brother’s house, The Evergreens. Emily’s House, The Homestead, is where she was born and lived all her life.
Keep an eye on the museum’s events page as they regularly host poetry evenings and interesting talks on both Emily and the literary world she influenced.
Opened in 1970 as an alternative centre for higher education, Hampshire College continues to buck expectations. Although it signalled financial distress in 2019, a fundraising initiative has put Hampshire College back on track to survival.
The Hampshire College Art Gallery is an exhibition space on the campus of Hampshire College. Also located in Hampshire College campus, the National Yiddish Book Center is a collection of more than a million Yiddish books housed in a recreated Eastern European village.
Everyone remembers the tale of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” from their childhood. The book’s author has brought it, and other books like it, to life at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a picture book museum located on the grounds of Hampshire College. The museum aims to inspire younger generations and encourage a passion for reading and the art of picture books.
Public Art Works
Amherst has a walking tour map of its public art located throughout the town. Cool pieces include murals and sculpture such as an Amherst Community History Mural and terracotta brick tiles with quotes by local authors. Additional art works include a project to make over electrical boxes in downtown to be more attractive.
When it comes to things to do in Amherst, little will bring you as much unadulterated fun as a trip to Sunset Farm. Set on 10 acres, this privately-owned farm has been going since the early 70s and the owners have labeled it as a “neighborhood farm”.
Visitors can pick all their own produce and also pick an array of flowers at any hour of the day or night, and payment is done with the honor system. You can also visit their stand at the farmer’s market on weekends to indulge in some locally sourced honey and the veggies that they grow.
University of Massachusetts
UMass Amherst is the largest and flagship location of the University of Massachusetts schools. Founded in 1863 as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, UMass Amherst now has more than 28,000 students.
The University Museum of Contemporary Arts is known for its collection of Andy Warhol prints. Opened in 1970, the Augusta Savage Gallery is named after the African American sculptor and is located in the New Africa House. Other art galleries at UMass Amherst are the Hampden Gallery and the Herter Gallery.
Things To Do Near Amherst MA
There are plenty of things to do near Amherst MA in the nearby cities of Hampshire County and the Pioneer Valley. This area got its nickname in 1939 in honour of the 17th century settlers who wandered further inland from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for greener pastures.
There are 14 colleges and universities in the Pioneer Valley so it is a great mix of small towns, sophisticated culture and farmland.
Historic Deerfield is a well-preserved pioneer village but without the costumed interpreters that you see in Old Sturbridge.
First established in 1669, the local Native Americans were supremely unhappy about being dispossessed. Their 1704 raid slaughtered many in the village and is known as the Deerfield Massacre. You can see a front door with a tomahawk imprint at the Memorial Hall Museum.
Nearby Eunice Williams Covered Bridge is named after one of the settler women captured by the Native Americans during the Deerfield Massacre. She had not only just given birth the day before, but had her newborn killed in front of her. Marched off as a captive, poor Eunice Williams only made it as far as the river before she collapsed and was killed. There’s a New England ghost story that she haunts the area still.
In South Deerfield, you will find Yankee Candle Company, the very large headquarters of the candle company where it is Christmas every day. Nearby, you may enjoy the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Garden as well.
The Hadley Farm Museum commemorates the history of farming in the area. Nearby, the Skinner State Park has 40 miles of hiking trails.
In South Hadley, Mount Holyoke College is set in 400 acres landscaped by the architect who did New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. Founded in 1837, Mount Holyoke College is the oldest of the Seven Sisters, a group of elite women’s colleges formed to give an education to women similar to that received by the men-only Ivy League. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum is one of the best and oldest college art museums in the US.
Holyoke, itself has a claim to fame as where the sport of volleyball was born in 1895. It is home to the Volleyball Hall of Fame. The former house of the Skinner Family is know a historic house museum, Wisteriahurst.
A hidden gem in the area near Amherst MA, Montague has natural beauty in spades in a collection of 5 villages.
Located in a 1834 grist mill, the charming Montague Bookmill is a cafe and used bookstore in a waterfall setting by the Sawmill River. Nearby Element Brewing Company makes great craft beer at Miller’s Falls. Charming Montague Center Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Canalside Rail Trail is an easy 4 mile converted railed good for hiking and cycling. Montague State Forest also has another 4.3 miles of trails set in 645 acres.
Mount Holyoke Range State Park
Mount Holyoke Range State Park is another option for the great outdoors to breathe in some fresh air and recharge your batteries. This Massachusetts state park offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails through the lush forests south of Amherst.
Activities include hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Open even in the winter, you can enjoy snowmobiling and other winter activities.
You can also visit the famous Mount Holyoke summit house for incredible panoramic views. All of this makes this one of the best things to do near Amherst, MA.
Known for its relaxed liberal attitude, Northampton has a lively arts scene with lots of cafes, restaurants and independent stores. We’ve had one of the best ice-creams we have ever had at Herrell’s Ice Cream.
Northampton is home to another Seven Sister institution, Smith College. The Smith College Museum of Art focuses on American and French art. The Botanic Garden of Smith College is also a charming place to visit.
The Coolidge Memorial Library has a collection of the works of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the USA.
The largest city in the Pioneer Valley, Springfield was established as far back as 1636. It’s home to such noted sites as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield Armory National Historic Site and the Dr. Seuss Museum, a museum and sculpture garden of another children’s classic book series.
Every September, Springfield hosts the Big “E”, the Eastern States Exposition, New England’s largest agricultural fair, running since 1916.
Located in a suburb of Springfield, there is also Six Flags New England, New England’s largest amusement park.
Use Amherst MA as a base and go on several scenic drives nearby. For example, on Route 112 you can cover 48 miles in about an hour and a half if you zip past forests and farmland. Of course, you will want to stop and check out some of the attractions along the way such as Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers or the home of American poet, William Cullens Bryant.
Restaurants in Amherst MA
There are plenty of good restaurants in Amherst MA thanks to its location in a farming community that cares about its food.
For sandwiches and salads, the Black Sheep Deli is a great option (and just up the road on Main Street from the Amherst Inn mentioned below). The deli at Atkins Farms Country Market is also a good place for takeaway lunch. They have tables near the rear of the store where you can eat.
Although our Amherst B&B served breakfast, I got my flat white coffee fix at Amherst Coffee. Nearby Esselon Cafe in Hadley also serves great coffee and has a full lunch/dinner menu.
Craving a proper New York bagel? Check out Breuggers Bagels in downtown Amherst.
There’s a great choice of ethnic restaurants as well. Try Mission Cantina for Mexican food and Bueno Y San, a small Tex Mex chain that started in Amherst. For Asian flavours, check out Formosa Chinese and Oriental Flavor for Chinese food, Iya Sushi and Ramen Noodle Kitchen for Japanese food and Crazy Noodles for Thai/Vietnamese food.
Places To Stay in Amherst MA
There are plenty of charming places to stay in Amherst MA. We stayed at the Amherst Inn, a Victorian bed and breakfast on Main Street, located across the street from the Dickinson Museum. The same owners also have the Allen House Inn, another one of the inns in Amherst MA.
Built in the 1920’s, The Inn on Boltwood is a great luxury option. With a fantastic location on Amherst Green near Amherst College, this historic hotel also a full-service restaurant on site.
Older than any of these options, The Black Walnut Inn was built in 1820 in the regal Federal style. Located close to the UMass campus, this bed and breakfast is beautiful decorated.
There is also a selection of AirbnB Amherst and VRBO options available that expands the accommodation options in the town.
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