A visit to Plymouth Massachusetts is an integral part of learning American history thanks to its establishment as the Plymouth Colony in 1620 by the Pilgrims. The best things to do in Plymouth Mass include visiting Plymouth Rock and the replica ship, Mayflower II which make American history come alive. More things to do near Plymouth MA include visiting the living history museum, Plimoth Plantation and, a great place to experience nature, Myles Standish State Forest. Along with some Plymouth Colony fun facts, you’ll learn why there’s more to Plymouth than the Plymouth Settlement of 1620.
Plymouth Settlement 1620
You will learn lots of history in Plymouth Mass and some of the history was created after the fact to fit the narrative an emerging nation needed. Shock/horror.
The Myth of Religious Freedom
Technically, the Pilgrims did not come the New World for religious freedom. In fact, the Pilgrims had found religious freedom in Leiden in the Netherlands. Although they were allowed to be religious separatists in the Netherlands, the Pilgrims did not want to stay in Leiden.
Perhaps the Pilgrims felt their control over the next generation slipping away as their children became used to the Dutch way of life.
We know the Pilgrims were big on control, and short on tolerance.
When the Pilgrims heard of new lands available in the New World thanks to the explorations of John Smith, they were intrigued. They were able to get investors to agree to fund a voyage for them to the New World. In the middle of nowhere (for them), they could live exactly how they wanted without the fear of outside “evil” influence.
An Error in Navigation
The Pilgrims were heading further south to the Colony of Virginia where they had permission to settle. Unfortunately, their voyage took them further north than intended and they were running out of supplies to make it further south. So Massachusetts it was going to be even though technically they had no permission from the English government to be there. Details.
Plymouth MA was not where the Pilgrim’s first came ashore in North America either. That honour goes to Provincetown Massachusetts. Some of the Pilgrims took a smaller boat, a shallop, ashore to check out the land options. As they sailed along Cape Cod Bay, they realised Cape Cod was not such a great farming destination.
While some of the Pilgrims were exploring their land options, the other Pilgrims remaining onboard created the Mayflower Compact on how they were going to govern themselves. They needed rules since they were no longer going to be governed by the Virginia Colony rules. Technically, they didn’t even have the right be where they were in Massachusetts.
The Mayflower Pilgrims decided to keep going West until they reached mainland Massachusetts. Myles Standish was elected to become the enforcer of the rules the Pilgrims agreed upon in the Mayflower Compact. The Pilgrims were then ready to disembark at Plymouth Massachusetts.
A Massachusetts Winter
The Pilgrims arrived during a Massachusetts winter in 1620. brrr. Many of them chose to stay onboard the Mayflower during the winter. The weather was much colder than they were used to in Europe.
Although only one person died during the voyage of the Mayflower, only about half the crew and passengers survived the first winter. Their survival was definitely thanks to the help of Native Americans. Even the first governor and his wife of the Plymouth Settlement 1620 died that winter.
William Bradford became the second governor of the Plymouth Colony, a position he held for the next 11 years. Governor William Bradford was essential to the reorganisation of the Plymouth Colony into the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
That First Thanksgiving
Governor Bradford signed a treaty with the Wampanoags in 1621 letting both the settlers and the natives live in peace.
In 1622, the first Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth in the early Fall. The Wampanoag weren’t even invited according to early sources. After their successful harvest, the settlers were feasting and some let off gunfire to celebrate.
The Wampanoag heard the gunfire and 90 armed men came to “rescue” the settlers as per their treaty. Instead of a rescue, the Wampanoag joined the settlers over a feast that lasted 3 days, securing their alliance over an enormous meal.
Plymouth Massachusetts has a permanent place the history books as one of the first European settlements in the United States. It is definitely one of the must-see places in Massachusetts as well as a New England bucket list place.
Getting To Plymouth Mass
Although only 40 miles south from Boston, Massachusetts on the South Shore, Plymouth feels very different. It’s both a great day trip destination from Boston and a weekend getaway in Massachusetts in its own right. It bills itself as America’s hometown.
Located on the South Shore, Plymouth is on the way to Cape Cod. On the plus side, you avoid the two bridges into Cape Cod which can be a traffic nightmare in the summer months.
There is year-round commuter rail service from Boston’s South Station to Plymouth. You will need to go another mile to get into town from the train station.
Historical Things to Do in Plymouth Mass
Needless to say, many of the things to do in Plymouth Mass have to do with the early American history and, specifically, that crucial Plymouth Settlement 1620. You can walk between the historical things to do in Plymouth Mass and create your own walking tour of the town of Plymouth.
Pilgrim Memorial State Park
Pilgrim Memorial State Park is not only the smallest Massachusetts state park but also one of the most visited. It is home to both Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II.
Enjoy marvelous views across the bay and take a relaxing walk on the pilgrim trail between monuments.
Address: 79 Water St, Plymouth
Visiting the 10-ton Plymouth Rock is one of the most popular things to do in Plymouth MA. Millions visit the site each year in remembrance of the Plymouth Colony.
The legend goest that the rock was used as the stepping stone for the Pilgrims when they first set foot in the new world after their voyage from England. Obviously no one knows what stone the Pilgrims used exactly to gain their footing onto land.
In 1921, the famous architects McKim, Mead and White (who also designed the Boston Public Library) created a granite portico to protect Plymouth Rock. The portico is in the National Register of Historic Places.
A life-size replica of the original Mayflower ship is docked at Pilgrim Memorial State Park where visitors can board one of the most famous vessels in history.
The replica was built in Brixham England in 1956 and sailed across to Plymouth Massachusetts the next year. The shallop that took the Pilgrims around was built in Plymouth and then restored at Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury MA.
The Mayflower II is operated as a museum. Tour guides are also all dressed up in period garb as they tell you about that fateful voyage aboard the Mayflower.
Officially part of Plimoth Plantation, this experience is one of the best things to do in Plymouth, Mass.
Jenney Interpretive Center
Built in 1749, the building that houses The Jenney is located in the Plymouth Historic Center.
At the Jenney Interpretive Center, you can learn all about the Pilgrims’ arrival in Plymouth and how their values and traditions shaped the nation of today. There are three distinct rooms depicting their religion, their everyday life, and their influence today, connecting past and present.
The Jenney Museum does guided tours of Plymouth as well.
Address: 48 Summer St, Plymouth
National Monument to the Forefathers
This mammoth granite statue is the largest of its kind in the world. It is positioned to face Plymouth in England from where the Pilgrims first set sail and pays homage to the monumental task they undertook. The statue was completed in 1888 after nearly thirty years of painstaking work on the granite piece.
The statue was supposed to be nearly twice as tall (and taller than the Statue of Liberty) but funds were tight at the time because of the Civil War.
Address: Allerton Street, Plymouth
Pilgrim Hall Museum
The Pilgrim Hall Museum has actual artifacts from the first Pilgrims. The collection features numerous personal possessions including Myles Standish’s sword, William Bradford’s Bible, the cradle of Peregrine White (born aboard the Mayflower during its voyage) and William Brewster’s great chair.
The museum also takes great care to depict the history of the Wampanoag, the native people that lived in Plymouth for thousands of years, and the conflicts between the European settlers and the Wampanoag.
Address: 75 Court Street, Plymouth
This cemetery dates back to the 17th century and is the final resting place for several pilgrims and founding members of the community, including Governor Bradford.
If you have a taste for the spooky, embark on a ghost tour of the cemetery with Dead of Night Ghost Tours of Plymouth.
Address: School Street, Plymouth
Richard Sparrow House
In the Plymouth Village Historic District, you can visit the oldest surviving house in town, dating back to 1640. The charming house is located at 42 Summer Street next to Town Brook and now houses a number of valuable art pieces and historic artifacts.
Address: 42 Summer Street, Plymouth
Plimoth Grist Mill
Open on weekends, the Plimoth Grist Mill is a working replica of a 17th century grist mill. For the early settlers, the grist mill was used to grind wheat and nowadays, it grinds organic corn.
Address: 6 Spring Lane, Plymouth
Claiming to be the oldest continually inhabited street in the US, Leyden Street was set up by the Pilgrims in 1620. It is named after the city of Leiden in the Netherlands where the Pilgrims first found religious freedom.
Mayflower Society House
This historic house was built in the 18th century by a grandson of Mayflower Pilgrims. Open in the summer for visits, you can see the room where author Ralph Waldo Emerson was married.
Address: 4 Winslow Street, Plymouth
Hedge House Museum
Built in 1809 by a successful sea captain, the Hedge House Museum shows off artifacts from the profitable China trade. House tours are available during the summer season.
Address: 126 Water St, Plymouth
America’s Hometown Thanksgiving
Plymouth Mass has an annual weekend-long celebration of Thanksgiving at its waterfront and harbor. Events include a parade and live music. Visitors will also enjoy food trucks and a craft beer and wine festival. In historic downtown, there will be re-enactments of important historic periods from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
Other Things To Do in Plymouth MA
If all that history is making you think too much, there are plenty of other things to do in Plymouth MA. Nowadays, Plymouth Mass relies on being a tourist attraction to bring in the money.
Captain John Boats seems to provide a lot of tourist options from Plymouth Harbor:
- whale watching trips and deep sea fishing trips
- fast ferry to Provincetown that takes 1.5 hours
- a harbor or sunset cruise on the Pilgrim Belle, a paddlewheel boat
Plymouth Harbor is relatively calm and sheltered if you want to kayak and explore the area from a different perspective. You can rent kayaks near the harbor if you haven’t brought your own kayaks.
Mayflower Brewing Company
Take a break from historic sightseeing and savor Plymouth’s very own craft beer. As ever, you are never too far from history though. The Mayflower Brewing Company was set up in 2007 by an ancestor of John Alden, the beer barrel cooper on board the Mayflower.
The Mayflower Microbrewery offers tours of its facilities and tasting opportunities where you can indulge in everything from a crisp Kölsch-style brew to a rich English-style Porter.
Address: 12 Resnik Rd # 3, Plymouth
These pristine gardens sit in downtown Plymouth on either side of Town Brook (the Pilgrims source of fresh water). The manicured lawns are perfect for a lazy day picnic or take a stroll along the nature trail if you want to get active.
Apart from the beautiful shrubbery throughout the park, you can also marvel at the statues placed around that bring homage to immigrants to the region over the last 300 years.
Address: Address: 30 Water St, Plymouth
Water Street/Harbor Area
The water street area has lots of seafood restaurants and ice cream parlours. We like the Lobster Hut is a no-nonsense cafeteria style restaurant that serves amazing seafood. There’s also a Ryan Family Amusements arcade, as much as a draw for kids as the one in Oak Bluffs Martha’s Vineyard.
This public art installation was set up to celebrate Plymouth Massachusetts’ 400th anniversary. Local business sponsored artists to decorate 29 four-foot tall scallop shells and placed them around town.
Here’s a map of the Scallop Roll if you want to encourage your kids to walk the town as part of a scavenger hunt. I know my kids are not the only ones who are motivated to do things just to tick them off a list.
Plymouth Waterfront Festival
Every August, thousands of people attend the Plymouth Waterfront Festival. Along with live entertainment and a car show, there is a duck race for kids in Brewster Gardens. There are hundreds of vendors selling arts and crafts as well as food tents.
The Plymouth Waterfront Festival in 2022 will be held on August 27th.
Address: 79 Water Street, Plymouth
William Russell Blake Planetarium
Set up in 1973, the planetarium has a DigitalSky projection that shows the full night sky on the dome which kids will find interesting.
Things To Do Near Plymouth MA
Outside of the compact downtown area, there are also some fun things to near Plymouth MA.
One of the most popular things to do in Plymouth, MA, Plimouth Plantation (formerly known as the Plimoth Patuxet Museums) is a living history museum that is a short drive away from downtown Plymouth.
Here you can walk through a historically accurate recreation of what a 17th-century English village would have looked like. Guides show you how pilgrims lived and what daily life in the early days of colonial America would have entailed. There is no doubt that the original Pilgrim settlers had grit. You can see the recreations of the homes of Myles Standish and Governor Bradford.
There is also a recreation of a Wampanoag settlement. The Wampanoag people were not nomadic but they did not have permanent villages as the English did. You can see the only wigwam in New England at this museum.
Address: 137 Warren Avenue, Plymouth
Myles Standish State Forest
Just outside Plymouth on the way to Carver, you will find the magnificent 12,000 acre Myles Standish State Forest.
A visit here is one of the best things to do in Plymouth for nature lovers because it has nearly 13 miles of walking and cycling rails. Alternatively, spend your time, relaxing in the shade of a giant pine trees or splashing in the shallows of one of the many ponds.
One of the more popular Massachusetts state forests, book early if you want to use the campground.
Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary
The Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife preserve run by the Massachusetts Audobon Society. A former cranberry farm, the sanctuary now has nearly 500 acres of streams, ponds, forest and walking trails.
Address: 60 Beaver Dam Road, Plymouth
Plymouth Mass Beaches
Like any Massachusetts coastal town, the 9 Plymouth beaches are a big draw for summer visitors.
Long Beach (1 Ryder Way) is a 3 mile barrier beach with lifeguards on duty during the summer months. Plymouth Long Beach is popular with both tourists and locals.
Nelson Memorial Park (255 Water St) is perfect for families. In addition to the beach, there is a playground and splash pad sprinklers. The Grace Trail is a one mile walk where you can admire the views.
Edaville Family Theme Park
Got little kids? They will love the Edaville Family Theme Park, a former cranberry farm turned heritage railroad and amusement park. Geared towards the under 5’s, there is lots to captivate little kids from Thomas the Tank Engine to Dinosaurs. In winter, they have a Christmas Festival of Lights.
Address: 5 Pine St, Carver
Things To Do Plymouth MA Map
To help you plan your trip, here’s a map of things to do in Plymouth and things to do near Plymouth MA.
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