When visiting Massachusetts, it’s easy to plan your trip around popular destinations like Boston or Cape Cod. Don’t miss out on popular college towns in Massachusetts like Amherst, Williamstown or Northampton though! With a vibrant downtown area and elite Smith College at its heart, Northampton has perfected the liberal, artsy college town aesthetic. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Connecticut River, Mount Tom and Mount Holyoke nearby, there are also plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy all year round. Here are some of the top things to do in Northampton Mass.
Northampton, Massachusetts is located in the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts.
The city is nicknamed “Paradise City” after a European opera singer called it “paradise on Earth”. To be fair, she gave a concert in Northampton and then eventually married her piano accompanist. She would have seen everything through the rose-tinted glasses of love.
Nowadays, people also call it Noho. We’v also heard reference to Happy Valley.
A Potted History of Northampton Massachusetts
The name comes from one of its first settlers who came from Northampton England. The settlers came from nearby Springfield Massachusetts in 1654.
The early history of Northampton shows a conservative-leaning fiery people.
In the early 18th century, Northampton’s own Jonathan Edwards began a religious movement called the Great Awakening. For this reason, Edwards is considered one o the founders of evangelical christianity.
Northampton was also the site of Shay’s Rebellion after the American Revolution. The Shay’s Rebellion crowd didn’t think they fought off the shackles of British taxation only to be taxed by the new government. Needless to say, the rebellion got squashed and Americans now all pay taxes.
The city was also an early site of anti-Irish sentiment with the sham trial and execution of two Irishmen in 1805 that the local Protestants with English ancestry didn’t like.
Tolerance was coming to Northampton Massachusetts though as surely as governments collect taxes.
A group of abolitionists set up a community in Northampton. Leading abolitionist, Sojourner Truth, called Northampton Massachusetts home.
Then, the educators came. Alexander Graham Bell established a school for the deaf, the Clarke School. Smith College, a leading liberal arts women’s college and one of the Seven Sisters was also established. Noted Smith College alumni include poet, Sylvia Plath and cookbook author, Julia Child.
The mid-20th century was just as hard on Northampton as the rest of the area before the city rebounded to be recognised as the best small arts town in the USA
Nowadays, Northampton is known as a liberal, intellectual, artsy and LGBQT haven. Yes, basically a right wing Christian evangelical nightmare. We loved it.
Northampton to Boston
Northampton MA to Boston is an easy journey which can be a day trip if you drive.
By car, Northampton MA to Boston MA is approximately 105 miles away and a 2 hour car drive.
Alternatively, you can take a bus to nearby Springfield for either a bus or a train. From Springfield there is a Peter Pan bus to Boston that takes approximately 3.5 hours or a train to Boston that takes approximately 2.5 hours.
Things To Do In Northampton Mass
There are plenty of things to do in Northampton MA for first-time visitors as well as repeat visitors. You will need time to appreciate all the fabulous foodie places and the excellent museums and arts facilities.
Smith College Museum of Art
A visit to this beautiful museum is one of the top things to do in Northampton, MA.
With a collection of 27,000 pieces, the works span a diverse range of styles and regions, such as Europe, Africa and lithographs, paintings and sculpture. The biggest collection is devoted to American and European art of the 19th and 20th century.
Address: 20 Elm St, Northampton, MA 01063
The Botanic Garden of Smith College
At the Smith College botanic garden, take a stroll through a living museum where science meets aesthetics. The garden was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who also designed Central Park in New York City, The Emerald Necklace in Boston and Castle Craig in Connecticut. Olmsted is considered the father of American landscape architecture.
Surround yourself with the beauty and floral aromas of their 6,600 different types of plants. They are housed in various places such as the 12,000 square foot Lyman Conservatory, the arboretum and specialist gardens.
The different types of gardens include a rock garden, perennial border garden, desert garden and a Japanese Garden.
Address: 16 College Lane, Northampton MA 01063
Academy of Music Theater
The first city owned theater in the USA, the Academy of Music Theater opened in 1891.
The theater has evolved over the years hosting events like magic shows by Harry Houdini to movies in later years. In the 1980’s the, Academy of Music Theater reinvented itself again as a center for theater, dance and music.
Address: 274 Main St., Northampton, MA 01060
Iron Horse Music Hall
If you’re a music lover, why not check out a concert or show while you’re traveling? “The Horse” as it is often referred to, offers a wide selection of musical and artistic talent. The setting is small and intimate making it one of the best places for live music in Northampton.
Address: 20 Center St, Northampton, MA 01060
Main Street in Downtown Northampton has been around for hundreds of years changing from simple wooden structures to brick buildings. The very first store in Downtown Northampton opened in 1769.
There are lots of independent stores, cafes and restaurants to browse. Everything in the center of town is within walking distance. You will find lots of coffee shops and bookstores in Northampton MA thanks to all the college students. But you will also find art galleries and great restaurants catering to an older crowd. Be sure to check out Raven Used Books (4 Old South Street) if you love bookstores.
Established in 1873, Thornes is a bazaar-style marketplace in downtown Northampton with independent retailers, wellness service providers and restaurants. Don’t bother with a gift shop, get your Northampton souvenirs here.
Our favourite ice-cream store, Herrell’s, is on the ground floor. On Level 1, you will find one of Northampton’s well-regarded coffee stores, Share Coffee and Cafe. There is also artisanal chocolate (Heavenly Chocolate) and a family-friendly independent bookstore (Booklink Booksellers).
Tired of sightseeing? Get a chair massage at the Backstop Seated Chair Massage.
Address: 150 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060
Street Art in Northampton
The Northampton Arts Council sponsors cool street art in Northampton Massachusetts. They have a list of sponsored murals and public art with their locations in downtown Northampton.
Paradise City Arts Fair
For three days every May and October, the Paradise City Arts Fair brings hundreds of vendors to the Three County Fairgrounds. The October fair coincides with the best time for Fall foliage viewing and apple cider donuts season bringing in lots of visitors to the area.
In addition to fine art, craft and design, being sold at reasonable prices there are vendors selling food and drinks. Live entertainment adds to the festive atmosphere.
Address: 54 Old Ferry Road, Northampton, MA 01060
Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was mayor of Northampton from 1910-11 before moving onto bigger political positions in Massachusetts. After his presidency, Coolidge retired to spend his last years in Northampton.
The Library contains an exhibition room completely dedicated to Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was a patron of the Forbes Library where the exhibit can be found and upon his death, truckloads of books were donated from his personal library.
Address: 20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060
Historic Northampton is a museum devoted to the history of the city. For example, there is an exhibit on how Main Street has changed through the years. The museum does regular lectures and walking tours about topics of local interest.
The museum is open on Wednesdays through Sundays in the afternoon.
Address: 46 Bridge Street, Northampton MA 01060
As you would expect in a college town, Northampton Massachusetts loves its craft beer. One of the fun things to do in Northampton is go on a craft beer crawl. Some suggestions to get you started:
At Northampton Brewery (11 Brewster Ct), new brews and pub food are available regularly. In winter you can cozy up next to their fireplace, and in summer you can enjoy a nice breeze and sunshine in their rooftop beer garden.
Try artisanal beer at Progression Brewing Co (9 Pearl St). In their taproom, you can also get flatbread pizza and burgers. Live music on Saturdays.
In nearby South Hadley, Drunken Rabbit Brewing (749 New Ludlow Rd) serves up craft beer goodness and pizza. A winning combo if ever there was one.
For something completely different, check out the 4000 vintage beer cans featured at the Beer Can Museum at Ye Ol’ Watering Hole (287 Pleasant St). Some of the beer cans date back to the early days of beer can production in the late 1930’s.
The Tunnel Bar
The Tunnel Bar is an institution. Appearing on a Buzzfeed list must make it true. To be fair though, we love some of the other bars mentioned, so this list is pretty solid.
Built in a passenger walkway in historic Union Station, the Tunnel Bar has great looks that fit into the trendy speakeasy vibe. The bartenders make great cocktails but the bar’s specialty is martinis.
Address: 125A Pleasant Street, Northampton MA 01060
Northampton Farmers’ Markets
The best place to stock up on fresh produce and tasty treats for your trip is, of course, a farmers market.
Northampton Massachusetts takes it food so seriously, there are three summer farmers’ market and even a winter farmers’ market. The summer markets run on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. The Tuesday market and Saturday market are in Downtown Northampton while the Wednesday market is in nearby Florence.
Hungry Ghost Bread
Pizza, pastries, and bread, oh my! This small bread shop opened in 2004 and was immediately a popular spot in the community. Their products are fresh and they use minimal ingredients, so you can feel good about what you’re eating.
The biggest challenge is trying not to eat all your treats the minute you step out of the store. Let the reviews speak for themselves and they will tell you this is one of the top things to do in Northampton.
Address: 62 State St, Northampton, MA 01060
Herrell’s Ice Cream
No trip to Northampton is complete without a trip to Herrell’s Ice Cream shop. With an extensive menu with heaps of options, and menus for those who are dairy-free or sugar-free, everyone will be able to enjoy Herrell’s Ice Cream.
Address: 8 Old South Street, Northampton, MA 01060
Look Memorial Park
A private park in Northampton, the Frank Newhall Look Park is worth the price of admission if you are travelling with children.
Covering over 150 acres, Look Park has extensive family-friendly facilities like a wildlife center and walking paths. Children will love the playgrounds, little steam train, the mini golf course and the pedal boats. In fact, it will be hard to know what their favorite thing will be!
Address: 300 N Main St, Northampton MA 01062
Paradise Pond is located on the Smith College campus in Northampton. There are walking trails by the side of the pond. When the pond water freezes enough in winter, Paradise Pond is a delightful ice skating rink.
The Mill River Greenway Initiative is a short self-guided walk that shows you the industrial past of Northampton and starts at the Smith College Boathouse on Paradise Pond. The Mill River eventually connects with the Connecticut River.
If you like to be active outdoors, you’ll love the bike trails Northampton MA offers.
Take a bike ride on the scenic, 11-mile paved Norrwottuck Rail Trail, which is also open to runners and walkers. In winter, you have the option of cross-country skiing on the Norrwottuck Rail Trail.
Plans are underway for the Mass Central Rail Trail that will connect Boston to Northampton. A 104 miles when completed, about 50 miles are currently finished.
There are 4 miles of the New Haven and Northampton Greenway in Northampton itself. When finished, this Greenway will run 90 miles connecting Northampton to New Haven.
The ValleyBike sharing program lets you rent bikes to cycle around the Pioneer Valley. Here’s a map that shows where you can rent a ValleyBike which are available in lots of places beyond Northampton such as Amherst, Springfield and Holyoke.
Things To Do Near Northampton Mass
There are plenty of things to do near Northampton Mass because of its great central location in the Pioneer Valley. Go a bit south and you will find all the attractions of Springfield. Or, go a bit north and you’ll find yourself at the attractions near Deerfield.
When you visit Hampshire County in Massachusetts, you will find some of the towns mentioned below, including Hadley, Amherst and Cummington. The rest of Hampshire County is as pretty as Northampton.
Sojourner Truth Statue
There is a (very) small park devoted to leading abolitionist activist, Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth was born enslaved in a Dutch area of New York in 1797. She was bought and sold since the age of 9 to various masters until she left slavery in 1826 with the help of a New York couple who paid off her owner.
She even managed to win against her former owner in a lawsuit when he had illegally sold her son. She was the first Black woman to sue a white man in a US court and win.
She wrote an autobiography, Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, and, with the proceeds, was able to buy a home in Northampton Massachusetts.
Sojourner Truth is widely known for her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech she delivered in 1851 at a women’s rights conference in Ohio.
Address: 121 Pine St, Florence, MA 01062
Florence Pie Bar
Located near Northampton, Florence Pie Bar is a real treat serving both sweet and savoury pies as well as other baked treats like cookies and scones.
An equal-opportunity pie lover will find quiche, meat pies, vegetable pies as well as fruit pies, cream pies and nut pies. After you have stuffed yourself full, you can even get baked goods to go for later!
The pies are freshly made with locally-sourced ingredients as they are seasonally available. That’s a no-brainer since its agricultural bounty is what early settlers to the Pioneer Valley in the first place!
Address: 17 Main Street, Florence, MA 01062
Mount Tom State Reservation
Catch a striking view of Pioneer Valley from the top of Mount Tom State Reservation.
With 22 miles of hiking trails and a path for every skill level, this is a picturesque place to come unwind and connect with nature. Mount Tom is a favourite with birdwatchers.
In winter, there are plenty of trails for cross-country skiing.
Address: 125 Reservation Road, Holyoke, MA 01040
Mount Holyoke Range State Park
Mount Holyoke Range State Park is a Massachusetts state park that offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails. You can either hike or drive up to the summit to visit the famous Mount Holyoke summit house for incredible panoramic views.
Address: 1500 West St., Amherst, MA 01002
Skinner State Park
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Skinner State Park for outdoor enthusiasts, such as the 40 miles of hiking trails. Whether you’re into hiking, horseback riding, or hang gliding, there are ample ways to savor the beauty of the area.
Address: 10 Skinner State Park Road, Hadley, MA 01035
Check out beautiful Amherst which has plenty of things to do, including visiting Amherst College, Hampshire College, the Emily Dickinson Museum, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and Atkins Farm with its famous apple cider donuts.
Deerfield is only about 16 miles north of Deerfield. Things to do in Deerfield include visiting the enormous Yankee Candle Village headquarters in South Deerfield and the pioneer village recreation at Historic Deerfield.
Hadley is only 4 miles from Northampton. The Hadley Farm Museum commemorates the history of farming in the area.
Nearby, refresh yourself at Esselon Cafe which offers artisanal coffee as well as baked goods and light lunches.
In South Hadley, Mount Holyoke College is a fellow Seven Sisters College. Like Smith College, its campus was also landscaped Frederick Law Olmsted. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum is one of the best and oldest college art museums in the US.
Holyoke lies 10 miles south of Northampton. Holyoke is where the sport of volleyball was born in 1895 and home to the Volleyball Hall of Fame. The former house of the Skinner Family is know a historic house museum, Wisteriahurst.
Springfield is 19 miles south from Northampton.The largest city in the Pioneer Valley, Springfield is home to many noted tourist attractions for people of all ages and interests.
Some of these attractions include the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield Armory National Historic Site and the Dr. Seuss Museum.
Families will love the Six Flags New England theme park. Another family event, the Big “E”, New England’s largest agricultural fair is held near Springfield every September.
Other Things To Do Near Northampton Mass
Montague State Forest is one of the nicest of the Massachusetts State Forests. Nearby the Montague Bookmill is a former mill turned into a bookstore with a charming cafe for a tasty meal with a view.
The Connecticut River Scenic Byway, takes you past rolling hills and farmland, one of the most beautiful scenic drives in Massachusetts.
Check out one of the hidden gems in Massachusetts the Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers which is the only place we know that has creatively repurposed a disused trolley bridge.
There’s also the home of American poet, William Cullens Bryant Homestead, in Cummington nearby.
Map of Northampton Massachusetts
Map of Northampton Massachusetts with Northampton Mass things to do.
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