Massachusetts is nothing if not rife with history. After all, where did the Pilgrims first land when coming to the New World? Where did Paul Revere take his famous ride? Explore the places where some of the biggest events in history took place, and gain a better understanding about the storied past of the Bay State. Here are the 15 best historical sites in Massachusetts.
A self-guided walking tour, the Freedom Trail in Boston leads visitors to some pivotal historical spots from the Revolutionary War. In addition to the rich history, you’ll get 2.5 miles of walking exercise. A recorded narrative is available for those who’d like to learn a bit more about each stop along the way.
A Smithsonian-affiliated museum, Plimoth Plantation provides living history in the spot where the Pilgrims first settled in their new home. Recognized as one of the best recreations in the world of Pilgrim and Native American lives and their intersection, a Wampanoag home site and full-scale 17th century village may be toured. Actors in character will bring visitors up to speed on what life was like during America’s earliest days.
Not far from Plimoth Plantation, history buffs can visit Plymouth Rock, the site where the Mayflower landed in 1620. William Bradford and the Pilgrims disembarked here. While you’ll only spend a moment or two checking out the rock, the town itself is lovely, with various historical inns, as well as quaint New England restaurants and shops.
The site of the battle of Concord and Lexington—succeeding Paul Revere’s famous ride—Minute Man National Park is home to historical exhibits and guided tours. See the opening battle of the Revolutionary War reenacted and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
A full-scale reproduction of the Mayflower, the Mayflower II affords history lovers the chance to see what that harrowing trip across the Atlantic Ocean was like. Costumed guides play the roles of both passengers and the crew.
One of six frigates commissioned by George Washington back in 1794, the USS Constitution was part of the country’s first navy. Dubbed “Old Ironsides,” efforts to restore the ship are ongoing. Located in the Charlestown Navy Yard—part of the Boston National Historic Park—the ship is presently out of the water, but may be seen in dry dock. Exhibits and a gift shop make the stop here even more educational and fun.
Made of granite, this 92-foot-tall structure honors all servicemen and servicewomen from Massachusetts. Featuring a lighted beacon, the Veteran’s War Memorial is lighted every night. Views from the park—known as the highest spot in the state—include both Massachusetts and parts of New York.
Known as the oldest surviving timber-frame mansion in New England, the House of Seven Gables was also made famous when featured in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel of the same name. Also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, it is located away from the Salem witch hype, but not so far away that it isn’t well worth a tour. History buffs will love to take a guided tour. Be sure to visit the museum and gift shop, too.
While witches didn’t cast spells on people in the 1600s, people back then believed they did exactly that. As a result, many innocent people died during the Salem Witch Trials. The Salem Witch Village affords witch enthusiasts a tour, as well as a guide to what is fact and what is fiction. Make reservations—especially if you plan to visit in the fall. The town goes crazy near Halloween.
The oldest surviving structure in the city, the Old State House has graced Boston since 1713. The Declaration of Independence was read publicly here in 1776. The Boston Massacre took place just below the building’s east balcony. Take a tour and be sure to check ahead of time to learn what scheduled events might be taking place during your visit.
A church constructed in 1729, the Old South Meeting Hall in Boston is the site of many discussions leading to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Tour the church and watch a reenactment of the event responsible for sparking the Revolution.
Given to the city of Boston by merchant Peter Faneuil, Faneuil Hall was once used as a place for public meetings by early colonists who protested the British taxes. In later years, it was filled with anti-slavery protesters. Ground broke on the building in 1740 and it was completed in 1742. Today it is filled with market stalls that spill out into the nearby Quincy Market, featuring shops, food stalls, restaurants and more.
Forty historic homes, craft shops, mills, farm buildings and stores comprise the 200-acre recreation of New England life in the 1800s known as Old Sturbridge Village. A living museum, the village offers hands-on opportunities to perform tasks as early New Englanders performed them centuries ago. Visit the website to see what historical activities are taking place during your visit.
One of this country’s most beloved artists, Normal Rockwell both lived and created his masterpieces in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Known for his characterization of small-town American ideals, the Norman Rockwell Museum features favorites as well as little know works. Visit the museum shop and take home a piece of history.
One of only 13 presidential libraries in the U.S., administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston was built in honor and memory of the 35th president of the United States, who hailed from Massachusetts. Located in a 10-acre park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, exhibits take visitors back to the 1950s and 1960s with artifacts from the late president’s personal and professional life. As you can well see, lots of important U.S. history took place in the state of Massachusetts. The next time you visit—for an extended stay, or while simply passing through—delve into the importance this state and its people played in life as we know it today.