Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in New Bedford, MA

  • Published 2022/12/19

Most of us know about New Bedford in Massachusetts as the number 1 fishing port in the United States.

However, this old whaling city has more to it than meets the eye.

New Bedford is an exciting destination to relax, explore, shop, and eat.

Its sea breeze instantly revitalizes your mind and body, while its attractions will give you a lot of fun memories.

New Bedford, home to about 95,000 residents, is known for its dynamic seafaring roots and rich cultural and artistic heritage.

An hour’s drive south of Boston, New Bedford is a perfect day trip for those who want to escape the stressful city life.

Upon arriving there, you will be greeted with its fleet of fishing boats proudly docked at its vast harbor.

Its local pubs, packed with fishers and townsfolks, offer you a cold brew and warm hospitality.

A short excursion here won’t just take you away from the stressful city life but will also lead you to a path of rich history, culture, and natural attractions.

If you don’t have an itinerary for this place yet, here are the 20 best things to do in New Bedford, MA:

Discover the City’s History at the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Outside View of New Bedford Whaling Museum

Mystic Stock Photography /

New Bedford’s moniker is “The Whaling City” since it was one of the world’s most important whaling ports in the early 1900s, along with Nantucket and New London.

Whaling in the early 1900s was a vast industry.

Whales weren’t just hunted down for their meat but also for their fat and oil, which was a commodity back then.

To learn the whaling history of New Bedford, you should head to this museum and check out its massive collection of artifacts, documents, photographs, and a real-life whale skeleton.

Inside View of New Bedford Whaling Museum

Jared and Corin ; cropped and color-corrected by Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Plus, you can take a closer look at the half-scale model of the Lagoda, a famous whaleship in New Bedford.

To visit the Whaling Museum, head to 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford, MA.

It’s open the whole week from 9 AM to 5 PM.

Whale skeleton in New Bedford Whaling Museum

Pb55, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore the City’s Rich History at the New Bedford Seaport Cultural District

The New Bedford Seaport Cultural District is the City’s foremost historical and cultural hub.

It’s at the working waterfront of the city’s downtown area.

The Seaport Cultural District is where you will find the city’s best shopping boutiques, art studios, delicious food, and fascinating historical and cultural attractions.

It’s also where you can attend the annual Seaport Art Walk every October, which is highlighted with tons of activities and events.

If you’re seeking a quintessential experience in New Bedford, you shouldn’t miss going to this area in the city.

Taste Craft Beer at the Pour Farm Tavern

The Pour Farm Tavern is New Bedford’s lone craft beer tavern serving locals and visitors alike since 2008.

The place has 24 taps, and if you haven’t been there, you should drop by at the location for a pint of craft beer and pair it with their famous pulled pork, brisket cheesesteak, and baby back ribs.

Aside from their refreshing craft beer and delicious food, the place is also a popular entertainment area.

Many performers in and around New Bedford do shows here, while other activities such as art exhibits also happen here.

The Pour Farm Tavern is at 780 Purchase St.

Relax at the Scenic Fort Taber Park

Walls of Fort Taber Park

Allan Wood Photography /

Located at the 1000 Rodney French Boulevard, Fort Taber Park’s 50-acre property is seated beside the ocean, which offers you a picturesque view of Buzzards Bay.

The Park itself has a historical significance to New Bedford since it was initially built in the 1800s as a military fort adjacent to Fort Rodman.

Both forts were built to defend the shores of New Bedford during the height of the Civil War.

View of Clark's Point light in Fort Taber Park

Allan Wood Photography /

It’s one of the places in the city that locals love to visit every afternoon to relax and unwind during spring or summer.

It’s a must-visit place in the city since the park is teeming with many amenities and fun activities to do.

Plus, it has a peaceful and calming atmosphere that will instantly relax your mind and body.

If you want to hike, bike, or jog along its paved paths while breathing fresh air from the sea, it is up to you.

The grounds of Fort Taber Park

Schlitzer90, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stroll Along the Blue Lane

A series of waterfront trails in New Bedford called “The Blue Lane” is perfect for a stress-free afternoon hike.

Its trails offer an elegant view of the seaside, which skirts the edge of New Bedford.

You get to choose from three hiking trails, the CoveWalk, the HarborWalk, and RiverWalk, which offer equally beautiful terrain and sceneries.

The HarborWalk is a 2.6-mile stretch that has an out-and-back paved trail.

It’s along New Bedford’s southeastern border and will lead you to Fort Tabor.

Meanwhile, the HarborWalk is perfect for a romantic evening stroll for its relaxing ambiance.

On the other hand, the CoveWalk takes you to the western portion of New Bedford’s peninsula.

It’s also as beautiful as the two trails that lead you to the top of the city’s hurricane barrier.

Tour Around New Bedford Aboard Cuttyhunk Ferry Co.

To fully immerse yourself in New Bedford’s boating culture, you should hop on the Cuttyhunk’s ferry, which takes you around Buzzard Bay and to Cuttyhunk Island.

It’s an experience you shouldn’t miss in New Bedford because the ferry will take you through its historic and scenic waters.

If you want sunset cruises, seal watches, and dinner trips, Cuttyhunk’s ferry offers you these kinds of exciting journeys.

The Cuttyhunk Ferry Co. has been operating for the past thirty years and has taken thousands of visitors around New Bedford.

To book tickets, you can visit Cuttyhunk Ferry Co’s website or call its office at 66B State Pier S. Bulkhead, New Bedford, MA.

Meet Exotic Animals at the Buttonwood Park Zoo

People at Buttonwood Park Zoo

Mystic Stock Photography /

Zoos are perfect for exploring with kids.

Thus, when visiting New Bedford, don’t forget to drop by the Buttonwood Park Zoo to get up-close with animals from Africa, Asia, and Europe behind safe enclosures.

The zoo, located at 425 Hawthorn St., is teeming with animals of all sizes.

A total of 85 animals are waiting for you to meet at the Buttonwood Park Zoo.

Elephants at Buttonwood Park Zoo

Balon Greyjoy, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also, the zoo offers educational tours about wildlife conservation efforts to help sustain a quality life for animals in captivity.

Above all, the zoo promotes awareness about improving the public’s understanding of animals and wildlife.

Take photos of elephants, birds, reptiles, and predators that you will only see on television.

Lastly, make sure to read the rules and regulations before roaming around the zoo to keep you and the animals completely safe.

Inside View of Buttonwood Park Zoo

Mystic Stock Photography /

Celebrate New Bedford’s Art Culture at AHA!

Art, History & Architecture, or AHA! is a congregation of New Bedford’s culture and arts community.

It collaborates with more than 60 downtown establishments and venues to promote New Bedford’s Downtown Cultural Night.

AHA! isn’t just famous in New Bedford but across the United States for being a unique event representing the town’s history, architecture, and arts in the most fantastic way possible.

The event takes place at New Bedford’s downtown and happens every second Thursday of the month.

AHA! is a must-attend activity in New Bedford to have fun and channel your artistic side.

Plus, it’s free to join this monthly festival.

The theme is each month is unique from one another, making it extra exciting to attend.

Watch entertaining performances from local and visiting artists who strut their wares on stage.

Plus, they have a cultural educator who walks you through their exhibits.

Eat Fresh Seafood at Antonio’s Restaurant

New Bedford’s cuisine is dominated by seafood for self-evident reasons.

Thus, to enjoy seafood in the most delicious way, head down to 267 Coggeshall St., Antonio’s.

Antonio’s is a Portuguese-American restaurant specializing in authentic Portuguese seafood dishes that will surely captivate your tastebuds.

Antonio’s been considered New Bedford’s most famous Portuguese-American restaurant since 1989 after it was voted by Bon Appetit, a food magazine in New England.

If you are intrigued with Portugal’s traditional cuisine and want to enjoy New Bedford’s seafood, Antonio’s is the best place to go.

Antonio’s offers fresh scallops, clams, oysters, lobsters, and a wide array of fishes while serving meat dishes cooked in a Portuguese way.

It’s open the entire week from 11:30 AM to 9 PM.

Embrace New Bedford’s Culture at Zeiterion Performing Arts Center

Outside View of Zeiterion Performing Arts Center

LGagnon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This place offers you cultural performances that will take you back to a time of New Bedford’s humble beginnings.

Many tourists will recommend this spot in New Bedford’s downtown area to experience excellent cultural shows.

Aside from its cultural performances, this place is also the 17 remaining old theaters located in New Bedford’s downtown.

It’s been genuinely entertaining people and sharing New Bedford’s history since 1923.

Aside from cultural shows, the performing arts center also has other shows, such as concerts, live performances, etc.

To visit the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, head over to 684 Purchase St.

Fulfill Your Seafood Cravings at the Merrill’s on the Waterfront

In downtown New Bedford, Merrill’s on the Waterfront continues to serve locals and visitors with a menu that is fresh from the sea.

This restaurant was the former Waterfront Grille; now, it has been operated by Lafrance Hospitality since 2018.

The restaurant sits on New Bedford’s most extensive of the seven wharves, Homer’s Wharf.

The place is always packed with guests for its waterfront patio that gives you a scenic view of New Bedford’s docks.

The Merrill’s on The Waterfront is at 36 Homer’s Wharf in New Bedford.

The restaurant serves from 4 to 8 PM, except on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Score Great Finds Along Acushnet Avenue

Your New Bedford travel adventure won’t be complete if you don’t visit Acushnet Avenue, teeming with shops, restaurants, and pubs.

There, you will find Portuguese specialty shops, pastries, bakeries, boutiques, and many stores you can choose from.

It’s an excellent place to stroll and shop for souvenirs and rub elbows with the locals.

There are several hidden gems there waiting for you to be found.

Step Inside Massachusetts’s Oldest Fire Station at the New Bedford Fire Museum

Outside View of New Bedford Fire Museum

​English Wikipedia user Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The New Bedford Fire Museum is where you’ll find Massachusetts’ oldest active fire station, Fire Station No. 4.

It was built in 1867, and today, it remains a fully-functional fire station and a museum filled with antique firefighting equipment and gear that were in actual fires back in the day.

The museum is a unique and charming place to visit in Bedford since it is one of the few dedicated fire museums.

It represents different firefighting organizations and features old and modern firefighting technology and equipment.

Spend Your Night at the New Bedford Harbor Hotel

Make sure to book a cozy hotel in New Bedford since you can’t visit all the places there in a day.

Book a room at the New Bedford Harbor Hotel to cap your adventurous day with comfort.

This relatively newly-opened hotel is just a stone’s throw away from New Bedford’s best attractions, such as the Whaling National Historical Park, Whaling Museum, Cuttyhunk Ferry Co, and New Bedford’s harbor area.

This three-star hotel offers standard amenities, good food, year-round discount deals, and a fantastic view of New Bedford’s harbor.

See Amazing Glass Arts at The New Bedford Museum of Glass

New Bedford was once known as the “Art Glass Capitol of the Country” and you’ll find out why at The New Bedford Museum of Glass.

This remarkable museum on County Street features the beauty of glass art with over 7,000 dazzling glass creations from early times to works by Tiffany, Lalique, Steuben, and Orrefors to name a few.

Founded in 1993, this specialized museum has an extensive display of early blown and pressed glass pieces, pattern glasses, Bohemian and Italian designs, and antique 17th-18th century English tableware.

Visit the Eric Streiner and John & Edie Lawson Collections of Ancient Glass with Mediterranean pieces dating back to 600 BCE and an example of the Roman unguentarium, a double-bottle shape made by blowing two glass bubbles.

See the John and Jean Stauffer Collection featuring the Mt. Washington Glass Company’s patented “Lava” Glass.

You’ll also catch the amazing collection of Contemporary Glass Paperweights at the Richard P. Schimmelpfeng exhibit; see over 350 works by Rick Ayotte, David Graeber, and Melissa Ayotte among others.

For contemporary glass arts, the Michael J. Rukin Collection lets you view some of the world’s most creative glass displays by Alex Gabriel Bernstein, Ivana Houserova, Eva Vlasakova, and many others; likewise, you’ll also see Lucy Lyon’s “glass library,” with literary interpretations included in the sculpture.

Then marvel at the Crystal Kingdom which lets you explore wildlife through the Magic of Glass and be in awe of the “see-through zoo” which presents the special features of glass fashioned to symbolize the diversity of life.

You can also drop by the Virginia Shaw Rockwell Research Library at The New Bedford Museum of Glass to learn anything and everything about glassmaking and its history.

Visit the Historic Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum

Exterior of the Historic Rotch-Jones-Duff House

​English Wikipedia user Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Historic Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum located on County Street is one of New Bedford’s National Historic Landmarks.

The residence was built in 1834 by William Rotch, Jr., one of the city’s influential entrepreneurs and townsmen.

Observe this 19th-century structure and marvel at the Greek Revival style features.

Prominent families of Edward Coffin Jones and Mark M. Duff also resided at this mansion.

Garden of the Historic Rotch-Jones-Duff House

Rolf Müller, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stroll the lovely rose parterre and specimen gardens and drop by the wooden pergola with the surrounding woodlands.

You can also catch summer concerts, theater productions, garden tours, and educational programs at the garden.

Have an experience of history at the Historic Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum.

Get Immersed in Art Displays at New Bedford Art Museum

For engaging artwork exhibits, you can visit the New Bedford Art Museum on Pleasant Street.

The merging of the institution with ArtWorks! Partners for the Arts & Community in 2014 made the arts accessible to more locals and visitors.

With a minimal admission fee, you can view rotating displays by local and national artists and enjoy a unique creative experience.

Linger and appreciate the various art expressions representing both historic and contemporary themes.

You can also catch scheduled artist talks, performances, and programs to deepen your experience.

If you want to learn and improve your inner art skills, you can sign up for various Art Classes and Workshops offered by the museum.

You can drop by the New Bedford Art Museum from Thursday to Sunday.

Bring Out the Artist in You with Painting at Splash

If you love to create your own artwork and have fun at the same time, Painting at Splash is a great place to visit.

This art studio is located at Purchase Street and offers scheduled classes throughout the week.

Book a reservation so they can accommodate you once you arrive.

Enjoy a two-hour step-by-step class and let your creative juices run to create your masterpiece.

Check out the special theme nights and choose which suits your family or friendly get-togethers.

You can also bring your own beer or wine and snacks to the studio.

Painting at Splash is available for special events and private celebrations like kid’s birthday parties, date nights, bachelorette parties, and others.

Be a Local and Join the New Bedford Folk Festival

People at the New Bedford Folk Festival

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Celebrated for more than 20 years, New Bedford Folk Festival is a multi-stage event that features the best of folk and acoustic music in the region.

The festival is held on the first weekend of July with several locations in downtown New Bedford.

Watch exclusive performances with premium passes to shows featured at The Zeiterion Theatre on Purchase Street.

Otherwise, watch stage performances at several areas for free and you’re still sure to have a great time.

Singer at the New Bedford Folk Festival

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Drop by over a hundred craft vendors and get to try an array of lunch or dinner specialties from various sellers; likewise, enjoy drinks at the Beer Garden.

Have fun with the family and join the Family Stage with activities you can enjoy.

And there’s endless music from Americana, blues, Celtic folk, and traditional to contemporary beats; you can also catch workshops and jam sessions with multiple talented artists taking on unique collaborations.

Have a fun weekend at the New Bedford Folk Festival.

Musicians at the New Bedford Folk Festival

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other Things to Do Nearby

Get a Glimpse of Whales at Cape Cod Bay

Cruising at Cape Cod Bay

LuCreator /

Whale hunting or whaling has been long gone in New Bedford and Massachusetts.

Instead, the locals today offer whale watching for tourists along Cape Cod Bay and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Today, whales are protected and not hunted anymore for their meat and fat.

Although the whaling industry was fascinating and full of adventure, New Bedford’s primary industry today is fishing.

A whale at Cape Cod Bay

Amy Lutz /

So, when you’re in New Bedford, make sure to sign-up for whale watching and get a glimpse of different species of whales, such as humpback, minke, and pilot.

If you’re not lucky enough to spot whales, Cope Cod Bay is teeming with playful dolphins that won’t shy away from your camera.

Whale tail at Cape Cod Bay

Paul Tessier /

Final Thoughts

If you’re both a seafood lover and a history buff, New Bedford should be on your list of destinations.

Besides, the city isn’t just known for its fish port and its fleet of fishing vessels.

It’s also a place teeming with culture, arts, entertainment, and delicious seafood.

Your travel there is guaranteed packed with a lot of awesome things that you’ll treasure forever.

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