Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Northampton, MA

  • Published 2023/03/08

Sitting in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, is Northampton, a charming small town full of culture and American history.

The city is an essential hub for academics and the arts; it also values the counterculture.

Northampton has many establishments, from art collectives to live entertainment venues showcasing the city’s unique spirit.

Here are the best things to do in Northampton, MA.

Check Out the Botanic Garden of Smith College

Botanic Garden of Smith College's greenhouse

EQRoy /

Also within the large expanse of the Smith College campus is the Botanic Garden, a green haven of flora and fauna in Northampton.

Smith College’s first president, Laurenus Clarke Seelye, founded the garden more than a century ago.

He had the vision to enrich the entire Smith College campus with greenery, to provide scientific and aesthetic value for its students and patrons.

The garden encompasses 12,000-square-feet, including different indoor and outdoor faucets and onsite facilities.

A bright tulip at Botanic Garden of Smith College

Malley Photography /

Visitors can drop by the Lyman Plant House & Conservatory, where the campus’ plant collections are.

Spend a few hours admiring the natural flora and fauna, both local and international.

The conservatory also makes for excellent photo backgrounds, with the lush colors of the plants and flowers providing great visuals.

Visitors can also stroll the outdoor greenery of the arboretum and garden grounds.

It’s a great way to take in the sights while getting some fresh Northampton air.

Botanic Garden of Smith College's flora

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

See the Ale Collections at the Beer Can Museum

The Beer Can Museum is a unique destination in Northampton that is a must for the visitor looking for a place with a quirky history.

In 1942, five young friends about to deploy in World War II stumbled upon a bar for a few farewell drinks.

Each man placed a can of beer on the wall, promising that they would drink again once they came back home.

Only three managed to return, and they drank the beers in honor of their comrades.

Over the years, the wall has become a sizeable collection of different beer cans and labels in a local bar called Ye Ol’ Watering Hole.

Drop by the pub to marvel at the impressive collection of beer cans accumulated through the years.

While you’re there, grab a pint or two to enjoy along with some simple but satisfying meals.

Admire the Artwork at the Smith College Museum of Art

Entrance of the Smith College Museum of Art

WindingRoad, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located within the Smith College campus is the Smith College Museum of Art, an impressive four-story collection of galleries filled with unique works.

Established in 1879, the Smith College of Art welcomes around 35,000 annual visitors and houses over 27,000 works.

These works represent the diversity of art and culture across different periods and places.

Visitors can explore the different exhibitions on display, primarily American and European works dating back to the 19thand 20th centuries.

Exterior of the Smith College Museum of Art

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore masterpieces from Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Gustave Corbet, etc.

Various local and international artists also put up seasonal exhibitions.

After a day of exploring the exhibits, drop by the café and grab a pick-me-up.

The Smith College Museum of Art is an excellent destination for art lovers and casual admirers.

Shop Local at Thornes Marketplace

Thornes Marketplace is where you see local Northampton offerings.

The exterior of Thornes Marketplace matches the city’s old-school charm, done in a mix of modern and colonial styles.

The different vendors in the marketplace are primarily local businesses, selling everything from clothing and general merchandise to food and drink.

Visitors can go to shops like Herrell’s, Captain Candy and Heavenly Chocolate to enjoy sweet treats.

Different shops are available for different tastes, such as Booklink for book lovers, Cedar Chest for fashion and beauty items, and Le Bonnton for unique home decorations.

There are also wellness studios that offer yoga and movement classes and physical therapy.

Explore City Heritage at Historic Northampton

Parsons house at Historic Northampton

John Phelan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Historic Northampton is a museum dedicated to collecting and preserving Northampton’s rich history and culture.

Visitors can explore the different exhibits showcasing important pieces and details of Northampton’s history.

Enter the Isaac Damon House, a two-story Federalist house built in the 1800s.

Historic Northampton includes two other houses along Bridge Street: the Nathaniel Parsons house, a First Period residence, and the Shepherd House, another Federalist-style building.

The latter had Greek and Colonial Revival modifications done in the early 1900s.

Historic Northampton is a great place to visit to know Northampton and its rich history.

Trace this history from the 1700s to its evolution into a melting pot of culture.

Learn about an Ex-president at the Forbes Library

The Forbes Library is a public library in Northampton and the home of research into the life of a former US president.

The library contains archives on President Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States.

Coolidge was a Massachusetts governor and a resident of Northampton before becoming president.

He died in 1933.

Visitors can explore various titles in the library, ranging from fiction to biographies, science, history, etc.

The library also houses an impressive art collection and a genealogy collection for Hampshire County.

These are open to the public.

The library houses President Coolidge’s extensive personal library, collected during his time as a public servant.

The library also hosts many community events, such as book clubs, spoken art performances, writing workshops, knitting classes, and chess competitions.

Explore the Calvin Coolidge House

Exterior of Calvin Coolidge House

Juro2351, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Former US President Calvin Coolidge lived in the house along Massasoit Street from 1906 to 1930.

Built in 1901, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

It’s also one of the most iconic landmarks in Northampton.

The builders followed the Colonial Revival architectural style, which was popular at the time.

Interestingly, Coolidge did not own the house even though he resided there for almost 30 years.

Visitors can see the home in its glory, imagining how Calvin Coolidge lived during his time in Northampton.

American history enthusiasts explore a piece of history from one of the country’s former chief executives.

See a Show at the Academy of Music

Exterior of the Academy of Music

Valerie Ingmann, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Standing along Main Street is the Academy of Music, another attraction in Northampton.

Northampton native Edward Lyman founded the academy in the late 19th century.

He envisioned a theater as a cultural venue in his hometown.

It opened its doors in 1891, with over a thousand seats for viewers and patrons to see quality live entertainment.

The Academy of Music eventually hosted big names and performances through the decades, including French actress Sarah Bernhardt and famed illusionist Harry Houdini.

The venue remains a popular destination for local and international live acts, whether dancers, filmmakers, theater performers, and musicians.

See who’s headlining at the Academy of Music during their visit to Northampton.

Showtimes and schedules are available on their official website, while you can buy tickets online or directly at the theater.

Enjoy Delicious Vegetarian Dishes at Paul and Elizabeth’s

A family-run business, Paul and Elizabeth’s opened its doors to Northampton residents in 1978.

The restaurant is a favorite among Northampton locals and visitors.

You’ll find unique dishes rooted in Japanese training and macrobiotic cooking techniques.

Try the fine dishes on the menu, from their vegetable and herb risotto cake appetizers to their pan-fried vegetable noodle dishes.

They also serve pescetarian meals, such as the shrimp tempura and fresh Atlantic salmon in miso butter.

Their whole wheat roll is also a hit with patrons, freshly baked daily.

Top your meal off with some of their homemade dessert offerings like the coconut carrot cake or the fruit pie.

After a healthy, hearty meal at Paul and Elizabeth’s, you’ll feel full and satisfied!

Have a Spot of Brunch at Jake’s

Childhood friends Christopher Ware and Alexander Washut founded Jake’s out of their passion for cooking and a long-time dream of opening a food business.

Jake’s offers American comfort favorites elevated to the next level.

Enjoy their all-day breakfast menu of freshly cooked eggs to breakfast burritos, with vegetarian and vegan options available for meat-averse eaters.

For lunch, sample their hot sandwich selection from Jake’s Burger to the Spicy Pork Sandwich, with locally sourced ingredients and all components made in-house.

You can also order from Jake’s Market to buy pantry staples, from fresh produce to some of their signature readymade creations.

Take home Jake’s pancake mix to recreate their all-day breakfast dish.

Grab the house burger sauce for your home burgers or their vinaigrettes for your salads.

Take a Break at Pulaski Park

Right next to the Academy of Music is Pulaski Park, a small but eventful patch of green in the heart of Northampton.

In the late 18thcentury, the park was a popular venue for public auctions and a venue for horse traders to congregate.

Judge Joseph Lyman owned the land in the early 19th century, which he maintained as a garden.

He also planted a few species of flowers there.

By the late 19thcentury, they turned over the park to the city.

At present, Pulaski Park has become a humble little community venue for local Northampton residents.

The park is enveloped with string lights that look romantic when lit up in the evening.

It’s also a favorite place for locals to come together, share a coffee, and converse about their day.

Relax before or after a show at the Academy of Music or hang out after exploring downtown Northampton.

Bike the Norwottuck Rail Trail

Aerial view of Norwottuck Rail Trail bridge

I, Denimadept, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Adventurous bikers can hit a few birds with one stone down the Norwottuck Rail Trail.

Opened in 1992, the trail covers an 11-mile path that passes through the towns of Northampton, Hadley, Amherst, and Belchertown.

It is part of the longer Mass Central Rail Trail in Massachusetts.

People riding their bike along Norwottuck Rail Trail bridge

John Phelan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take on the challenge and bike the entire 11-mile route one-way, used both by recreational cyclists.

Locals also use the route as commuter trails.

The Norwottuck Rail Trail is a great destination to take in the natural sights of Northampton while also exploring different areas and towns in the county.

Admire the Fine Art at R. Michelson Galleries

Art lovers should drop by the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton.

Located along Main Street, the R. Michelson Galleries is the biggest commercial art gallery in Western Massachusetts.

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Chicago’s Art Institute have received some of the artworks first displayed in the R. Michelson Galleries.

Admire the numerous works of art displayed in the gallery, from the neoclassical to postmodern works.

The collections are a mix of mediums, from oil paintings, egg tempera, prints, sculptures, etc.

The gallery’s exterior is a work of art in its own right, done in the colonial style similar to other buildings along Northampton’s Main Street.

Take in all the art and culture in the R. Michelson Galleries.

Explore the Outdoors at Elwell State Park

Nature lovers visiting Northampton would enjoy visiting Elwell State Park, a beautiful patch of greenery amidst the Connecticut River.

Enjoy various outdoor activities in the park, including walking and jogging, biking, and outdoor sports.

Bikers can take advantage of the trails sprawled around the park’s expanse, providing a gorgeous view of the park’s grounds and the adjacent river.

Water babies can also take their boats out and do a few rounds around the river.

You can also do fishing in the pocket corners of the river’s shores.

Those who want a more relaxing day out at Elwell State Park can lay a mat and have a little picnic among the beautiful greenery and fresh Northampton air.

Enjoy the Water Vistas at Connecticut River Greenway State Park

When talking about nature relaxation, Connecticut River Greenway State Park is among many of Northampton’s points of pride.

This state park connects to about 8 parks along or near the said river.

With boat ramps and observation decks, this park offers a multitude of recreational opportunities for you.

But for a classic move, try renting a boat to traverse along the Connecticut River.

Connecticut River Greenway State Park’s headquarters is on Damon Road.

Discover Wildlife and Vegetation at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge’s Mill River Division

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge’s Mill River Division is a Northampton treasure you should visit if you’re enthusiastic about exploring the wild.

Established in 1997, this division is part of a refuge that extends to four states connected by the Connecticut River.

The place got its name from Silvio O. Conte, who pushed federal legislation to protect the Connecticut River watershed.

The division extends to about 249 acres and is home to many migratory birds and the famous white-tailed deer.

Fishing, hunting, and animal observation are only some of the activities you can do at this site.

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge’s Mill River Division is near Parsons Swamp Road.

Explore Different Art Mediums at Paradise City Arts Festival

When it comes to an inclusive arts event, Paradise City Arts Festival takes the cake as one of the best in Northampton and its surrounding cities.

Started in 1995, this holistic event takes place biannually.

It features a set of indoor and outdoor programs, including art demonstrations and varied art exhibits.

Join an art auction and sign up for a workshop.

The art activities are endless!

Paradise City Arts Festival offers arts-centered events and exhibitions in the cities of Marlborough and Northampton.

And at Northampton, Three County Fairgrounds on Old Ferry Road hosts this event.

Browse through a Collection of Toys at A2Z Science & Learning Toy Store

Go a quick detour of your usual family-friendly stops in Northampton with a visit to A2Z Science & Learning Toy Store.

Started in 1987, this toy inventory-and-shop has some of the most extraordinary toy collections you won’t get to see elsewhere.

It’s not your usual toy store either because the shop offers weekly yoyo events for everyone—young and old—to join.

From interactive art and crafts and science-based play structures, your child may just find their next best favorite toy at this place.

Head to King Street to reach A2Z Science & Learning Toy Store.

Stroll along the Boardwalk at Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area

Be one with nature when you come by Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area.

This 936-acre preserve is a hit among wildlife explorers and naturalists alike because of its collection of habitats.

Its lake spans 40 acres and features a boardwalk and a dock for kayak and boat launching.

But before becoming a recreation site in the present, the area was once a Northampton Woodlot.

The artificial lake it got its name from came to be because of the Fitzgerald family in 1965.

The area also has paved and unpaved trails that zoom past cattail marshes, white pine groves, and granite “migrating” boulders.

For wildflowers and rare insects, Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area on North Farms Road is the place to be.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Sample the Vino at the Mineral Hills Winery

A short drive west of Northampton is the Mineral Hills Winery, located in the expanse of Godard’s Red Hen Farm.

Find it in Florence, Massachusetts, 13 minutes from Northampton.

Some of their wines have won various accolades from the American Wine Society.

These include their Cayuga White, Seyval Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sample the different varieties made onsite, from their unique blend of white and reds to their signature fruit wines such as the Wicked Blue and Red Hen Red.

Enjoy the tastings done in either their homey indoor venues or refreshing alfresco areas.

Don’t forget to take home a bottle or two to commemorate your Massachusetts trip with family and friends!

Final Thoughts

Northampton is a unique destination in Massachusetts, where history and contemporary create the town’s community vibe.

Northampton is a great place to learn about America’s rich history, from the buildings to the institutions still standing after hundreds of years.

It’s also a charming town where the old-style architecture is surrounded by lush greenery and still waters.

What are you waiting for? Book a visit to Northampton, MA, today!

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