To the south of Boston is Cape Cod, a tremendously popular vacation spot and home to the Kennedy family, one of America’s more influential political families. West of Boston you’ll find the Blackstone Valley National Corridor, a vast expanse of rolling hills and small towns, as well as some of the most unique vineyards in the East Coast.
The Knowledge Corridor features New England’s second most populous urban area, the 24 mile stretch between Springfield and Hartford, Connecticut. In western Massachusetts, this area is also known as the Pioneer Valley. It features an abundance of colleges, universities, and nature. Its cultural and economic hub is Springfield.
To the far west, you’ll find more rural areas, the Berkshire Hills, the Appalachian Trail, and excellent skiing. Massachusetts has a lot to offer the prospective traveller!
Massachusetts is one of the oldest states in America, dating back to the foundation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620. The name Massachusetts comes from Algonquian Indian words that mean the great mountain, an apparent reference to the tallest of the Blue Hills, a recreation area south of the town of Milton.
Massachusetts is a state of firsts – the first public school (Boston Latin School), the first public library (Boston Public Library), the first public park (Worcester), the first American university (Harvard), the first National Armory (Springfield), the first gasoline-powered automobile (Springfield), the first birth control pill (Worcester), the first public beach (Revere Beach), the first motorcycle (Springfield), the first modern fire engine (Springfield), the first liquid fuel rocket (Worcester), the birthplace of basketball (Springfield), and the birthplace of Volleyball (Holyoke). It also features the site of the Boston Massacre, the event that set off the American Revolutionary War, with the “shot heard ’round the world” in Concord at the Old North Bridge.
Massachusetts also has its dark side, the Salem Witch Trials (taking place in 1692) being one of the most significant black spots on the state’s history.
Massachusetts today is a blend of old and new. In Eastern Massachusetts you can walk the 3.5 mile Freedom Trail in Boston to see more than 20 historical sites, then hop over to Cambridge and see some of the world’s most advanced biotechnology, not to mention the legendary Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the gold standard for technical education in the United States. The state as a whole is a blend of rural and urban, from Boston and suburbs in the East, to the gently rolling hills and lovely small villages in the Center, to the culturally, historically, and educationally rich Pioneer Valley and the rolling Berkshire Mountains in the west.
The easiest way to get into Eastern Massachusetts is through Logan International Airport in Boston. The easiest way to get into Western Massachusetts is through Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, which is 12 miles south of Springfield (and equidistant to Hartford, Connecticut.)
Other regional airports include Worcester, Manchester, Providence, Chicopee (Springfield), and Albany.
More information on New England’s regional airports can be found at Fly New England.
Boston’s South Station is the northern terminus of the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily trafficked rail route in the country, and one of the few routes serviced by Amtrak with a high frequency of service. Trains from New York reach Boston in about 4.5 hours; trains from Washington take about twice as long. The faster Acela trains shave about an hour off those journeys, and although they cost more, they generally present a more enjoyable trip.
Boston’s North Station is served by the Downeaster which goes to New Hampshire and Maine.
Springfield is also served by Amtrak with trains entering from the north, south, east, and west. It is accessible by Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Service, the Vermonter from the north and south, and the Lake Shore Limited from the east and west. With the renovation of Springfield’s Union Station, Springfield will receive an increase in rail traffic in the next several years, so be aware that schedules will change.
Other Western and Central Massachusetts cities are also served by Amtrak, although much less frequently than Boston. Pittsfield, Worcester, and Framingham are served by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited from the east and west. The college mecca of Amherst is served by the Vermonter, but the stop is scheduled to be re-routed to Northampton with the completion of the Pioneer Valley intercity commuter rail. With all of the current train-building in Western Massachusetts, it’s best to check ahead regarding stops.
Though easily accessible by train, if traveling from Pennsylvania or further away, it is frequently cheaper and almost always faster to fly to Massachusetts than take the train (however, traveling on the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago and all points in between is often less than $100).
Massachusetts has several large interstates that serve it, including:
Other important non-interstate highways in Massachusetts include: U.S. Routes 1, 6, and 20; U.S. Route/State Route 3; and State Routes 2, 9, and 24.
Use SmarTraveler to determine traffic conditions in the Metro Boston area.
Dial 511 on your cell phone to listen to up-to-date traffic conditions for all major highways.
A number of bus companies run a Boston-New York route, from the nationally-known Greyhound to Springfield-based Peter Pan, to a variety of small, low-cost “Chinatown bus” carriers.
Amtrak goes to many major cities.
Within and around Boston, public transportation is run by the Mass Bay Transit Authority or MBTA and is called the “T”, and there are commuter rails (purple on the maps) that go to surrounding suburbs and cities including Framingham and Worcester. The suburbs in the south are served by Boston’s South Station, while the suburbs in the north are served by Boston’s North Station.
Within and around Springfield, the public transportation system is called the PVTA. It travels as far north as the college towns of Northampton and Amherst.
I-90 (also called the Massachusetts Turnpike, or simply the Mass Pike) is the major East-West route across the state. Rt 2 is a more northern equivalent, though there are sections through town centers with traffic lights.
A portion of the Appalachian Trail runs through the state.
There are a number of “rail trails” – converted rail road lines – throughout the state that have been paved for pedestrian and bicycle travel. There are also designated “bikeways” along secondary roads.
Although it is illegal to hitchhike on the highway itself, I-90 has a very good system of commercial rest stops placed conveniently every few miles. Hitching a ride from these rest stops isn’t too hard. Make a sign, stand in the parking lot and put out your thumb for cars on the way out. As these rest stops are quasi-private property, it may be advisable to buy something small, like a pack of gum, so that you are a paying customer.
Mass Wildlife maintains an excellent site showing access points and maps of wildlife areas as well as regulations, permits and fees. Saltwater fishing does not require a license (shellfishing usually does), but there are regulations under the authority of the State Division of Marine Fisheries. Local regulations may also apply in regards to shellfishing or taking of herring.
The New England boiled dinner is a contribution of the state’s many Irish immigrants. It is a simmered pot meal of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and sometimes turnips. Horseradish, mustard, and sometimes vinegar are used as condiments.
Massachusetts folks are serious about their clam chowder. Many seacoast towns schedule chowder festivals at which locals compete for bragging rights. Fried clams are an alternative way to serve these delectable shellfish, usually accompanied by french fried potatoes. Haddock and cod are the local fish mainstays and one often sees “schrod” on menus. It is purported to be young cod or haddock, but is assumed by locals to mean generic white fish. Bluefish is worth trying, though some may find it a strong-flavored. The other local gamefish, striped bass, is considerably milder in taste.
Worcester’s ethnically diverse population offers home-style food from all over the world in funky little restaurants hidden in odd corners all over the city. Stylish Shrewsbury Street (near UMass Medical School) offers many trendy new restaurants, as well as a few classic diners.
Massachusetts’ best farmland is in the Pioneer Valley, along the Connecticut River. Residents from Springfield to Greenfield benefit from local farmers markets throughout the year. This compliments the diverse and cosmopolitan dining scene in the 15 miles from Northampton-Amherst to Springfield.
Southeastern Massachusetts was once the world’s largest producer of cranberries. Large flat sandy bogs of colorful berries are harvested in early October.
Inland areas offer traditional New England country cuisine, especially at rural church suppers and breakfasts. Notable dishes include spaghetti-and-meatballs, roasted chicken, baked beans, baking powder biscuits, fruit pies, and cobblers.
Far eastern and far western Massachusetts’s rocky soils produce two outstanding crops: tomatoes and apples. Orchards are still mostly family-owned and many growers offer pick-your-own sales. Cider mills churn out fresh cider to sell alongside bags of apples in roadside farm stands. On a crisp fall day the stands often offer warmed fresh cider mulled with cinnamon, clove and other spices.
A controversial “third party liability” precedent has been set in Massachusetts. For example, a landlord rents an apartment to young adults who have a party and a person drinks and drives and causes an accident. Under this “third party liability,” the landlord, those who hosted the party, and the one who drinks and drives can be held responsible. Rule of thumb for anyone drinking is to not drink and drive; second, if you are under 21 and want to drink in Massachusetts, you’re out of luck unless you’re at a private party.
Traditional New England culture back to Pilgrims and Puritans was far from abstenious. Surprising amounts of beer, wine, hard cider and distilled spirits were consumed. Although “Blue Laws” once prohibited alcohol purchases on Sundays, alcohol remains central to socializing in both urban and rural settings.
Microbreweries and brewpubs are becoming more common in urban areas and college towns. They usually offer sandwiches and other casual fare as well as a selection of brews that can be far superior to the megabreweries’.
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