If Virginia was home to America’s first permanent English settlers; Philadelphia to the nation’s first capital; and New York City to its immigrant melting pot and rags-to-riches mythology, then Massachusetts, probably more than any other single state, defined the American ethos of worldliness, smarts, egalitarianism, and industry. In modern times, this might appear to translate into a seemingly predictable progressivism, but it was the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who first thought up the ever recurrent American notion of a “City upon a hill” – a society established to serve, should its members be up to the task, as God’s exemplar to the rest of the world. The shipbuilders and far-reaching, fearless merchants of Massachusetts brought the region and the young country tremendous riches, while some of America’s oldest educational institutions incubated an intellectual elite. And it was Boston and the surrounding region whose irreverence and willful defiance brought the Thirteen Colonies into open rebellion, with pivotal events like the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, and the first shots of the Revolutionary War. In these ways and more, Massachusetts is the originator of major portions of American national identity.
All of this means the state’s most famous attractions have largely historical appeal. A prominent example, Boston’s Freedom Trail, takes you on a tour past historic spots like the Old Granary Burial Ground (the resting place of figures like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Crispus Attacks), the Old State House (the oldest standing building in Boston, the former seat of state government, and originally seat of the British colonial government), and the Old North Church (from which Paul Revere flashed his candlelight signals warning of British attack). Plymouth and its meticulously recreated living history exhibit at Plimoth Plantation provide immersion in the history of the Pilgrims’ 17th-century settlement. And in Concord, there’s Walden Pond, where Thoreau lived simply in a cabin and wrote his famous American political, philosophical, and literary work, Walden. With such a concentration of some of America’s oldest towns and cities, historical attractions in Massachusetts are impossible to miss and seemingly infinite.
Surrounded by the visible, iconic signs of some of the country’s earliest, oft-retold history would be interesting on its own, but Massachusetts’s simultaneously sophisticated and pragmatic social ease, its unpretentious love of great food, posh but active oceanfront communities, and quirky, prototypical college towns makes the experience so much more enjoyable. Boston has great shopping and dining scenes, and capitalizes on easy access to the sea with a fun waterfront, a great aquarium, and whale watching. Cambridge, an integral part of the Boston metropolitan area, is home to Harvard and MIT, no doubt a factor in its effortless projection of cool. Lovely Cape Cod is an American summer paradise, the classic New England beach destination with an assortment of variously cultured, wealthy, and party-hardy seaside towns. Martha’s Vineyard and Central and Western Massachusetts each offer forms of naturally lovely seclusion from the hustle and bustle of modern civilization, but with a powerful and welcome dose of cultural activity, particularly an appreciation of the arts and the finest in dining. Martha’s Vineyard is for those who envision their idylls as sandy beaches and quaint, cheerful homes. The Berkshires offer pastoral small towns, gentle mountains, and wilderness preserves.
Boston is the cultural and financial center of New England, a sprawling metropolis of some of America’s oldest, most historically rich communities. Speaking of history, Boston is full of quaint, colonial-style structures (many of them historically significant), as well as successful efforts to capitalize on them. One of the most popular ways to dig into the city’s past is to walk the Freedom Trail, a marked walking path through Boston’s streets that highlights places like the site of the Boston Massacre and America’s first public school, attended by none other than Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. This is where many of the American Revolution’s most fervent believers met, plotted, and stocked up on ideas about how the new country should be run. Their enthusiasm led to events now mythical in American memory, like the Boston Tea Party and the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Of course, Boston might be a bit of a letdown if all it had going for it were events that occurred over 200 years ago. Luckily, the city has a lively waterfront, museums, seafood, and innumerable cozy neighborhoods. Such opportunities for high-end shopping, unique entertainment, and intellectual stimulation make visiting Boston an exciting prospect.
Copley Place Mall
100 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02116