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The arrival of the earliest pioneers near Salem in 1630 was the shaping of Massachusetts as a state. Puritans arriving from an England threatened with civil war came to set up a new colony, intended to be an example to the world of a perfect human society, with rigid Protestant discipline and a devout way of life. This was the beginning of New England and today it is made up of six states including Massachusetts.
Boston has been the proud hub of the state since colonial times and is full of fascinating history that can be traced by walking the Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail. Boston also boasts a wealth of culture thanks to the prestigious presence of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. To the east lie the beaches of the Cape Cod Peninsula as well as the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket that together form the region's most popular holiday destination, equipped with historic towns and plenty of walking and cycling opportunities.
Inland Massachusetts is much quieter, with settlements clustered around the fertile river valleys and in the Berkshire Hills to the west. Development of the Berkshires began with the construction of the railway from New York and Boston and it gradually became a favourite summer retreat for wealthy city folk as well as attracting artists and writers. The region is now most famous for its vibrant summer music, dance and theatre festivals, particularly as the Boston Symphony Orchestra has its home at the huge Tanglewood Estate in Lenox.
Most of the top tourist attractions in Massachusetts intertwine with the state's history. Puritan pilgrims established the first New England colony in Plymouth in 1620, ushering in a new era for America. Continuing throughout the years, the witch trials in the town of Salem remains notorious for the witch trials of 1692.
Boston led the charge into the fight for freedom that became the American Revolution, and Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery in 1783. Massachusetts is also the proud home of Harvard, the oldest university in the country, as well as many other distinguished centres of learning, and boasts truly world-class museums and galleries to enshrine its treasures.
Sightseeing in Massachusetts mainly appeals to culture vultures and those with scholarly interests, but there is nothing dowdy about the state. Massachusetts has a reputation for embracing the finer things in life and has long been a playground for the wealthy and refined.
Beyond the stately old neighbourhoods of Boston, the beaches of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have become enclaves for stylish vacationers, and the forested hills of the Berkshires have long been the preferred retreat of many New Yorkers and Bostonians.
One of the state's major attractions is the annual display of brilliant fall foliage, making autumn the best time to visit scenic Massachusetts. Those wanting to see the foliage at its most dramatic should drive The Mohawk Trail which winds through the northern Berkshire Mountains taking in some of the state's most beautiful scenery.
The two and a half mile (4km) Freedom Trail follows a line of red bricks, or a painted red line on the pavement, linking 16 historic sights associated with the early struggle for freedom from British control and the events leading up to the revolution. Markers identify the stops and provide information from downtown to the North End to Charlestown and Bunker Hill Monument. Sights along the way include Paul Revere House, Boston's oldest surviving house that was home to the famous revolutionary. The Old North Church is also nearby, where two lanterns were hung in the belfry to warn the revolutionaries of the British movements while Revere went on his famous horse ride to warn of imminent British attack. The elegant Old State House was the seat of British colonial government and where the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776. There is a museum of Boston history inside. At the Old South Meeting House, Samuel Adams addressed the revolutionaries in the significant meeting prior to the Boston Tea Party, and a circle of cobblestones marks the site of the Boston Massacre. In Charlestown, the USS Constitution, also known as 'Old Ironsides', is the oldest warship still afloat. Its name was earned after the sinking of the British frigate, HMS Guerriere, during the war of 1812. Bunker Hill Monument is the site of the first formal battle of the American Revolution, fought in 1775. Also along the trail is the beautiful white steeple of Park Street Church, the site of several important anti-slavery speeches, and the Old Granary Burying Ground, where a number of revolutionaries are buried. Add to that the Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall that once were meeting places for revolutionaries as well as bustling marketplaces. Although a complete self-guided trail, the National Park Service also conducts free tours with guides in historic costumes that cover some of the trail's highlights.
Today, Beacon Hill brings to mind images of affluence and luxurious living. Yet until the end of the 19th century, it contained a free black community and escaped slaves who owned businesses, built houses and schools, and worshipped together in the churches. Although the black community has since shifted to other parts of Boston, the Black Heritage Trail covers 14 sites important in local black history. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery in 1783. Beginning at the Boston Common, there is a memorial to slave abolitionist Robert Shaw who led the first black regiment recruited during the Civil War. Various sites on Beacon Hill include homes of famous citizens, the city's first racially integrated public school with exhibits portraying the struggle for equal school rights, and a house that was part of the famous Underground Railroad that sheltered runaway slaves from their pursuers. The African Meeting House, part of the Museum of Afro-American History, is one of the most interesting stops on the trail. It was the first black church in the United States, known as Black Faneuil Hall during the anti-slavery campaign. Here, famous abolitionist speeches were made and black people were called to take up arms in the Civil War. There is an informative audiovisual presentation in the gallery. Although a self-guided trail with brochures and maps provided by the Museum of Afro-American History, park rangers also give free daily two-hour tours, which start at the National Park Service Visitor Center.
Moored to the bridge is the Beaver II, known as the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, and one of the three ships stormed by patriots in 1773 as an act of rebellion against British rule and in particular against the new tax laws imposed on tea. A group of revolutionaries dressed as Mohawk Indians burst from the South Meeting House and boarded the ships that were loaded with tea. They emptied the crate contents into the harbour in an event known as the Boston Tea Party. The Beaver II is an exact replica of the original Beaver I and visitors can learn about the event onboard the ship. The museum has recently been renovated and improved, receiving rave reviews from visitors of all ages.
The MIT Museum is located in Cambridge, near the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in the US. The relatively small museum houses technology-themed collections. These include holograms, artificial intelligence, robotics, and maritime history, placing specific importance on MIT's contributions to the history of technology. Some of the most interesting exhibits are those of the MIT Hacks, elaborate pranks pulled by students each year. Don't miss the Arthur Ganson gallery of kinetic sculptures, which is also something special.
Just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is actually a city in its own right. But the two cities are so closely associated that many people believe them to be one and the same. Cambridge is home to two of the most prestigious centres for education in the country, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has a young and vibrant atmosphere due to the 30,000 university students from around the world that reside and study here. The city centres on Harvard Square, a gathering spot that reflects the international culture of its learning community as well as the influence of its students, residents, and business owners. Surrounding the square and lining the streets that spread out from Harvard Square are dozens of bookstores and music shops, cafes, coffee houses, and restaurants. Harvard Square, occupied on one side by the university, is a lively mixture of students and professors, buskers, evangelists, and political campaigners, and is a great place to have a cup of coffee, watch the activity, and soak up the atmosphere.
Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest in the country and one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the USA. It's famous for its brilliant faculties, which have produced economists, biologists, prize-winning poets, and famous graduates like President John F. Kennedy. It is perhaps equally well-known for its famous dropouts, such as actor Matt Damon and tech icon Bill Gates. The focal point of the university is Harvard Yard, a courtyard surrounded by ivy-covered colonial buildings from the 18th century named for John Harvard, a graduate of Cambridge University in Britain, who died leaving the college half his estate and his entire library. The shoe of John Harvard's statue is rubbed for good luck. Harvard also has some outstanding museums, including the Harvard Art Museums, the Fogg Art Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. The huge collection covers works from the European Renaissance period to the modern day, including works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and Klee. The Bush-Reisinger and Arthur Sackler Museums are included in the same ticket while the Natural History Museum is renowned for its display of hand-blown glass flowers.
The first botanical garden in the United States, the Boston Public Garden provides a tranquil escape from the fast pace of the city centre. Maintained by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends of the Public Garden, the botanical garden is a must-see on any exploration of Boston. With more than 600 varieties of trees and colourful displays of well-ordered decorative flowers, visitors can go for a relaxing swan boat ride on the three acre lagoon, enjoy the attractive vista of the city's sardined skyscrapers through the trees, or take pleasure in the numerous public works of art that border the meandering paths. The gardens are a great stop for families wanting a break from sightseeing.
Martha's Vineyard is a favourite summer destination for New England's wealthy elite. Tourism is the main economy, boosted by celebrity regulars like actress Sharon Stone and the Clinton family. Martha's Vineyard is far less developed than Cape Cod, but more sophisticated than neighbouring Nantucket Island. Holidays here are dominated by simple pleasures such as the weekly farmers' market, and walks on the miles of coastal pathways. Although it is a peaceful place, Martha's Vineyard does host many events in the summer months, which keeps things lively; however, the influx of people in summer raises prices and makes things less serene so that some travellers prefer to visit off-season. Visiting outside of the busy summer period (June to August) also increases the chance that some of the private beaches in the area will be open to the public. The six towns of Martha's Vineyard have distinct characters. Upmarket Vineyard Haven is the island's main port, receiving ferries as well as private yachts. The fun centre of Oak Bluffs is home to the old Flying Horses Carousel, pizza takeaways, and ice-cream parlours which cater to the young and carefree. The graceful Edgartown has quaint inns, historic whaling captains' homes and stylish boutiques lining the narrow streets, and is the island's oldest settlement.
Thirty miles (48km) off the coast of Cape Cod, the small and remote island of Nantucket is an escape from the city stress and chaos of everyday life. The land has miles of unspoilt beaches, rolling wind-swept moors, solitary windmills and lighthouses, church steeples, and peaceful lanes. Its only settlement, Nantucket Town, was once the whaling capital of the world and retains much of its 17th to 19th-century character with historic mansions, old fashioned street lamps, and cosy inns lining the cobblestone streets. Bar a few villages, the rest of the island is mainly residential. There isn't a billboard, fast-food franchise, or flashing neon light in sight. Nantucket has long appealed to wealthy visitors and has grown to a summer vacation retreat for nearly 50,000 tourists. Despite the increasing amount of luxury houses going up, more than 36 percent of the land is protected from development and the island still feels like a romantic paradise. The excellent Whaling Museum is an added attraction to the beaches, strolling and biking, and window-shopping at the exclusive boutiques. July and August are the most popular months and the busiest times, and although off-season has its charms thick fog often covers the island at this time.
A great Boston day trip and shopping destination, Faneuil Hill Marketplace offers superb shopping at some familiar designer stores, quality arts and crafts, as well as great restaurants and sidewalk cafés. Four places in one, Faneuil Hall Marketplace encompasses Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market. Set around a cobblestone promenade, the market is a haven for the performing arts with jugglers, mimes, musicians, and magicians entertaining passers-by. Centrally located and operating for more than 250 years, the Faneuil Hill Marketplace is the hub of Boston city life. Drawing large crowds excited by the electric energy, visitors can shop, stroll, eat, and wander.
An artwork in itself, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston houses some of the most famous European paintings in the US. Boston's oldest, largest, and best-known art institution, the MFA's collection is one of the planet's most comprehensive, with something like 22,000 artworks including masterpieces by some of the finest artists in the world. With a striking collection of Impressionist paintings, Egyptian sculptures, and a moving exhibition of Japanese and other Asian artworks, visitors should make sure they have ample time to explore the exhibition rooms of the MFA. Have a break and enjoy a coffee or lunch at one the three gallery restaurants or browse the outstanding museum bookstore and shop.
Codzilla takes passengers on a high-speed cruise around Boston's harbour. People on board will scream in pure delight as the boat curves, spins, and rips through the harbour for 40 minutes. You'll be travelling at a heart-pumping 40 miles (70km) per hour. Reservations are recommended. Very young kids may be frightened, but generally the whole family will relish the thrill. Numerous other boat tours and cruises are available in Boston's harbour, with more sedate options for those who aren't keen on braving Codzilla.
The New England Aquarium is home to Simons IMAX Theatre and the New England Aquarium Whale Watch, which runs from April through October. It features a plethora of some of the world's most amazing marine species, such as the impressive giant pacific octopus, sand tiger shark, green sea turtles, and North Atlantic Right whales. It is an absolute must for children of all ages and any adult in love with the underwater world. The aquarium is a wonderful family attraction for a rainy day. Basic admission includes the aquarium, while the IMAX and Whale Watch charge additional fees.
Cape Cod is home to a number of picturesque lighthouses that draw sightseers throughout the year. At one point, there were more than 20 on the peninsula. However, many of them are now decommissioned and knocked down. Those remaining have varying degrees of difficulty in access: some are easy to reach, while others require a hike. Some of the most popular, and easiest to get to, include Chatham Light and Nobska, which offers a spectacular view of Martha's Vineyard. Some that involve more walking are Cape Cod Light and Race Point Light. There are also lighthouses that only viewable from a distance, including Monomoy Light, which involves a boat trip past a very active seal colony. Some of the lighthouses can be rented for weekly accommodation.
The Boston Red Sox are a much-beloved part of life in New England. The 'Curse of the Bambino' and their infamous near 100-year losing streak only made their supporters more fanatical. Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use, and has quirky features like The Triangle, Pesky's Pole, and the famous Green Monster left-field wall. Visitors will notice a lone red seat in the right field bleachers, which is where Ted Williams hit the longest home run at Fenway, measuring 502 feet (153m). A baseball game at Fenway Park is a must for any summertime trip to Boston. Hot dog, crackerjacks, and all.
Visitors to Boston can take an informative tour of the Sam Adams Brewery and get a look at the brewing process for the popular beer. Named for the revolutionary war hero, the beer has been brewed in Boston since the 1980s. The tour showcases the entire process and allows visitors to taste the special malts used. Tours depart roughly every 45 minutes and last about one hour, with a free glass included for visitors using the Go Boston Card. The brewery does not accept reservations, but they do recommend that visitors arrive fairly early in the day to avoid long waits, especially on Saturdays. All donations benefit local charities.
Massachusetts has a humid continental climate, with cold, snowy winters and warm summers, with cooler temperatures in the Berkshires year round, and warmer temperatures along the coast. In general, temperatures in the state reach average highs of 82°F (27°C) in summer, between June and August, and average lows of 16°F (-8°C) in winter, between December and February. Winter snowfall in and around Boston is considerable, with higher levels in the Berkshire Hills.
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