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The ultimate guide to getting around Massachusetts
The New England state of Massachusetts is nicknamed the “Bay State” due to the three large bays that shape its coastline. While many equate it with the city of Boston and perhaps the popular tourist destination of Cape Cod, it’s home to a wide range of picturesque towns and spectacular scenery that includes not only endless stretches of white sandy beaches, but beautiful mountain ranges like the Berkshires which covers much of its western portion.
If you’re hoping to experience the best of the best Massachusetts has to offer, it can take some time, but this ultimate guide to getting around can help you make the most of your holiday, no matter how long.
Getting to Massachusetts from the U.K.
Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) is the primary airport in Massachusetts. There are direct, nonstop flights from both London Gatwick and London Heathrow to Boston through multiple airlines, including Norwegian Air, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, KLM and Finnair. The flight time between London and Boston is approximately 7 hours and 40 minutes.
Logan International Airport is just 4.2 miles northeast of Boston’s city centre. Most travellers, especially those who plan to explore other areas of Massachusetts, hire a car at the airport but there are multiple other options if you plan to stick to the downtown area, or spend some time there before moving on. The most economical and convenient option for those who don’t want to immediately get behind the wheel is to take the “T,” run by the Mass Bay Transit Authority (MBTA). There are also private shuttles, vans and limos that can take you from the airport to your destination in Boston, and taxis, Lyft ad Uber are available here too.
Getting around Boston
Car rental. While you’ll need a car for exploring outside of the Boston metro area, driving in the city centre generally isn’t recommended due to traffic, limited or non-existent parking and the complexity of navigating the maze of streets. The downtown area is highly walkable, with many major attractions within a relatively short distance.
Public Transit. Within and around Boston, public transit is run by MBTA, often referred to as the “T.” Commuter rails take passengers to surrounding cities and suburbs, with those located in the south served by South Station, and those in the north by the North Station. The MBTA Silver Line Bus and Blue Line Subway travel between the city centre and the airport. There are three intercity rail stations in Boston, serving both Amtrak and MBTA commuter rail trains.
Taxi, Lyft and Uber. Taxis are a popular option, especially for late nights out. They can be hailed from any significant street corner like Copley Square, but they are one of the most expensive options for getting around, with the rates here some of the priciest in the entire country. Lyft and Uber are both available as alternative, often cheaper options with rides book via their online apps.
Boston. New England’s largest city is not only quite walkable, it’s home to many impressive historical sites and countless other attractions. This was the birthplace of the American Revolution, providing an opportunity to learn about Colonial history in America in a far more interesting way than any history book could ever tell. Take a walk along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail starting in Boston Commons. Marked primarily by brick, it meanders to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, passing the Granary Burying Grounds along the way, which houses the graves of Ben Franklin’s parents, Paul Revere, Sam Adams and John Hancock. You’ll also witness the Boston Massacre Site, Paul Revere’s House and the Old North Church, the spot Revere warned that the British were coming in 1775, sparking the American Revolution, before reaching Bunker Hill. Be sure to stop at the Old State Museum to explore impressive memorabilia that includes a vial of tea salvaged from the original Tea Party crowd.
There are plenty of modern attractions in Boston to enjoy too, like Sam Adams’ Brewery which is open for tours and includes a sample, and the famous Institute of Contemporary Art. Or, you can always catch a Red Sox game when the team is playing at their home stadium, Fenway Park.
Falmouth. One of the first places you might want to head after finishing your exploits of Boston is Cape Cod. Located at its southwestern tip, here you can rent a bike to pedal along the Shining Sea Bikeway which starts in Falmouth, traveling 10 miles along the coast. Or, visit the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, where harbor seals that can no longer live in the wild can be seen swimming in a huge outdoor pool. There are also touch tanks with sea stars, spider crabs and other local marine life. If you want to swim, head to Old Silver Beach which offers long, smooth sands framed by the warm waters of Buzzards Bay.
Provincetown. Located at the far tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is a must-visit with especially scenic surroundings that include endless sand dunes and more than 30 miles of beaches. A thriving art colony, it has a colourful downtown that offers great people watching, art galleries, magnificent mansions, fudge shops, seafood shacks and fine dining eateries. It’s also a popular departure point for whale watching excursions.
Martha’s Vineyard. There are a number of enticing islands to explore off the coast as well, like Martha’s Vineyard. Just six miles from Cape Cod, you can get there by hopping on a ferry from Woods Hole, Falmouth or Hyannis. Oaks Bluff on its north-eastern shore is a great spot to land with its unique vibrantly-painted gingerbread cottages that give it a storybook feel. You can simply walk off the ferry and enjoy the attractions here, including the beaches which typically have only minimal surf resulting in calm water that’s perfect for wading or swimming. You may also want to take a spin on the country’s oldest carousel. The Flying Horses Carousel is a national landmark, enjoyed by people of all ages for nearly 150 years.
Nantucket. Another island option, Nantucket Island lies 30 miles off the coast from Cape Cod and is also easily accessed by numerous ferry options. Take the Steamship Authority from Hyannis, the high-speed passenger-only ferry and you’ll get to the island in just an hour. There is plenty to do once you’ve arrived, with everything from grand mansions to postcard-perfect beaches, picturesque lighthouses and a whaling museum that hosts the skeleton of a 46-foot-long bull sperm whale which landed ashore here back in 1998. History enthusiasts can explore the historic district with more than 800 pre-Civil War houses, and those who want to get more active can enjoy walking or biking the many paths on the island branching off in every direction.
Plymouth. As you leave the Cape, be sure to stop at the village of Plymouth, located between Cape Cod and Boston. It was established in 1620 and is best known as the site of the landing of the Pilgrims who were fleeing religious persecution in Britain. Of course, it’s probably most famous for Plymouth Rock, the rock that supposedly marks the spot of their landing. While that may be in dispute, there’s no doubt that it represents the early settlement of New England and America’s second permanent colony. After capturing a photo, hop aboard the Mayflower, a full-scale replica of the original ship where you can take a tour led by costumed guides and view interesting exhibits. Plimouth Plantation is nearby – as a living history museum it offers the chance to step into the town just as it was in the 17th century.
Salem. North of Boston is one of the most fascinating historic towns in the state. It houses the oldest continuously operating museum in the U.S., the Peabody Essex Museum which opened its doors 320 years ago at a time when institutions such as these were officially referred to as a “cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities.” Today it holds nearly two million pieces of maritime art and a diverse range of other works along with nearly two dozen historic buildings like the Qing Dynasty Yin Yu Tang house. Salem, of course, is also the site of the Salem Witch Trails which visitors can experience today through re-created events. If you’re here in October, you may even want to take the Salem Witch Walk. Hosted by witches, it offers tours of some of the spookiest sights, like America’s most haunted graveyard, while telling tales from a witch’s perspective. The town also has important literary connections as the birthplace and home of the author of The Scarlet Letter and other notable works, Nathaniel Hawthorne. His home, the House of the Seven Gables, is open for tours.
The Berkshires. The Berkshires are famous as one of the top spots in the country to view brilliant autumn foliage, which typically peaks around October 1st. The winding roads will be lined with gorgeous golds, reds and sometimes deep scarlet hues, along with glistening lakes, lush meadows and quaint farms that look even more beautiful against the backdrop of mountain summits. But it’s a gorgeous region to visit anytime – Great Barrington was listed by the Smithsonian as the best small town in America and offers the chance to visit Searles Castle, one of the only true castles in the States. A national landmark, it was modelled after the romantic French chateau style. Other highlights in the area include Pittsfield’s Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams which showcases of the most extensive collections of modern art in United States.
Portland, Maine. If you want to venture north a bit, Portland is less than two hours from Boston along the state’s southern coast. This seaside city is home to pretty lighthouses, outstanding museums, all sorts of outdoor adventure and a thriving food scene. It’s also a top spot for brew lovers with its long history of microbrewing and some fabulous local institutions like Shipyard and Allagash. Delve into great eats in the Old Port Area where you’ll find lots of rich and creamy clam chowder and tasty lobster rolls along with plenty of other foodie delights, like Sam Hayward’s Fore Street which offers a daily changing menu of locally-source items prepared in a wood-burning oven.
Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is less than 90 minutes from Boston and while it’s famous for sailing, you’ll find all sorts of other things to do here as well, including the Newport Mansions. If you’re limited on time, be sure to tour The Breakers. This National Historic Landmark is arguably the most impressive of them all as a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s financial and social pre-eminence during turn-of-the-century America. It contains some 65,000 square feet of indoor space as well as a gorgeously manicured 13-acre lawn that overlooks the Atlantic. By taking Newport’s enchanting Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile route, you’ll be able to view many of the Gilded Age mansions on one side, and the crashing waves of the Atlantic on the other.
Top Self Drives
6A on Cape Cod. While most Cape Cod visitors drive along Highway 6, take a scenic drive on 6A and you’ll skip the heavy traffic while enjoying some beautiful sights on the tree-shaded route. It travels through stretches that include the sparkling blue inlets of Cape Cod Bay on one side, and white picket-fenced homes on the other. In fact, the Smithsonian Museum referred to it as the “most appealing stretch of America I know.” You’ll also pass through some of the Cape’s most historic villages like Sandwich, Yarmouth, Barnstable, Brewster, Dennis and Orleans where you’ll see many churches and homes that are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mohawk Trail. America’s first “scenic highway,” the Mohawk Trail, runs through the Berkshire hills in north-western Massachusetts, following a centuries-old route used by Native Americans. It travels for 63 miles beginning in the city of North Adams, making its way up to the summit of Hoosac Mountain. It runs east along heavily wooded ridges before dropping into Deerfield Valley and descending into Connecticut River Valley. Some of the highlights include the Bridge of Flowers at Shelburne Falls, and art museums in both North Adams and Williamstown. In early autumn, when the leaves have changed, the views of the valleys and hills are absolutely stunning.