When most people think of Massachusetts, they think of Boston. While Boston may be what Massachusetts is best known for, there are many other qualities and tourist attractions in Massachusetts that give the state its character.
Beautiful New England foliage, elite schools like Harvard, Cape Cod and the Islands, and the impossible-to-replicate Boston accent all come to mind when people think of Massachusetts.
Read on to find out some of the best things in Massachusetts, and learn what Massachusetts is known and famous for!
There’s clearly no shortage of history in Massachusetts, and the city of Salem is particularly interesting.
Located about 20 miles north of Boston, Salem is well-known as the site of the infamous “witch trials” of the late 1600s. From 1692 to 1693, over 30 people in Salem were accused and found guilty of witchcraft, and 19 were executed by public hanging.
Gallows Hill Park, the site of most of the hangings, is a popular destination for visitors. Other hot spots include the Salem Witch Museum and the Salem Witch House, and the city as a whole has an eerie Halloween-type vibe that visitors and locals love.
Just about any time of year, you can find people dressed up in spooky attire, and many Halloween and horror movies have been filmed in Salem over the years.
2. The Boston Accent
Ah, the Boston accent—one of the things Massachusetts is known for. If you know what it sounds like, it’s unmistakable.
It is also impossible to replicate unless it’s natural, so it’s best not to even try. Even the most talented actors botch this one, making everyone in Boston (and really all of Massachusetts) cringe.
When speaking to folks with heavy Boston accents, be prepared to be referred to as “kid or “guy”, even if you are neither a kid nor a guy.
Also, for the love of God, don’t ever ask anyone to say “park the car in Harvard yard”. Nobody wants to say that, and they won’t be thrilled if you ask.
3. Cape Cod
Cape Cod is a well-known part of Massachusetts, but it feels like a different state entirely. It’s referred to simply as “the Cape” by locals.
As soon as you cross the Cape Cod Canal you’re transported to a world of grassy beaches, crab shacks, and fishing culture.
While Cape Cod is mostly considered a summer destination, those who live “on cape” would argue that it’s even more charming in the off-season. There’s something eerily romantic about cold wind and a dusting of snow on the beach, and it’s so quiet that you can usually hear the sea breeze blowing in the coastal grass all day and night.
Of course, if cold weather isn’t your thing, the cape is bustling with activity during the summer – there’s no shortage of things to do, just be prepared for crowds.
Falmouth, Chatham, and Provincetown are popular Cape Cod destinations that never disappoint.
4. Incredible Foliage
Massachusetts is known for having four strong and distinct seasons, but ask just about any Massachusetts native and they’ll tell you the most stunning is autumn
People come from all over the world, literally, to see fall in New England. Typically from late September to late October, the foliage season in Massachusetts offers a spectacular array of reds, yellows, and oranges that is arguably one of the best in the world.
Peak fall foliage is generally around Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day weekend, making it an incredibly popular holiday weekend to travel in Massachusetts.
Referred to as “leaf peepers”, people visiting to see the foliage can see this beautiful display throughout the state, from Cape Cod all the way to the New York border.
Sports in New England are a HUGE deal.
The New England Patriots won six Super Bowls between 2001 and 2018, and was home to the GOAT quarterback Tom Brady from 2000 to 2019. The Boston Bruins are the oldest NHL team based in the U.S., with six Stanley Cup wins and countless other championships since its inception.
Sharing a home venue with the Bruins, the Boston Celtics are one of the original eight teams in the NBA. The team has a long history of being home to basketball greats, and has the most overall wins on record of any team in the league.
Last but not least, the Red Sox. Founded in 1901, the team is well over 100 years old. They play at Fenway Park, a ballpark that is recognizable to people all over the world. The Red Sox have won a total of nine World Series championships, tied for the third-most of any team in MLB.
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, attending a home game of one of these teams should be at the top of any local or visitor’s list.
6. “Bad” Driving
This one may seem like it’s not something to be proud of, but somehow Massachusetts natives still embrace it as a badge of honor.
Driving in Massachusetts, especially in and around Boston, can seem a little overwhelming if you’re not from here. I assure you though, once you understand the rules, it’s not so bad.
Massachusetts drivers don’t like to waste time or mess around. They don’t hesitate, rarely use turn signals, and often completely disregard speed limits. But if you ask any Massachusetts, this isn’t about aggression – it’s about efficiency.
If you’re planning to drive in Massachusetts, be aware of the “Massachusetts left”; if you’re facing an oncoming car at a red light, and they’re turning left but you’re going straight…when the light turns green, they’re going first.
It doesn’t mean you’re expected to hesitate or intentionally let them go, but however you handle it, they will be turning left before you pass through the intersection. That’s just the way it is.
7. The Nation’s First Library
Although there were a few versions of early public libraries in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York, Massachusetts is home to the nation’s first true public library.
The town of Franklin, Massachusetts was named after Benjamin Franklin, and as a thanks for this honor, he donated a collection of books to the town. The town determined that these books would be available to loan to town residents for free, and the public library was born.
It is open and operational to this day and is called the “Franklin Public Library”. The town of franklin is quite charming, and anyone wanting to visit the library can include a walk around the town common just a block away.
Massachusetts is known for Dunkin’. Yes, one thing anyone will notice in Massachusetts is the abundance of Dunkin’ locations.
The insanely popular coffee and fast breakfast food chain used to be called “Dunkin’ Donuts”, but has recently shortened the name to simply “Dunkin’”. Likely because that’s what everyone called it anyway!
Dunkin was started in Massachusetts in 1950, and these days it’s hard to travel more than a few miles without seeing one.
Dunkin’ customers are particularly loyal and tend to be pretty passionate about their drink choices. Also, since there are so many locations to choose from, many people have a favorite that they’ll adjust their daily routine to go to.
Basically, Dunkin’ is a part of everyday life in Massachusetts, and many would argue that it’s an absolute necessity.
9. Bad roads
This one will get Massachusetts residents pretty heated. Massachusetts is known for its bad roads.
Driving in Massachusetts wouldn’t be the same without an abundance of enormous potholes, both on side streets and interstates, and everything in between. Part of this is due to aging roads, but much of it can be attributed to weather as well.
Potholes and frost heaves are caused by water in the pavement freezing and cracking road layers, and this same process can cause crumbling and erosion on the side of the road as well.
While road maintenance in Massachusetts leaves something to be desired for sure, it’s admittedly hard to avoid these issues in such a difficult winter climate.
Massachusetts drivers are used to it and are pretty skilled at avoiding major road flaws, but it still takes a toll on vehicles. Even when they know the road is a bit rough, most Massachusetts drivers hit unexpected potholes from time to time that make them cringe…and hope they didn’t blow a tire.
Massachusetts is famous for Harvard University, a member of the prestigious Ivy League. Students with big academic dreams hold it as their loftiest goal, yet the school only accepts about five percent of undergraduate applicants.
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the school is as beautiful as it is famous and tourists flock to see it. If you get a chance to stroll the campus, don’t miss the Harvard gift shop! And don’t worry, it’s totally acceptable to pick up a “Harvard” sweatshirt, even if you’ve only ever visited.
Cambridge is also home to world-famous MIT, and Massachusetts as a whole is a hot zone of prestigious educational institutions, from elementary to post-graduate education. In fact, Massachusetts has the highest percentage of residents with college degrees of any state in the country!
11. Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket
If you like the idea and the vibe of Cape Cod, you can voyage a bit farther away from the mainland to the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket! These unique islands mix island life with New England charm, and definitely feel like a break from the bustle of life when you’re visiting.
Accessible by ferry from multiple ports on Cape Cod, the islands are very popular tourist destinations in the summer. Their quiet beauty attracts the rich and famous from around the world. They are even known to be loved and frequented by many U.S. presidents over the years.
Beautiful beaches, iconic lighthouses, and breathtaking real estate are just a few reasons to visit Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Fun fact: The classic novel Moby Dick is about a whaleship out of Nantucket, but its author Herman Melville had never been to the island when he wrote it!
Many people equate turkeys with pilgrims and therefore Massachusetts, but most don’t realize how common turkeys actually are.
Though they live in the woods, enormous flocks of turkeys (also referred to as “rafters” of turkeys) regularly hang out in residential areas. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon to see 20 or more turkeys in someone’s yard.
They also love to hang out on the road in wooded areas, so don’t be surprised if you drive up on a large group of turkeys who have no desire to move. You can try the horn, but it usually doesn’t do much besides give them a quick startle.
Turkeys were actually eradicated from the state in the mid-1800s until a group of biologists brought 37 turkeys back to the state and released them into the wild. Since then, the wild turkey population has grown to over 25,000.
Massachusetts is famous for its cranberries. These berries are native to Massachusetts and are the state’s largest agricultural food crop.
Second only to Wisconsin in cranberry production, Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts have thousands of acres designated for cranberries. They grow in wetland areas called bogs where the cranberries appear to float, and are quite fascinating to see when they’re ready for harvest.
The company Ocean Spray is headquartered in Massachusetts, and they have made the Massachusetts cranberry farmer a household image.
The cranberry is the official state fruit of Massachusetts, and people from the state enjoy it in various forms from juice, to sauces and baked goods.
14. Wild Weather
While Massachusetts has a pretty desirable climate with four beautiful seasons, the weather day to day, week to week, and sometimes even hour to hour can be pretty unpredictable.
Beautiful summer weather can quickly turn stifling, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees and oppressive humidity.
Fall and spring are generally pleasant, but a snowstorm dropping over a foot of snow and causing widespread power outages may hit seemingly out of nowhere in April or October.
People in Massachusetts have learned to adapt to changing weather, and something like a blizzard isn’t necessarily seen as a reason to change any plans.
The changing seasons also make all weather relative – you’ll see people outside in sandals and shorts when temperatures reach the 50’s in the spring, but 50’s in the fall feels frigid after the hot summer and sends people scurrying for their fall jackets.
15. Plimoth Patuxet (formerly Plimoth Plantation)
This living history museum, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is a unique and educational experience that shows visitors what life was like for some of the first English colonists to arrive in New England.
The museum recreates a pilgrim settlement, and actors spend their days living life as the pilgrims did. Interaction with visitors is intended to teach as much as entertain, and adults and children alike love the museum for the insight it gives into the pilgrim experience.
There is also a Wampanoag home site recreation, which gives visitors a peek into what life was like for the natives living in Massachusetts at the time the English colonists began to arrive.
Nearly everyone has heard of the mayflower, and Plimoth Patuxet is home to a Mayflower replica, enabling visitors to imagine the conditions the pilgrims experienced on their journey to a “new” world.
Whether you are a colonial history buff or have never heard of pilgrims, Plimoth Patuxet offers educational fun for all ages.
16. The Berkshires
The Berkshires is a mountainous region in western Massachusetts, known for its peaceful rural charm and vibrant mountain communities.
The foliage can’t be beat and winter in the Berkshires is the epitome of New England, making it a popular tourist destination.
The mountains of this area are actually part of the Appalachian mountain range, and the Appalachian Trail passes through the Berkshires
Many Massachusetts residents head to the Berkshires every year to experience hiking a bit of the trail without having to travel too far from home. For anyone in Massachusetts looking for a mountain escape, the Berkshires always deliver.
That concludes this list of the many things Massachusetts is known for. Did we miss any out? Share it in the comment box below!