Category Archives: New England

The Best and Worst Places to Visit in Salem, Massachusetts

There are so many things to see and do in Salem, Massachusetts.  How do you know which to go to and which to avoid? I’ve been a local resident for my entire life, a history major and teacher, and a lifelong traveler.  So allow me to be your guide to visiting the Witch City.  

Please note that the numbers below are not a ranking but simply meant for organizational purposes.

The Worst Places to Visit in Salem

1. The Witch House

Although it is the only structure still standing in Salem that was involved in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, it is not worth paying to visit.  Your self-guided tour includes only four rooms. There are no historical artifacts on display that are worth the admittance price of $8.00/person.  The exhibits contain minimal information and are very poorly presented. I first visited several summers ago and was deeply disappointed. I recently visited again, to give the historic home another shot, but, once more, I was frustrated with the poor quality of the exhibits.  I spent less than 10 minutes there. If you’re looking to visit a historic home connected to the Witch Trials, I strongly recommend going to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead instead. I’ll tell you more about it below.

2. Witch History Museum

Even the name of this place is misleading because it’s not a museum at all.   Being a teacher, I was admitted for free and was told that the beginning of the visit was an “accurate, live presentation”.  We were ushered into an auditorium with wooden pews for seats. A single female tour guide took the stage dressed in “colonial” attire that looked more like a cheap Halloween costume.  She began to recite a speech, which had obviously been memorized, with utter lack of any type of enthusiasm. The presentation was so horribly dull that I considered leaving. I stayed only because I wanted to be polite.  When the guide was finished, she led us downstairs into what seemed like the basement. I was hoping for historical exhibits, but, instead, there were only old, musty scenes filled with sad, outdated mannequins and wax figures.  Each scenario is supposed to make you feel like you’re present at settings that represent various events in the Salem Witch Trials. Instead, you’ll feel more like you’re in an obsolete haunted house. I thought it couldn’t get much worse until the guide pressed a button and an ancient and scratchy, narrated voice told the tale of the scene.  When we moved to the second display, I really wanted to leave, even though I had been admitted for free!. However, once again, I stayed out of politeness to the guide. By the end of the tour I feel like I wasted an hour of my life that I’d never get back. If you’re looking for history or information about the witch trials, do not go to the Witch History Museum. See my choices below for more worthwhile places to visit below.

3. The Witch Dungeon Museum

Again, don’t be fooled by the name of this location.  No witches were imprisoned here, and it’s not a museum. The Salem Jail where the witches were incarcerated was torn down long ago.  Instead, you’ll experience another poorly presented talk by a tour guide and more out-of-date scenes (only this time with animatronic figures) and recorded narrations, all of which should have been retired years ago.  Nothing is new here. It’s the same thing and story as what you’d see at any of the witch tourist traps in Salem. Don’t waste your time or money.

4. Salem Witch Museum

When I was younger, I visited the Salem Witch Museum with my family and friends.  When I visited again as an adult, I was surprised to find that nothing about the presentation there has changed in over 30 years.  You’re seated in a circular room, and after the lights go down, you’ll experience a recorded narration with information about the witch trials. It is accompanied by . . . you guessed it . . .  more scenes with wax figures and mannequins that are decades old. Again, nothing you wouldn’t have already seen and heard at another witch tourist trap. After the presentation, a guide takes you through some informational exhibits about the witch trials and the stereotypes about witches throughout history.  Even though the location calls itself a museum, there are no historical artifacts from the Salem Witch Trials. I was also disappointed with the guided nature of the second part of the tour. I would have much rather read the information boards, that I was interested in, at my own pace. Simply put, there are far better destinations to learn about the Salem Witch Trials in Salem than at this supposed museum.

5. Salem Wax Museum

It’s not Madame Tussaud’s that’s for sure!  Unless you want to see even more wax figures in sad presentations that haven’t changed in decades, don’t waste your money.

The Best Places to Visit in Salem

1. Best Location to Learn about the Witch Trials: The Rebecca Nurse Homestead

Want to learn more about the Salem Witch Trials and experience the home of an actual victim? Head to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, which is only minute from Salem. Before you go, find out all the details in my blog post.

2. Best Tour: The 1692 Witchcraft Walk 

There are so many tours to choose from in Salem, and most are, frankly, disappointing.  The majority involve guides in cheesy costumes that are more interested in scaring you with phony ghost stories than providing accurate and historically up-to-date information about the Salem Witch Trials or the city itself.  Being a teacher, historian, and a paying customer, I expect more than that. I look for tours that present solid historical information along with entertaining storytelling. Thus, my recommendation for the best tour in Salem is the “1692 Witchcraft Walk” from Salem Historical Tours.  Their tour guides are personable, engaging, and knowledgeable. They’ll take you to all of the locations in Salem where the witch trials occurred and explain how and why the witch hysteria happened, all in a manner that’s historically up-do-date and easy to understand. Don’t waste your money on a tour from any other company.   For more information and to book your tour online, please see the website for Salem Historical Tours.

3. Best Historic House: Philips House Museum

Don’t go to just any historic home in Salem. Experience history, not just hear about it, at the Philips House Museum. To find out more about why this historic house blew me away, visit my blog post about it.

4. Best Free Historic Activity: The Ropes Mansion and Gardens

Looking for something free to do in Salem?  Head over to the historic Ropes Mansion and Gardens.  Before you go, check out my blog post about this beautifully-preserved historic home and its glorious gardens.

5. Best Museum: Peabody Essex Museum

If you’re visiting Salem and enjoy museums, the Peabody Essex is your best bet.  The PEM was enlarged in 2019, and their exhibits frequently change. Head on over to their website to find out more about what’s on.

6. Best Location for Kids: Salem Willows Park

If you’ve brought your family to Salem, you’ll no doubt be looking for something to do that the kids will enjoy.  Salem Willows offers old-fashioned, family entertainment and activities that everyone will enjoy. Head on over to my blog post to learn more about the Willows.

7. Best Restaurants and Food Options

Don’t just go to any old restaurant while you’re in Salem.  I’ve got you covered with a blog post about my favorite food (and dessert!) hot spots in the Witch City.

8. Best Scenic Walk: The McIntire Historic District

No visit to Salem is complete without taking a stroll through the McIntire Historic District to see its breathtaking historic homes.  The area encompasses approximately 300 Georgian and Federal-style houses, many of which were designed or influenced by the architect and woodcarver Samuel McInitre.  Walking the entire district covers a little over a mile and takes about 45 minutes. However, if you’re tight on time, take the short walk along Chestnut Street to take in what are, in my opinion, the most beautiful homes. Click here to download and print a pamphlet of the walking tour. While you’re on Chestnut Street, take a tour of the Philips House Museum to see and experience what life as like in one of these stunning architectural masterpieces.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A European Palace of Art in the Heart of Boston

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is one of the most unique museums that I’ve ever been to.  And you should trust me because, as a history buff, I’ve been to a LOT of museums! You are, probably, most familiar with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from the art heist of 1993 when 13 pieces were stolen in a still unresolved crime.  Leaving mental scenes of movie-like robberies aside, if you’re ever in Boston, I strongly encourage you to visit in order to see not only the immense art collection but also to take in the incredible setting: a mock 15th century Venetian palace! Where else are you going to be able to see that in the United States?!

As you enter the museum, the first striking visual is the exceedingly gorgeous garden courtyard filled with blooming flowers and tropical plants surrounded by four walls that incorporate Gothic and Renaissance architectural structures.  The heavenly enclosure is most definitely a place to get your photo taken or to snap a selfie.

All of the magnificently decorated rooms of the three-floored palace surround the courtyard.  Each contains a fabulous array of paintings, tapestries, furniture, lighting fixtures, sculptures and other works of art from all around the globe.  Weaving in and out of rooms, you’ll discover treasure after treasure.  

After her father’s death in 1891, Isabella Stewart Gardner received a large inheritance and began  seriously collecting pieces of art. Working alongside an architect, she designed the current museum as a home in the style of a Venetian palace.  Many visitors believe that the building was disassembled in Italy and then moved, piece by piece, to Boston. In fact, the structure was constructed, in its current location, out of concrete and was crowned with a lofty glass roof held up by steel supports.  To give it a rich, historic feel, antique architectural elements were worked into the building. When it was finished, Gardner installed her art collection and opened her unique museum home to the public on January 1, 1903. Due to its location in the Fens district of Boston, it came to be known as Fenway Court.  Isabella welcomed many famous artists and intellectuals into her home, where they drew inspiration from the phenomenal surroundings. Today, the museum holds over 7,500 individual pieces of art, 1,500 rare books, and 7,000 archival objects that span the entire course of world history from ancient Rome and China to 19th century France.  Wow!

As you wander around the marvelous structure, you’ll encounter stately rooms full of imposing architectural and artistic pieces.  However, you’ll also come across more intimate spaces that are cordoned off so that only a limited number of people are allowed in at one time.  In those less monumental spaces, you’ll experience close encounters with the most iconic pieces of art, such as Whistler’s “Harmony in Blue and Silver”, Degas’ “Portrait of Josephine Gaujelin”, and Matisse’s “The Terrace, St. Tropez”.  The museum also contains many works by John Singer Sargent who was a frequent guest of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Perhaps, the most famous pieces in the collection are Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait”, Botticelli’s “Story of Lucretia”, Fra Angelico’s “Death and Assumption of the Virgin”, and Titian’s “Rape of Europa”. 

When Isabella Stewart Gardner died in 1924, she left behind a large endowment and specific instructions that her home and collection be put on permanent display “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever”.  Thanks to her passion and generosity, we can continue to enjoy such incredible works of art today.

However, I need to be completely honest with you. I’m no art connoisseur. I know very little about the subject, and, believe it or not, I don’t usually spend too much time in art museums.  However, I found myself really taking my time when exploring the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I felt like, for a few hours, I had left Boston and been transported to Europe, where I was the guest of some historic noble family in their majestic Renaissance palace. I’ve never before visited a museum that evoked that kind of sentiment.  That’s why I believe the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum is an exceptional artistic and historic experience for those visiting the city of Boston.   

Location

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is located at 25 Evans Way in Boston, Massachusetts.

If you’re already in the city, the easiest way to get there is by public transportation. Take the Green Line of the MBTA (or the “T” as, we, Bostonians call it) to the Museum of Fine Arts stop. From there, click the link above to get walking directions.

If you’re driving in from outside of the city, click on the link above to get directions. If you’re visiting on a weekend, you may find metered parking spaces outside the museum. If not, I would advise parking in the nearby garage of the Simmons School of Management at 86 Avenue Louis Pasteur. The museum allows you to receive a discounted rate. See their website for more details.

Fantastic Metal Beasts and Where to Find Them in Salem

Looking for something free and extremely out of the ordinary to do in Salem, Massachusetts?  How about a visit to a yard full of metal sculptures? Yes, you read that correctly.  If you’re visiting Salem or live nearby, you should stop by this outdoor sculpture gallery located in, yes, someone’s front yard.

The remarkable sculptures range from recognizable to, well, rather abstract.  Each of the peculiar pieces of art is made from recycled and reused metal materials that the owner-artist has salvaged or saved.  From giant insects to robots riding rolling machines to mechanized fountains, you can’t help but smile when admiring the rather unique display.  There’s even a large collection of antique and whimsical door knockers assembled on the yard’s fence. Both adults and children will surely be amused by this curious collection.

If someone is home, they’re happy to let you wander around the yard to get a close up look.  If not, you can easily see everything from outside the fence, as we did.

Things to Know

The home is adjacent to a parking lot for the Salem Ferry, but the parking is not free.  You may be able to find a space on the adjacent main road. Otherwise, pull the car over, put on your hazard lights, and enjoy for a few minutes. 

Location

The yard of metal sculptures is located at 10 Blaney St. in Salem, Massachusetts. Click on the link for directions.

Follow the signs for the Salem Ferry 

Witch City Eats: My Top Places to Nosh in Salem, Massachusetts

Salem, Massachusetts may be a small city, but the variety of restaurants is impressive.  Here are my favorites, listed in order of greatness, in the Witch City.  Don’t visit Salem without eating at, at least, the first two.

1. Caramel

I’m starting with dessert for a very good reason . . . I can honestly tell you that I haven’t enjoyed French pastries this good outside of Paris.  As soon as you enter, your eye will be drawn to the long, glass counter filled with meticulously made pastries of every shape and color.  Just admiring them is a feast for the senses.  I always take several minutes to decide what I want because there are too many good choices.  I’ve also been known to order two desserts just for myself!  Before making your selection, be sure to wander over to the case of scrumptious macarons in a variety of flavors.  The master chef at Caramel comes from South Central France, and the techniques that he uses to magically create the pastries have been passed down to him from his great grandfather who opened a patisserie in France back in 1931. If you love French pastries as much as I do, then run (don’t walk) to Caramel.  If you visit Salem without stopping there, you are seriously missing out!  

2. Boston Burger Company

Do you love a juicy, delicious, big-as-your-head burger as much as I do?  If so, there’s no better place in Massachusetts to get one than at Boston Burger Company!  Mind you, these are not your everyday burgers.  From the “Killer Bee”, with a stack of beer-battered onion rings, honey, BBQ sauce, and American cheese, to the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, piled high with mac and cheese, pulled pork, onion rings and BBQ sauce, to “The King”, featuring peanut butter, bacon, and fried bananas, to the “Sophie” topped with prosciutto, goat cheese, candied walnuts, fig jam, greens, and a balsamic reduction, the large menu has something for everyone in your group.  Boston Burger also offers a variety of lip-smacking frappes (milkshakes) and a plethora of options to crank up the flavor on their hand-cut fries.  Why eat regular fries when you can have them covered with bruschetta, garlic parm, Greek or nacho toppings, caramel and cinnamon, or even clam chowda’?  Boston Burger Company also offers appetizers, salads, boneless wings, and sandwiches, but I always stick to their namesake.  The restaurant is very popular, but if you have to wait too long for a table, don’t skip eating there.  Just call in an order for take out and then find a bench or a nice piece of grass to settle in.   Boston Burger is so good that you should resort to all options to eat there!

3. The Clam Shack

If you love classic New England fried seafood, then the Clam Shack is the place for you.  Located in the grounds of Salem Willows and overlooking the ocean, eating at the Clam Shack is a no-frills (think outside picnic tables) experience for your taste buds.  Please do not let the outdoor seating put you off, the seafood here is the best!  The menu ranges from perennial favorites like whole belly clams or clam strips to flaky haddock to (my favorite) fried calamari.  Can’t make a decision?  Then order the Captain’s Combo.  The Clam Shack lets you decide how hungry you are, or in my case, how hungry I think I am!  Choose from a roll, a box, a basket, or a full dinner plate portion.  They even have non-seafood options for you landlubbers. The best thing about the eating there (other than the food, of course) is that you can combine your meal with an enjoyable afternoon or evening at Salem Willows.

Please note that the Clam Shack and Salem Willows are seasonal. They’re open roughly from mid spring through September.

4. Flatbread Company

Seafood not your thing?  Do you have people in your group with special diets or food allergies?  Don’t worry because I’ve got you covered!  Flatbread Company serves pizza (and more) made from organic ingredients, that are sourced from local farmers, cooked to perfection in a natural, wood-fired clay oven.  They’re happy to make substitutions in any of their meals and have menu items that cater specifically to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free diets.  Try “Mopsy’s Kalua Pork Pie”, with smoked pork shoulder, free range chicken, mango BBQ sauce, pineapple, whole milk mozzarella, parmesan, garlic oil and their own herb mixture.  If your mouth isn’t watering yet, imagine digging into the “Punctuated Equilibrium” featuring a ton of veggies and imported Kalamata olives or the “Jimmy’s Free-Range Chicken” with black beans, cilantro tomatoes, roasted corn, mozzarella and parmesan, jalapenos, and a sour cream lime drizzle.  It makes me want to phone in an order right now!  You can also design your own pizza from a wide variety of organic toppings, and Flatbread even has gluten free crusts, that my friend attests are the best she’s ever had.  If all of this wasn’t enough, you can enjoy waterside, outdoor seating, and . . . get ready for it . . . connected to the restaurant is a small candlepin bowling alley.  How fun!  Make a day, an afternoon, or even a date night out of it.  Flatbread Company is my number one choice for pizza in the Witch City, if not in the entire North Shore of Massachusetts!

5. Passage to India

Looking for something more exotic and full of Asian flavors and spices? Passage to India will take you on an amazing food journey from the northern to the southern parts of the Indian Subcontinent without ever having to leave your seat.  Every meal is served fresh and features spices that are ground in-house.  I recommend starting with the vegetable pakoras, the meat samosas, or the delicious coconut soup.   For a main course, I recommend the flavorful Chicken Mango or the creamy Lamb Korma.  If you’ve never tried a dosa before, I highly encourage you to order one.  Picture a thin and very long crepe, made of ground lentils and rice, stuffed with meat and/or vegetables of your choice, and served with sweet coconut chutney.  I dare you to try finishing it in one sitting!  I may have once or twice J.  Passage to India also offers a plethora of vegetarian options, and don’t forget to partake in some made-to-order naan bread with your meal.  Go for the Kashmire Naan that’s loaded with raisins, cashews, and coconut.  I think it’s more like dessert than a side course, but that’s an even better reason to enjoy it!

6. Turner’s Seafood

For slightly more upscale seafood dining, my “go to” place is Turner’s Seafood.  Turner’s began as a wholesale fish company in 1954, and one of their fresh fish markets continue to exist today right inside the restaurant located in the old Lyceum Hall building.  Whether you’re enjoying lunch or dinner, start with fresh-shucked oysters, steamers, tuna sashimi, lobster or shrimp cocktail, or cherrystones and littlenecks from their raw bar.   Alternatively, try the award-winning lobster bisque or cherry pepper calamari.  For main courses, Turner’s has a variety of fish dishes, fried seafood, pastas, and even a sandwich board.  They also feature New England lobsters (both regular and lazy-man’s, as I call it), a made-to-order New England bouillabaisse, and many gluten-free options.  If you’d like to have a lovely, sit-down, New England style dinner, you can’t beat Turner’s Seafood.

7. Ye Olde Pepper Companie

No, I’m not sending you to store that sells peppers or spices.  Ye Olde Pepper Companie is actually the oldest candy company in the United States (since 1806).  If that’s not enough of a reason to visit, their chocolates, fudge, salt water taffy, caramel corn, and other old fashioned candies are hand-made using original recipes that have been passed down through the generations.  I dare you to walk into the store, take in the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and sweets, and leave without buying anything!  If you plan on visiting the House of Seven Gables, Ye Olde Pepper Companie is located right across the street.  How convenient!

Locations

Click on a name to be taken to a driving or walking map.

Caramel is located at 281 Essex St. in Salem, MA.

The Clam Shack is located at 200 Fort Ave., Salem Willows Park, in Salem, MA.

Boston Burger Company is located at 133 Washington St. in Salem.

Flatbread Company is located at 311 Derby St. in Salem.

Passage to India is located at 157 Washington St. in Salem.

Turner’s Seafood is located at 43 Church St. in Salem.

Ye Old Pepper Companie is located at 122 Derby St. in Salem.

Christmas in Massachusetts: My Favorite Holiday Destinations & Traditions

Although I’m still recovering from back surgery and won’t be participating in any of my annual holiday outings, I’d like to share some of my favorite seasonal activities so that you might make them part of your traditions as well.  Let me show you a festive Christmas in Massachusetts!

Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Nothing evokes the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned holiday like Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village.  As you meander around the early 19th century village, each beautifully decorated building features a different activity or holiday tradition to experience.   You can hand craft an ornament in

the tin shop, take a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh while singing carols, listen to Christmas stories or live music, cozy up to the bonfire, marvel at the incredible entries into the gingerbread house competition, enjoy a scrumptious open-hearth baked holiday treat and a cup of warm apple cider, and much more!  I’ve been to Christmas by Candlelight many times, and my favorite part is interacting with the costumed interpreters to learn more about the activities that they’re doing and about holiday traditions in the past. I highly encourage you to make Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village part of your family’s holiday tradition. It will always be part of mine.

Christmas by Candlelight runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from late November through December.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website by clicking here.

The Enchanted Village at Jordan’s Furniture

Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted VillageWhen I was younger, I fondly remember my mother taking me on a Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted Villagespecial trip into Boston to see the Enchanted Village in what used to be the Jordan Marsh department store in Downtown Crossing.  Since the store was sold to Macy’s, the Enchanted Village has changed hands several times, but it’s found a permanent home at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon, Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted VillageMassachusetts. Adults and children alike will delight in the quaint Christmas village Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted Villagefilled with animatronic children, adults, teddy bears, and other animals participating in holiday rituals and traditions.  Before leaving the village, don’t forget to indulge in a delicious blueberry muffin, made from the original Jordan Marsh recipe!  While in the store, you can also take several spins around the 4,000 square foot skating rink, featuring holiday music and dramatic lighting effects. After all that, if you’re still in the holiday spirit (like I would be!) check out Jordan Furniture’s Motion Odyssey Movie (MOM) featuring the Polar Express in a way that you’ve never seen it before . . 4-D!  There’s so much to do at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon that you could make a day trip out of it!  All of the activities at the store are open from mid-November to the 1st of January.  Click here for further details, hours, and pricing information.

Two Decked-Out Dwellings

Christmas Massachusetts Everyone knows that neighborhood house whose residents go all out in Christmas Massachusetts decorating their home for the holiday season.  Each year, I’ve always made it a tradition to drive around and discover new holiday light displays and experience old favorites.  In Danvers, Massachusetts, there are two houses on Arthur Christmas Massachusetts Street that you simply cannot miss! The homes use more than 90,000 lights and over 1,000 lit up figurines and Christmas Massachusetts characters to create an awe-inspiring holiday extravaganza, including, my favorite part, the waterfall display.  While there, be sure to make a donation to Children’s Hospital, who buses in their child patients to see the spectacle for themselves and experience some of the holiday spirit. Do you have a favorite decorated home that makes Christmas in Massachusetts extra special?  Leave the the street address and city or town in the comment section below. I’d love to hear about them!

THE Festival of Trees

Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of Trees

If you love Christmas trees as much as I do, then a visit to the Festival of Trees in Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesMethuen, Massachusetts, is a must during the holiday season!  The festival has been going on for over 25 years and features almost 250 trees and wreaths, that have been donated by various community organizations, businesses, and families.  Each tree is decorated based upon a theme chosen by the individual or group donating it.  While I enjoy simply marveling at all of the intricate decorations and imaginative themes, children can complete a fun scavenger hunt to win a prize, and visitors can purchase raffle tickets and place them into boxes next to the trees or wreaths of their choice in the hopes of winning them.  The Festival of Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesTrees is attended by over 30,000 visitors from across 14 different states, and all of the proceeds provide funding for heritage and restoration projects of historic structures in the greater Merrimack Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesValley. So what are you waiting for?!  Go to see the largest collection of decorated trees in Massachusetts and, at the same time, support a worthy cause, which is what the holiday spirit is truly about.  The Festival of Trees is open from mid-November through early December.  For more information click here to visit their website.

The Christmas Village at Yankee Candle

Christmas Massachusetts Yankee CandleAlthough it’s open all year round, one of my favorite holiday destinations is the Christmas Village at the Yankee Candle Flagship Store in South Deerfield, Massachusetts.  While the village is located entirely within the store, to get there, you’ll have to pass through the Bavarian Forest room where, if you wait a minute or two, you will experience snowfall, no matter what the season or temperature outside.  Emerging from the forest, you would think you stepped into a 14th century Bavarian town that’s been decked out for Christmas. You’ll need a minute or two just to look around and take it all in, trust me.  Each of the quaint shops contains a differentChristmas Massachusetts Yankee Candle theme of over 100,000 holiday ornaments for sale.  Explore the village to get inspiration for your own holiday, and I dare you to leave without picking out an ornament or decoration to purchase.  Looking to create a village of your own?  Yankee has an entire room full of incredible holiday village scene displays to inspire you to design one or just to marvel at.  What’s a medieval village without a castle?  Cross over the moat via the drawbridge and enter the Nutcracker Castle Christmas Massachusetts Yankee Candlewhere you’ll find a variety of German-themed ornaments, nutcrackers (including a 6 ft. tall one!), and a set of thrones that are perfect for selfies.  Next, move on to Santa’s workshop, which contains a plethora of toys for sale to delight children of all ages.  If all of the holiday shopping has made you work up an appetite, Yankee has plenty of tempting choices in its New England Market, including Christmas Massachusetts Yankee CandlePopcornopolis, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Yankee Candy, homemade fudge, and an Au Bon Pain restaurant.  After you’ve refueled, explore the rest of the enormous flagship store which includes the Candle Emporium, with over 200,000 candles in 200 fragrances, the General Store featuring baking mixes and delicious foods, the kitchen shop, the gift boutique, the home store, and the garden shop.  For me, one of the most intriguing parts of the store is the Candle Museum where you can learn about and see how candles were made in the past and the present.  Speaking of making candles, at Yankee you can create your own custom candle with no experience required.  Just choose your shape and color, and an assistant will guide you through the process. If you’re looking for an even more personal experience, you can even make a wax mold of your own hand!  The Yankee Candle Flagship Store in South Deerfield is a fun experience at any time of year but feels even more festive during the holiday season.  For more information about hours and activities, visit their website by clicking here.

A Christmas Festival of Lights

Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrine

Courtesy of LaSalette Shrine

I absolutely love Christmas light displays!  My absolute favorite place Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrineto see them is the Christmas Festival of Lights at the LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts.  This immense holiday display features over 300,000 lights spread across 10 acres!  While the displays have a religious Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrinetheme, even if you’re not a believer you’ll be thoroughly amazed by this holiday light exhibition.  Be sure to dress warm because the light display is located outside, but don’t worry because hot apple cider, fried dough, make-your-own s’mores and other warm and tasty treats are available for purchase on site. While there, you can also visit the International Creche Museum which features hundreds of different nativity scenes created by artists from all over the world.  Best of all, the light display and creche museum are totally free!   The Christmas Festival of Lights is on display from late November to early January.  For more information visit their website.

The Largest Christmas Store in New England

Christmas Massachusetts Christmas PlaceMy last, but not least, favorite Christmas in Massachusetts destination is a place where you can shop ‘til youChristmas Massachusetts Christmas Place drop for holiday decor. The Christmas Place in Abington, Massachusetts, is the largest Christmas store in all of New England.  If you’re looking for a particular ornament they have aisles and aisles, carefully arranged by theme, full of them. Need garland, tinsel, ribbons, tree skirts or toppers? The Christmas Place has more than you can ever imagine.  They even have a room full of 85 different styles of Christmas trees and an entire lighting department with a huge variety of holiday lights, in countless different styles, to decorate them.  For the outside of your home, the store carries over 150 different types of holiday figures.  Know someone that has a Christmas Massachusetts Christmas PlaceChristmas Village?  The Christmas Place carries over 200 different Department 56 houses and buildings, and even if you’re not looking to buy them, you can admire the holiday village scenes located throughout the store. Speaking of scenes, the Christmas Place has one of the largest Playmobil displays in the country.  Don’t forget to check it out near the entrance of the store.  So if you are looking for some holiday decorations, need a special gift for someone who is crazy about Christmas, or just love to browse like I do, head to the Christmas Place!  And don’t forget to take a selfie with the enormous Nutcracker outside the entrance.

Locations for a Festive Christmas in Massachusetts

Click on a link to be taken to specific driving directions.

Old Sturbridge Village is located at 1 Old Sturbridge Village Rd in Sturbridge, MA.

The Enchanted Village is located at Jordan’s Furniture at 100 Stockwell Dr in Avon, MA.

The “Two Decked Out Dwellings” are located at 3 and 5 Arthur St. in Danvers, Ma.

The Yankee Candle Flagship Store is located at 25 Greenfield Rd, South Deerfield, MA.

The Christmas Festival of Lights is located at the LaSalette Shrine on 947 Park St, Attleboro, MA.

The Christmas Place is located at 1500 Bedford St, Abington, MA.

Stevens-Coolidge Place: Spectacular Colonial Revival Gardens and Mansion

Stevens-Coolidge PlaceThe Stevens-Coolidge Place (formerly known as Ashdale Farm) is a historic home and Stevens-Coolidge Placegardens located in North Andover, Massachusetts. The extensive gardens are always free and open to the public. However, the house is available to tour only on open house days and special events. Check their website for details about their many special events throughout the year.

Even if the home is not open for tours, I highly recommend visiting just to see the extensive gardens. They include a Stevens-Coolidge Placeperennial garden with geometric beds and countless varieties of plants, a French Garden and Stevens-Coolidge PlaceSerpentine Wall (modeled after one designed by Thomas Jefferson), a cutting garden (where you can pay a small fee to pick-your-own flower bouquet to take home), a rose garden, a vegetable and flower garden, and a greenhouse complex. Meander through the spectacular gardens, bring a picnic, choose a quaint spot, and settle in for a few hours of relaxation.

Stevens-Coolidge Place

While the property belonged to the Stevens family since 1729, the most current Stevens-Coolidge Placeresidents were Helen Stevens Coolidge and her husband John Gardner Coolidge, who was a diplomat and a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Isabella Stuart Gardner.  Between 1914 and 1918, they hired an architect to remodel the two adjoined farmhouses and gardens into a Colonial Revival estate, which the couple used as a second home.  When her husband died in 1936, Helen Steven Coolidge continued to live in the home until her death in 1962.  She granted the entire estate, the home, and all of the contents to the Trustees of Reservations.  The tour guide told me Stevens-Coolidge Placethat all of the family’s belongings remain in the house, from the china in the cupboards, to the clothes inStevens-Coolidge Place the closets, to every item that was in the all of the drawers in house (which are still in them!).  As a historian, I know how rare it is for a home to remain intact just as if the owners had left, so the Stevens-Coolidge Place is really special.  In addition, the Coolidges were world travelers, and many of the furniture and Stevens-Coolidge Placeitems that you will see in the home have been accumulated from all over the world.  I strongly encourage you to check out their website to visit on a day when a house tour is available.  Whether you’re interested in antiques and collectibles, fascinated by family histories, or just curious about how people lived in the past, you’ll be amazed by all that the Stevens–Coolidge Place has to offer.

For more information about other things to do in Massachusetts, check out our other blogs posts and head on over to this great list!

Location of the Stevens-Coolidge Place

The Stevens-Coolidge Place is located at 137 Andover St. in North Andover, Massachusetts.  If you’re familiar with the area, the estate is located near the intersection of state routes 133 and 125 and very close to route 495.  For driving directions, click on the map below.Stevens-Coolidge Place

Canterbury Shaker Village: Community, Spirituality, and Innovation in the New Hampshire Hills

Canterbury Shaker VillageStepping onto the grounds of Canterbury Shaker Village, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the area and the sense of peace and relaxation that the site exudes.   By the time that I left, several hours later, I was amazed by the generosity, ingenuity, and spirituality of the Shakers. A trip to Canterbury Shaker Village is, by far, one of the best things to do in the state of New Hampshire.

 

Canterbury was the largest community of Shakers in New Hampshire. There’s so much to see in the village that every member of your family will find something intriguing to explore. The Shakers embraced and invented new technologies, and in your visit, you’ll see their steam engine-powered washing machines, a generator that powered some of the first electric lights in New Hampshire, and state-of-the-art innovations, of the time, including early telephones, radios, and TVs. You’ll see modern artisans recreating Shaker crafts including the making of period clothing, furniture, oval boxes, and brooms. Children will love exploring the old schoolhouse, running through gardens, and interacting with the farm animals.

 

Canterbury Shaker VillageWhen visiting Canterbury Shaker Village, I recommend taking one of the guided tours to get an introduction to the Shakers and an overview of daily life in the community. On the tour, you’ll see several building which aren’t open to the public (including the laundry whose many technological inventions made it one of the most interesting places in the village), and you’ll learn about Shaker beliefs and practices such as gender and racial equality, suffrage for women, communal living, pacifism, and support for the poor, orphans, and victims of natural disasters. After the tour, you’re free to explore the buildings on your own.   Visit the Dwelling House to ring the Paul Revere bell, marvel over the Shaker’s built-in furniture and incredible organizational system, check out the kitchen and bedrooms, and learn about how the Shakers even put on concerts and plays for the community!  Here are some other sites not to miss:

 

  • the recreated syrup shop, where the Shakers made cooking and medicinal syrups, canned goods, and jams and jellies
  • the Sisters’ Shop, where you can see staff making Shaker clothing and textiles
  • the Brethrens’ Shop, in which artisans show how the Shakers created furniture and wooden boxes
  • the Carpenters’ Shop, featuring broom and printmaking demonstrationsCanterbury Shaker Village

 

Consider ending your day with a visit to the museum store where you can purchase artisan-created Shaker arts and crafts as gifts for others or mementos of your visit. If you get hungry during your time in the village, food is available from the Shaker Box Lunch, which is run by the local food co-operative and features many ingredients grown on-site. The cookies and baked goods were especially tasty!

 

Canterbury Shaker Village

I’ve been to many historical and religious sites, but I was, frankly, blow away by what I learned and saw at Canterbury Shaker Village.  The staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, and they show pure joy in sharing their enthusiasm for the Shaker way of life. Ask questions about what they’re doing and what you’re seeing so that you, too, will be amazed by all that the Shakers were able to achieve and create.  To make the most out of your visit, check out their website for information about daily tours and special seasonal events.  Canterbury Shaker Village is the best thing to do in Concord, New Hampshire, if not the entire state!

 

 

 

Location

Canterbury Shaker Village is located at 288 Shaker Rd. in Canterbury, NH.  Click the map below for directions

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