There are so many fun things to do in Western MA and Hampshire County, known as “the other side of Massachusetts”. While Boston is a fabulous city, there’s a lot happening on the other side of the state, too. I find that I’m drawn to the smaller towns that have their own unique finds and charming character. How about you?
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Hampshire County is a collection of small towns in western Massachusetts, all with their own character and sense of community. Add a few outdoor adventures and intriguing discoveries, and you’ve got yourself the perfect getaway to this less frequented side of the state. Looking for western Massachusetts attractions? I’ve got you covered.
While I covered a lot of ground in a couple of days, this is merely a small sampling of the interesting places in Hampshire County. As this region is within driving distance of my home in Toronto, I hope to make it back at some point in the future to explore even more. In this Massachusetts travel guide, I’m going to show you the best things to do in:
- And where to stay in Northampton, along with the best restaurants in Northampton
Where to Stay in Western MA: The Historic Hotel Northampton
If you’re visiting western Massachusetts and Hampshire County, the Hotel Northampton is the ideal place to call home. It’s a historic hotel right in the middle of town, so you can walk everywhere.
The hotel is luxurious with elegant rooms and common spaces. We were warmly greeted upon our arrival and felt comfortable throughout our stay. I had a cozy and restful night’s sleep, which allowed for days worth of adventures in Hampshire County.
There was complimentary Wi-Fi, parking, and a continental breakfast. I highly recommend that you stay at Hotel Northampton. Be sure to book your stay at Hotel Northampton, and you can also check rates on Tripadvisor while browsing more reviews and photos.
If you’d like to compare prices and locations of other hotels and vacation rentals in Northampton and beyond, here’s a convenient map that makes it really easy to find the best places to stay.
Getting Around Western MA
If you’d like to check out all of the best things to do in western MA, you likely need to have a car. This is a road trip destination! While I drove my car down from Canada, you can always rent a car for the trip. Compare car rental rates here so you can find the best deal.
Things to Do in Western MA: Amherst, MA
Amherst is the highest populated town in Hampshire County (around 37,000 people). Much like the rest of Hampshire County, Amherst is known for its vibrant community spirit, its love for the arts and books, the local food scene, and its beautiful nature.
Amherst is an intellectual place with three colleges: Amherst College, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire College. As a lively college town, you can expect to find late night restaurants and cafes, live music, and tolerant outlooks. It’s also the home of famous poet, Emily Dickinson (you can check out the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, too!).
If you’re seeking fun things to do in Western MA, don’t miss a stop in Amherst. Here are a few things to do when you visit the idyllic New England town of Amherst, Massachusetts.
Hike to the Summit of Mount Holyoke
Hiking is one of the most fun activities in Western MA, and Hampshire County is blessed with untouched nature. There are ample opportunities to go out and explore. When you stay in Northampton, you’re just moments away from miles of hiking trails and spectacular scenery. Amherst is one of those awesome places to go in Western MA with glorious natural spaces.
While there are several bases to start memorable day hikes, like Mount Holyoke Range State Park and Mount Tom State Reservation, we chose to venture out to Skinner State Park. From there, we climbed to the summit of Mount Holyoke for one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen in a long time.
As we were teetering on the brink of rain and only had a limited amount of time to see everything, I chose to take the Halfway Trail to the Mt Holyoke Summit. You can hike right from the bottom or start about halfway up the mountain. Regardless, you’ll get a workout as there’s quite an incline to the top.
To park at this site, it costs $5 for MA locals or $20 for anyone out of state. It’s the same parking rate no matter where you leave your car within the state park boundaries. If you want the rewarding view without much effort, you can actually drive to the top of the summit as there’s a small parking lot up there.
I thought the hike was completely worth it as I love spending time in nature. Plus, there were really interesting rock formations along the way. At the top of Mount Holyoke, enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding area. There’s also the sprawling summit house, but it’s closed for renovations when I visited. I believe it is now open, but only seasonally.
It’s part of the New England Trail, which extends 215 miles. If you visit Skinner State Park between mid-September and November, you may have the opportunity to see some hawks during the annual hawk migration from the top of Mount Holyoke. I’d love to return during the fall to witness hundreds of soaring birds of prey overhead. This hike is one of the best things to do in Western MA by far.
Atkins Farms is a locally owned market in Amherst, MA. If you’re looking to pick up some farm fresh produce or locally made products, Atkins Farms is a great place to do so. They started as an apple farm back in 1887 and they’ve expanded over the years to a huge market space.
They’re super eco-friendly and include many sustainable practices in their business. For instance, they use renewable energy like solar power, they practice composting and recycling, and they also buy local wherever possible.
At Atkins Farms, you can find farm fresh produce, baked goods, specialty foods, seasonal items, maple syrup, a deli, a candy shop, beer and wine, and even a sushi bar. When you’re in Amherst, feel free to do some grocery shopping here or pop in to browse the local specialties.
More Things to See and Do in Amherst
If you’re looking for what to do in Western Mass and Amherst, here are some more suggestions. I didn’t get the chance to visit any of these spots, but perhaps they’ll be intriguing to you. Feel free to add them to your Western MA travel itinerary and let me know what you think!
- Go swimming at Puffer’s Pond
- Shop at the Amherst Farmer’s Market (every Saturday from April to November)
- Watch a movie at the independent, non-profit theater and arts center, Amherst Cinema
- Stop for a coffee or beverage at Amherst Coffee, inside the Amherst Cinema building
What to Do in Western Mass: Easthampton, MA
Easthampton is a town that’s revitalizing itself throughout recent years, transforming from an old mill town to a center for the arts. Old factory buildings are being repurposed as places for creatives to make things like pottery and works of art.
You’ll also find great restaurants, microbreweries, and some of the top places of interest in Massachusetts. There are great hiking trails and waterways for kayaking. Easthampton was once considered to be an “up-and-coming” place to visit, but it’s really come into its own and more than ready for you to visit. Here are my top pics for attractions in Easthampton, Massaschuetts.
Things to Do in Western MA: Community Space at Mill 180 Park
Mill 180 Park is one of the most unique community spaces I’ve ever encountered. It’s an urban park that’s entirely indoors. Spanning the floor of a century old mill building, Mill 180 Park welcomes anyone to step inside and spend time there. Unlike other parks, it’s a quiet sanctuary that can be enjoyed no matter what the weather is like outdoors.
There are many spaces to mingle with friends, both old and new. You can spend peaceful moments alone or time with family members of all ages. There are games, like cornhole or checkers. Mill 180 Park has community events, like yoga classes, live speakers, or musical performances. Art hangs from the walls and ceilings.
Dine at Mill 180 Park
Most notably, Mill 180 Park uses hydroponics to grow fresh food all year long. These plants serve both as greenery for the park and double as ingredients for the food served there. They have innovative ways of growing vegetables without soil or the sun – it’s quite amazing. All year long, they grow and harvest lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, kale, swiss chard, and herbs.
This “park-to-table” concept features meals created from the plants grown on site, as well as other local specialties. Everything is sold for a reasonable price so everyone can access the food, regardless of income. If there is an abundance of one particular plant, it is sold directly to residents at an affordable rate or donated to a local food bank.
While the meals aren’t strictly vegan, there are many vegan selections of soups, sandwiches, salads, and snacks. There’s coffee from a local company, beer from nearby craft breweries, and cocktails with a house-made simple syrup.
The concept behind Mill 180 Park is cutting edge and can be implemented in any city. Food can be grown locally and affordably for everyone to enjoy. Furthermore, it brings the community together and people can get to know one another in a beautiful space. One of the best things to do in Western MA is to pop by Mill 180 Park to enjoy the community space and a delicious meal.
Abandoned Building Brewery
Hampshire County has dozens of craft breweries and I was able to sample some local brews during my stay. Around the corner from Mill 180 Park in Easthampton (in the same building!), pay a trip to Abandoned Building Brewery. They’ve got a large selection of ales suitable for all tastes, including seasonal varieties.
I wanted to try an assortment of beers, so I opted for a beer flight. My personal favorite was the Blue Barn Saison, based on a Belgian classic pilsner. You can find their beers at the brewery, as well as numerous establishments in Hampshire County and all over Massachusetts. One of the top things to do in Western Ma is sample the local brews, and Abandoned Building Brewery is one you need to check out.
More Things to Do in Easthampton
While Mill 180 Park and Abandoned Building Brewery both deserve a space on your list of Western Mass attractions, here are even more suggestions for a memorable trip.
- Go for a walk or bike ride on the Manhan Rail Trail that connects Easthampton and Northampton
- Visit Art in the Orchard, an outdoor sculpture garden through fruit orchards
- Go kayaking and nature watching at Nashawannuck Pond
Visit Hampshire County: Northampton, MA
Have you ever travelled somewhere and immediately felt a sense of belonging? It seemed like everywhere we went, people were eager to strike up a conversation and recommend spots for us to check out. I got the impression that the locals were not only friendly, but there was an overwhelming aura of togetherness. It’s one of the best places to go when you visit Western Massachusetts.
Northampton is very liberal and has a large LGBT community. Overall, Hampshire County is a very welcoming and accepting place. Here are some of the best things to do in Western MA, specifically in the town of Northampton.
Smith College Museum of Art
I’m a massive fan of the arts, and there are a variety of creative outlets and ways to appreciate art in Hampshire County. A trip to the Smith College Museum of Art is one of the most amazing things to do in Western MA for fans of art and culture.
There are four floors of galleries featuring a portion of their permanent collection, as well as rotating special exhibits. There are collections of modern art, art from the ancient world, African art, Asian art, a collection of works on paper, and more.
At Smith College Museum of Art, some of the art is fully functional and used regularly by visitors. For instance, there are artist designed benches throughout the museum. When you stop to rest or admire paintings or sculptures in a seated position, you’ll be sitting on one-of-a-kind benches.
Artist Designed Restrooms
Next, the most surprising feature at Smith College Museum of Art were the artist-designed restrooms. Yes, restrooms! These are the fanciest and most captivating bathrooms I’ve ever seen (a sentence I wasn’t sure I’d ever write!). They are permanent works of art, and you’re welcome to check out both of them.
If you’re visiting the men’s restroom as a lady (and vice versa), it’s a good idea to knock first out of courtesy for those who may be using them. I think this is the first time I’ve admired and taken pictures of the inside of a public restroom.
Discover the Street Art in Northampton
Walking around the streets of Northampton, you can observe street art and murals in interesting places. All over town, we noticed sidewalks, benches, electricity boxes, and the sides of buildings painted in creative ways.
You’ll be able to discover public art and street art all over town, especially on Main Street. The town itself is a living, breathing work of art. Wander around town and discover it for yourself.
Shop at Small Local Businesses on Main Street
There are no shortage of local, small businesses in Northampton with lots of unique finds. There are bookshops, gift shops, musical instrument stores, clothing stores, and so much more. You can also alternate popping into stores with sipping coffee at local cafes.
I found some really cute casual shoes in one shop that have a lime stitched into one and a coconut stitched into the other. Another shop’s storefront window caught my eye because there were so many cat themed things for sale. Finding unique gifts is one of the best things to do in Western MA and Northampton has loads of one-of-a-kind shopping experiences.
The rooftop bar at Northampton Brewery is not to be missed. Savor pints on the patio at this popular brewpub. For something a little different, I ordered the Pomona, a sour ale. While you’re at it, take some cans of beer to go.
If you love craft breweries (I do, as you can tell, from the brewery mentions in this blog post!), you shouldn’t miss Northampton Brewery. It’s a favorite among the locals and visitors alike.
More Things to Do in Northampton
There are so many things to do in Northampton beyond the experiences I had. Feel free to add any of these to your list if you have more time in the area:
- The Botanic Garden of Smith College has native New England plants and trees, plus a conservatory & greenhouses.
- Northampton has farmers markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
- Ye Ol’ Watering Hole has a Beer Can Museum with over 4000 cans lining the walls.
Places to Go in Western MA: Williamsburg
Williamsburg is a tiny, rural town (population approximately 2400) at the base of the Berkshires. In 1874, this prosperous mill town experienced a tragedy when a reservoir burst and swept away many businesses, mills, and homes. 139 people died in this disastrous event.
Nowadays, Williamsburg features a picturesque main street and many buildings with a Greek revival style of architecture. There’s a lively spirit in this community where its residents not only take great pride in living there, but also strive to help one another through volunteering initiatives. I went to Williamsburg to visit Snow Farm, one of the most amazing arts and crafts retreats I’ve ever seen.
Snow Farm: The New England Craft Program
Snow Farm is an artistic retreat in a rural setting. Guests participate in an artistic discipline of their choice, even if they’re completely new to it. Snow Farm is a nonprofit organization with classes led by experts, allowing anyone to attempt or perfect any craft.
When I visited Hampshire County, I took a tour of the Snow Farm grounds, learning a little bit about each class. Generally, attendees stay in the dorms for a few days, meeting new people and even making long term friendships.
There are a wide variety of workshops, including ceramics, mosaics, painting, fibre arts, glassblowing, woodworking, welding, metal smithing, flameworking, and more. I’d love to return someday to take a class and learn a new craft or skill.
More Things to Do in Williamsburg
I must admit that I didn’t get to fully experience Williamsburg with my trip to Snow Farm. When I return someday, I’d love to check out the following:
- Go hiking at Petticoat Hill up to the Petticoat Hill Summit.
- Visit the Graves Farm Wildlife Sanctuary with its two loop trails and wildlife viewing opportunities
- Take a trip to the quaint Williamsburg General Store on Main Street.
Vegan Eats in Northampton, MA
Northampton, Massachusetts is a super vegan-friendly city in Western MA. If you’re searching for vegan eats in Hampshire County, you won’t have any issues in Northampton. Here are my recommended restaurants in Northampton that offer plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian options.
For lunch, dinner, or dessert, hop over to Haymarket Cafe in Northampton. It’s a vegetarian cafe with many vegan options clearly marked. There’s a huge glass case full of vegan desserts, too.
I ordered the tempeh burger with the pina colada smoothie. Personally, I can’t seem to get enough tempeh, so I was really pleased with this choice. I only wish I could have returned for a second or third meal here. The other dish featured in the above photo is the “Pasta a La Norma” with roasted tomato, eggplant, and spicy pepper.
Bueno Y Sano
Mexican food is generally a safe bet for vegan options, but this restaurant had several vegan-friendly tacos and burritos. I ordered both a seitan taco and a tofu taco, which also came stuffed with black beans, veggies, and salsa.
There was an additional salsa and hot sauce bar where you could make your meal as spicy as you wanted. The portions were huge! Bring your appetite.
Sweeties Fine Chocolate & Confections
Walking around Northampton, I was drawn to a sign in their shop window stating that there were vegan options inside. Sweeties has the biggest selection of vegan chocolate that I’ve ever seen at a chocolate shop.
There were two whole shelves of dairy-free chocolates of all different flavours. I happily ordered a box of chocolates here. There were also so many vegan candies that ones with dairy in them were specially labelled as “not vegan”, being in the minority. I love that.
Glazed Doughnut Shop
Back when I visited Northampton, I couldn’t resist a trip to the Glazed Doughnut Shop. Unfortunately, their location in Northampton has since closed, but they still have a donut shop in Amherst. Make sure to make a stop when you’re visiting Amherst, MA.
There were several vegan donuts, all clearly marked. In fact, we bought the “day old” donuts for only $1 a piece! Fruity pebble donuts? Yes, please!
Plan Your Trip to Hampshire County
While Western MA might not have been on your radar before, I encourage you to take a road trip around Hampshire County. It’s so much fun and lovely in all seasons. I really enjoyed my summer getaway there, although I imagine it would be really beautiful in the fall to view the foliage.
I hope this Western MA travel guide has helped you plan your trip, and you’re always welcome to ask questions in the comments section. There’s no shortage of Western Mass attractions, especially for lovers of the great outdoors, unique things to do, craft beer, and good eats!
Thinking about continuing your road trip in Massachusetts? Visit North Central Massachusetts, otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed Country, for the incredible craft beer scene!