Things To Do In Northampton MA: Top 13 Most Unique Spots | Stanton House Inn
Walking around to admire the gardens and architecture is one of the best things to do in Northampton, MA

Passing through Northampton, Massachusetts always brings back memories. After my Peace Corps days, I ran a farm in the Pioneer Valley hills, and for us, Northampton was the big city.

Compared to our tiny New England town, it felt massive.

Northampton is the cultural heart of western Massachusetts, known for its unique food scene and scenic New England charm. Downtown blends seamlessly with Smith College, a key player in the 5-College Consortium, making the town a vital part of the Connecticut River Valley’s Knowledge Corridor.

Dubbed America’s most liberal city, Northampton has a vibrant community, thanks partly to Smith College. The city shines brightly during the annual Noho Pride event in May, reflecting its welcoming spirit.

Attractions in Northampton include an art museum and a botanical garden on the Smith College campus. Here’s a look at some of the best spots, from historic sites to outdoor adventures and cultural highlights.

Ready to explore the best things to do in Northampton, MA? Let’s get into it:

Quick hits

  • Cultural Hub: Northampton, MA, is a historic and cultural center, proud of its progressive spirit and stunning natural landscapes.

  • Top Activities: Explore Smith College, enjoy rail trails, dive into the town’s arts scene, and check out local events.

  • Nightlife and Dining: The town boasts lively nightlife and a charming Main Street filled with shops and dining options.

  • Ideal Location: Easy access to other beautiful towns in the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires.

A Brief History of Northampton, Massachusetts

1911 postcard of the Oxbow, as seen from Mount Holyoke

Founded in 1654 on the banks of the Connecticut River, Northampton is a beacon of art and culture. Its progressive vibe is intertwined with Western Massachusetts’ academic reputation, earning it the title “the most liberal city in America,” all wrapped in classic New England charm. Visiting Northampton is like stepping into a living history book, where stories of innovation and progress greet you at every turn.

The original inhabitants were the Pocumtuc people, whose lands stretched from southern Vermont and New Hampshire to northern Connecticut. By the 1630s, Dutch traders and English settlers brought smallpox, devastating the indigenous population. In 1653, Springfield settlers bought the land, paving the way for Northampton’s establishment.

Idyllic pond in Childs Park in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts

In 1734, Jonathan Edwards sparked a Christian revival here, spreading through the Connecticut River Valley and attracting international attention. Later, singer Jenny Lind dubbed it the “Paradise of America,” a name that stuck. From 1842 to 1846, Northampton hosted a utopian community of abolitionists.

Today, Northampton thrives as a cultural hub, celebrated for its eclectic dining and vibrant arts and music scene.

The Best Things to do in Northampton, MA

If you’re looking for a charming and lively spot in Western Massachusetts, Northampton is your place. Read on to dive into what makes this town a must-visit!

Main Street

Taking a walk on Main Street of Northampton is always fun

Main Street is the heart of Northampton. It’s bustling with:

  • Restaurants and food

  • Live Music

  • Art Galleries

  • Theaters

  • Outdoor Markets

  • Quirky Events

Boutique Finds and Unique Gifts

Northampton’s shopping scene is as diverse as it gets. Here are some top picks:

  • Ten Thousand Villages: Handcrafted gifts with a global touch.

  • Sticks and Bricks: Unique finds for your home.

  • Pinch: Art and jewelry galore.

  • 25 Central: Clothing and more.

  • Raven Used Books: A treasure trove for book lovers.

  • Acme Surplus: My go-to when I was broke, sadly closed in 2023.

Thornes Marketplace

Thornes Marketplace is an old yet vibrant commercial hub. Inside this 19th-century building, you’ll find:

  • A yoga studio and a gym

  • A natural food restaurant and a cafe

  • An ice cream stand for a sweet treat

Explore the boutique shops like Cedar Chest for gifts and Booklink Booksellers for a delightful children’s section. And don’t miss Captain Candy for a sugar rush!

Culinary Journey Through Main Street

The Forbes Library

Main Street is a food lover’s paradise. Here’s where to eat:

Coffee Shops

They say Northampton is where the coffee is strong, and the women are stronger. Here are some favorite spots:

  • Familiars: Specialty coffee, teas, and local comfort foods fresh daily.

  • Woodstar Café: Family-owned bakery, sandwich shop, and espresso bar with organic and free-range ingredients.

  • Cafe Balagan: Exceptional coffee and Tel Aviv flavors in a cozy atmosphere.

  • Tandem Bagel Company: Freshly baked bagels and yummy breakfast and lunch sandwiches.

Smith College

Campus center of Smith College campus, home of the Lyman Conservatory

Founded in 1871, Smith College is the heart of Northampton, Massachusetts. It’s the largest of the Seven Sisters colleges and has a rich history with alumni like poet Sylvia Plath. The college brings a vibrant, progressive energy to the town.

The campus is an arboretum with over 1,200 tree and shrub varieties. You can dive into research at the library or catch a play at Theatre 14. Smith was also the first women’s college to join the NCAA, with athletic programs covering 10 sports.

Smith College Campus Tour

College Hall at Smith College

Touring Smith College is like stepping back in time. Founded in 1875 with just 14 students and six faculty members, it has grown into a prestigious institution. Walking through the green lawns and grand buildings, you’ll feel the academic excellence in the air.

Take a moment to:

  • Sit under the towering trees

  • Watch students rushing between classes

  • Soak in the scholarly atmosphere

The Smith College Botanic Garden

Daffodils and other plants blooming at the Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden is a treasure trove with over 6,600 plant species. You’ll find:

  • A Palm House

  • A Succulent House

  • An authentic Japanese garden

Established in the 1880s, the Lyman Conservatory showcases plants from around the world. It’s a treat year-round, with events like:

  • Winter tropical greenhouse display

  • Spring bulb show

  • Early summer rose arbor

The Rock Garden is best in early summer, and the annual chrysanthemum show is a hit. But honestly, the campus is stunning in all seasons, especially summer and fall.

Smith College Museum of Art

Smith College Museum of Art, displaying world-class art collections

Founded in 1920, the Smith College Museum of Art houses over 27,000 pieces. You’ll see works by artists like:

  • Federigo Barocci

  • Claude Monet

  • Diego Rivera

The museum collection, strong in European art, includes pieces by:

  • Monet

  • Degas

  • Seurat

  • Courbet

  • Cézanne

  • Camille-Corot

You’ll also find Islamic, African, Asian, and decorative arts, sculptures, and antiquities. A $35 million renovation in the early 2000s added the college’s art department and library to the museum. Recent solo exhibitions have featured artists like Clarissa Tossin, Isaac Julien, Kyung Woo Han, and Maya Lin.

Paradise Pond

The boathouse on the campus of Smith College, Northampton

Smith College offers a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle. A walk by Paradise Pond and up the Mill River is pure serenity. You can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards at the boathouse. The pond is perfect for reflection, picnics, and soaking in the scenery. In winter, it transforms into a charming ice-skating rink.

Childs Park

Originally called Wildwood Park, it was established back in 1855 by Dr. Pliny Cutter. He built a gothic revival mansion, barns, and a carriage house. The Watson family took over in 1860, adding fruit trees, vegetables, and gardens. In 1915, Charles and Annie Childs stepped in and made it even more charming. Now, the Childs Park Foundation keeps it all going.

The park has:

  • Three big lawns

  • Two peaceful ponds

  • An Italian-style garden house overlooking the rose and formal gardens

And if you wander into the pine woods, you’ll find some delightful hidden spots among the ferns.

Frank Newhall Look Memorial Park

Fun recreational activities at Look Memorial Park including mini-golf and paddle boats

Look Memorial Park is a family favorite. There’s so much to do! You can paddle boat on the water or take a stroll along the walking trails. Perfect picnic spots and playgrounds make it a great place for kids. For a small admission fee, you can enjoy attractions like:

  • The Look Park Steamer train

  • A splash pad

  • Playgrounds

Plus, there’s an 18-hole mini-golf course and the Christenson Wildlife Center. Sports fans will love the tennis courts and softball fields. In the summer, check out outdoor performances at the Pines Theater.

Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area

Did you know over a fifth of Northampton’s land is protected open space? The best spot is the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, covering more than 850 acres. It’s a paradise for nature lovers, with damp habitats around the lake and Broad Brook. You can explore:

  • Marked trails

  • A boardwalk

  • Swamp forest

  • Hilly woods

  • Boggy meadows

It’s the perfect escape into nature.

The Connecticut River

Outdoor adventure along the Connecticut River with kayaking and birdwatching

The Connecticut River is the place to be for outdoor fun. The Greenway offers public boat ramps for easy access. At the Elwell Recreation Area, you can canoe or row, and they even rent out kayaks for paddling the calm waters. The riverside views are just beautiful.

Birdwatchers, head to Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s full of diverse habitats and birds. For a walk or rollerblading, the Connecticut River Greenway State Park and Norwottuck Rail Trail offer stunning riverside views. Don’t miss the iconic bridge on the Norwottuck Rail Trail!

Rail Trail Excursions through the Pioneer Valley

Farming equipment along the road in Northampton

The Pioneer Valley has some great rail trails, including:

  • The Manhan

  • Farmington Canal

  • Norwottuck

These trails are perfect for hiking, biking, or a quiet picnic for all ages. In winter, the Norwottuck Rail Trail is a hotspot for cross-country skiing. It was once part of the Central Massachusetts Railroad and the Boston & Maine Railroad line, winding through wetlands with views of the Holyoke Range. Start your adventure from the Elwell Recreation Area in Northampton, where there’s parking available.

Feeling adventurous? The Farmington Canal trail will eventually take you all the way to New Haven, CT. How cool is that?

The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library

The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library is a cool spot dedicated to America’s 30th president. Nestled in Forbes Library near Smith College, it all started with Coolidge’s own donations in the 1920s. One of the quirkiest exhibits is an electric exercise horse from the White House that Coolidge used to stay in shape. Quite a work out!

Historic Northampton

On Bridge Street, you’ll find Historic Northampton, the local historical society. This area boasts three historic houses, each with stories so rich they made it to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001:

  • The Parsons House

  • The Shepherd House

  • The Damon House

Historic Northampton buzzes with activity. Their calendar is packed with lectures, discussions, readings, and live performances. Walking tours will take you through the town’s fascinating history, and community events like the Neighbors DoozyDo Parade in September really bring everyone together.

Apple Picking

Come autumn, you’ve got to check out the fall foliage in Northampton. A short drive will take you to nearby orchards where you can pick apples straight from the tree. My favorites are:

Both offer stunning landscapes and delicious cider. Every apple you pick is a piece of the season itself.

Art Galleries in Northampton

Turrets on College Hall at Smith College

The art scene in Northampton is always lively. Leading the pack are the Smith College Museum of Art and the Gothic Street Galleries. Gothic Street features a mix of paintings, sculptures, and other art forms. R. Michelson Galleries, the largest in western Massachusetts, showcases works by Leonard Baskin. Don’t miss Arts Night Out on the second Friday of each month for a burst of visual and performing arts across town. And in April, the ‘Four Sundays’ series keeps the artistic spirit alive.

Things to do in Northampton, MA, at night

The Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts

As befits a college town, when the sun sets, Northampton comes alive. From live performances at the Academy of Music Theatre to chic bars and cozy lounges, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

The Academy of Music Theatre

Established in 1892, this historic venue has seen legends like:

  • Sarah Bernhardt

  • Harry Houdini

  • Mae West

  • Boris Karloff

Originally a movie theater in the 1930s, it now hosts performing arts. Resident companies include the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra, Ballet, Valley Light Opera, and Eggtooth Productions.

Chic Bars and Cozy Lounges

Take a twilight stroll through this college town, and you’ll feel the intellectual buzz—or just a regular one. You’ll find the perfect spot to unwind, whether you prefer a cold pint or a martini, shaken not stirred.

  • Tunnel Bar: Hidden within historic Union Station, it’s like stepping into the past with original stonework, soft lighting, and leather chairs perfect for long chats over drinks.

  • The Dirty Truth: A beer lover’s paradise with a rotating selection of craft brews and inventive snacks. Its art-lined walls echo a bohemian history.

  • Barb & Olive: For the cyclists among us, this bar doubles as a bike shop. Park your bike, grab a drink, and mingle with fellow riders. It’s a hub for cyclists, minus the bagels—for now, at least.

Annual Events in Northampton, Massachusetts

Botanic garden on the Smith campus in Northampton

If you’re looking to visit a town that knows how to celebrate, Northampton is your spot. From arts festivals to parades, there’s always something going on.

Farmers Markets

When I lived in the Northampton area, I ate like a king. Farm-to-table isn’t just a buzzword in this little city—it’s a way of life. The Northampton Tuesday Farmers Market is a treat each week, brimming with fresh produce and artisanal goodies. You’ll find everything from Connecticut shade tobacco to Hadley asparagus. This farmer’s market runs from spring through fall at Thornes Marketplace. Don’t miss other markets on Wednesdays at Florence Civic Center and Saturdays on Gothic Street. Even in winter, Grow Food Northampton keeps the good stuff coming at the Senior Center.

Fairs, Music and Arts Festivals

Lanning Fountain (in memory of a beautiful life) at Smith College in the city of Northampton

Come Labor Day weekend, the Three County Fair takes over. It’s the longest-running agricultural fair in the U.S., and it’s got it all:

  • Livestock exhibits

  • Competitions

  • Live entertainment

  • Vehicle shows

  • Amusement rides

  • Games

  • Barnyard animals

  • Nostalgic fair food

And for art lovers, the Paradise City Arts Festival is a must. Held in May and October, it showcases fine and functional art, right at the fairgrounds.

Directions to Northampton, MA, from Greenwich, CT

Pond and conservatory on Smith campus in Northampton, MA

Thinking of a day trip from Greenwich, CT? Northampton is just about 129 miles away, roughly a 2-hour drive. Perfect for a quick getaway! If you’re up for some scenic beauty, take your time and enjoy the landscapes of Western Massachusetts and Connecticut along the way.

Flying instead? The closest major airports are the airports around Greenwich, CT, and NYC. That said, Bradley International Airport near Hartford, CT, is the best place from a convenience standpoint.

So, hop in the car and hit the road—Northampton’s waiting for you!

Hotels, Inns, and Places to Stay in Northampton, Massachusetts

Hot spring hot tub in Northampton, MA

That said, there’s so much to do here that an overnight stay is definitely worth it. Here are some great places to rest your head:

Starlight Llama Bed & Breakfast

For a quirky and cozy stay, check out the Starlight Llama Bed & Breakfast. It’s one of the best bed and breakfast farm stays in New England. Plus, llamas!

The Hotel Northampton

Step into the lap of luxury at The Hotel Northampton. This 106-room gem, built in 1927, lets you experience the charm of the Roaring Twenties. With plush rooms and great dining, it’s more than just a place to sleep—it’s an adventure in elegance. Whether you’re here for romance, a writing retreat, or a break from the grind, this hotel offers a touch of vintage class that’s hard to find.

The Old Mill Inn

Northampton District Court building

The Old Mill Inn gives you a modern stay while embracing its historic roots. With an “urban industrial” vibe and a live “DAM CAM” view of the falls, it’s a unique spot in Northampton. Recently renovated, The Old Mill Inn blends old-world charm with contemporary comforts.

The Ellery Hotel

Another fantastic option is The Ellery Hotel. This colonial-style spot is right across from Smith College. Known for its thoughtful decor, it offers a convenient and charming place to stay.

Deerfield Inn

If you don’t mind a short drive, head over to the historic town of Deerfield and stay at the Deerfield Inn. This historic inn offers:

More Nearby Cities and Towns to Explore Near Northampton, MA

Locals call the Connecticut River Valley region the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts, home to colleges like UMass Amherst

While Northampton itself has plenty to offer, don’t miss out on the surrounding Pioneer Valley and Western Massachusetts. Head west to explore the Berkshires, another fantastic spot.

Great Barrington, MA

Main Street in Great Barrington, MA

Great Barrington, MA is a cool mix of culture and nature. You can hike the Hickey-Peeskawso Peak-Mohican loop or catch a show at the historic Mahaiwe Theater. If you’re here in the summer, definitely go blueberry picking at a local farm. It’s a sweet way to spend an afternoon!

Lee, Massachusetts

The main line of buildings in downtown Lee, MA

Lee, Massachusetts is a must-visit near Northampton, especially if you love the outdoors. October Mountain State Forest is perfect for:

  • Hiking

  • Biking

  • Kayaking

In winter, the ski resorts are great for beginners, with friendly instructors and manageable slopes.

Shelburne Falls, MA

Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, has a charming flower bridge over the river

Shelburne Falls might be small, but it’s got a big heart. Known for its artsy vibe, the town has regular art walks and gallery openings. Don’t miss the Bridge of Flowers, a former trolley bridge now bursting with beautiful blooms.

North Adams, Massachusetts

Mass MoCA and the hills surrounding North Adams, MA

If contemporary art is your thing, North Adams is your place. Home to MASS MoCA, one of the largest centers for contemporary visual and performing arts in the U.S., it’s a must-visit. With unique exhibitions and performances, art lovers will be in heaven.

Tl;dr

Northampton, Massachusetts is like that cool cousin who’s traveled the world and come back with amazing stories. It’s a blend of history and modern vibes, with art splashing color all over such a small town. Whether you’re into history, art, or food, Northampton has something special for you. Every alley has a tale, every building is a piece of art, and every meal is a conversation starter. Get ready for an unforgettable journey through this charming and quirky town!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Northampton MA worth visiting?

Absolutely! Northampton has a cool college-town vibe, a rich cultural scene, tons of bike paths, and a prime spot along the Connecticut River. It’s perfect for dining, exploring, and all kinds of fun activities.

What is Northampton MA famous for?

Northampton is famous for its liberal and artistic community, often called “Happy Valley” and the “lesbian capital of America.” It’s known for its vibrant arts scene, historic charm, and lots of outdoor activities.

Did the Iron Horse in Northampton close?

Yes, the Iron Horse in Northampton closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a nonprofit owns it and is looking for public support to bring it back to life.

What is there to do in Northampton, MA?

In Northampton, you can:

  • Dive into history and culture at Smith College

  • Enjoy outdoor adventures on the Connecticut River

  • Explore dynamic art galleries and entertainment venues

  • Shop and eat to your heart’s content

  • Join in on festive events throughout the year

What is the history of Northampton, MA?

Founded in 1654, Northampton has grown from a small settlement to a bustling cultural and artistic hub. Its rich history is closely tied to the prestigious academic institutions in Western Massachusetts.