You’ll find plenty of things to do in Amherst MA including wandering through museums, exploring nature, visiting shops and restaurants, and touring college campuses.
Looking for things to do in Amherst MA? This city, located in Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, has a small town feel even though it’s bursting at the seams with cultural attractions, outdoor recreation, and a downtown full of shops and restaurants.
Amherst is best known for the three colleges within its borders – Amherst College, The University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Hampshire College. Each campus has its own unique feel and hosts a number of things to do that are generally free and open to the public.
Amherst is one of many towns along Route 91 that runs north to south along the state. Other towns and cities include Northampton, Deerfield, Holyoke, and Hadley. Continuing north on Route 91 you’ll pass by Brattleboro, Vermont, and driving south leads to Hartford, Connecticut.
The Best Things to Do in Amherst MA
Below we cover the top 27 best things to do in this unique city and uncover a few hidden gems.
Visit Amherst College
During your visit to Amherst, it’s worth wandering through the Amherst College campus, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States.
Amherst’s campus consists of stunning red brick architecture, a beautiful central quad with views of the Holyoke range in the distance, and several museums worth visiting (more on that later). The campus is open to the public and is only a short walk from downtown. (220 South Pleasant Street)
Wander through downtown Amherst
Among the things to do in Amherst MA is to wander through its quaint downtown. While this small city isn’t quite as active as nearby Northampton, you’ll still find a number of unique shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
During your visit, you can browse through unique clothing stores like The Closet, Zanna, or Mass Vintage, featuring 80s and 90s apparel. Then, head over to independent Amherst Books to browse the selection of this independent retailer.
Amherst is also home to a range of eateries such as the cafe Share Coffee and the cafe & deli The Black Sheep. You’ll also find a number of international restaurants here, such as middle eastern Pita Pockets, Vietnamese Miss Saigon, and Italian Osteria Vespa, to name a few.
Enjoy the outdoors at the Amherst Town Common
Not far from Amherst College is the Amherst Town Common, a historic green space located in the heart of the town. It’s a great spot to relax, have a picnic, or engage in recreational activities.
This is also one of the oldest town commons in the United States, dating back to the 17th century. It’s been the site for public events, celebrations, and rallies throughout history, contributing to the town’s sense of identity and community cohesion.
Visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Among the things to do in Amherst MA with children is to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
This unique museum celebrates the beloved author and illustrator Eric Carle who wrote the classics The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? among others.
Visitors of the museum can immerse themselves in Carle’s illustrations, explore interactive displays, and learn about the creative process behind picture book art.
The museum also offers educational programs, storytelling sessions, and workshops. Hours are from Wednesday – Friday 10 AM – 4 PM, Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM, and Sunday 12 PM – 5 PM. (125 West Bay Road)
Explore the Emily Dickinson Museum
One of the top attractions for literary fans is to visit the former residence of renowned poet Emily Dickinson, known as the Emily Dickinson Museum. During your visit, you’ll be able to see both Emily’s birthplace and home, known as Homestead, and the Evergreens, next door, which was the home of her brother Austin’s family.
Dickinson, who lived from 1830 to 1886, lived a reclusive life and rarely left her home. However, she produced nearly 1,800 poems many of which were discovered after her death. Her poetry challenged the traditional poetic conventions of her time with the innovative use of language, introspective themes, and unique style.
The museum is open to visitors from March to December and the museum shop, grounds, and gardens are open to the public. Forty-five-minute tours are available to visit the inside of Homestead and timed-entry tickets for general admission inside Homestead are available on summer weekend afternoons. (280 Main Street)
Attend a performance or see art at the Fine Arts Center
Among the cultural things to do in Amherst MA is to see a performance or view an art exhibit at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center.
The Fine Arts Center hosts an array of performances including theater productions, dance performances, musical concerts, and guest lectures. There’s also the opportunity to view film screenings that showcase a range of cinematic works, including independent films, international films, and documentaries.
Also on site is the University Museum of Contemporary Art, the teaching museum of the university, which showcases contemporary art in various mediums.
Check the Fine Arts Center schedule for upcoming shows and cultural events. (151 Presidents Drive)
Visit the Beneski Museum of Natural History
Another museum you’ll want to check out in Amherst MA is the Berneski Museum of Natural History.
A part of Amherst College, the Berneski Museum houses an impressive collection of fossils, minerals, and other specimens. You’ll find dinosaur bones, dinosaur footprints, an exhibit on the formation of the Connecticut River Valley, and a wide array of colorful minerals and gems from around the world.
Hours are Tuesday – Friday 10 AM – 4 PM and Saturday – Sunday, 10 AM – 5 PM. Admission is free. (11 Barrett Hill Drive)
Watch a film at the Amherst Cinema
Among the fun things to do in Amherst MA is to catch an independent or art-house film at the Amherst Cinema.
This non-profit theater screens a diversity of movies and hosts special events and film festivals. It presents over 275 programs a year on three screens in more than 20 languages!
Productions featured at the Amherst Cinema include current release films, film series, and one-time screenings that highlight issues of the day, and appearances from internationally known and emerging film artists, politicians, activists, writers, and musicians. (28 Amity Street)
Visit the Amherst Farmers Market
If you happen to be visiting Amherst on a Saturday, head to the Amherst Farmer’s Market on the town common.
Here you’ll find locally grown food sourced from the Pioneer Valley, artisanal products, handmade crafts, musical performances, and other special events.
The market occurs on Saturday mornings from 7:30 AM – 1:30 PM, April – November (check the website for exact dates).
Explore the Mead Art Museum
Another museum worth exploring on the Amherst College campus is the Mead Art Museum.
Here you’ll find a collection of over 19,000 items including American and European paintings, Mexican ceramics, Russian art, West African sculpture, Tibetan scroll paintings, Japanese prints, and Assyrian carvings, to name a few.
Hours of the museum are Tuesday–Sunday, 9 AM – 5 PM and it’s open on Thursdays until 10 PM during the school year. Admission is free. (41 Quadrangle Drive)
Attend a concert or event at the Mullins Center
Among the cultural things to do in Amherst MA is to see a concert, sporting event, or other live performance at the Mullins Center on the University of Massachusetts campus.
Visitors can purchase tickets to watch college men’s and women’s basketball games and men’s ice hockey games. Other events hosted here include concerts, comedy shows, dance performances, and children’s shows.
Check the website for upcoming events and tickets. (200 Commonwealth Avenue)
Wander through the Mount Holyoke Range State Park
Among the outdoorsy things to do in Amherst MA is to visit the Mount Holyoke Range State Park, also commonly referred to as the Holyoke Range.
This 3,000-acre park includes 30 miles of trails that can be used for hiking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. These trails intersect with the 114-mile-long Metacoment-Monadnock trail that extends into southern New Hampshire and also the 47-mile-long Robert Frost trail.
A popular trail includes the Seven Sisters, a series of peaks that provide a challenging and rewarding hiking experience and stunning views of the Connecticut River Valley.
A visitor’s center with parking is located along Route 116 and the Metacomet-Monadnock trail can be picked up across the street. (1500 West Street)
Ride along a bike trail
If you’re a cycling enthusiast you’ll want to make time in your itinerary for the Norwottuck Rail Trail.
This 10-mile trail starts in Northampton, travels through Amherst along the edge of Amherst College campus, and continues on to the southern border of the city with Belchertown.
Parking for the trail can be found in the southeastern section of the trail on Station Road.
Go apple picking
Among the fun things to do in Amherst MA in the fall is to go apple picking.
There are a number of orchards and farms to choose from in the area, including:
- Atkins Farms Country Market, Amherst
- Kielbasa Orchards, Hadley
- Outlook Farm, Westhampton
- Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield
Visit the Hitchcock Center to learn about nature
Nature lovers will want to head over to the Hitchcock Center to explore the grounds, have kids play in the mud kitchen and willow den, and make use of the children’s library.
The center is adjacent to the Hampshire College campus and is free and open to the public.
The yard and trails are open from dawn to dusk while the visitors center and bathrooms are open Monday – Friday 9 AM – 4 PM and the second Saturday of the month 10 AM – 2 PM. (845 West Street)
Visit the Yiddish Book Center
For a unique thing to do in Amherst MA make a stop at the Yiddish Book Center.
The architecture of the museum and visitors center is reminiscent of a shtetl, or small Jewish town or village in Eastern Europe. It’s located on a ten-acre apple orchard next to the Hampshire College campus.
Here you’ll find the world’s first Yiddish museum that has both permanent and visiting exhibits on Yiddish, a West Germanic language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews, and Jewish culture.
The center is open Sunday – Friday from 10 AM – 4 PM but check the website for holiday hours or other closures. While there is no admission the center has a suggested donation of $8 for adults and $6 for seniors. (1021 West Street)
Wander through Amherst College’s Sanctuary
More outdoor adventures can be found on Amherst College’s 500-acre sanctuary. Here you’ll find numerous trails and a diversity of wildlife. The sanctuary is used for research by the college but is also open to the public.
The trails can be accessed from the college campus as well as from points along the Norwottuck Rail Trail, College Street, and South Pleasant Street. See the website for a detailed map.
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.