You’ll find plenty of things to do in Newburyport MA including wandering the city’s historic downtown full of shops and restaurants and relaxing on its beaches or exploring a 4,700-acre nature preserve.
When you enter downtown Newburyport, surrounded by 19th-century red brick storefronts and the smell of sea air, you’ll undoubtedly feel you’ve stepped into a quintessential New England coastal community.
This city has long been a popular destination for day-trippers and tourists and there’s little doubt why. Newburyport has both a lively, picturesque downtown full of interesting shops and restaurants as well as numerous outdoor activities to choose from.
Visitors will find plenty of things to do in Newburyport MA – so much so that it’s nearly impossible to do everything in one trip.
Is Newburyport worth visiting?
Newburyport is the perfect place for a day trip or to spend the weekend.
Here, you’ll find a charming downtown full of historic colonial and 19th-century architecture with a wide variety of independent boutiques, eateries, and art galleries. Even if you’re not interested in shopping, just wandering along Newburyport’s windy streets full of intriguing storefronts and dwellings is a treat unto itself.
Outside of the downtown area, there are plenty of outdoor excursions to do including opportunities to walk and hike in nature preserves and beaches, and water activities including sailing and paddling. There’s also a bike path that runs next to the harbor and through the downtown.
Overall, this quaint, charming New England city of only 18,000 residents (that feels more like a town) is definitely worth a stop if only to spend a few hours taking in the views. Summertime is a popular season to visit Newburyport but there’s plenty going on in other seasons too.
What is Newburyport known for?
Newburyport is best known for its shopping and beaches. There are multiple shopping areas in the center of Newburyport with a wide array of retailers, cafes, and independent boutiques.
Newburyport’s nearby beaches can be found on Plum Island, a small village within Newburyport that’s situated against the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Here you’ll find the 1.5-mile Newbury Beach, the smaller Plum Island Beach, and a few additional small shops and restaurants.
The best things to do in Newburyport MA
Here are some of the best things to do in this charming coastal community:
Wander among the shops in Market Square & downtown
Newburyport’s crown jewel is its easily walkable downtown that feels a bit like stepping back into a different era, albeit with modern stores.
There’s no doubt you’re in coastal New England here – and there’s much to explore. Downtown Newburyport’s Market Square has multiple streets lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries, yummy casual and sit-down restaurants, and a few upscale chain stores.
Many visitors to Newburyport spend most of their time here either for a few hours or a day. A visit to downtown Newburyport is perfectly combined with a trip to one of Newburyport’s local beaches or a visit to Plum Island’s nature preserve (see below).
Continue your shopping at Tannery Marketplace
Only a 5-minute walk from Newburyport’s Market Square is the city’s Tannery Marketplace.
Consisting of four buildings, this former tannery was designed in the early 1990s with retail spaces facing the street and interior spaces (like the one pictured above) that extend the shopping inside.
There are over 50 stores at the Tannery that range from gift stores to women’s clothing to food and more. A full list of retailers can be found here. (75 Water Street)
Stroll Waterfront Park
Steps away from Market Square is Newburyport’s Waterfront Park.
This green space opens up onto views of the Merrimack River with the Gillis Memorial Bridge to the left. Walking along the park’s boardwalk, parallel to the river, lets you take in the water views and boats in the harbor.
Children will enjoy playing on the park’s playground and there’s plenty of space to layout a picnic. The Clipper City Rail Trail (see below) intersects with Waterfront Park although cyclists are asked to walk their bikes within the park. (36 Merrimac Street)
Take a walk or bike ride along the Clipper City Rail Trail
Whether you want to walk, run, or cycle, the Clipper City Rail Trail is a great way to get outside and get some exercise near the center of Newburyport.
This scenic path runs for 3.3 miles into the heart of the city and follows the route of an old railroad line. There are two sections to this path that intersect at Waterfront Park.
The first begins at the Newburyport MBTA commuter rail station and continues toward the Merrimack River. From there, cyclists have the option of either walking their bikes through Waterfront Park or cycling for 2 minutes through city streets to meet up with the path’s other section.
The second section follows the Merrimack River parallel to Water Street for a distance while eventually turning westward toward March’s Hill and ending at Parker Street.
Stroll through the beautiful Maudslay State Park
Among the outdoorsy things to do in Newburyport MA is to visit Maudslay State Park.
This park, on the northwestern side of the city, offers hiking, picnicking, and birdwatching. There are 16 miles of trails that traverse through fields, forests, rolling meadows, and historic areas within the park.
You’ll also be able to catch stunning views of the Merrimack River and wander through formal Italian and rose gardens while visiting Maudslay. The park is open from sunrise to sunset. Parking is $5 for Massachusetts residents and $10 for non-residents.
Visit the historic Custom House Maritime Museum
One way to learn about Newburyport’s rich maritime history is to visit the Custom House Maritime Museum.
This museum is distinguished by its red and white buoys beside the front door and its gray granite exterior. Here you’ll be able to see exhibits on shipbuilding and trade and learn about legendary Newburyport residents.
The Custom House Maritime Museum is open Thursday – Saturday from 10 AM – 5 PM and on Sunday from 12 PM – 5 PM. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. (25 Water Street)
Stop by the Newburyport Art Association
Not far from Market Square and steps from the waterfront is the Newburyport Art Association.
Founded in 1948, this association has the mission of promoting and supporting the visual arts. Visitors can wander through the public gallery which features the work of local and regional artists and includes paintings, sculptures, photography, and mixed media.
When you’re finished viewing the gallery, take a few minutes to walk around to the back of the building to see the association’s sculpture garden. (65 Water Street)
Catch a performance at the Firehouse Center for the Arts
Also associated with the Newbury Art Association is the Firehouse Center for the Arts.
This community theater, which is just steps away from Waterfront Park, hosts a variety of performances from concerts to musicals and plays to comedy shows. You’ll find regional, local, and national artists performing here as well as an art gallery that features a new artist every month. (1 Market Square)
Take a whale-watching tour
One way to get out on the water in Newburyport is to take a whale watching tour with Newburyport Whale Watch.
These cruises depart from Newburyport boardwalk and last between 3 1/2 to 4 hours. It’s common to see humpback, minke, and fin whales in their natural habitat during the trip and it’s possible to also see ocean sunfish, porpoises, seals, sharks, and various sea birds. Check the company’s website for times and prices. (54 Merrimac Street)
Take a harbor cruise
Another fun thing to do in Newburyport MA on the water is to take a harbor cruise.
The company Yankee Clipper Cruise runs a variety of cruises during warm weather months such as narrated scenic harbor tours, Parker River National Wildlife tours, or a tour down the Merrimack River.
Boats are boarded at the Newburyport Town Dock, take 45 passengers, and run from 1 hour to 2.5 hours in length.
Visit local lighthouses (and eat dinner in one too!)
Lighthouse enthusiasts will want to see the three lighthouses within Newburyport.
The Newburyport Harbor Front and Rear Range Lights are within steps of each other along Water Street. For those celebrating a special occasion, it’s possible to book a meal in the Rear Range Light for up to four people. The booking includes private waitstaff and the opportunity to spend up to five hours in the lighthouse. (61 and 63 Water Street)
You’ll find the third lighthouse, known as both the Plum Island Lighthouse or Newbury Harbor Light, on Plum Island. Located at the northernmost point of the island, this structure is larger than the other two and takes on more characteristics of a traditional lighthouse.(Harbor Street)
Visit Plum Island
In little more than a 10-minute drive east from the center of Newburyport, you’ll find yourself in a different world on Plum Island.
Three-quarters of this barrier island, that’s divided and managed by four towns, is primarily set aside as a nature preserve (see Parker River National Wildlife Refuge below). But the northernmost part of the island, part of which is in Newburyport, contains homes, a few retailers, and restaurants, and is also the start of miles of beautiful sandy beach going south.
That said, Plum Island doesn’t have a central downtown and there are only a few businesses here. But a quick drive through the town and perhaps a stop at the adorable Mad Martha’s Cafe or the Plum Island Soap Company may be worth the detour.
To read more about Plum Island see: Top 7 Best Things to Do on Plum Island
Relax on local beaches
Nestled against the Atlantic Ocean and the Merrimack River, Newburyport is close to a number of beautiful sandy beaches to while away the day or walk along the water’s edge.
The most popular beach is Newbury Beach. This long stretch of sand goes on for miles and runs into Sandy Beach to the south. Parking is $5 – $10 and it helps to get there early. Unlike well-known Crane’s Beach further south, Newbury Beach has a more quiet and relaxed feel.
Further north on Plum Island is Plum Island Beach. You’ll find parking here as well and a wide stretch of beach, not too far from the Island’s lighthouse.
Visit Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary
Plum Island Turnpike is the road that connects Plum Island to the rest of Newburyport and it’s along here that you’ll drive by the Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary.
This Mass Audubon facility overlooks the Merrimack River and is where visitors can learn about the area’s diverse wildlife and participate in nature walks, experience marine touch tanks, go birdwatching, and partake in other educational programs.
This is the perfect place to stop just before entering the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (see below). Hours are Tuesday–Sunday 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM. Members are free and non-members are asked to donate $2.
Visit the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
One of the crown jewels of Plum Island (which technically spans four different towns including Newburyport) is the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
This refuge, which is 4,700 acres long, was established in 1942 as a safe haven for over 300 species of birds and other wildlife. It features a diverse landscape of sandy beaches, dunes, salt marshes, and tidal creeks which creates the perfect scenery for hiking, birdwatching, fishing, and photography.
You’ll find multiple boardwalks within the refuge making it easy to traverse the sandy landscape. Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is essentially a long, thin, section of this barrier island and it can take about 20 minutes to drive from north to south with multiple parking options along the way. (Refuge Road)
Attend one of Newburyport’s events or festivals
Among the fun things to do in Newburyport MA in the summer is to experience one of the city’s events or festivals.
Waterfront Park is especially known for these events such as the 9-day Yankee Homecoming that takes place during the last weekend in July and into the first weekend in August. It includes live music and street performers, children’s activities, walking tours, and finally, fireworks and a parade.
There’s also the Riverfront Music Festival, which also takes place in July, and includes local bands and musicians. The festival is free to the public and is sponsored by the local radio station, The River.
Shop for antiques
If you enjoy shopping for or just perusing antiques, you’ll find a number of interesting stores in Newburyport.
One of the more unique vintage stores in Newburyport is Oldies. This enormous warehouse contains both centuries-old and decades-old furniture, trinkets, artwork, clothing, and a variety of other souvenirs and collectibles. Even if you’re not in the market to buy, it’s fun to just wander the isles and witness the history represented here. (27 Rear Water Street)
Green Plum Vintage is another shop downtown that features both vintage pieces and new home decor. (21 Market Square). And WishBasket Trading Company, a company that’s been in Newburyport for more than three decades, also showcases a mix of both vintage and new home decor, accessories, gifts, and specialty foods. (50 Water Street)
Museum of Old Newbury
Among the historical things to do in Newburyport MA is the Museum of Old Newbury. Housed in a brick Federal Mansion, originally the home of Caleb Cushing, and a National Historic Landmark, the museum features numerous local photographs, documents, and artifacts that range from clothing to paintings to furniture.
In addition to the Cushing House, the museum also maintains a restored 19th-century garden. (98 High Street)
Visit the Old South Presbyterian Church
Visitors can receive a free tour of the historic Old South Presbyterian Church every Sunday after the 10 AM service.
Build in 1756, this church is steeped in history as it was part of the First Great Awakening inspired by the English preacher and revivalist George Whitefield. The congregation also played a significant role in the country’s pursuit of independence from the British.
The church’s first pastor, Jonathan Parons, was a friend and protégé of Mr. Whitefield and he encouraged male congregants to take up arms against the King of England. This then became the first company of volunteers for the Continental Army which assembled inside the church on April 23, 1775.
In addition to the weekly Sunday tours, the church is also open to scheduled custom tours with a week’s advance notice. See the website for details. (29 Federal Street)
Relax at Bartlet Mall
Just across the street from the Museum of Old Newbury is the Bartlet Mall, a well-maintained and peaceful park within the city.
The focal point of Bartlet Mall is the park’s small pond in the center surrounded by slopping green grass, and the town’s former Supreme Court building along High Street.
Newburyport hosts a number of community events here for its Yankee Homecoming in July such as Art on Bartlet Mall, and the Olde Fashioned Sunday. In winter, locals also ice skate on the pond and sled down the sloping hillside.
See a play at Theater in the Open
Theater enthusiasts will want to check out a production by Newburyport’s Theater in the Open. Shows put on by Theater in the Open are free to the public and take place at various locations throughout the city during warm weather months. Check the website for upcoming performances.
The Newburyport Farmer’s Market
Among the food-related things to do in Newburyport MA is the weekly farmer’s market.
Held every Sunday from May through November, this market features a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, artisanal cheeses, baked goods, and handmade crafts.
You’ll also likely find live music playing as you browse the stalls. The market occurs in the center of town not far from the Tannery Marketplace at 50 Water Street. The hours are typically 9 AM – 1 PM every Sunday but it’s best to check the website for details as they may vary based on the season and weather.
Enjoy a paddle down the Merrimack River
Another way to get on the water in Newburyport is to rent a canoe or kayak to paddle down the Merrimack River.
Plum Island Kayak offers rentals of single and tandem kayaks and canoes by the hour for the whole day and life jackets, paddles, and other necessary equipment.
With a location that’s just steps away from the Merrimack River, it’s an easy launch point. It’s a good idea to make reservations ahead of time, especially during peak season. (288 Northern Boulevard)
Stroll through Moseley Woods Park
On the other side of Highway 95 from Maudslay Park, you’ll find Moseley Woods.
True to its name, this area is a thick forest with walking trails throughout. The main trail is a loop that’s 1.1 miles. And at the far end of the woods, you’ll be able to catch views of the Merrimack River. There’s also a playground for kids at the front of the park. (14 Spofford Street)
Rock climb at the MetroRock Indoor Climbing Center
Among the fun indoor things to do in Newburyport MA, is the MetroRock Indoor Climbing Center – the perfect activity for active families and individuals.
This facility is set up for both new and experienced climbers, although it’s recommended that beginners start with a class to learn how to use the safety equipment. Hours are Monday – Friday, 10 AM – 10 PM, and Saturday and Sunday, 9 AM to 8 PM. An adult day pass is $25 plus the cost of gear rentals (check the website to confirm).
Go ice skating at the local rink
Another fun indoor thing to do in Newburyport MA is to go skating at the local skating rink. The Henry Graf Jr. Memorial Skating Rink offers public skating although the times vary by week and season. Fees for skating are $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. Check the website for times and to confirm rate prices.
Visit other towns nearby:
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.