You’ll find plenty of things to do in Northampton MA. This progressive college town has a lively and walkable downtown, a thriving arts scene, and numerous outdoor activities and amenities.
If you enjoy the youthful vibe of a college town you’ll want to visit Northampton! This small city has a lot going for it and can be a fun place to explore either for a day or two or as a stop during a longer trip.
Downtown Northampton is full of interesting and unique eateries, cafes, galleries, and boutiques. And the city’s thriving arts scene adds an eccentric and progressive undercurrent to the city.
Smith College, situated just steps from central downtown, adds to the vitality and culture of the community. This college campus, with 2,100 women undergrads, has museums, events, and even a botanical garden the public can enjoy.
The best things to do in Northampton MA
So without further ado, here are the absolute best things to do in Northampton MA when you visit.
Shop and dine in downtown Northampton
Northampton’s walkable and lively downtown is one of the best aspects of the city. You’ll feel an international, creative, and progressive energy as you walk the streets.
Take your time to wander through Northampton’s eclectic shops, boutiques, and galleries. Make a stop at Thornes Marketplace, a unique shopping mall full of independent retailers and eateries. (150 Main Street)
Book lovers will want to stop in Raven Used Books, a staple in the city since 1993. And given the academic community it serves, you’ll find more than light fiction here. Ravens boasts an impressive array of philosophy, history, classics and religious studies books among others. (4 Old South Street)
Wander through Smith College Campus
After strolling through the city’s downtown, among the next things to do in Northampton MA is to wander through the Smith College campus.
This private women’s liberal arts college, founded in 1871, features a mix of modern and 19th-century architecture. The quad in the middle of the campus provides a quintessential college feel. And there are plenty of free things to do here as we’ll highlight later on.
Visit an art museum
One of the best cultural things to do in Northampton MA is to visit the Smith College Museum of Art.
Located on the Smith College campus, this museum boasts an impressive collection of over 25,000 works of art. You’ll be able to see works by renowned artists Paul Cézanne, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, and George Seurat here. Curators also showcase rotating exhibits from contemporary and emerging artists.
Hours are 11 AM – 4 PM on all days except Mondays. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for seniors. (20 Elm Street at Bedford Terrace)
Discover the Botanic Garden of Smith College
Another thing to do while on the Smith College campus is to visit the college’s Botanic Garden. Spanning 127 acres, these gardens showcase a diverse array of plant species from around the world.
You can wander through themed gardens including a Japanese Garden, Systematic Garden, and Rock Garden. There’s also the Lyman Conservatory to explore. It was built in 1895 and has of 12,000 square feet of greenhouses that house exotic, tropical plants.
All areas of the Botanic Garden are open to the public. (16 College Lane)
Enjoy a show at one of Northampton’s many venues
Northampton residents love entertainment! And there are a number of ways to catch a theater production, concert, music performance or dance show in this city.
One of the more special venues in the city is the Academy of Music. Located on Main Street in the center of downtown, the Academy of Music Theatre has been hosting shows since 1891. Today, you’ll find live theater, dance, film, music, and other art shows here. (274 Main Street)
And, a newcomer to Northampton’s live performance scene is the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity. Housed in a former church in the village of Florence, the Bombyx features a variety of shows including jazz, acoustic, and global music. (130 Pine Street)
Explore Northampton’s arts scene
For such a creative community, it’s not surprising that art galleries are among the things to do in Northampton MA.
Downtown Northampton is where you’ll find the most galleries including R. Michelson Galleries, William Baczek Fine Arts, and beryl. Each of these galleries showcases a ranges of mediums and styles – from fine art to contemporary to arts & crafts.
Enjoy outdoor activities at Look Park
Many cities have parks, but few offer as many amenities and activities as Look Park in Northampton.
Look Park spans over 150 acres in the northern section of the city known as Florence.
Some of the more unique amenties you’ll find here are tennis courts, a splash park, paddle boats, 18 holes of miniature golf, a petting zoo, and even a miniature train!
Look Park also has the typical park amenities such as playgrounds, walking trails and picnic areas. During warmer weather months, the park’s Pines Theater is used for outdoor performances.
Vehicle entry to the park is between 9 AM and 7 PM while general park hours are dawn until dusk. There’s a $5 admissions free for passenger vehicles of $5 from Monday – Thursday and $10 fee Friday – Sunday and holidays. (300 North Main Street)
Walk or ride bikes along a Rail Trail
Among the fun things to do in Northampton MA and the Pioneer Valley is to make use of the many rail trails and bike paths.
Northampton has a few different trails like the Northampton Bikeway/Mass Central Rail Trail that traverses on the edge of town and meets up with the Norwottuck Rail Trail (11 miles) leading into Amherst. Parking for the Norwottuck trail can be found at 344 Damon Road.
There’s also the Manhan Rail Trail that starts in Easthampton and continues up to the Northampton train station, meeting up with the Norwottuck trail.
Don’t have a bike? You can pick one up through the ValleyBike sharing program that has three locations in Northampton and many others throughout the Pioneer Valley.
Explore Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area
Among the best outdoorsy things to do in Northampton MA is to visit the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area.
This property has a whopping 936 acres featuring forests, marshes, old pasture land and a 40-acre lake. With such a large space it’s not surprising that the conservation area is home to a wide variety of wildlife.
When visiting the property, be sure to make use of its 10 miles of trails and and explore wetlands from a boardwalk. Trails are well marked and are interconnected. (North Farms Road)
Visit Forbes library and the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum
One of Northampton’s most famous citizens was former Massachusetts Governor and United States Vice President and President Calvin Coolidge.
And as with most former presidents, Calvin Coolidges’s presidential library resides in his former hometown.
The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum can be found on the second floor of the Forbes Library, the public library of Northampton. Among the artifacts on display are Coolidge’s former desks, a door from his former law office, correspondences, and speeches given by the president. (20 West Street)
Explore the Northampton Farmers Market
Among the best things to do in Northampton MA for foodies is to attend the city’s farmer’s market.
Operated by the organization Grow Food Northampton, the city’s farmer’s market runs from mid-April to mid-November and takes place every Tuesday from 1:30 PM – 6:30 PM behind Thornes Marketplace in downtown.
And this is no dinky market. There are about fifty vendors who show their wares here, beyond the typical produce or grocery vendors. You’ll also find specialty food vendors, jewelry designers, and even pottery and embroidery vendors.
Visit the Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center
History buffs will want to make a stop at the Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center during their visit.
This museum, housed in a restored 18th-century building, showcases artifacts, documents, and artwork from the region that provide a window into the past.
Exhibits start from the colonial era and span to the present day. It also showcases the findings from a slavery research project undertaken from 2019 to 2022 to capture the story of enslaved people in Northampton.
Hours are Wednesday – Sunday from 12 PM – 5 PM. There’s a suggested donation of $5. (46 Bridge Street)
Attend one of the city’s many festivals and events
In line with its reputation for being an arts destination, Northampton hosts a variety of festivals throughout the year, including music festivals, film festivals, and cultural celebrations.
Some of the more popular events include:
- Four Sundays – a winter time performance art series that takes place as various performance venues throughout the city
- Pride Day/Parade/Celebration – Annual LGBT parade and festival, usually at the beginning of May
- Memorial Day parade – similar to other Memorial Day parades, although Northampton’s began in 1868
- Performance – An end of the summer musical fundraiser that takes place in Look Park
- Three County Fair – everything you’d expect from a county fair including live stock, food, and musical performances. Takes place at the beginning of September.
FAQs about Northampton
What is Northampton famous for?
Northampton is famous for Smith College, it’s thriving arts community, progressive politics & activism, and support of the LBGTQ+ community. It’s also the hometown of former president Calvin Coolidge.
What is the nickname for Northampton MA?
Northampton has a couple of nicknames. One of its well-known nicknames is “Paradise City.” The term “Paradise City” is often used in reference to Northampton’s vibrant arts scene, progressive values, and its picturesque surroundings in the Pioneer Valley.
Another nickname associated with Northampton is “Lesbianville, USA.” This nickname emerged in the 1980s and highlights the city’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive community for the LGBTQ+ population.
Is Northampton MA part of the Berkshires?
Northampton is part of the Pioneer Valley, not the Berkshires. The Berkshires, while similar in many respects, are just to the west of Pioneer Valley. Pioneer Valley encompasses the Massachusetts counties of Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin.
What is a fun fact about Northampton MA?
Northampton was home to the first-ever women’s basketball game which took place on March 22, 1893 at Smith College. The historic game marked the beginning of women’s basketball as a sport and laid the foundation for its development and popularity worldwide.
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.