Top 26 Best Things to Do in Northampton Massachusetts

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.

Downtown Northampton Massachusetts

If you enjoy the youthful vibe of a college town, you’ll want to visit Northampton! This small city has a lot going on and can be a fun place to explore for a day or two or as a stop during an extended trip.

Downtown Northampton is full of interesting and unique restaurants, cafes, galleries, and boutiques. And the city’s thriving arts scene adds an eccentric and progressive undercurrent.

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 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

Storefronts in downtown Northampton

Northampton’s walkable and lively downtown is one of the best aspects of the city. As you stroll its streets, you’ll feel an international, creative, and progressive energy.

Take your time wandering through Northampton’s eclectic shops, boutiques, and galleries. 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.

Another not-to-be-missed destination is Thornes Marketplace, a unique shopping mall full of independent retailers and eateries. (150 Main Street)(4 Old South Street)

Wander through the Smith College Campus

A building on Smith College campus - wandering the campus is among the things to do in Northampton MA

After strolling through the city’s downtown, the next thing to do in Northampton MA is 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.

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 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 activity not to be missed on the Smith College campus is the college’s Botanic Garden. Spanning 127 acres, these gardens showcase a diverse array of plant species from around the world.

Here, you can wander through themed gardens, including a Japanese Garden, a Systematic Garden, and a Rock Garden.

There’s also the Lyman Conservatory to explore. It was built in 1895 and has 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

The Academy of Music in Northampton MA

Northampton residents love entertainment! And this city has several ways to catch a theater production, concert, music performance, or dance show.

One of the more special venues in the city is the  Academy of Music Theatre. Located on Main Street, this venue has hosted shows since 1891. You’ll find live theater, dance, film, music, and other art shows here today. (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 unsurprising that art galleries are among the best things to do in Northampton MA.

Downtown Northampton is where you’ll find the most galleries, including R. Michelson GalleriesWilliam Baczek Fine Arts, and beryl.

Each of these galleries showcases a range 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 amenities 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. The park’s Pines Theater is used for outdoor performances in warmer weather.

Vehicle entry to the park is between 9 AM and 7 PM, while general park hours are from dawn until dusk. There’s a $5 admission fee for passenger vehicles from Monday to Thursday and a $10 fee for Friday to Sunday and holidays. (300 North Main Street)

Walk or ride bikes along a Rail Trail

The Norwottuck Rail Trail. Photo credit: John Phelan / Creative Commons

Among the fun things to do in Northampton MA and the Pioneer Valley is to use the many rail trails and bike paths.

Northampton has a few different trails, like the Northampton Bikeway/Mass Central Rail Trail, which traverses 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.

The Manhan Rail Trail also starts in Easthampton. It continues up to the Northampton train station, meeting up with the Norwottuck trail.

Need a bike? You can pick one up through the ValleyBike sharing program, which 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. All this conserved land also attracts a variety of wildlife.

When visiting the property, be sure to use its 10 miles of trails 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

The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library - among the things to do in Northampton MA
Photo credit: Ktr101 / Creative Commons

One of Northampton’s most famous citizens was former Massachusetts Governor and United States Vice President and President Calvin Coolidge.

Like most former presidents, Calvin Coolidges’s presidential library resides in his former hometown.

The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum is on the second floor of Forbes Library, Northampton’s public library.

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

Produce in blue paper cartons sitting on a table

Among the best things to do in Northampton MA for foodies is to attend the city’s farmer’s market.

Operated by Grow Food Northampton, the city’s farmer’s market runs from mid-April to mid-November. It occurs every Tuesday from 1:30 PM to 6:30 PM behind Thornes Marketplace.

And this is no dinky market. About fifty vendors show their wares here, beyond the typical produce or grocery vendors. You’ll also find specialty food vendors, jewelry designers, and pottery and embroidery vendors.

Visit the Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center

History buffs will want to 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 several festivals throughout the year, including music festivals, film festivals, and cultural celebrations.

Some of the more popular events include:

  • Four Sundays – a wintertime performance art series that takes place at various performance venues throughout the city
  •  Pride Day/Parade/Celebration – an 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 livestock, food, and musical performances. Takes place at the beginning of September.

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FAQs about Northampton

What is Northampton famous for?

Northampton is famous for Smith College, its 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 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 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 match marked the beginning of women’s basketball and laid the foundation for its development and popularity worldwide.

See related:

Top 31 Best Things to Do in Amherst Massachusetts

Top 10 Best Things to Do in Deerfield Massachusetts

Top 27 Best Things to Do in Worcester Massachusetts

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A photo of Kerry Flatley leaning against a wall

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.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for such a nice article! Northampton is called Paradise City because PT Barnum promote Jenny Lind visited in 1851 and “..was so enthralled with Northampton that she soon returned for her honeymoon and resided at the Round Hill Hotel, across Elm Street from the future Smith campus, performing again at Northampton’s newly constructed City Hall on Main Street. “This must be the paradise of America,” she famously proclaimed during her stay…”

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