You’ll find plenty of things to do in Worcester MA – a small city that’s undergone a revitalization in recent years. The following things to do highlight the culture, recreation, and history in the second-biggest city in New England.
Worcester sits in approximately the middle of Massachusetts, 40 miles to the west of Boston, and is New England’s second biggest city with 206,000 residents.
Although often overlooked by nearby larger and more cosmopolitan Boston, Worcester offers a surprising number of cultural and recreational attractions within its borders including a revitalized downtown full of shops, restaurants, a public market, and a variety of both visual and performing arts.
The city’s many colleges and universities (eight in total) also add a youthful feel to the city. And the Worcester’s high concentration of immigrants (22% of the city’s population was born outside of the United States) adds diversity.
27 of the Best Things to Do in Worcester MA
These are the best things to do in Worcester MA either as a day trip or for a longer stay.
Stroll among the Canal District’s shops and restaurants
One thing you’ll definitely want to do in Worcester is visit the Canal District.
Nestled in and around Green Street and Harding Street, this neighborhood has emerged over the past decade as a destination buzzing with activity including shops, restaurants, and events.
Within the Canal District, you’ll find the Worcester Public Market which hosts a variety of small eateries as well as specialty food vendors. Across the street is Table Talk Pies and further down is a fantastic bakery and cafe, Birch Tree Bread Co. (138 Green Street)
A short walk down Green Street will lead you to Crompton Place which contains fun-to-visit shops like Bedlam Book Cafe and the plant boutique, Seed to Stem. Downstairs you’ll find Crompton Collective, a collection of boutique home, antique, and clothing stalls. (138 Green Street)
Visit a museum
Among the cultural things to do in Worcester MA, is to visit one of the city’s many museums.
The Worcester Art Museum, located in the center of the city, rivals some bigger city museums. It contains objects from all over the world dating back to ancient history through to contemporary artworks. Visitors can also see a Medieval Chapter House, and explore one of the museum’s most recent acquisitions, an armory collection, consisting of two thousand arms and armor objects. (55 Salisbury Street)
If history is more of your interest, stop by for a tour of the American Antiquarian Society, which has one of the largest collections of books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, and other published works printed through 1876 in the United States. Free tours are given at 3 PM on Wednesdays. (185 Salisbury Street)
To dive into more local history, stop by the Worcester Historical Museum. In it, you’ll find exhibits on Worcester history, as well as the Alden Family Gallery, designed specifically for children. Kids can pretend to work at an old diner and take in other hands-on and imaginative play exhibits. (30 Elm Street)
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Learn about science and nature at the EcoTarium
The EcoTarium is unlike any place you’ve visited before. Perfect for both children and adults – although mainly focused on kids – the EcoTarium features both indoor and outdoor exhibits on its 45+ acre campus.
Favorite things to do at the EcoTarium include seeing the live animal habitats (such as mountain lions and otters to name a few), experiencing hurricane-force winds in a wind tunnel, viewing stars in the planetarium, and taking a train ride (in warm weather months) around the campus.
You’ll also find extensive hiking trails through meadows and forests as well as outdoor play areas for kids to explore. Hours are Tuesday – Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM. (222 Harrington Way)
Attend a show or performance
If theater or the performing arts are of interest, Worcester has several locations to take in a show.
The Hanover Theatre, situated in the heart of the city, is considered one of the top four concert halls in the country. Originally built in 1904, the theater underwent extensive renovations in 1926, closed in 1998, and reopened again in 2008 with much of the original 1920s facade still intact. Today, you’ll be able to take in a variety of shows at the Hanover Theater including Broadway plays, comedy acts, and contemporary musical theater, to name a few. (2 Southbridge Street)
Another notable Worcester venue is Mechanics Hall, considered to be one the nation’s finest pre-Civil War era concert halls. Like the Hanover Theatre, Mechanics Hall has also undergone a number of renovations over the years, but in 1973 was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was restored to its current glory in 1977.
In addition to being the home of Music Worcester (since 1858), Mechanics Hall also features the oldest four-manual tracker organ in the Western hemisphere and was used by cellist Yo-Yo-Ma to record his albums. Today, guests to Mechanics Hall will find a wide variety of shows, plays, dance performances, and other events. (321 Main Street)
If classical music is of interest, Worcester is home to the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra which has featured artists Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli and performs in Tuckerman Hall as well as Mechanics Hall. The MSO features a summer concert series in Institute Park. It is also home to the Worcester Symphony Orchestra which performs out of Mechanics Hall.
Take in Worcester’s arts scene
Also among the cultural things to do in Worcester MA is to visit the city’s art venues and events.
The Worcester Center for Crafts offers both students and artists the opportunity to practice ceramics, jewelry-making, glass blowing, flameworking, bladesmithing and blacksmithing, forging, enameling, and both digital and analog photography. The center also features a gallery, open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 AM – 5 PM, and hosts a variety of events throughout the year. (25 Sagamore Road)
ArtsWorcester, with a mission to promote contemporary art, hosts fifteen exhibits across three venues, exhibits the work of over 300 artists, and also offers education about contemporary art. (44 Portant Street)
Worcester PopUp (now in a permanent location) is a venue for artists, organizations, and other creatives to host a variety of events, including art shows. Use of the PopUp is fully subsidized which means events are free to the public.
Art-related events in Worcester include:
- stART – central Massachusetts’s largest art, music, and performance festival; occurs on the third Sunday in September
- Art in the Park – a biennial exhibit of large-scale sculptures in historic Elm Park.
Go ice skating downtown
One of the best cold weather things to do in Worcester MA is to go ice skating at the Worcester Common Oval.
This centrally-located ice rink, just behind Worcester City Hall, is 12,000 square feet, making it 4,000 square feet larger than the one in New York’s Rockefeller Center.
If you don’t own skates, you can rent a pair for $5 at the rink. Ice skating admission is $5 and children under the age of five skate for free.
Explore nature, visit a park
Among the outdoorsy things to do in Worcester MA is to visit one of its many parks.
Elm Park, located at the intersection of Park Avenue and Highland Street, contains sixty acres of land. The west side of the park is mainly woodlands and trails while the east side, on the other side of Park Avenue, contains ponds with two unique bridges as well as a playground and picnic area. During the winter, ice skating takes place on the ponds.
Green Hill Park is 480 acres of rolling hills and woodlands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the park, you’ll find a golf course, a field for football, five soccer fields, and two softball fields. There’s also a small farm within the park grounds full of gentle farm animals and free to visit.
In the West Tatnuck section of Worcester, you’ll find Cascades Park which contains over 120 acres of wooded trails, including a 1.4-mile loop trail that passes a waterfall. (135 Olean Street)
Serious hikers can also trek the fourteen-mile East-West Trail, starting at Coal Mine Brook near Lake Quinsigamond and finishing at Cascades Park. The trail connects 20 green spaces, as well as city streets and throughways, within the city.
Visit Bancroft Tower
Located in Salisbury Park, Bancroft Tower was built in 1900 by Stephen Salisbury III in memory of George Bancroft. Bancroft was a well-known politician and statesman in his day and was the childhood friend of Salisbury’s father.
The 56-foot-high, two-story tower is built out of boulders and cobbles. It has two square towers and an arched gate in the middle of the structure. The tower is built to look like a miniature castle. On select days, visitors can walk up the middle of the tower to take in the view.
Explore Salisbury Mansion
Located at 40 Highland Street but originally in Lincoln Square, Salisbury Mansion is open to visitors Thursday through Saturday from 1 PM to 4 PM. It’s managed by the Worcester Historical Museum.
The Georgian-style mansion is restored to how it appeared in the 1830s when it was home to Elizabeth Tuckerman Salisbury. In addition to seeing the architecture and furnishings of this historic home, visitors will also learn about the Salisbury family and its significance and influence on the city. The Salisbury Mansion is the city’s only historic house museum.
Visit a war memorial
Worcester is home to six war memorials honoring those who served in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Southeast Asia War.
The Civil War Memorial is on the Worcester Common, behind City Hall, and consists of four statues representing the infantry, artillery, cavalry, and navy.
The city commemorated World War I by building the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, a multi-purpose space located at Lincoln Square. Additionally, ten years after the war, a grove of maple trees was planted representing the hundreds of residents who died during the war. In 2018, when the grove and stonework were found to be in disrepair, a new Memorial Grove was rededicated at Green Hill Park.
Visitors can find the city’s World War II memorial on Worcester Common. It consists of a granite fountain engraved with the names of the 518 residents who were killed or missing in action. At Lincoln Square, you can find the Citizens of Color Honor Roll displaying the 145 enlisted men and women of color during the war. A subsequent WWII memorial can also be found at the corner of Hamilton Street and Lake Avenue, paying tribute to the city’s 253 veterans.
The Korean War Memorial commemorates the 191 fallen soldiers from Worcester County. It also features statues of an American GI and a Korean child symbolizing the 100,000 orphans saved by American soldiers during the war. The memorial also includes the names of fallen soldiers from the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. (on the corner of Foster and Front Streets)
Located at Green Hill Park and dedicated in 2002, the city’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial commemorates all the Commonwealth citizens who served their country from 1955 to 1975. It consists of 4 acres including a pond, fountain, walking paths, and benches.
The Southwest Asia War (also known as Desert Shield and Desert Storm) is located on Worcester Common and was dedicated in 1993.
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.