Discover fun things to do in Northampton MA plus great Hampshire County places to eat and stay on a getaway to western Massachusetts. The Northampton area delights visitors with outdoor adventures, foodie fun, and charming small towns to explore. Read on for favorite places to visit, eat, and stay when you explore the #OtherSideMA.
We were hosted by the Hotel Northampton and Visit Hampshire County for the experiences included here. As always, all opinions, photos, and text are our own.
Fun Things to Do in Northampton and Hampshire County
Northampton MA is a hub of artistic and outdoors activity. The Hampshire County seat is home to Smith College, a top-ranked women’s liberal arts. Music and arts fill the downtown, along with great restaurants and funky shops. Farms, nature, and more small towns surround Northampton, offering plenty of fun outdoor activities.
Smith College Museum of Art
Smith College Museum of Art is home to an impressive collection of art on the Smith campus. Permanent and rotating collections span four floors. Regular admission is $5/$4 for adults/seniors, but the museum is free and hours are extended on the 2nd Friday of each month. Admission is always free for college students and youth 18 and under.
Arts Night Out
The 2nd Friday of every month is Arts Night Out in Northampton Mass. Galleries and artist workshops extend their hours, and some offer light bites to the happy crowds. Head to the Museum of Art for hands-on activities, and stop in Signature Sounds to enjoy a great jam session. During warmer months, you may see artists painting en plein air in the park where live entertainment inspires dancing and smiles.
Downtown Northampton Shopping
Northampton MA has a compact downtown area that is easy and fun to explore. Shops have an artsy vibe familiar to a college town. Visit Pinch for eclectic home goods, jewelry, and more. Essentials has the breadth of a department store collection, without the cookie cutter mall feel. Northampton also boats one of the first marijuana shops to open in Massachusetts, though it is outside the downtown.
Northampton Rail Trails
A network of paved rail trails offer scenic bicycling and hiking in downtown Northampton and beyond. The Manhan Rail Trail follows six miles of the rail bed once used by the Pioneer Valley Railroad and is handicapped accessible. The trail connects to the MassCentral Rail Trail which will eventually extend 100 miles from Northampton all the way to Boston.
Skinner State Park
Visit Skinner State Park on Mount Holyoke to soak in the views and a little history. The park has excellent hiking trails, a large picnic area, and a stunning view of the Connecticut River Valley. A short hike on the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail leads to a launching spot for hang gliders, and a great view. For a more relaxed visit, grab a rocker on the long front porch of the Summit House.
Eric Carle Museum
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst is a popular stop for family visits to Hampshire County. Children and adults love to explore art from favorite children’s books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar of course.
Where to Stay in Northampton MA
The Hotel Northampton is an ideal base for your visit to western Massachusetts. The hotel’s central location is perfect for exploring downtown Northampton. Comfortable rooms and suites, and two restaurant-bars, offer a nice place to relax between outings. We stayed in a lovely first floor room with a queen bed and garden view. There are a variety of suites and other room sizes available, and rooms are being updated in 2019.
The Hotel Northampton is a member of Historic Hotels of America, a brand devoted to preserving architectural integrity and historic authenticity. Be sure to visit the Wiggins Tavern for a drink or a meal. Hotel owner Lewis Wiggins carefully moved the historic tavern, which his ancestor first opened in Hopkinton in 1786, to it’s current location. Now visitors can raise a pint or sip a classic cocktail in an authentic New England tavern.
Northampton MA Restaurants Worth a Visit
Like many college towns, Northampton MA has a great selection of reasonably priced and innovative restaurants. We did not have time to sample them all during our visit, but here are places where we enjoyed a tasty meal, craft beer, and yummy ice cream in and near Northampton.
The first brewery in New England, Northampton Brewery, is especially nice when the weather is pleasant. Dine in the large rooftop patio to enjoy excellent craft brews and tasty meals with a dose of sunshine. With the motto “peace, love, beer” you know the vibe is going to be relaxed and friendly.
Paul & Elizabeth’s Restaurant
Paul & Elizabeth’s Restaurant is a natural foods eatery with an international flare. They serve an excellent Fish Chowder, fresh and tasty seafood, and a wide range of vegetarian and vegan dishes featuring local ingredients.
Platform Sports Bar
We visited Northampton during the World Cup finals, and Platform Sports Bar was our choice for a match time meal. The large bar and open dining area is ringed with TVs so you have a great view from every table. Enjoy a nice selection of craft brews and an extensive burger and sandwich menu, including a generous and delicious lobster roll. The restaurant is located in the historic Union Station, and you can walk off those calories on the Manhan Rail Trail, right outside.
Sylvesters Restaurant Bakery is a popular spot for breakfast in downtown Northampton. Grab a table on the small porch or head inside for fresh omelets, Benedicts, waffles, and unusual items like Shakshuka, a Mediterranean vegetable stew.
Viva Pasta Company
McCool Travel NOTE: Viva Pasta closed in August 2019. Please support your favorite local restaurants so that they stay open!
If you love fresh pasta, then Viva Pasta Company is the restaurant for you. Hearty servings of fresh made pasta are sure to please in this relaxed, neighborhood restaurant in downtown Northampton.
Wiggins Tavern Restaurant and Coolidge Park Cafe, Hotel Nothampton
As we mentioned above, Wiggins Tavern Restaurant is an authentic 18th century tavern in the Hotel Northampton. Stop in for cocktails in the cozy bar or fine dining in the restaurant.
You can also enjoy a casual meal and a drink at Coolidge Park Cafe in the Hotel Northampton. The restaurant is brightened by the huge glass windows which line the front of the hotel.
Herrell’s Ice Cream & Sweet Bakery
There is a reason that long lines are the norm at Herrell’s Ice Cream & Sweet Bakery. Every ice cream lover should try the delicious, homemade flavors at this popular shop in downtown Northampton. We love the burnt sugar n’ butter flavor, and there are plenty of non-dairy and vegan options too.
More Places to Eat and Drink in Hampshire County MA
Esselon Coffee Roasting
Esselon Coffee Roasting in Hadley MA is a lovely destination for a delicious breakfast or lunch on the patio. Order at the counter and your fresh omelets, burgers, salads, and sandwiches are delivered to you. We can attest that the burger topped with carmelized onions and cheese is delicious.
Abandoned Building Brewery
Abandoned Building Brewery serves tasty flagship and seasonal ales brewed with locally grown hops. The brewery’s cozy tasting room hosts local musicians and is right on the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton.
Glendale Ridge Vineyard
Glendale Ridge Vineyard in Southampton is a small, family-owned winery with a tasting room and outdoor space. Enjoy live music and a view of Mt Tom on summer weekends.
Northampton MA is a lovely getaway destination, whether your goal is small town exploring, outdoor activities, food and drink fun, or just relaxing in a friendly New England town. Please share your Northampton tips in the comments below, and happy exploring.
Article by Julie McCool, whose Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and mid-Atlantic region.