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From Visit to Vacation: 5 College Towns to Explore More

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Posted by Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

With school just getting back in session and high school seniors starting to pare down their list of prospective colleges and universities, September presents an ideal time for families to do some scouting in advance of application season.

Massachusetts, being home to one of the world’s leading education hubs and a number of excellent schools across the Commonwealth, is naturally a popular destination for these forays. While visitors might already be familiar with their college or university of interest, they likely know less about the towns and cities themselves, many of which have much to offer outside of the school’s walls.

When you take a trip to any of these five Massachusetts college towns and cities, here’s a quick guide to how you can make the most of your time there.

Williams College in Williamstown, MA

Scenic views of the Berkshires make Williamstown an enviable destination, especially during the fall, when foliage is at its best. Hiking and running on the trails through the mountains are popular activities for the rustic types, who will encounter no shortage of opportunity for exercise.

Stone Hill

Photo: Hiking on Stone Hill at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, MA

Those a little a little more partial to indoor fun can take advantage of the happening arts scene, particularly at the Williams College Museum of Art and the Clark Art Institute, which feature pieces from all over the globe. Mass MoCa, The Museum of Contemporary Art, is also just 15 minutes away in North Adams and houses one of the most notable contemporary art collections in North America. Those sleeping over in the area can book a stay at The 1896 House or Maple Terrace.

Amherst College and University of Massachusetts Amherst in Amherst, MA

For the culture buff, downtown Amherst is quite a playground, offering museums themed around literature, language and art. The Emily Dickinson Museum features the poet’s home and her brother’s home, The Evergreens. Nearby, visitors can also encounter the truly unique Yiddish Book Center and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Dickinson Museum

Photo: The Emily Dickinson Museum and grounds

The Mead Art Museum, with its collection of Mexican ceramics and Tibetan scroll paintings, is another good spot to check out, as is the Beneski Museum of Natural History. For overnights on college visits in Amherst, Hotel UMass is a highly convenient option, and the Lord Jeffery Inn is something special to experience.

College of the Holy Cross and Clark University in Worcester, MA

A day spent in Worcester can take many directions, perhaps beginning at the EcoTarium, a unique indoor-outdoor museum that gives passersby the chance to walk through the treetops, take an immersive multimedia journey through the galaxy at a digital planetarium, meet wildlife and stroll nature trails. After that, you might head to the Worcester Art Museum, where a 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints and new media awaits.

Worcester Art Museum

Photo: Worcester Art Museum by Tim Grafft

The Salisbury Mansion, Worcester’s only historic house museum, is another intriguing sight, providing a sense of what early New England life was like. For some treats after dinner, Sweet dessert bar is the place to go, and serves as a nice nightcap before turning in at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn.

Smith College ~ Northampton, MA

Northampton is a lovable mix of funk and charm, thanks to its boutiques and cafes, which draw in tourists and students alike. The Smith College Museum of Art has been named one of the top museums at a liberal arts college, even coming equipped with artist-designed bathrooms.

Smith Museum of Art

Photo: Smith College Museum of Art

Weekend visitors would do well to note that the second Friday of each month is Arts Night Out, when galleries open their doors after hours. The 127-acre campus of Smith College also includes an arboretum and several different gardens, giving restless visitors plenty of room to stretch their legs. In Northampton, the Autumn Inn and Hotel Northampton are both within walking distance of Smith College, and the college website suggests some other good choices as well.

Tufts University in Medford and Somerville, MA

In the past few decades, Somerville has undergone something of a renaissance, becoming a major hub for new restaurants, while still also maintaining its retro theater, candlepin bowling alley and old Portuguese eateries. The Somerville Theater is a movie theater and concert venue built in 1914 designed for vaudeville and opera. Today, it shows both old and new movies, while serving beer, wine and ice cream sundaes.

Somerville Theater

Photo: Somerville Theater by Eric Kilby via Flickr

In town, Sarma Restaurant is a popular dinner destination, due its menu of modern Turkish tapas and notable cocktails. Sacco’s Bowl Haven, a candlepin bowling alley, opened in 1939 and now adjoins to Flatbread pizza, a 16-year-old pizza joint that began in Amesbury, MA. Taza Chocolate makes its home in Somerville, too, offering public tours and free tastes of Mexican-style dark chocolate. Over in Medford, hiking around the picturesque reservoir of the Middlesex Fells Reservation is a good way to spend the day. To put your feet up at the end of it, take your pick of the Holiday Inn Boston Bunker Hill or any of Cambridge’s numerous lodgings.

For more information on Massachusetts schools and universities, click here. You can also find more info on what to explore thereabouts here.

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  • Mike Keleher

    Smith has tons of angry lesbians, too.

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