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12 quaint Massachusetts towns to visit this summer

Each is within a three hours’ drive of downtown Boston; several are reachable via train and bus too

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Here are a dozen exceptionally charming towns and small cities in Massachusetts that are each within a three-hour drive of downtown Boston.

Several are within a similar timeframe by train or bus, too.

These 12 are not only beautiful to look at and perfect to enjoy in warmer weather arrives; they also include some hidden cultural and gastronomic gems.

A brief sampling: The world's largest collection of Norman Rockwell art; a repository of more than one million volumes of Yiddish film and literature; the Western Hemisphere's only Trappist brewery; and a museum dedicated to Emily Dickinson.

One final note: As you'll see, we didn't include towns on Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod. Everyone goes there and there's already plenty of info available.

Also check out: Boston’s best beaches, mapped; Lighthouses near Boston that you can visit, mapped; and the Curbed Boston Pocket Guide: Summer 2018

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1. Great Barrington

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It would be difficult to map the quaintest Massachusetts towns near Boston without including Great Barrington.

The Berkshires redoubt of about 7,100 topped a 2012 Smithsonian magazine list of the 20 best small towns in America.

It is kind of a perfectly freakish area to soak up such a vibe, complete with a dash of mountainous hipness, too.

There are plenty of eateries, especially along Railroad Street, and lots of history (and historical properties) stretching back to Colonial times.

There is also the Guthrie Center, dedicated to folk music and named for native son Arlo Guthrie, and proximity to decent skiing during the colder months.

Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr

2. Stockbridge

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This Berkshires town of barely 2,000 year-round residents is so darn quaint it hosts the Norman Rockwell Museum, which contains the world’s biggest collection of the late Stockbridge resident’s art.

Rockwell often used the charming ‘burg as the setting for his paintings and illustrations of idyllic small-town life.

Tiny in size, bucolic in setting, and tucked near the New York border, you will feel eons away from Boston.

Ethan Prater/Flickr

3. Amherst

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Yes, the town of roughly 40,000 is home to Amherst College, UMass-Amherst, and Hampshire College, but there’s lots to take in even if you’re not a student.

Check out some notable museums, including the Yiddish Book Center, which preserves more than a million volumes of Yiddish books and films; the Emily Dickinson Museum, dedicated to the town’s most famous native; and the kid-friendly Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Or, just hit the college bars downtown.

mihir samel/Flickr

4. Spencer

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Spencer, a town of just over 11,000, comes up about an hour west of the Boston area and just a little north of the Turnpike.

It feels rather remote because of that last bit of distance, but the diners there are warm and welcoming.

And! The town hosts the only Trappist brewery in the Western Hemisphere (really). It’s on the grounds of the St. Joseph’s Trappist monastery off State Highway 31. Try the gift shop.

Bill Ilot/Flickr

5. Harvard

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13 Ayer Rd
Harvard, MA 01451

No, not the university. The Town of Harvard is about an hour’s drive from the Cambridge university of the same name.

It has about 6,500 residents and has been the home in the past to several nontraditional communities, including various communes, the Shakers, and the Transcendentalists.

The Fruitlands Museum complex in Harvard includes the nation’s oldest Shaker museum as well as a museum dedicated to Native American artifacts and a farmhouse preserving a mid-19th-century experiment in communal living.

The downtown is also achingly quaint.

Jelly Dude/Flickr

6. Concord

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Concord has about 18,000 people and lots of reminders of its hosting some of the first shots of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, including the Minute Man National Historic Park.

The downtown is gorgeous, too, and there is a rich literary pedigree throughout: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne all called Concord home at one point. (They still do, in fact.)

Pablo Sanchez/Flickr

7. Lexington

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Of course one has to hit Lexington. It was here in April 1775 that the shots heard ‘round the world launched the American Revolution, and the town of 31,000-plus does not let visitors forget that fact.

There’s the Battle Green, or Common, which commemorates the Battle of Lexington and includes the nation’s oldest war monument.

There are also museums such as the Buckman and Munroe taverns dedicated to commemorating the conflict.

zenm/Flickr

8. Nahant

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Fun fact: At just 1 square mile, Nahant is Massachusetts’ smallest municipality. And it’s barely connected to the mainland, with a few hundred yards of isthmus bordering Lynn.

Otherwise, the town of approximately 3,500 barely a half-hour’s drive from Boston feels devilishly isolated.

There are plenty of beaches and some bunkers left over from World War II and the Cold War.

RachelC.Photography/Flickr

9. Salem

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Yup, witches: Much of the city of approximately 40,000 people less than 45 minutes from Boston is bound up in the early 1690s hysteria that resulted in several executions for witchery.

The funnest time to visit Salem, then, is during the weeks leading up to Halloween.

But the city does offer other, non-witch-trial attractions, including the famed Peabody Essex Museum, dedicated to Asian art and early American maritime trading, and the Pioneer Village, a recreation of a Puritan community.

Madeleine Deaton/Flickr

10. Newburyport

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The town of about 18,000 is an hour from Boston by car or commuter rail.

Its coastal location, right where the Merrimack River meets the sea, provides copious amounts of waterside public space.

Visitors should also check out the Federal-style houses along High Street and the shopping along State Street.

Beckwith-Zink/Flickr

11. Marblehead

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This one’s for the sailors and the kayakers out there.

Marblehead, a town of about 20,000 souls less than an hour north of Boston, is famed for its yachting, sailing, kayaking, etc.

It’s often called the birthplace of the American Navy because a resident of the town launched what was likely the first fighting vessel during the Revolutionary War.

Strike up a debate on the subject when you’re in Marblehead—Beverly, Massachusetts, also claims the honor because the ship launched from its harbor.

Ryan Harvey/Flickr

12. Rockport

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Located about an hour’s drive north of Boston and with around 7,000 residents, Rockport checks all those boxes necessary for a quintessential New England seaside town.

It’s got lobster fishermen (and other smaller, seafaring vessels), lots of rocky beaches, a healthy dose of beach-y wildlife (gulls galore), and a laid-back vibe that only a rapacious great white shark could interrupt.

James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

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1. Great Barrington

Great Barrington, MA
Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr

It would be difficult to map the quaintest Massachusetts towns near Boston without including Great Barrington.

The Berkshires redoubt of about 7,100 topped a 2012 Smithsonian magazine list of the 20 best small towns in America.

It is kind of a perfectly freakish area to soak up such a vibe, complete with a dash of mountainous hipness, too.

There are plenty of eateries, especially along Railroad Street, and lots of history (and historical properties) stretching back to Colonial times.

There is also the Guthrie Center, dedicated to folk music and named for native son Arlo Guthrie, and proximity to decent skiing during the colder months.

2. Stockbridge

Stockbridge, MA
Ethan Prater/Flickr

This Berkshires town of barely 2,000 year-round residents is so darn quaint it hosts the Norman Rockwell Museum, which contains the world’s biggest collection of the late Stockbridge resident’s art.

Rockwell often used the charming ‘burg as the setting for his paintings and illustrations of idyllic small-town life.

Tiny in size, bucolic in setting, and tucked near the New York border, you will feel eons away from Boston.

3. Amherst

Amherst, MA
mihir samel/Flickr

Yes, the town of roughly 40,000 is home to Amherst College, UMass-Amherst, and Hampshire College, but there’s lots to take in even if you’re not a student.

Check out some notable museums, including the Yiddish Book Center, which preserves more than a million volumes of Yiddish books and films; the Emily Dickinson Museum, dedicated to the town’s most famous native; and the kid-friendly Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Or, just hit the college bars downtown.

4. Spencer

Spencer, MA
Bill Ilot/Flickr

Spencer, a town of just over 11,000, comes up about an hour west of the Boston area and just a little north of the Turnpike.

It feels rather remote because of that last bit of distance, but the diners there are warm and welcoming.

And! The town hosts the only Trappist brewery in the Western Hemisphere (really). It’s on the grounds of the St. Joseph’s Trappist monastery off State Highway 31. Try the gift shop.

5. Harvard

13 Ayer Rd, Harvard, MA 01451
Jelly Dude/Flickr

No, not the university. The Town of Harvard is about an hour’s drive from the Cambridge university of the same name.

It has about 6,500 residents and has been the home in the past to several nontraditional communities, including various communes, the Shakers, and the Transcendentalists.

The Fruitlands Museum complex in Harvard includes the nation’s oldest Shaker museum as well as a museum dedicated to Native American artifacts and a farmhouse preserving a mid-19th-century experiment in communal living.

The downtown is also achingly quaint.

13 Ayer Rd
Harvard, MA 01451

6. Concord

Concord, MA
Pablo Sanchez/Flickr

Concord has about 18,000 people and lots of reminders of its hosting some of the first shots of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, including the Minute Man National Historic Park.

The downtown is gorgeous, too, and there is a rich literary pedigree throughout: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne all called Concord home at one point. (They still do, in fact.)

7. Lexington

Lexington, MA
zenm/Flickr

Of course one has to hit Lexington. It was here in April 1775 that the shots heard ‘round the world launched the American Revolution, and the town of 31,000-plus does not let visitors forget that fact.

There’s the Battle Green, or Common, which commemorates the Battle of Lexington and includes the nation’s oldest war monument.

There are also museums such as the Buckman and Munroe taverns dedicated to commemorating the conflict.

8. Nahant

Nahant, MA
RachelC.Photography/Flickr

Fun fact: At just 1 square mile, Nahant is Massachusetts’ smallest municipality. And it’s barely connected to the mainland, with a few hundred yards of isthmus bordering Lynn.

Otherwise, the town of approximately 3,500 barely a half-hour’s drive from Boston feels devilishly isolated.

There are plenty of beaches and some bunkers left over from World War II and the Cold War.

9. Salem

Salem, MA
Madeleine Deaton/Flickr

Yup, witches: Much of the city of approximately 40,000 people less than 45 minutes from Boston is bound up in the early 1690s hysteria that resulted in several executions for witchery.

The funnest time to visit Salem, then, is during the weeks leading up to Halloween.

But the city does offer other, non-witch-trial attractions, including the famed Peabody Essex Museum, dedicated to Asian art and early American maritime trading, and the Pioneer Village, a recreation of a Puritan community.

10. Newburyport

Newburyport, MA
Beckwith-Zink/Flickr

The town of about 18,000 is an hour from Boston by car or commuter rail.

Its coastal location, right where the Merrimack River meets the sea, provides copious amounts of waterside public space.

Visitors should also check out the Federal-style houses along High Street and the shopping along State Street.

11. Marblehead

Marblehead, MA
Ryan Harvey/Flickr

This one’s for the sailors and the kayakers out there.

Marblehead, a town of about 20,000 souls less than an hour north of Boston, is famed for its yachting, sailing, kayaking, etc.

It’s often called the birthplace of the American Navy because a resident of the town launched what was likely the first fighting vessel during the Revolutionary War.

Strike up a debate on the subject when you’re in Marblehead—Beverly, Massachusetts, also claims the honor because the ship launched from its harbor.

12. Rockport

Rockport, MA
James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

Located about an hour’s drive north of Boston and with around 7,000 residents, Rockport checks all those boxes necessary for a quintessential New England seaside town.

It’s got lobster fishermen (and other smaller, seafaring vessels), lots of rocky beaches, a healthy dose of beach-y wildlife (gulls galore), and a laid-back vibe that only a rapacious great white shark could interrupt.