Kids can discover games of yesteryear at Old Sturbridge Village.Photo Credit : Old Sturbridge Village
Sponsored by Experience Sturbridge
From rockbound lighthouses to Revolutionary War battle sites, New England has its share of one-off “bucket list” destinations. But for travelers seeking the full package — history, scenery, diversions, and yes, great fall foliage — the town of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, is the kind of place that you not only visit, but linger in and explore. Located in southern Central Massachusetts, Sturbridge has earned the nickname “The Crossroads of New England” thanks to its proximity to major roads and highways, yet it’s never been a mere pit stop. Rich in heritage and brimming with local events, dining, and shopping experiences, Sturbridge is a destination unto itself. Need a reason to start planning your visit? Here we go!
Once used as a Revolutionary War training ground, the lovely Sturbridge Town Common is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is bordered by trim antique buildings — including the 1897 Colonial Revival public library and the regal 1838 Town Hall — that gives Sturbridge its quaint and timeless feel. Nearby is the Old Burying Ground, c. 1740, where the earliest settlers are interred; monuments on the common pay homage to residents who served their country from the Civil War onward. Today the town common with its tidy little bandstand remains the beating heart of the community, hosting everything from concerts to ice skating to the Christmas tree lighting. Travel tip: Get in on a weekend of free family fun when the Harvest Festival returns for its 33rd year on Oct. 14–15.
Sturbridge rose to prominence as a manufacturing hub, with the Quinebaug River powering gristmills and textile mills, and also was home to the first mining operation in New England. But the agricultural roots laid down by 18th-century settlers still flourish today in the form of family-owned farms throughout Sturbridge and surrounding towns. Indulge in the fruits of their labors at the Sturbridge Farmers Market: Held on Sundays from June to October on the Town Common, it offers a bonanza of local agricultural and artisan products from more than 20 vendors, plus food truck fare and free entertainment. Travel tip: If you’re visiting in autumn, be sure to swing by Hyland Orchard, a third-generation farm situated on 150 scenic acres, for apple picking, hayrides, and live music. (Don’t miss the cider doughnuts at the farm market, either!)
More than a quarter of the land in Sturbridge, nearly 6,500 acres, is protected or recreational open space, which makes it a haven for hiking and biking. For an easy stroll through the woods along the Quinebaug River, seek out the Grand Trunk Trail, whose path was originally cut for a railroad. Designated a National Recreation Trail, this wide, smooth, and well-maintained crushed-rock trail is ADA-compliant and suitable for everything from wheelchairs to mountain bikes. Accessible paths also can be found among the 11 miles of trails at the Leadmine Mountain Conservation Area, an 880-acre swath filled with opportunities for not just hiking and mountain biking, but also fishing, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Factor in the preserved fields and woodlands of Heins Farm (two miles of trails) and the beaver ponds, wetlands, and other diverse habitats of Opacum Woods (four miles of trails), and it’s clear that variety is the hallmark of Sturbridge’s green spaces. Travel tip: History-loving hikers should plan to visit The Trustees’ Tantuisques Reservation: Situated on land once mined for graphite by the native Nipmuc tribe and English colonists alike, it still bears signs of New England’s first-ever mining operation in an open mine shaft and a partially filled mine cut.
From raising a toast to summer at an outdoor beer garden to escaping into a cozy taproom when the weather turns chilly, visiting a homegrown winery, cidery, brewery, or distillery can be a perfect pick-me-up no matter the time of year. In the Sturbridge area, the settings are as eclectic as the offerings: Settle in with a Belgian-style farmhouse ale in a 160-plus-year-old mill building by the Quinebaug River at Altruist Brewing Company, or sip the award-winning wines of Brimfield Winery & Cidery on a historic farmstead less than 10 miles from downtown Sturbridge. And for local camaraderie, it’s hard to beat Rapscallion Pub, which pairs a neighborhood-hangout feel with a lineup of Rapscallion Brewery beers that range from honey ale to coffee stout, alongside a menu of inventive cocktails made with either spirits or beers (Spicy Pineapple Shandy, for instance). Travel tip: Fans of hard spirits should look for the newest kid on the block, Deep Roots Distillery USA, which opened in late 2022 and prides itself on using local ingredients (honey, maple, etc.) in its array of all-natural whiskeys, rums, liqueurs, and gins.
While the Quinebaug may have helped put Sturbridge on the map, today the town’s pretty ponds, lakes, and waterways attract all kinds of recreation-minded visitors. Swim like a local at Cedar Lake Recreation Area, considered by many to be Sturbridge’s best public beach: Tucked away in a cove of Cedar Lake, this hidden gem may elude those without GPS (set your gadget for “60 Cedar Street”). A bit more on the beaten path, there’s Walker Pond at Wells State Park, which welcomes swimmers, anglers, and boaters; the park’s 1,400-plus acres also encompass a dozen miles of trails and 60 campsites. Bridging the towns of Sturbridge and Southbridge, Westville Lake was built on the Quinebaug River by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in 1960 to reduce flooding and is now a first-rate recreation area to boot. Cast a line here for largemouth bass, panfish, and trout; launch a canoe for a leisurely paddle; or just enjoy a picnic by the water. Travel tip: Didn’t bring your own canoe or kayak? White’s Boat Landing & Bake Shoppe in nearby Brookfield offers rentals for exploring the historic Quaboag River and the nearby 558-acre Quaboag Pond.
Set on more than 200 acres and featuring 40 historical buildings, Old Sturbridge Village re-creates an 1830s rural New England town so perfectly you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into another world. See grain being ground into flour and a blacksmith at work, or try your hand at husking corn or spinning wool. You can engage with costumed historians, observe the care of heritage animal breeds, and maybe even take a historical craft class and do your part to carry the past forward. It all makes for a fascinating tapestry — just ask Ken Burns, who filmed his first documentary here while still a student at Hampshire College. Travel tip: Even if you’ve been to Old Sturbridge Village before, there’s always something new to discover — like Ox & Yoke Mercantile, which opened just last summer and is stocked with upscale Village-made crafts and gifts sure to please modern-day shopaholics. There’s even a store café serving up signature desserts and pastries alongside coffee, tea, and craft beer and wines.
After you’ve explored Old Sturbridge Village’s reincarnation of days gone by, refuel yourself with the thoroughly modern cuisine of Sturbridge’s vibrant dining scene. The town boasts an eclectic collection of top-notch, locally owned eateries with something to please every palate. Miso chicken sliders, seafood paella, buttermilk fried chicken, and a wine and beer list heavy on New England craft brews are all on the menu at the popular American bistro Cedar Street Grille, which is also known for its scrumptious Sunday brunches. At Sturbridge Porterhouse, meanwhile, the focus is on elevated steakhouse cuisine (including an indulgent bone marrow porterhouse for two) served amid the rustic chic of a former horse barn; an outdoor deck seats 60. If you lean more surf than turf, look for Sturbridge Seafood, which draws diners seeking creative dock-to-plate fare such as mussels in a smoked chili cream sauce and panko-crusted salmon with the zing of honey mustard horseradish. Travel tip: Dining on a budget? Sturbridge Coffee House has you covered with tasty breakfast sandwiches, grass-fed burgers, and other casual bites. Catch their popular Taco Tuesdays if you can!
Lifelong memories aren’t the only thing you can bring home from a Sturbridge getaway. Shop like a local at independent boutiques such as Sadie Green’s Curiosity Shop, specializing in jewelry and gifts; leather goods emporium Best Bib & Tucker; and Lake Road Living, filled with New England–flavored fashion and décor. For a touch of regional craftsmanship, there’s the landmark studio/showroom of Sturbridge Pottery, run by husband-and-wife artists Gary and Ann Malone since 1976. And if you want a little bit of everything, make time to browse the Sturbridge Flea Market: Housed in a former mill building and spanning three floors, it has new and old furniture, antiques and curiosities, clothing and crafts, and more — and with 150-plus dealers on hand, there are always fresh discoveries to be made. Travel tip: If you’re visiting Sturbridge in May, July, or September, check the Brimfield Antique Show schedule — you may just get a chance to experience America’s oldest outdoor flea market, held just down the road from Sturbridge since 1959.
A landmark of the Sturbridge Town Common since 1772 and a welcome stop for early travelers on the old Boston Post Road, the Publick House Historic Inn is the grand dame of the Sturbridge hospitality scene. Rooms in the main inn, furnished in antique style, offer a wealth of colonial ambience, but guests can also opt to stay in the cozy Chamberlain House or Tillyer House, or even in the property’s 63-room Country Motor Lodge; a warm and welcoming taproom and tavern round out the scene. Moving from the center of town to the water’s edge, you’ll find the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center perched on lovely Cedar Lake. This 233-room property has a private beach on the lake (with kayaks and paddle boats on offer, too); a heated indoor pool and hot tub; and not one but three on-site restaurants. Travel tip: Road warriors can park themselves close to the action at Thousand Trails Sturbridge, an RV resort on 200 lakeside acres, or the recently renovated Pine Lake RV Resort, which has both hook-up sites and cottage rentals.
Sturbridge is an easy drive from major cities, with Boston and Providence being about an hour away, and Hartford only 40 minutes. And once you arrive, you can expand your getaway with quick side trips to a number of regional highlights. Kids will love a day trip to Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, touted as the largest facility of its kind in New England. For grown-up playtime, an 18-hole championship golf course awaits at Heritage Country Club in Charlton, which is also the headquarters of the legendary Tree House Brewing Company. Last but not least, all the urban amenities of New England’s second-largest city, Worcester, lie a mere 25-minute drive from Sturbridge, including the Worcester Art Museum and Polar Park, home of the Worcester Red Sox.