Halfway between Cape Cod and the Berkshires, Worcester and the surrounding Central Massachusetts countryside are an ideal weekend getaway destination for families, foodies, brew hounds, outdoor enthusiasts, and those who love art or history.
By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Mar 01 2018
Visitors in the Worcester Art Museum’s [remastered] gallery.Photo Credit : Courtesy of the Worcester Art Museum
Sponsored by Discover Central Massachusetts
Halfway between Cape Cod’s beaches and the idyllic Berkshires, Worcester and the surrounding countryside may not be the place you’d think of for a weekend getaway. But Central Massachusetts is a lot more than a lunch stop between Boston and the Berkshires. Families, foodies, brew hounds, outdoor enthusiasts, and those who love art or history will all find it easy to fill a weekend here.
Begin at the Worcester Art Museum, where a 37,500-piece collection includes an entire Roman mosaic floor, a chapter house from a medieval monastery, and paintings by Van Gogh, Whistler, Winslow Homer, Gauguin, and Cézanne. The soaring exhibit space at the Sprinkler Factory, open on weekends, hosts changing art exhibitions, and Worcester Center for Crafts shows the work of potters, blacksmiths, glassblowers, jewelers, and photographers. The Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, north of Worcester, houses more than 1,000 of these sacred paintings and mounts special exhibits of other Russian arts as well.
Add some music to a culture-centric weekend with a performance by a symphony orchestra at Mechanics Hall sponsored by Music Worcesteror a concert by the Worcester Chamber Music Society. It doesn’t have to be high-brow: The Worcester Palladium is a historic concert venue for popular music from jazz to country to alternative and hip-hop.
The centerpiece for those with a reverence for things past isOld Sturbridge Village, where 40-plus historic buildings have been gathered and restored as one of America’s largest open-air history museums. Focusing on New England in the 1830s, the furnished buildings, artisans’ workshops, gardens, and working farm portray a bygone era in ways that are relatable for all ages. Worcester Historical Museum chronicles the city’s social, political, and cultural life from a Colonial village to a major industrial center through collections that are especially strong in textiles and costumes. The museum also owns the Salisbury Mansion, built in 1772 and restored in the early1800s.
Continue the historic theme by staying at The Old Sturbridge Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dine at the Historic Tap Room of the Publick House Historic Inn(try the old-fashioned, deep-dish apple pie) in Sturbridge or go to Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield for their Fireplace Feasts, Drovers Roasts, or other special events. In Worcester, a New American bistro is located inside the Victorian Gothic Bull Mansion, built in 1876 and on the National Register of Historic Places. And any historic odyssey in Worcester should include Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner, an original 1930 diner manufactured here by Worcester Lunch Car Company and also on the National Register.
Central Massachusetts, even Worcester itself, has plenty of open land to roam, and a weekend wouldn’t be time enough to hike or snowshoe all its trails. New England’s largest urban wildlife sanctuary, Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook preserves 400 acres, with five miles of well-marked trails through woods, streams, fields and marsh, including a full mile that’s universally accessible. The diverse habitats make this a favorite spot for birders, and the nature center exhibits tell about the Blackstone River Watershed and its wildlife.
The Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, another Mass Audubon property, offers 12 miles of hiking trails, connecting with Wachusett Mountain State Reservation. Canoe and snowshoe rentals are available, and at the other side of the reservation is Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, accessible by commuter train from Boston. Douglas State Forestin Douglas has swimming, boating and fishing at Wallum Lake and hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling through its woodlands. A boardwalk trail leads through a rare Atlantic White Cedar swamp.
Flower and garden lovers can get their fix any time of year, too, at Tower Hill Botanic Gardenin Boylston. The beautiful 132-acre property overlooks Mt. Wachusett with 17 different gardens of ornamental, edible, and native plants. The Lemon House and Orangerie are welcome tropical retreats in the winter.
Plan a day for kids to enjoy all the animals and activities at Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon. The Safari Sky Ride soars above giraffes, big cats, and white rhinos on the African plains, and the Woodland’s Express explores the forest habitat, while petting zoos, animal presentations, camel rides, and a fun park offer more adventures with the 850-plus animals. More creatures await at Bolton’s Animal Adventures Family Zoo & Rescue Center, home to rescued common and exotic creatures, from foxes and porcupines to lynx and alligators. Children can get close to farm animals—ducks, chickens, pigs and lambs—at Douglas Orchard & Farmin Douglas, and pick apples or blueberries in season.
Worcester’sEcoTarium offers hands-on experiences and discoveries, plus planetarium shows, daily science programs, outdoor exhibits and nature play areas reached by a train ride. The Worcester Art Museum has regular children’s features and Saturday programs that could include demonstrations of Roman or Medieval armor. Old Sturbridge Village is always a hit with kids, with wagon rides, period games to try, and plenty of chances to interact with costumed interpreters.
For family fun and ice cream, West End Creamery in Whitinsville has an 18-hole miniature golf course, a Barnyard Jump, and in the fall a 6-acre corn maze. Sports-crazy kids won’t want to miss live action if the Worcester Bravehearts baseball team or Worcester Railers hockey club have home games scheduled. Baseball season is June through mid-August and hockey October through April; both teams have affordable family pricing.
There’s no shortage of kid-friendly places to eat in Worcester.Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta is a hit with pizzas, pasta, and gelato for dine-in or takeout. AtFix Burger Barkids can choose from more than 40 toppings and parents can refresh with a choice of two dozen beers on draft. For a hot dog stop, choose the historic George’s Coney Island, an art deco landmark on Southbridge Street since 1938. A handy choice for family lodging is the downtown Homewood Suites by Hilton Worcester, where daily breakfast and hearty early-evening snacks on weeknights are included in the room rate.
Dining in Central Massachusetts can be a trip around the world. Begin at Worcester’s Restaurant Row on Shrewsbury Street, where NuovoandVIA Italian Table serve authentic Italian dishes, alfresco in good weather, and Basil N’ Spiceoffers the flavors and ingredients of Thailand.Bocado Tapas Bar, serving tapas, paella, and Spanish wines, andMezcal Tequila Cantina with its margaritas and made-to-order guacamole, add a Latin touch, whileQuinn’s Irish Pubgives an updated flair to traditional Irish favorites. Blue Shadesbrings authentic Liege-style Belgian waffles to Worcester for breakfast, lunch, or early evening noshes. Watch the chefs in the open kitchen at Avellinoin Sturbridge as they create Italian specialties, and stock up on ingredients from around the world at Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplacein Worcester.
The Central Massachusetts Craft Beer Trail will lead you to nine breweries—five in Worcester, plus Purgatory Beer Company in Whitinsville, Tree House Brewing Company in Charlton, Wachusett Brewing Companyin Westminster, and the dog-friendly Rapscallion Brewery in Sturbridge.
On second thought, a weekend may not be long enough.