In Middlesex County, about 25 miles from downtown Boston, Billerica is a city that first took shape on the banks of the Concord River in the mid-17th century.
Later, the river was lined with textile mills and marked the high point of a canal that ran from Lowell to the port of Boston. There’s a museum telling this story at the impressive Faulkner Mill in North Billerica.
Elsewhere, Billerica is endowed with many acres of public space for woodland walks, cross-country skiing in winter and afternoons at lakefront beaches in summer.
The Town Common is edged by quaint 19th-century architecture and sets the scene for events from outdoor concerts in the summer to the dazzling Billerica Holiday Festival.
1. Middlesex Canal Museum and Visitors Center
In one of the first civil engineering projects of its kind in the United States, the port of Boston was connected to the Merrimack River at Lowell via a 27-mile barge canal that ran through Billerica.
The Middlesex Canal was built between 1793 and 1803, and was in use until 1851, becoming obsolete after the advent of rail transport. In North Billerica you can visit the canal’s highest point, where the waterway was fed by the Concord River.
Here the magnificent mid-19th century Faulkner Mill houses a small but absorbing museum showing how rural life was transformed by the canal.
Also take a moment to check out the surrounding historic district, comprising large-scale 19th-century textile mill buildings, worker housing and the dam on the Concord River.
2. Billerica Town Common
The anchor for downtown Billerica’s historic district, the Town Common is the place to come to ponder the city’s history and check out some imposing architecture.
The story of this land goes back to 1655, and Billerica’s first meetinghouse was built here in 1663.
From the end of the 17th century a portion of the common served as a muster point for the local militia, and this is what happened at the outset of the American Revolutionary in 1775.
With a sequence of churches and august civic buildings down the west side, the Town Common has a medley of styles from Federal to Second Empire.
On the east there’s a gaggle of locally run eateries, including a sandwich shop and pizzeria. Still at the heart of the community, the Town Common is the setting for weekly summer concerts, the Billerica’s farmers’ market, as well as the treasured Holiday Festival in December.
3. Great Brook Farm State Park
At downtown Billerica you’re barely ten minutes from this 1,000-acre state park, just over the line in Carlisle.
The park was established in 1967 on historic farmland and has a lot of interesting things to discover, from Native American sights to 17th-century cellar holes.
A prime destination for families is the working dairy farm, which can be toured for free on weekends.
You can check out the herd of dairy cows, and there’s a small petting zoo keeping sheep, goats, chickens and more.
Be sure to grab some of the delicious ice cream made right here. If you want to be active there are almost 20 miles of trails on this land for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, dog walking, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter.
During those colder months the Great Brook Ski Touring Center looks after the park’s trails and rents skis and snowshoes.
4. Vietnam Veterans Park
On land previously used as a working farm by the Middlesex House of Corrections, in 1994 Vietnam Veterans Park became the first park in the United States to be dedicated to veterans of the Vietnam War.
More than two thirds of these 250 acres are made up of biodiverse conservation land, preserving mixed woodlands, riverbanks, wetland and beaver ponds.
Elsewhere you can make the most of a wealth of amenities, including a disc golf course, BMX track, soccer complex, radio control flyer area, equestrian area, two children’s playgrounds and bocce courts.
The park has five miles of trails, which are groomed for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
5. Griggs Farm
Owned and operated by the same family since 1943, Griggs Farm is on more than 50 acres, and has long been a local go-to for fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers.
There are no fewer than 14 greenhouses here, offering a massive assortment of perennials and annuals, as well as herbs, vegetable plants and much more.
The farm opens in time for planting season in spring, while in summer the choice of fresh produce is astonishing, and the tomatoes and sweet corn are some of the best around.
Fall means cool weather vegetables like squashes and cabbage, along with seven different apple varieties, and tasty apple-based specialties like pie and cider.
The winter at Griggs Farm kicks off just after Thanksgiving and brings fir and balsam Christmas trees, poinsettias and handmade wreaths.
6. Manning State Park
This secluded parcel of forest is just the place for a walk in the woods, but there are also amenities for all the family at Manning State Park.
For smaller children you’ve got a splash pad, operating from early June to the end of August. Older visitors can make use of the fitness trail, lined with stations for an outdoor workout in the greenery.
The park could hardly be better suited to summer picnics, and there are shelters, tables and grills. It’s no surprise that this spot is popular in summer, and parking fees apply during peak season.
7. Micozzi Beach
From the third Sunday in June until late August, Nutting Lake in Billerica becomes a popular little escape.
The recreation area on the southeast shore has a sandy beach and swimming area, a bathhouse, picnic tables, a sand volleyball court, a children’s playground, an accessible fishing pier and a basketball hoop.
Lifeguards are on duty seven days a week throughout the season, and you can also rent a variety of equipment including fishing rods, stand-up paddleboards, canoes and kayaks.
When we made this list there was a daily parking fee of $5, while season passes could be purchased for $50.
8. Collins Bowladrome
Duckpin bowling is a variant played mostly in the Northeast, involving small, squat pins, about half the size of those used in ten-pin bowling.
The ball is also much smaller, and usually fits into the palm of the hand without finger holes. If you want to try duckpin bowling there’s an alley right here in Billerica, less than a mile north of the town common.
With ten lanes, Collins Bowladrome is open seven days a week, and caters to league bowling and birthday parties.
9. Billerica Farmers’ Market
Rain or shine there’s a weekly farmers’ market just off Billerica Town Common from mid July to mid October.
This takes place on Mondays 2:30 to 7:30 (or dusk), and has a real diversity of vendors. Naturally there’s local fresh produce throughout the season, but you can also get hold of farm-raised meats, sauces, assorted baked goods, artisanal candy, mead, jellies and more.
There’s a big choice of prepared foods, from empanadas to New England-style seafood, as well as a slew of crafters selling jewelry, home decorations, candles, organic skincare, cards, ceramics, knitted clothing, the list goes on.
10. Country Club of Billerica
Contrary to the name the Country Club of Billerica is a public golf course, with 18 holes and measuring almost 5,800 yards from the tips.
The course has been laid out along Jones Brook, which comes into play on several holes, including the 18th, where it feeds a large pond that poses a hazard down the left side of the fairway.
To go with the course there’s a golf school, driving range and two practice greens for those who want to work on their game. The 19th Hole combines a lounge and family-friendly restaurant, with ten TVs inside and a lovely seasonal patio overlooking the 18th green.
11. Altitude Trampoline Park
At the Towne Shopping Plaza in Pinehurst there’s a branch of this national chain of indoor trampoline parks.
In fact this is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the state, over 30,000 square feet, half of which is made up entirely of wall-to-wall trampolines.
As well as a gigantic main court for free bouncing, Altitude Trampoline Park has a roster of smaller attractions like tumble tracks for gymnastics, hoop lanes for slam dunks, foam pits, 3D dodgeball and a Gladiators style battle beam over yet more foam pits.
12. Kohlrausch Park
This neighborhood park in North Billerica is a fantastic resource for parents with younger children.
The playground is one of the best in the city for smaller kids, with imaginative equipment like a fire truck, all on a wood chip surface and completely surrounded by a fence.
Added to that is an endearing story book trail, with panels featuring braille as well as ordinary text.
There’s a picnic area close by, while much of Kohlrausch Park is ringed by a long perimeter trail for joggers and dog walkers, with dog bag stations provided.
13. Hallenborg Ice Pavilion
This rink is attached to Billerica Memorial High School, and is in use from late April to mid-May, hosting classes, practice and games/meets for school hockey and figure skating teams, but also for the likes of the Eastern Mass Senators and the New England Bulldogs.
Unlike many facilities of this size, the Hallenborg Ice Pavilion has heated locker rooms and a comfortable environment for spectators.
Look out for the public skate sessions, which are completely free, taking place in an hour slot every Sunday, normally from the beginning of October to mid April.
14. Yankee Doodle Homecoming
Billerica is the birthplace of one Thomas Ditson (b. 1741), who is believed to have been the subject of a verse in the nursery rhyme, Yankee Doodle.
He is known to have been tarred and feathered by British forces in 1775 after attempting to purchase a firearm in Boston.
For more than three decades, Billerica has celebrated its place in American Revolutionary history with a day of festivities in September.
As well as a Colonial Minuteman Encampment, you can catch historical demonstrations, a parade, food vendors, crafters, marching bands, fun contests, sports events and tons of activities for children.
15. Billerica Holiday Festival
Inaugurated in 1998, this annual festival imbues the holiday season in Billerica with extra enchantment and fun. The Billerica Holiday Festival is hotly anticipated throughout the year, and is based at the town common.
The big event here is the Tree Lighting ceremony, before which there are several hours of free games, activities and entertainment, as well as free refreshments provided by The First Parish Church.
Over the next few weeks, the common and surrounding areas are illuminated by more than four miles of LED lights, and there’s much more going on throughout the season, including an annual reception before Thanksgiving and free pictures with Santa around mid-December.