15 Best Things to Do in Ipswich (MA)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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On the North Shore, this wonderfully preserved town has more surviving First Period houses than any other community in the United States.

There are some 60 houses in Ipswich that were built before 1725, and several are open to the public as historic house museums and restaurants.

More recent is the Crane Estate, an extraordinary coastal property where an industrialist constructed his luxurious country estate in the early 20th century.

You can tour the house and gardens at Castle Hill, while the beach and accompanying reservation are nothing short of spectacular.

1. Castle Hill on the Crane Estate

Castle Hill on the Crane EstateSource: Terry Kelly / shutterstock
Castle Hill on the Crane Estate

In the early 20th century Chicao industrialist Richard Teller Crane, Jr. built himself a lavish country estate on a waterfront drumlin framed by the sea and salt marsh.

Deeded by Crane and his wife to the Trustees of Reservations, these 2,000+ acres feature grounds landscaped by the Olmsted Brothers, a magnificent beachfront, dunes and enormous stands of pitch pines.

Cresting Castle Hill is a 59-room Jacobean-style mansion, with a clear view out to Ipswich Bay along the epic, rolling Grande Allée.

You can take an informative guided tour of the Great House and take your time soaking up the opulence of the Italian Garden and Rose Garden.

In the summer, the gardens become the elegant venue for an evening concert series on Thursdays.

2. Crane Beach

Crane BeachSource: Monika Salvan / shutterstock
Crane Beach

On the shore of the Crane Estate is one of the best beaches in the Northeast. Crane Beach is four miles long and hemmed by majestic dunes and maritime pitch pine forest.

When the tide goes out there’s a vast field of sandbars, framing lagoon-like pools of warm water in the summer.

The scenery is also breathtaking, and on the north side of Ipswich Bay you can make out the sandy shores of Plum Island. Crane Beach is a nesting site for the piping plover, a shorebird that was almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century.

Their nesting areas are marked by fences and space with organic washed-up debris known as The Wrack.

3. Downtown Ipswich

Downtown IpswichSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
Downtown Ipswich

One of the best ways to experience Ipswich is on foot, ambling around the historic center and along the banks of the Ipswich River where there’s a trail leading past the town hall.

This walk could take a while, as four historic districts meet in the heart of the town. These are Meetinghouse Green, South Green, High Street and the East End, all loaded with residential, public or commercial architecture from the 1600s to the 1800s.

The footprint of these neighborhoods has changed little in centuries, and if you happen to look at historic photos at the Ipswich Museum you may be shocked by how little the buildings have changed.

The place to begin a tour is Meetinghouse Green, where Town Hill was Ipswich’s earliest core in the 1630s.

4. Ipswich Museum

Whipple House, Ipswich MuseumSource: Elizabeth B. Thomsen / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
Whipple House, Ipswich Museum

Just off the town’s South Green, the Ipswich Museum maintains three historic houses that are open for tours during the summer season. This organization dates back to 1890, when it was founded as the Ipswich Historical Society.

The museum’s inventory, on show in the two main houses (Heard House and Whipple House), includes the largest single collection of works by Ipswich-born landscape painter Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922).

On the north side of S Main St stands the Heard House, built in the Federal style at the turn of the 19th century.

This grand 2 ½ story mansion has 35 rooms and 18 fireplaces, and is adorned with period furniture, decorative arts and costume.

To the south, the Whipple House is from 1677 and was once home to one of the richest men in the town, and later became one of the first historic house museums in the country when it was restored and opened to the public in the 1890s.

Close by, the Alexander Knight house is a rare example of a modest dwelling from the mid-17th century.

5. Clam Box of Ipswich

Clam Box of IpswichSource: Goosefriend / Flickr | CC BY
Clam Box of Ipswich

Ipswich’s most iconic restaurant is a New England seafood shack that has been a local landmark since 1935.

Generations of visitors have treated themselves to fresh local seafood at the Clam Box of Ipswich, and this counter-serve eatery’s fame has been spread by the likes of the Food Network and Yankee Magazine.

The building is a minor work of art too, as an inverted trapezoid evoking an opened to-go container, and designed by the founder, Richard J. Greenleaf Jr.

His brother was an Ipswich-based shellfish dealer who gave him first dibs on his clams. Some 90 years later, there are still lines for the fried clams in a signature crispy batter, and other menu picks include the onion rings, lobster roll, fried haddock and fried scallops.

6. Wolf Hollow

Gray WolfSource: AB Photographie / shutterstock
Gray Wolf

On weekends in Ipswich you see a pack of gray wolves in the semi-wild, at a sanctuary run by the North American Wolf Foundation.

Established in the late 1980s, Wolf Hollow was begun with a pack of five pups donated by conservation facilities around the country, and is engaged in long-term campaigns to safeguard the gray wolf and its natural habitat.

On a pre-booked visit you can observe the hierarchy of a wolf pack, find out about the biology of wolves, and learn about history of human and wolf interaction, and the challenges faced by conservation efforts into the future.

7. Hall-Haskell House

Hall-Haskell HouseSource: Bex.Walton / Flickr | CC BY
Hall-Haskell House

Close to the Ipswich Museum on Middle Green, a good place to start your walking tour of the center is this pretty Federal style house, built in 1820.

Often called the Little Red House, the Hall-Haskell House, was owned by a former mariner, who lived on the upper floor and ran a general store with his wife below.

By the 1980s the building was in danger of collapsing, when it was bought by the town and restored over several years into the 1990s.

Now the Hall-Haskell House is a visitor center, open in the summer, for historical snippets, brochures, advice on everything Ipswich has to offer, and displays of art produced in the town.

8. Willowdale State Forest

Mountain BikingSource: Real Sports Photos / shutterstock
Mountain Biking

A lot of western Ipswich is composed of open public land, primed for outdoor recreation. Spanning several towns and covering some of Ipswich is the Willowdale State Forest, which encompasses the beautiful 100-acre Hood Pond, a destination for fishing and canoeing.

This can be found to the west of Route 1, while on the east side is a massive wooded area criss-crossed by fire roads and singletrack trails for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing in winter.

This is where the Bay Circuit Trail crosses Ipswich on its 230-mile route from neighboring Newburyport to Duxbury.

9. Appleton Farms

Appleton FarmsSource: John Blottman / shutterstock
Appleton Farms

Owned by the Trustees of Reservations, the history of Appleton Farms can be traced back to a land grant to Samuel Appleton in 1638, making it one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the state.

The land passed through nine generations of the Appleton family until it was gifted to the Trustees by Francis R. Appleton, Jr. and his wife Joan Mary Egleston in the 20th century.

Branching out from the Old House, the six miles of trails at Appleton Farms take you past rolling pasture grazed by dairy cows.

There’s a network of centuries-old stone walls, a serene picnic area, and a little farm store selling eggs, meat and fresh produce from this and other Trustees farms.

10. Ipswich Ale Brewery

Ipswich Ale BrewerySource: Ipswich Ale Brewery / Facebook
Ipswich Ale Brewery

Predating the craft beer craze, Ipswich Ale Brewery has been making quality ales and lagers since 1991, earning a stellar reputation across New England.

In 2016 the brewery opened its on-site restaurant/taproom, the Ipwich Ale Brewer’s Table, which has a diverse menu, ranging from time-honored pub fare to New American, along with 15 tap lines.

If you’re not yet acquainted with Ipswich Ale Brewery’s beers, a few of the essentials are the Original Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout, India Pale Ale, Celia Saison, and the Route 101 West Coast Style IPA.

You can order a flight for a better cross-section, and some favorite beer-friendly bites include the patty melt and the poutine.

11. Marini Farm Stand

Corn MazeSource: Giedrius Akelis / shutterstock
Corn Maze

This third generation farm in Ipswich’s interior is adored for its excellent fresh produce, but shines for several other reasons as well.

From spring you can swing by the greenhouses for perennials, annuals, herbs, vegetable plants and hanging plants.

The farm stand is open from early summer, with an ever-changing bounty of fruits and vegetables, along with delectable baked goods and specialty items.

Then in fall there’s family fun at the corn maze, which attracts visitors from all over New England. Later things take on a festive flavor, and you can shop for balsam and fraser firs, as well as adorable handmade gifts and decorations.

12. Sandy Point State Reservation

Sandy Point State ReservationSource: Terry Kelly / shutterstock
Sandy Point State Reservation

Despite being a long drive, the beach-trimmed southern tip of Plum Island falls within Ipswich’s boundaries.

This 11-mile barrier island is named for the beach plum shrubs growing on its dunes. As well as being on the migratory routes of numerous birds, the island is an important nesting site for piping plovers.

You can view these shorebirds at the Sandy Point State Reservation, along with a variety of seabirds like least terns.

The scenery is another great reason to make the trip—the panoramas are nothing short of magical at sunset, and you can look across Ipswich Bay from a fresh perspective here.

When the tide goes out you’ll be surprised just how far you can walk, and there’s an endless system of tidal pools to discover.

13. Russell Orchards

Russell OrchardsSource: Micha Weber / shutterstock
Russell Orchards

Dating back to 1920, this family-run farm welcomes you to pick your own fruit in summer and fall.

Russell Orchards grows strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants, jostaberries, and apples, and the pick-your-own season typically lasts from June to mid-October when the last of the apples are ready.

There’s much more awaiting you at the farm, including a winery with a tasting room in the main barn, and a bakery at the store, making apple cider donuts, fruit tarts and pies using fruit straight from the orchards.

As well as seasonal produce, the farm store has fresh pressed cider, eggs, honey, ice cream, and a wealth of gourmet goodies from area farms and makers.

14. 1640 Hart House

DiningSource: TnkImages / shutterstock

One of Ipwich’s contingent of 17th-century houses is open to the public as a tavern serving New American cuisine. At 51 Linebrook Road, the Hart House is a little younger than the name suggests, but not by much.

A recent dendrochronological survey has dated the oldest portions of this building to the late 1670s, and on the menu you can read about the Hart family and the building’s subsequent owners over the last 350 years.

Entrees include a rosemary and garlic rack of lamb, bouillabaisse, sesame-crusted tuna, pumpkin sage ravioli, New England pot roast, fish & chips, and the Hart House burger.

15. 1634 Meadery

1634 MeaderySource: 1634 Meadery / Facebook
1634 Meadery

There’s a lot to love about this craft operation, making traditional honey wine in small batches.

First off, 1634 Meadery supports the local economy, sourcing its honey, fruit and other ingredients from nearby farms and businesses.

More than a dozen meads are available at the tasting room, on a spectrum from dry to sweet. A few standouts when we wrote this article were Serendipity (ginger pear), Blueberry Dream, Craneberry (cranberry), and Orange Elation (orange blossom honey).

Chatting with the friendly staff, you’ll learn a lot about the process and ingredients, while tours are available on request.


15 Best Things to Do in Ipswich (MA):

  • Castle Hill on the Crane Estate
  • Crane Beach
  • Downtown Ipswich
  • Ipswich Museum
  • Clam Box of Ipswich
  • Wolf Hollow
  • Hall-Haskell House
  • Willowdale State Forest
  • Appleton Farms
  • Ipswich Ale Brewery
  • Marini Farm Stand
  • Sandy Point State Reservation
  • Russell Orchards
  • 1640 Hart House
  • 1634 Meadery