On the north bank of the Chicopee River, Ludlow is a northeastern suburb of Springfield, incorporated in 1775 but developed at speed as a mill town after the Civil War.
The largest of these was the Ludlow Company, producing jute yarns, twine, and webbing, before finally closing in the 1960s.
That huge mill complex commands the riverbank in Ludlow’s more built-up southern area, while to the north is bucolic countryside sprinkled with farms, rural attractions and the picturesque Ludlow Reservoir, which is open for walking and bicycling.
Ludlow has large Polish and Portuguese communities, noticeable in the dining scene, events like the festival (Festa) for Our Lady of Fatima in September, and a famous love for the sport of soccer.
1. East Street
Starting in the southwest by the Chicopee River, Ludlow’s main artery runs diagonally through the town and connects many of its main landmarks and locally-owned businesses.
Just past the southwest end is the Hubbard Memorial Library in a Romanesque Revival building from 1890. Close by is the town’s most emblematic landmark, the Ludlow Clock Tower (1886), part of the vast Ludlow Mills complex between State Street and the river.
The mills were shut down in the 1960s and are now home to residential developments, small industry and a craft brewery, which we’ll talk about later.
Carry on up East Street and you’ll pass a series of enticing independent spots for coffee, Portuguese cuisine, sushi, baked goods, pizza, ice cream, Chinese and American diner food.
2. Ludlow Reservoir
Almost all of Ludlow’s population is concentrated to the south of the town, and things become pretty secluded at places to the north like this 370-acre body of water.
Ludlow Reservoir dates back to 1877, and is still maintained as a public drinking water supply by the Springfield Water and Sewage Commission.
For this reason, the reservoir isn’t quite the same as a public park, but you can visit to bask in the scenery and enjoy low-impact recreation any day of the week except Wednesday when the site is closed for maintenance.
All water-based activities are out of the question, but there’s a paved trail 3 ¼ miles long up the west side, open for walking, bicycling and simply gazing at the unblemished scenery.
3. Randall’s Farm and Greenhouse
In the same family for more than 60 years, Randall’s Farm and Greenhouse has humble origins as a roadside stand for fruit and eggs.
This gradually developed into a thriving produce and greenhouse business, with a farm store and half-acre greenhouse open all year.
Naturally, spring is when things burst into life at the greenhouse, with a variety of annuals, geraniums, hanging baskets, perennials, herb & vegetable plants, and much more.
Fall at the farm means a corn maze, pumpkin picking, old-fashioned midway games and cider apple donuts.
The store has a traditional post & beam design, and, as well as the best fresh produce, has a bakery and deli, gourmet specialty foods, and a wide range of local beer and wine.
Perhaps the star is Elsie’s Creamery, open until mid-October and serving some 30 flavors of high-quality ice cream, handmade in small batches on site.
4. Lusitano Stadium
As a town with a large Portuguese community, soccer is in Ludlow’s veins. In fact, this place is often called the “Soccer Capital of New England”.
The high school team dominates Western Massachusetts, winning state championships (most recent in 2018) and often ranked among the top 20 programs in the country by the NSCAA.
So one of the essential experiences is to watch a game live, and this can be done at Ludlow Stadium.
That venue dates back to 1918 and is home field for the High School teams. Another important tenant is the amateur Western Mass Pioneers, based here since their foundation in 1998 and playing in USL League Two, in the fourth tier of the American Soccer Pyramid.
A long list of Pioneers have gone on to play pro soccer, and some of the bigger names are GK Bobby Shuttleworth and CB Ryan Malone, who has had a successful career in German soccer.
5. Exit 7 Players
A cultural mainstay for Ludlow, this renowned community theater group was founded in 1984 and performs at the Chestnut Street Theater, in the fine old auditorium at the former Ludlow High School.
For the past four decades Exit 7 Players have put on scores of musicals and classical and contemporary plays, aimed at a broad spectrum of ages and backgrounds.
There are up to five productions each season, and for an idea of the diversity, recent shows have included The Who’s Tommy, Much Ado About Nothing, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Mary Poppins.
6. Lupa Zoo
On 18 acres in Ludlow’s quieter northern portion, this smallish zoo has an interesting story, as a labor of love by Polish immigrant Henry Lupa.
The zoo is run by a not-for-profit organization, claiming to put education and conservation at the core of its values.
There are more than 500 native and exotic animals here, and a few of the residents include alpacas, zebras, mouflons, giraffes, ostriches, emus, serval cats, pot-bellied pigs, deer and nilgai antelopes.
Consult the calendar for upcoming seasonal events, like a spooky Halloween celebration in late October.
7. Iron Duke Brewing
You can venture into Ludlow’s impressive mill complex by the Chicopee River to visit this craft brewery founded in 2010.
The taproom’s location is striking, right on the waterfront at the brick-built Stockhouse 122, constructed as a jute warehouse at the turn of the 20th century.
Open Wednesday to Sunday, Iron Duke Brewing is a small operation, with a dozen beers on tap at one time.
When we made this list, more than a quarter of these were hop-forward IPAs, along with an Oktoberfest-style Märzen, two Porters (Cry Baby, Baby-Maker), two Lagers (Seafoam Cruiser, Generosity), and a Stout (Sinker).
There are new releases by the week, as well as live music shows, trivia nights, and a superb in-house food menu, with the likes of truffle fries, chili lime shrimp skewers and Korean beef tacos.
8. Chicopee Memorial State Park
Curving around the southern corner of Westover Air Reserve Base, this public recreation area encompasses an historic reservoir along Cooley Brook.
The park extends eastwards as far as the Ludlow-Chicopee town line, and you can pick up the trail network from the Ludlow side.
This runs through a riparian corridor for several miles, encircling the Chicopee Reservoir at the park’s south end.
That 25-acre lake is a local magnet for recreation in the summer, with a swimming beach, bathhouse and a series of picnic areas positioned around the scenic south shore.
You can also come for fishing, a few of the species commonly caught in these waters are brown trout, rainbow trout and largemouth bass.
9. Vanished Valley Brewing Co.
Fans of quality beer are in for a treat in Ludlow, as there’s another highly-regarded craft brewery in the town.
Near Randall’s Farm, Vanished Valley Brewing Co. was established in 2016, and has a name inspired by the Quabbin Reservoir, constructed in the 1930s to become the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts.
Half of the 14 taproom pours are IPAs, with notable mentions for the flagship Pomana IPA, with grapefruit and tangerine notes, and the West Coast-style One Last Good Time For All IPA, bursting with citrus and pine, followed up by a refreshing bitterness.
Vanished Valley has a kitchen with a big menu, specializing most of all in small-batch BBQ and wood-fired pizza.
10. Titanic Historical Society Museum
Just across the Chicopee River in Springfield’s Indian Orchard neighborhood is the headquarters of the Titanic Historical Society.
This non-profit organization was founded in 1963, and is dedicated to the preservation of the history of the RMS Titanic, which famously sank in 1912.
The society continues to publish a quarterly magazine, and has hosted conventions featuring survivors of the disaster, and oceanographer Robert Balard who discovered the wreck in 1985.
The society has an exceptional collection of Titanic artifacts, from Lookout Fred Fleet’s depiction of the iceberg to Madeleine Astor’s lifejacket, a 3rd class passenger’s inspection card, luncheon and dinner menus, a railing section, a crow’s nest bell and tons more.
Many of these items are often loaned to prestigious museums and libraries for exhibitions, but there’s always a display at the HQ, Henry’s Jewelry in Indian Orchard.
11. Whitney Park
You can easily walk north from East Street to Ludlow’s main community park, where the town’s recreation department is headquartered.
Whitney Park is home to the John F. Thompson Memorial Swimming Pool, open during the school summer break and complemented by a concession stand.
This space is the venue for a wide range of recreation department programs and events, from an Easter egg hunt to summer camps.
And as for amenities, you’ve got tennis courts, a playground, plentiful green space, picnic tables and a multi use field with bleachers, hosting high school football games during the season..
12. Cold Spring Country Club
You don’t have to be a member to play at this semi-private course, a little way past Ludlow Reservoir in Belchertown.
Rewarding precision over power, the 18-hole course at Cold Spring Country Club was designed by respected golf architect Mary Armstrong, and opened in 2012.
The first thing to note is the landscape of rolling hills, affording inspiring panoramas of Central Massachusetts.
Those slopes come into play on at least half of the holes but most memorably from the elevated tees at #1 (Elevation), with the highest tee box on the course, and #13 (Skyline).
With up to five sets of tees, the course can be played by golfers of all standards, and features five par 5s, seven par 4s and six par 3s.
13. Mainely Drafts – Horse and Carriage
Out in the countryside in the north of Ludlow there’s a local business specializing in carriage and wagon riding experiences pulled by draft horses.
Mainely Drafts has beautiful, not to mention powerful, Belgian and Percheron horses. These can be rented for all kinds of events in the region, from weddings to family-friendly hayrides.
But you can also get in touch to arrange a carriage ride at the company’s farm in Ludlow. Traveling gently through pastoral scenes on Lyon St, this experience normally lasts about an hour, during which you’ll get insights about raising and caring for these unique horse breeds.
14. Ludlow Festa
Ludlow’s Portuguese heritage comes to the forefront every Labor Day weekend, when the Church Our Lady of Fatima holds an annual celebration dedicated to its eponymous saint.
Attracting tens of thousands of people, the Ludlow Festa is a four-day event filled with live performances, fireworks and family fun.
This is a fantastic opportunity to indulge in Portuguese specialties like pastéis de nata (egg custard tarts), and things take on a solemn air on the Sunday with masses (one in Portuguese) and a candlelight procession.
15. Ludlow Community Market
A more recent addition to the town’s events calendar, the Ludlow Community Market (late September) was launched in 2021 and hasn’t looked back.
Hosted by the Ludlow Cultural Council and centered on the gazebo at Memorial Park, this event features dozens of booths for local artisan vendors, other local businesses, and community and civic organizations.
Across two days there’s free live music during the event, as well as lots of activities for youngsters. You can grab something to eat from a lineup of local food trucks, whether you’re in the mood for a lobster roll, hot dog, or sweet treat like cannoli or ice cream.