15 Best Things to Do in Swampscott (MA)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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This North Shore seaside community goes back 400 years, and has had a fishing fleet for all this time.

One of Swampscott’s early residents was Deborah Moody (1586- c. 1659), a Nonconformist who later became the only woman to found a village in colonial America.

In the early 1800s, Swampscott was the place where Ebenezer Thorndike invented the lobster pot, while the flat-bottomed Swampscott dory was developed in the town for lobster fishing.

Later, Swampscott became a desirable resort, which is the origin of the sedate Olmsted Subdivision Historic District.

That neighborhood was drawn up by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, with a town hall that was once the home of inventor Elihu Thomson.

1. Olmsted Subdivision Historic District

Olmsted Subdivision Historic DistrictSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
Olmsted Subdivision Historic District

With Monument Avenue at the base, this swirl of curving residential streets was planned by the famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) in the late 19th century.

The land was purchased by the Swampscott Land trust in 1887, and had previously belonged to one Enoch Reddington Mudge (1812-1881), comprising a piece of the Humphrey estate, going back to the 1630s.

The district is typified by grand houses in a diversity of styles in fashion at the turn of the 20th century, including Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial, Bungalow, and American Foursquare.

With a Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (1883) on Mudge Square at the lower end, Monument Avenue slopes down to the oceanfront, and both the Town Hall lawn and Linscott Park command far-reaching views over Nahant Bay.

2. Elihu Thomson House (Swampscott Town Hall)

Elihu Thomson HouseSource: Elizabeth B. Thomsen / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
Elihu Thomson House

Swampscott’s Town Hall is no ordinary municipal building. This Colonial Revival mansion was built in 1889 for the inventor, Elihu Thomson (1853-1937), credited with several innovations in the field of electrical engineering.

He was co-founder of the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, which later merged with Thomas Edison’s Edison General Electric Company, becoming the General Electric Company.

After Thomson passed, his home was given to Swampscott by his heirs, and has contained town offices since 1944. The spacious lawn here sets the scene for several events, including Summer Concerts by the Sea, and Swamptoberfest in September.

3. Fisherman’s Beach

Fisherman’s BeachSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
Fisherman’s Beach

Possibly the prettiest sight in Swampscott is this crescent-shaped beach, backed by a jumble of houses on a wooded slope.

Anchored in the bay are scores of little boats, many still used for commercial fishing, and there’s a wooden pier shooting out into the bay from the Fish House, with a picturesque view from the tip.

No parking sticker is required for Fisherman’s Beach, which has a lifeguard on duty on weekends, late June to mid-August.

The name comes from the many fishing huts that used to crowd the oceanfront here (more below). In the park next to Fisherman’s Beach you’ll find an English cannon, cast in 1798, captured during the War of 1812 and bought in 1835 by Swampscott fishermen as a fog signal.

4. Swampscott Fish House

Swampscott Fish HouseSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
Swampscott Fish House

In the late 19th century, when Swampscott was coming through as a resort town, the beachfront was lined with hundreds of fisherman’s shanties.

To clear up the shoreline, the town consolidated these structures into one municipally owned fish house.

Still standing next to Fisherman’s Beach, the Swampscott Fish House is the oldest working fish house in the United States and the only one owned by a town.

The building is in the Shingle style, with Colonial Revival details and a hipped roof. At the time of writing there were still around 20 commercial fishermen based in the harbor, while the Fish House has also been home to the Swampscott Yacht Club since 1933.

5. John Humphreys House

John Humphreys HouseSource: Fletcher6 / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
John Humphreys House

In the 1890s, when the Olmsted district was being laid out, this historic house was relocated from Elmwood Road to 99 Paradise Road.

The exact age of the John Humphreys House is disputed. It is purported to date back to the 1630s, purchased by Deborah Moody from John Humphrey (c. 1597–1651) after the first deputy governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company returned to England.

Other analysis places the construction date around 1700. Either way, it’s a well-preserved example of First-period architecture, and the oldest surviving house in the town.

6. Humphrey Street

RestaurantSource: atibody / shutterstock

This road, named for John Humphrey, winds northeastward through Swampscott and into Marblehead.

At the south, between King Beach’s and Fisherman’s Beach there’s a small but sweet downtown area with rows of locally-owned businesses.

Within a five-minute walk are at least ten eateries, whether you’re up for New England-style seafood (Mission on the Bay), New American fare (G Bar & Kitchen), breakfast food (Lincoln’s Landing), pizza (Volo Craft Pizza), or frozen treats (Kell’s Kreme, O-Yo Frozen Yogurt).

Here and there are little boutiques and gift shops, all within a few steps of two beaches.

7. Swampscott Farmers’ Market

Farmers MarketSource: Arina P Habich / shutterstock
Farmers Market

Mid-June through October, the lawn in front of Swampscott Town Hall is home to a well-attended farmers’ market.

This event differs from many by putting an emphasis on locally grown and made foods, with only a handful (maximum 4) art & craft vendors each week.

The goal behind this is to support agriculture in the area, and for shoppers this means an outstanding choice of seasonal fruits and vegetables, from strawberries to pumpkins.

To go with this selection you’ve got fresh roasted coffee, maple syrup, eggs, honey, homemade sauces, baked goods, and a range of prepared foods, from crepes to Chilean specialties.

There are activities for all ages at the market throughout the season, from dance-offs to kite-making.

8. Beach Bluff Park

Beach Bluff ParkSource: Roberta Chadis / Facebook
Beach Bluff Park

On the Swampscott/Marblehead town line there’s a waterfront park on what was once a vacant beach lot.

Beach Bluff Park has been developed since the early 1990s by the Clifton Improvement Association (CIA). Sitting atop the sea wall are plantings of native grasses, navigated via a plank-paved walkway.

The benches have a pristine view, especially if you make it here early in the day for the sunrise.

The henge-like Sun Circle is a mesmerizing piece of public art, aligning with the sun at equinox and the winter and summer solstices. Below, Prescot beach is a small patch of sandy shore that requires a resident parking sticker.

9. Harold A. King Town Forest

HikingSource: Maridav / shutterstock

In the northwestern corner of Swampscott you’ll encounter one of the few large parcels of wooded uplands in the town.

The Harold A. King Town Forest sits on almost 50 rugged acres, on a terminal moraine littered with boulders dropped here at the furthest extent of a glacier at the end of the last Ice Age. The forest is on a steep-ish slope that swoops down to wetland areas.

This land was up for development in the early 1970s, before being acquired for the town by eminent domain due to its natural historical importance as a moraine, and as a beautiful spot for passive recreation.

From the parking lot at the end of Nichols St, the main loop winds through the forest for about a mile.

10. Swampscott Lilac Garden

LilacSource: Ekaterina Bykova / shutterstock

If you’re in town around May, be sure to head to the north end of Monument Avenue where this stunning garden is in bloom.

Planted with some 130 lilac bushes and two trees, the Swampscott Lilac Garden is backdropped by the refined architecture of the Olmsted Subdivision Historic District, and has a little kiosk and a bench so you can pause for a moment.

There are many varieties of lilacs here, in various shades of purple and pink, blooming early and late. Some are highly fragrant and others have no scent at all.

11. King’s Beach

King’s BeachSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
King’s Beach

The westernmost of Swampscott’s beaches crosses over into Lynn. Not so much a place for swimming or spending much time on the sand, King’s Beach shines because it’s part of Lynn Shore Drive.

Here you’re at the north end of a spectacular esplanade, with a wide walkway and benches every few feet. The views over Nahant Bay are a delight, especially if you come early in the day.

If you want, there’s nothing to stop you walking from King’s Beach, all the way to the southern end of Nahant Beach, several miles away, without ever having to deal with road traffic.

12. Marblehead – Salem Rail Trail

CyclingSource: AStolnik / Shutterstock

In the east of Swampscott you can get onto a rail trail that leads to the historic centers of two of Massachusetts’ most storied towns.

At 4.5 miles long, the Marblehead – Salem Rail Trail has two branches: One running northeast from Swampscott to the Marblehead center, and the other from Marblehead center to Salem.

Previously on the Boston & Maine Railroad, some of the corridor for the trail goes all the way back to the Eastern Railroad in the 1830s, while the Swampscott Branch was laid down in 1873 to provide a direct line between Marblehead and Boston.

You can start your adventure at Bradlee Avenue in Swampscott, traveling through leafy residential neighborhoods to downtown Marblehead.

13. Mary Baker Eddy Historic House

Mary Baker Eddy Historic HouseSource: Daderot at en.wikipedia / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
Mary Baker Eddy Historic House

Another figure with historical ties to Swampscott is Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who established the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879.

Swampscott is especially important in her story, as she was living here when she suffered a fall on icy sidewalk in Lynn in 1866.

According to contemporary accounts, this left her in a critical condition, and shaped her outlook to the extent that she would later refer to her house in Swampscott (23 Paradise Road) as the birthplace of Christian Science.

The house is owned by the Longyear Museum, and the rooms on the upper floor have been restored in the style of the 19th century when she boarded here. You can visit Thursday to Sunday, May through October, and the rest of the year by appointment.

14. Castle Creek Adventure Land

Mini GolfSource: Andrey Armyagov / shutterstock
Mini Golf

With several attractions on one site, this family entertainment center is on the town line, just over in Salem.

The big draw at Castle Creek Adventure Land is the karting track, with single and double-seated electric karts, and one ride giving you up to eight laps.

There’s also an 18-hole mini golf course, with waterfalls, bridges, caves, fountains and a fairytale castle, as well as lighting, so you can play after sunset.

Serious golfers meanwhile can work on their swing at the 40-stall, fully lighted driving range, with several covered and heated tees that are open all year round.

Finally, Castle Creek has an ice cream stand serving more than 50 different flavors of award-winning Richardson’s Ice Cream, made in Middleton, MA.

15. Swampscott Arts and Craft Festival

Live MusicSource: mRGB / shutterstock
Live Music

On the second weekend in September, Linscott Park hosts a juried craft festival that has been a fixture of the calendar for more than a decade. Each year there are around 80 hand-picked artisans selling their wares.

The variety of skills on display is extraordinary, running the gamut from ceramics to turned wood, oil painting, paper craft, basketry, metal sculpture, quilts, photography, watercolors, leatherwork, and much more than we can possibly list here.

Live music is part of the fun of this free festival, and there’s always great food on hand.


15 Best Things to Do in Swampscott (MA):

  • Olmsted Subdivision Historic District
  • Elihu Thomson House (Swampscott Town Hall)
  • Fisherman’s Beach
  • Swampscott Fish House
  • John Humphreys House
  • Humphrey Street
  • Swampscott Farmers’ Market
  • Beach Bluff Park
  • Harold A. King Town Forest
  • Swampscott Lilac Garden
  • King’s Beach
  • Marblehead - Salem Rail Trail
  • Mary Baker Eddy Historic House
  • Castle Creek Adventure Land
  • Swampscott Arts and Craft Festival