Named after Worcester in the United Kingdom, this is Massachusetts second largest city (after Boston) with a population of approximately 182,000, as of 2010. Due to its central location, Worcester is actually known as the “Heart of the Commonwealth” and is popular for being a busy but friendly city, close enough to Boston to be able to take advantage of the famous city’s offerings but small enough to inject it’s own personality.
With Worcester’s large influx of students within its outlying dozen colleges, there is always something of cultural influence to enjoy, such as concerts, theaters, galleries, museums (some world renowned) and an abundance of festivals, ethnic restaurants and shops. Where to start? Let’s explore the best things to do in Worcester!
1. Art Museum
The Worcester Art Museum is home to more than 35,000 works of art which date from antiquity to the present day. Cultures from all over the world are represented throughout the various exhibitions, with the collections showcasing some of the best artists and examples of each genre. A particular favorite of the museum is the silver collection by Paul Revere, as well as the armor gallery and the stunning mosaic display situated on the Renaissance Court floor. There is a well stocked gift shop as well as a comfortable café serving hot and cold refreshments.
2. The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts
The elegant Hanover Theatre was originally built in 1904 and named the Franklin Square Theatre, putting on everything from burlesque shows, headline acts, Broadway touring shows and silent films. In 1912, the theatre changed ownership with vaudeville magnate Sylvester Poli purchasing, remodeling and, in 1926, adding a beautiful two story lobby together with marbleized columns, mirrored walls, glistening chandelier and lavish grand staircase. A few further changes of ownerships later, the theatre today is known as the Hanover Theatre for Performing Arts and can hold up to 2300 patrons. There are lots of shows for the whole family to enjoy from the theatre’s comfortable seats and terrific acoustics.
3. Mechanics Hall
Originally built in 1857 by the Mechanics Association to help their members develop manufacturing skills and to learn about the running of milling machinery, Mechanics Hall was revived in 1977 and made into a concert and performing arts venue which is now ranked as one of North America’s top four concert halls! Its style is now Renaissance Revival with the building’s elegant rooms set up to host all manner of events such as weddings and galas, as well as concerts. You will certainly feel as if you have stepped back in time as you peruse the wonderful portraits featured all around the building. Often compared to New York’s Carnegie Hall for its stunning acoustics, this is definitely worth a family visit.
4. American Antiquarian Society
If you and your family are interested in historical printed material and fascinating information about America prior to 1876, you won’t be disappointed after a visit to the American Antiquarian Society! The AAS is home to over three million books, newspapers, manuscripts, periodicals and graphic arts materials, some of which include books that were printed before 1820. One of its most famous exhibits is a copy of the very first book printed in America, the Bay Psalm Book. If that isn’t enough, there are also digital collections available, one of which includes “A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1788–1824.” There is an amazing amount to see, read and learn in this gorgeous building as well as being able to enjoy a free tour!
5. Crompton Collective
For all the shoppers, browsers or simply observers of the family, Crompton Collective is a wonderful mixture of boutique market meeting antiquities, art and fresh produce that will delight one and all! The venue was designed to acknowledge and celebrate the city’s local independent makers and there are absolutely loads of treasures to be had, from antique tea cups to any number of handmade crafts and pretty clothing. You can drop into the Canal District Farmers Market to pick up some culinary goodies, housed within the same building, and when you’re ready to take the weight off, drop by the Birch Tree Bread Company for some tasty refreshments. A fun outing for all the family.
6. Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Dedicated in June 2002, the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built to honor not only the Massachusetts residents who had given their lives in Vietnam but also all the Commonwealth members who had served their country between 1955 and 1975. Made up of four acres of lovingly tended flowers and trees, there is also a pond, and plenty of benches on which to sit and reflect in these very peaceful surrounds. At the entrance etched in granite are the texts of 13 letters written home by servicemen and at the exit, the names of those who had died, carved alphabetically. Within the complex is the Vietnam War Dog Memorial, specifically honoring the sacrifice and service of 4,000 dogs.
7. Worcester Historical Museum
Founded in 1875, the Worcester Historical Museum holds a treasure trove of thousands of documents dedicated solely to local history. The museum is run by a historian who is a local himself, and who oversees the correct and descriptive tagging of all the documents housed neatly within the museum. It is the only institution devoted entirely to local history and artifacts and would be of special interest if you are part of the neighborhood already! There is a very good gift shop that has some fascinating and unique books about the history of the area.
8. Wormtown Brewery
This popular brewery actually started off as an ice cream shop, eventually making it into its own and is now well known to its locals for its popular beer brands, namely
Seven Hills Session Pale Ale, Be Hoppy, Worcester’s Bravest Wit and Turtle Boy Blue to mention just a few! Officially opened on March 17, 2010 the brewery has since been awarded many medals and is an attraction for both locals and visitors wanting to spend some time in a fun and friendly environment, supping delicious beer and enjoying good background music. The bar staff are known for their friendliness and efficiency, so why not treat the adults to an afternoon or evening of fun!
9. Central Rock Climbing Center
For a healthy, fun experience for the entire family, drop into the Central Rock Climbing Centre for a day of rock climbing enjoyment! Founded in 2009, the Gym provides everyone with world class indoor climbing, community and fitness opportunities through its state of the art and cutting edge fitness equipment. If climbing isn’t quite your thing, there are also yoga classes and various other items of gym equipment to enjoy. Most importantly, the staff are very experienced and patient with both its new and regular patrons!
10. Elm Park
Elm Park was created as long ago as 1854 (with an on site plaque claiming it to be the country’s first public park!). Sadly throughout the years the park had suffered neglect and wear and tear, until its recent $4 million renovation, transforming it into a showpiece park. Elm Park is now the proud owner of well groomed pathways, shiny new swings, slides and other child friendly attractions. Best of all the new bridge designed by high school and college students is now handicapped friendly. Bring the family to relax and have fun!
11. The Green Hill Park Farm
Located within Green Hill Park is this lovely little zoo that is open to the public and free of charge. It is the perfect outing for the little members of the family who are interested in animals, as the farm is home to chickens, ducks, peacocks, sheep, goats, pigs and even llamas. The animals are very well cared for and housed in such a way that enables them to interact or not, at their own discretion. The pathways are handicap accessible too, and there are pretty flowers bordering the walks.
12. Bancroft Tower
The Bancroft Tower, listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1980, was erected by philanthropist Stephen Salisbury in memory of his friend George Bancroft, founder of the Annapolis naval academy and secretary of the navy. This neo-medieval fantasy building is 56 foot high and built of natural stone, and looks exactly like a miniature feudal castle with a great aspect. The Tower is situated in a quiet neighborhood and has a very peaceful air to it.
Situated in an urban oasis, the EcoTarium is an exceptional indoor and outdoor museum. From walking through tree tops to meeting wildlife, meandering through nature trails and taking an exciting galactic journey at the digital planetarium, there is something here to engage the whole family. A lot of the exhibits are based on learning in a fun way with each display delivering a strong understanding of its message. Full of surprises about the world we live in, from the hurricane windstorm display to so much more, this is a wonderful venue for the whole family to enjoy and learn from.
14. Salisbury Mansion
Salisbury Mansion was built in 1772 and remains Worcester’s sole historic house museum. It was constructed as a combination house and store, but reverted to being solely living quarters in 1820. It has seen many changes over the decades, including rooming house, gentleman’s club until finally fully restored to reflect the time when it was lived in by Elizabeth Tuckerman Salisbury, whose husband Stephen Salisbury had laid the original foundations. It is now considered one of the best documented historic house museums in New England offering informative walking tours throughout the building. An interesting visit for the whole family and one in which to learn of times past!
15. Green Hill Park
Green Hill Park is the largest public park in Worcester, covering over 480 acres. Besides being home to the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it also contains handball courts, two ponds, a playground, a little league field, skateboarding area and a zoo. There are also great paths to walk, bike, and hike as well and, being on top of one of Worcester’s seven main hills, makes for a good work out for all the family! When you’re ready to relax and take it easy, stop by one of the many picnic tables available.
16. Tuckerman Hall
Home to the splendid Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra, Tuckerman Hall was designed in neoclassical style in 1902 by Josephine Wright Chapman who was one of America’s first female architects. In 1999 the building was beautifully renovated and restored, now offering outstanding acoustics in an intimate setting, and has the capacity of seating 521 for concerts as well as other comfortable gatherings such as weddings, corporate dinners and a variety of social occasions. Tuckerman Hall was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and well worth a visit while you are in town.
17. Korean War Memorial
One of the first things you will notice as you enter the Memorial is the polished black granite wall inscribed with the names of the soldiers who served in the Korean war, including the 191 young soldiers from Worcester County who had sacrificed their lives there. Dotted around are bronze statues of an American GI and a Korean child, representing the 100,000 orphans that had been saved by the soldiers during and after the war. There is also the recently constructed Walkway of Honor situated in a peaceful tree lined setting, which now includes the names of the Massachusetts’ fallen war heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf, as well as the six American news correspondents who died in Pakistan and Iraq.
18. Fitton Field
Primarily used for College of the Holy Cross sports activities, this baseball stadium has been host to not only minor league baseball and football games, but is also the current home of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League Worcester Bravehearts as well as home field for the Can-Am League Worcester Tornedoes.
Opened in 1924 and named after Reverend James Fitton, it’s irregularly shaped three-sided horseshoe grounds situated on the edge of the campus have seen some wonderful moments, both in sporting and community events! Bring your family to enjoy a fun and free day out.
19. Union Station
Built in 1911 by the New York Central Railroad to serve Providence and Worcester Railroad, Boston and Albany railroad Main Line and many other local destinations, Union Station was the heyday of its time, though when passenger service ended in 1974, sadly fell into a state of despair. However, in 2000, Worcester Redevelopment Authority acquired and renovated it at a cost of $32 million with further modifications a few years later.
The beautiful renovations are certainly worth visiting, where you will be able to admire the original elliptical stained glass ceilings, mahogany wood trim and stunning marble columns in the “Grand Hall”. There are two restaurants to enjoy too, the 1920’s gangster themed Luciano’s Cotton Club as well as a fast food diner.
20. Worcester Center for Crafts
Founded in 1856 by the Worcester Employment Society, the Worcester Center had originally been built to provide women with the skills they needed to create and market handicrafts and is still going to this day as a non profit and independent community based arts organization. If you’re a fan of ceramics and glass items you will certainly enjoy a visit to the center. If you and your family are in town over Thanksgiving, you’re in for a treat as every year the Center hosts a fair, in which you can buy fabulous items for both adults and kids; handmade toys, pretty jewelry and hand turned and carved pottery, wooden and glass pieces. Not to be missed!
21. The Sprinkler Factory
The Sprinkler Factory is a treasure trove of exciting exhibits and perfectly in tune for the family who love to learn about the inventions we all take for granted these days! The Factory is approximately 3000 sq ft of exhibition area and is home to sculptures, wall art, instillations and artist studios used for print making, glass, ceramics, jewelry and demonstrations, as well as showcasing monthly displays.
And if you’re curious about the name; Howard G. Freeman, while employed at Rockwood Sprinkler Factory, is famed for inventing the hose nozzle and water fog nozzle, used to this day for basis crash rescue operations and other situations. Entrance to the Factory is free.
If you’re looking to spend some creative time with the family, Clayground is an excellent option! ‘Paint your own pottery’ type classes are held at here, offering all sorts of objects to suit every budget and style. You can enjoy getting creative from a wide choice of pottery pieces such as figurines, cups and plates plus a variety of over 70 paint colors to choose from. Clayground also have on site kilns in which to bake the family masterpieces and will be sent on to your homes after the drying out period. The owners are helpful and always ready to guide and give advice.
23. Newton Hill Disc Golf
For a fun time for all the family, why not drop by Newton Hill Disc Golf? Disc golf (also known as Frisbee golf) is a game enjoyed by a variety of people of mixed ages and skills, is inexpensive and physically accessible for most athletic ranges. The Newton Hill course is well designed, clean and with plenty of elevation; steep enough to provide a bit of a workout but still very manageable! This offers lots of free entertainment for all the family with a chance to show off your skills – but don’t forget to bring your own discs!
24. Southwest Asia War Memorial
Built by the Desert Calm Committee in 1993, the Southwest Asia War Memorial is situated in a quiet location in Worcester Common and is the official State monument for the Veterans of the Southwest Asia War. Constructed in memory of those who had given their lives in the Desert Shield/Desert Storm conflict and one of the few of its kind, the tribute is made up of a larger standing monument and a lower tablet, bearing the words, “The Official State Monument for Veterans of the Southwest Asia War” On the back, nine names are listed under the title “Honor Roll”.
25. Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center (FDR Center)
(Appears to be closed)
To gain a real insight into the life and times of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) this is a definite must see. Dedicated to his life, the Museum is home to the world’s largest private collection of FDR material. With everything from his wife Eleanor’s Bloomingdale charge card to the President’s monthly pay check dated Oct 30, 1943 in the amount of $5,020.80, the Museum offers an amazing window into the great man’s life. The entire collection actually belongs to only one person, Joseph J. Plaud, a clinical psychologist who was forever collecting everything relating to FDR, however small. An interesting visit for everybody.