1 Northampton- Introduction

Photo by Mary Wiseman

Situated in the scenic Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts (less than 2 hours west of Boston and 3 hours north of New York City) Northampton is bordered by the Holyoke Mountain range and the Connecticut River. Northampton has the feel and picturesque charm of a typical New England city with sophisticated and somewhat quirky twists.

Design devotees will enjoy working their way through town starting down on Market Street with the mix of antiquarian establishments. Moving toward the heart of downtown I suggest you visit the boutiques, and artisan shops closer to the heart of Northampton.  When visiting Northampton snoop the various bookstores for rare finds, stroll through antique and vintage clothing shops, ponder the various artist collections at several galleries and boutiques sprinkled throughout the city, and book tickets to any number of musical events and happenings.

You might even decide to jump on a bike for a spin through the valley’s Bike Rail Trail or walk along the path to see the sights. The adventurous might want to hike the nearby mountains, cross-country ski, canoe or kayak down the Connecticut River and maybe even float aloft the valley in a hot-air balloon ride.

Art, music, theater, and dance have always played a significant role here in Northampton. An eclectic selection of musicians, from around the world, frequent the Academy of Music, the Calvin Theater, and the Iron Horse and Pearl Street Music Halls. Twice annually [Spring and Autumn] The Paradise City Arts Festival comes to town and showcases the works of some of America’s most prominent craftspeople and artists. Check the Northampton Center for the Arts schedule to find performance dates for theatre and dance.  If you happen to be here for New Year’s Eve, Northampton celebrates “First Night,” a cornucopia of entertainment occurring simultaneously at locations throughout the entire city.

On any second Friday [of each month, year-round, rain or shine] prepare to explore Northampton’s galleries and studios during “Arts Night Out”.  Plan to stroll along enjoying the various exhibitions and meeting the artists.  Festivities usually begin around 5pm.   During late spring and summer Northampton is home to several Farmer’s markets: Saturday mornings on Gothic Street and Tuesday afternoons behind Thorne’s Marketplace.

Boosting a population hovering near 30,000 Northampton is also home to Smith College, one of five large colleges and universities located in the Pioneer Valley region. The influx of academic energy brings a youthful, cosmopolitan flavor to the city, which also means the area swells with parents and families during both Parent’s Weekend and Graduation. Northampton has been proudly voted one of the top 25 art destinations, one of the best 100 places to live and one of the top 25 places to retire in the USA to name a few.

Bordering Northampton, to the northwest, is the small town of Florence, accessible by foot or wheels.  I have included a couple of my favorite Florence venues as well. It is all here in Northampton. Be prepared to walk, bike, shop, take in the arts, music, culture, and especially to eat. In fact, making decisions where to nosh might just be your biggest challenge.