Along the shores of Massachusetts, Plymouth has carefully preserved early American history and has managed to maintain its storied past in a way that welcomes anyone who wants to get a closer look for themselves. In “America’s Hometown” you can see the history of the United States of America come alive, and don’t worry, modern amenities like wineries, breweries, and luxury spas can be found too!
If you’re touring the Massachusetts coast, Plymouth is an absolute must-visit; you’ll see why in this list of 10 things to see and do in Plymouth MA!
Visit Pilgrim Memorial State Park
Situated on 11 acres, Pilgrim Memorial State Park is home to the storied boulder that is said to have been the actual steppingstone the first Pilgrims used as they stepped on to the shores of Massachusetts, although this can’t technically be proven and was not included in first-hand accounts of the time. The Plymouth Rock on display today is only a part of the original boulder, with the rest having been chipped away over the years by those hoping to carry a piece of this iconic pre-America American history with them.
This lovely waterfront park is also home to the Mayflower II, the actual scale replica of the historic vessel that carried the Pilgrims across the sea in 1620. You can board and see for yourself how the Pilgrims sailed in search of a better life on this surprisingly small ship. A visit to Pilgrim Memorial State Park will give a peek into both the voyage and the arrival that these early settlers experienced in their search for the “New World.”
Stroll through Brewster Gardens
Beautiful Brewster Gardens is located in the center of Plymouth, with the Town Brook running down the middle. The Pilgrims settled in Plymouth in part due to this picturesque brook; the brook provided them with fresh water, and the reeds that grew alongside the brook were used for thatching roofs.
Today Brewster Gardens is lovingly maintained as a gorgeous green space for the community as well as a place for historical reflection, with sculptures and plaques present throughout the park.
Adjacent to the park is Leyden Street, the very first street the Pilgrims built on, and lovingly referred to as The First Street in America. It is an easy and quick walk to stroll up the road and see for yourself!
Immerse yourself in Plimoth Plantation
The living history museum of Plimoth Plantation lets you step back in time and see the experience of both the early English settlers and the Native Wampanoag during this time in history. The English role-playing actors are very well-educated on the day-to-day lives of both standard Plymouth life and also the real historical characters they play, and questions are not only welcomed but encouraged!
The Wampanoag Homesite is staffed not by role-playing actors, but by Native People, both from Wampanoag and other Native Nations that recreate the Native experience of the time by wearing historically accurate clothing and modeling how Native people lived when the English settlers arrived. They are available to share information about the culture and history of the indigenous people both past and present and generously welcome questions. A visit to Plimoth Plantation is typically included in any essential Massachusetts travel guide!
Pay your Respects at Burial Hill
This hill has been where residents of Plymouth were laid to rest since the 1620s, and Burial Hill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Mayflower passengers are buried here and the earliest grave markers would have been made of wood, but these have not survived the elements and the passage of time, and it is believed that headstones were introduced to Burial Hill in the mid-17th century. The very oldest stone present on Burial Hill today is dated 1681.
A visit to Burial Hill is a visit to both historic and hallowed ground, so be mindful of where you step and keep in mind that as tempting as it may be, touching the centuries-old stones will only cause them to deteriorate quicker, so it’s best to keep hands off.
Enjoy the Flavor of Plymouth at Plymouth Bay Winery
Native grapes and berries are used to create Plymouth Bay Winery’s collection of wines, so you can taste a bit of Plymouth’s history here, too! Plymouth Bay Winery uses these native grapes and berries to make more than just wine, so be sure to check out their wine jelly and wine cooking sauce offerings, as well. There’s plenty of other wine-related goodies available here, too (décor, souvenirs, gift baskets, etc) so be sure to check out the shop before you go.
Not only can you sample the lovingly crafted offerings made with the local bounty (lots of cranberry goodies after the local cranberry harvest!) but you can do it while taking in the spectacular view of Plymouth Harbor and enjoying the crisp, sea breeze, too. Plymouth Bay Winery is a great way to rest and recharge during your visit to America’s Hometown.
See the National Monument to the Forefathers
The largest granite monument in the US, the National Monument to the Forefathers is a definite must-see while in Plymouth. Standing at 81-feet tall, this giant statue sits on a hill, made of 5 smaller statues that each have deep significance, described in inscriptions in the stone.
The Jenney Interpretive Centre offers guided tours that lead to the National Monument to the Forefathers, with the founders and historians of the Jenney being particularly passionate about the founding principles of the Pilgrims that the monument is said to represent.
Visit the Plimoth Grist Mill
Formerly known as the Jenney Grist Mill, the Plimoth Grist Mill is now a part of Plimoth Plantation’s historical representations of life in the Pilgrim era. The actual mill is a reproduction of the mill that originally was built in its spot in 1636, with many parts being salvaged from a mill that was built in the early 1800s.
What’s extra cool about the Plimoth Grist Mill is that it still works! You can watch the corn being milled right before your eyes and then head down to the mill museum shop to buy a bag of this organic, freshly ground cornmeal, in addition to all the other treats being offered. Plus, a selfie with the 14-foot working waterwheel in the front is an excellent souvenir of your visit to Plymouth!
Go to the Jabez Howland House
The Jabez Howland House is the only house remaining in Plymouth that actually had Pilgrims living in it at one time, and it is now a museum on the National Register of Historic Places. The original part of the house is timber-framed, consisting of the porch, hall, and “hall chamber,” and this two-story house is beautifully maintained to show what life looked like in the 17th century.
Filled with period artifacts, you can walk through Jabez Howland and feel the history basically buzzing in its exposed timber beams. Tour guides share a detailed history of both the house and its Pilgrim ancestors. This beautiful home was built in 1667 and is absolutely worth a visit during your trip to Plymouth!
Check out the Pilgrim Hall Museum
The oldest continuously operating public museum in the US, Pilgrim Hall Museum is a must-visit if you are interested in seeing a wide and varied collection of artifacts and documents from the Pilgrims, including items brought over on the Mayflower. The Sparrow-Hawk, the only trans-Atlantic vessel that still exists from the 17th century, is also on display; the remains of this once sea-worthy vessel show how small some of these ships were that braved the voyage across the sea to reach the New World.
The museum is careful to include the Wampanoag in recounting the history of Plymouth and details the relationship between the English settlers and the Native People from the first recorded historical interactions and through the travesty of King Philip’s War.
Get out on the Water!
Whale watching with Captain John Boats is always a great way to get out on the water, and whale watching season typically runs from April through October. Captain John Boats also claims a 99% success rate for whale-spotting on their trips, so they provide a complimentary pass to return and try again if you are in that rare 1% that doesn’t see a whale during your tour!
If you’re not too interested in whale watching, look into taking a cruise on the Pilgrim Belle paddlewheel boat. Captain John Boats offers private charters, Harbor Cruises, and Sunset Cruises; how lovely does a Sunset Cruise around Plymouth Harbor sound, with your favorite people and your favorite beverage from the Pilgrim Belle’s full-service bar?
Plymouth is a great destination for any Massachusetts getaway; whether it’s a romantic escape to Mirbeau Inn and Spa or a cranberry bog tour that pulls you in, you’re sure to have a good time in America’s Hometown. Come for the history and stay to make some of your own!
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Amy is the founder of New England with love. A proud Vermonter, she hopes to share her love of New England and help you find the best adventures in the region. Amy is also blogger/founder at Two Drifters, where she writes alongside her husband about romantic and couples travel, relationships, honeymoons, and more. When not working on websites, Amy is probably reading, cuddling with her husband and cats, & drinking a maple latte.