North Adams is a small city in the Berkshires brimming with art and culture. Yes, you will find pastoral landscapes and rolling hills dappled with colorful autumn leaves that this corner of New England is famous for, but it’s the town’s urban edge that should make city folk feel right at home.
North Adams was once a thriving manufacturing center but the 20th century brought factory closures and major economic setbacks. Many industrial New England towns never recovered but North Adams has managed to transform what could have been ruin into unparalleled visual riches, making it a stellar weekend getaway to the Berkshires.
There’s a cohesive and cooperative sentiment in North Adams that is just plain nice to be surrounded by. Artists, merchants, hoteliers and restaurant owners understand that what lifts one up will eventually lift others.
If you like your country setting served with a side order of city style, the “Brooklyn in the Berkshires” vibe should suit you just fine.
Things to Do in North Adams
Mass MoCA is one of the most evocative centers of cutting-edge art in the world. Housed in the former Sprague Electric factory with over 250,000 square feet of gallery space, it’s the largest museum of contemporary art and performance in America. The sprawling size and soaring, light-filled spaces allow for liberating, large-scale installations that would be impossible to realize in a conventional sized museum.
Emerging artists are both nurtured and promoted but top international stars of the art world, including James Turrell, Sol LeWitt and Joseph Beuys, are also represented.
With over 75 performances staged on the indoor-outdoor grounds annually, the performing arts are an essential part of the MASS MoCA experience.
A visit to Mass MoCA is one of the top things to do in North Adams, and an integral part of the art scene in the Berkshires region. There’s so much to experience you’ll need to return as it’s virtually impossible to experience it all in one shot.
North Adams is a very walkable town. In fact, walking is the best way to glimpse its rich collection of public art.
In this city, mural art is a catalyst, attracting people to the downtown shops, restaurants and attractions. Talented artists vie for the chance to create bold and vibrant works of pop-up art, murals and sidewalk paintings.
Get Outdoors in the Berkshires
The Cascades Trail is an easy riverside walk, a serene gem located just a few minutes from downtown. Walk to Marion Ave. to find the well-marked trailhead.
The flat walk takes just over an hour with a few easy, non-technical scrambles to reach the refreshing, 40-foot waterfall. In autumn, thousands of crimson, gold and orange leaves add seasonal eye candy.
Stay at the Porches Inn
While there are several hotels in North Adams, only one defines the town’s art-infused spirit, The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA. It offers expansive views of MASS MoCA right from the cozy rocking chairs located on the porches of its collection of 19thcentury Victorian row houses. These houses were once home to mill workers and their families, so a stay feels like an interactive dive into the area’s history and its forward-thinking commitment to urban renewal.
Modern, high-tech comforts blend with retro touches to create an environment that is both welcoming and stimulating. The outdoor lap pool, with its heated stone deck, is open year-round. A hot tub and sauna are welcome perks. The amped-up continental breakfast is included in the rate. As a princely bonus, there’s no extra charge for room service.
New kid on the block Bowlin’ on the River offers a novel menu. You choose a base such as udon noodles, quinoa or lettuce. Next, select from a variety of protein, veggie and fruit options, sort of like selecting pizza toppings. The kitchen slants local and vegetarian options abound.
Public eat + drink is a casual dining spot with a menu jammed with local farm produce and Berkshire-made foodstuff. You can’t go wrong ordering a flatbread pizza or a hefty burger made with grass fed beef. In-state brews on tap are the perfect go-with.
When you’re at MASS MoCA and need a snack, Lickety Split ice cream is made on premise in small batches. Delish.
Transportation to North Adams from NYC:
Ride the Peter Pan bus from Port Authority to neighboring Williamstown in 4 hours and 30 minutes. It’s a 15-minute taxi ride from Williamstown to North Adams.
Image credit: © James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr, MASS MoCA, The Porches, Public Eat + Drink, Antonio Tibaldi
Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.