Worcester, Massachusetts (pronounced Wooster or Woostah but never Worchester), may not top your list of must-visits, but take a closer look at New England's second largest city, and you might change your mind. New hotels are opening, brewpubs are popping up, and tech start-ups and more than a dozen thriving colleges are giving this 19th-century manufacturing city a youthful makeover. Plus, if you overlook Worcester, you'll miss some of Massachusetts' top cultural attractions. Plan a day or longer stay in this centrally located city with our guide to Worcester's best things to do.
Locals call the stretch of Shrewsbury Street between Washington Square and Route 9 "Restaurant Row" for good reason. Here, near Cristoforo Colombo Park with its picnic grounds and splash pad for kids, you'll find a dense cluster of some of the city's most popular restaurants. Plot a culinary trip around the world—within a few blocks, you can sample a range of cuisines including Afghan, Brazilian, British, Caribbean, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Thai. There are pubs, a cigar bar, diners, and vegetarian restaurants, too. Worcester's been stepping up its culinary game, so seek out other buzzed-about spots, too, including Armsby Abbey, Baba Sushi and Smokestack Urban Barbecue.
Fifty centuries of art are on display at this full-of-surprises museum, where collection highlights include not only paintings by European and American masters, but also fine works of Asian, Islamic, and Indian art. One of the most surprising things you'll find? A 13th-century French chapel has been rebuilt inside stone by stone. When Worcester's fabulous Higgins Armory Museum closed in 2013, the Worcester Art Museum inherited the largest collection of arms and armor in the Western hemisphere, dating back to 2,000 B.C. Ambitious plans are in place to build permanent halls to showcase more of Worcester native John Woodman Higgins' collection. The Worcester Art Museum also hosts a diverse range of temporary exhibitions, tours and events.
River otters, porcupines, and exotic creatures like Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are the stars at this kid-centric, multifaceted, indoor-outdoor museum and environmental education center. Plan to spend several hours exploring three floors of interactive exhibits. The 2,500-square-foot City Science exhibit even puts Worcester under a magnifying glass. The EcoTarium has a planetarium, too, operated in partnership with National Geographic. Tickets for a star show are just $5 in addition to museum admission.
Sip Local Brews
Worcester has established itself as a center for 21st-century craft brewing innovation. It's home to locally focused Wormtown Brewery and to Flying Dreams Brewing Co., known for its bold, unfiltered, yet smooth-drinking beers: Both have taprooms on-site where beer fans congregate. Also putting Worcester on the world beer map is Greater Good Imperial Brewing Company, America's first brewery devoted solely to crafting potent, high-alcohol-content, 8 to 14 percent beers. And don't overlook 3cross Fermentation Cooperative—this 5,500-square-foot basement facility is the first community-owned brewery in Massachusetts, and you'll be impressed by its sustainable practices and efforts to give back.
See a Memorable Performance
Worcester has two historic theaters, where the ambience is as entrancing as the acts on stage. Mechanics Hall, built in 1857 in exceedingly elegant Renaissance Revival style, is an acoustically superb venue for a full range of concerts, from orchestral to gospel. Hanover Theatre, a 1904 hall that once staged burlesque shows, now hosts big-name concerts, comedy nights, Broadway musicals, dance performances, lectures and other special events. Check the schedule of performances happening while you're in the city.
Hike The Cascades
It may seem hard to believe, but this major city has woodlands and waterfalls. On Worcester's northwest fringe, the Greater Worcester Land Trust manages conservation lands, known as The Cascades, with an extensive trail network. The property, open free to the public, is one link in the Four-Town Worcester Greenway and a popular hiking spot. To see the waterfalls, park on Olean Street, and hike the 1.4-mile Cascade Falls Loop Trail.
Located in Worcester's Green Hill Park, this moving memorial to Massachusetts residents who did not return from Vietnam has three distinct components. Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., there is a "Place of Names" engraved with the identities of 1,546 men and one woman from Massachusetts who died in combat or remain missing. There is also a "Place of Words," where letters home are some of the last words written by soldiers, as well as a beautifully landscaped "Place of Flags." All are set beside a pond. It's a peaceful place to reflect and perhaps to picnic.
Hidden in an off-the-beaten-path part of the city, this ice cream spot has been serving dairy-farm-fresh flavors for more than 75 years. Order butter pecan? Expect to find whole pecans nestled within the creamy goodness. Be prepared to agonize over the extensive list of ice cream, yogurt, and sherbet options. Just a cup will satisfy your summertime cravings. But Gibby's dishes up an awful lot of enormous, old-fashioned banana splits, too.
The Rockwood Sprinkler Company building has been given new life by Worcester's active community of artists. Many have studios here; others take charge of curating twice-a-month exhibitions, which are open and free to the public. Performance artists stage programs here in this funky space, too, and you can also participate in a variety of events, from yoga classes to film screenings. In November, look for holiday shopping events featuring one-of-a-kind gifts with local flair.
Who says grown-ups can't play with clay? Metals and glass can be your playthings, too, when you register for a hands-on workshop or class at the Worcester Center for Crafts. You can even learn an old-school craft like blacksmithing or cyanotype photo processing. Many workshops are focused on a single project, such as making your own blown-glass beer stein: a perfect keepsake of your visit to Worcester.
Boston may have all of the big league teams, but Worcester has an affordable and entertaining alternative. The Bravehearts play in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL), and these up-and-coming players put their hearts into the game. Remember the crack of wooden bats? That's all you'll hear at 3,000-seat Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field, where fans are treated to frequent special promotions. During the summer season, Friday night games feature fireworks.
As you now know, there's more to Worcester than meets the eye as you whiz through the city on I-290. When you're ready to dig deeper, visit the city's only local history museum, where artifacts and exhibitions tell stories of Worcester through the years.