The North of Boston region consists of three distinct areas – the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, and the northern suburbs and exurbs of Boston – each with their own unique histories and attractions.
Starting with the North Shore, you’ll find the well-known historical seaside towns like Salem, Marblehead, Manchester-by-the-sea, Ipswich, Newburyport, and the Cape Ann towns of Rockport and Gloucester. All of these places have tales to tell, and all are connected inextricably to the sea. Settled in the 1600s, the area is laden with history and colonial era homes and buildings.
Gloucester was made famous for the movie The Perfect Storm, Salem by the infamous Salem witch trials. Rockport is renowned for its picturesque harbor area where you can spend the day browsing boutique shops and dining on fresh seafood. Ipswich has Crane Castle and Crane Beach, that gorgeous stretch of sand and dunes. Marblehead has its tightly clustered upscale community of historic homes and Fort Sewell. Newburyport has Plum Island. Summer and fall are the best seasons here, and spring is also quite pretty.
Further inland is the Merrimack Valley, where the Merrimack River flows into Massachusetts at Tyngsborough, curves northeast at Lowell, making its way through Lawrence, Haverhill before forming the border between the border towns of Merrimac, Amesbury and Salisbury to its north and West Newbury and Newburyport to its south, almost as if none of these towns want to claim it. If you’re familiar with the history of the river it’s easy to understand why.
David Thoreau waxed poetically about his 1839 journey up the Merrimack, perhaps unaware of the industrial revolution making its foothold in Lowell, a town founded in the 1820s for the purpose of textile manufacture. Other towns along the river quickly followed. By the time manufacturing was in full swing, the river was badly damaged, and it was said that the water changed color depending on dyes being used. By the early 20th century, the industry was declining, with mills locating to the South, and the cities fell on hard times.
Happily, bad times never last forever – the mill cities and towns have reinvented themselves and the river is largely restored. Former mills have been converted to loft apartments and other uses, communities celebrate their ethnic origins with lively festivals, and museums recount the history of the industrial age. You’ll find art and culture, breweries and restaurants, parks and, yes, plenty of activity on the river.
South of the Merrimack are Boston’s northern suburbs and exurbs, some densely populated, others bucolic bedroom and farming communities. Here also are the historical towns of Lexington and Concord, with their revolutionary and literary histories, and attractive downtowns.
While the areas in this region are diverse, they are each compelling in their own way – so get your city feet up here and check it out.