Also known as the Gateway to the Cape, New Bedford, Massachusetts has a vibrant culture and rich history all its own, making it much more than a quick stopover.
We've recently become more acquainted with the city since welcoming Pope's Island Marina to Dockwa. Nestled into a protected harbor with quick walking access to town, Pope's Island manages to be close to the action while providing quiet respite. Its location gives boats easy access to Buzzard's Bay, from which you can head west to Newport, northeast through the canal to Cape Cod Bay, or southeast through Vineyard Sound to Nantucket Sound and the outer arm of the Cape.
If you're in the area this month, check out New Bedford's 10th Annual Taste of the Seacoast Festival on May 15. Find more events through New Bedford's events calendar, and read on for some of our favorite ongoing New Bedford outings.
The City of New Bedford is accustomed to visitors, particularly those interested in maritime history. Before you hit the cobblestone streets, pick up a self-guided Dock Tour from the Waterfront Visitor Center on Fisherman's Wharf or enjoy a liesurely stroll down the new New Bedford Harbor Walk.
New Bedford Whaling Museum & National Historical Park
As mentioned in our recent post on National Parks You Can Visit by Boat, New Bedford, Massachusetts was long known as the City of Whaling. As it was once one of the most prolific whaling cities in the world, it makes sense that the New Bedford Whaling Museum is the country's largest museum on the topic. It has on display the skeletons of a a 35' adult humpback, and a 45' sperm whale, and a 66' baby blue whale – one of only six complete baby blue whale skeletons on display in the world. The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is open seven days a week during the summer and offers free hour-long narrated walking tour with the National Park Rangers (available in July and August).
New Bedford Museum of Glass
Built in 2010, the New Bedford Museum of Glass is located in one of the historic Wamsutta Mills textile factory building, appropriately reflecting the city's history as home of the Mount Washington and Pairpoint glass companies. The museum keeps a research library with more than eight thousand volumes on glass, and hosts pieces ranging from ancient Mediterranean unguent bottles, Lava Glass, and Royal Flemish art, to designs by contemporary artists such as Dale Chihuly.
The Seamen's Bethel
The Seamen's Bethel was specifically constructed for the many sailors, mostly whalers, who called New Bedford their home port. It was considered tradition to visit the chapel before setting sail, and Herman Melville may have done just that before boarding the whaleship Acushnet in January of 1841. He later drew on this voyage to write his American classic, Moby-Dick, dubbing the Seaman's Chapel "the Whalemen's Chapel" in the novel. Now maintained by the New Bedford Port Society, you can visit any day 10am - 4pm from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
Katherine Melville and her husband, engineer and poet John Hoadley, often hosted her brother Herman when he visited New Bedford in the 1860s. Still known as the Melville House, you can visit this historic neighborhood of Victorian mansions built by 19th century sea captains, and see the restored 1855 Italian Empire house, originally built as a wedding gift by a wealthy sea merchant.
Row a Replica Whaling Boat
It doesn't get much more appropo than this! Head out on the water in one of the three replica whaling boats docked right at Pope's Island Marina, and the folks at WCR (Whaling City Rowing) will take it from there. These 1,000-pound boats are fiberglass replicas based on the classic whaleboat design of New Bedford's James Beetle, who had a boat-building yard in the South End of New Bedford in the 19th century. Head to Whaling City Rowing for details on how to get involved in a race, event, or open row. They can typically accommodate guests given a week's notice, and the first two rows are free without having to become a member!
The Rotch-Jones-Duff House
Part of the New Bedford Whaling and National Historical Park, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum is an 1834 Greek Revival mansion built for the whaling merchant, William Rotch, Jr. Take a tour of the museum to view its chronicles of 150 years of economic, social, and domestic life in New Bedford, or plan your cruise to coincide with their summer concert series or annual cookie contest! The museum and garden are open daily (except major holidays) year-round.
The New Bedford Fire Museum
The New Bedford Fire Museum is located in what was formerly Fire Station No. 4, which opened in 1867 – up until it had some roof damage in 2008, this was the longest operating fire station in the country . While there, chat with the retired and active city firefighters that are the museum's docents, scour the city fire records dating back to 1890, try on old uniforms, check out the collection of old firefighting equipment and fire engines, and of course, slide down the fire pole.
Feast of the Blessed Sacrament
New Bedford is home to the largest Portuguese-American community in the United States, a community that has been growing since the late 1800s, when immigrants began arriving in search of jobs in the whaling industry. Each year the Museum of Madeiran Heritage sponsors the annual Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, the largest Portuguese feast in the world! If you're in the area August 4-7, make your way to New Bedford to join in the 102nd year of this huge celebration. You can also stop by the museum itself any Sunday from May to October.
There you have it: our quick take on some of our favorite New Bedford on-shore activities. Have a suggestion? Let us know - email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Previously we'd listed the Schooner Ernestina, which is up for repairs in Maine. Thanks to folks who chimed in with comments over email and Facebook!
By: Becky Pineo
Published on 5/9/16 3:11 PM