Massachusetts’ first inland settlement is also one of its most historic, and there’s no shortage of notable things to do in Concord.
Home to literary giants, a famous pond and the “shot heard ’round the world,” Concord and its legacy is cemented in American history. And long before the land was taken and settled by colonists, Native Americans enjoyed the region’s plentiful resources and natural beauty, naming it after its grassy plains.
Today, Concord is one of Massachusetts’ best day or weekend trips, and because there’s so much to do, it’s worth visiting in different seasons to take in everything the town has to offer. If you’re a fan of history, you’ll dig Concord’s many claims to fame, from Author’s Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to historic Revolution-era buildings scattered around town.
Here are 16 of the best things to do and see on your next visit to Concord, Massachusetts.
1. Minute Man National Historical Park
On April 19, 1775, some 20 miles northwest of Boston, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War began in Concord, when colonists met British regulars at the North Bridge. The resulting fights spanned 16 miles and eventually ended in more than 270 British casualties and nearly 50 colonist deaths.
Today, the grounds and buildings of the battles are well-preserved in Minute Man National Historical Park, where you can retrace the steps of colonists and British soldiers that battled more than 240 years ago. The park is free to enter and preserves 970 acres of beautiful landscapes, historic spots, monuments and buildings to explore, like The Old Manse and The Wayside, home to several prominent Concord authors.
The park hosts guided programs, and more special events around Patriots’ Day. It also does an admirable job of highlighting under-the-radar historical points, like how many colored colonists fought against the British. Minute Man is a great year-round destination, but particularly beautiful when fall colors come in September and October.
2. The North Bridge
The North Bridge is part of Minute Man National Historical Park, but it deserves its own spot on our list of things to do in Concord. From the North Bridge Visitor Center, take a leisurely stroll to the bridge, which was built in 1956 and renovated in 2005. Over the years, at least eight versions of the bridge at this point on the Concord River have existed since the 1650s, and the 1775 iteration was replaced in the 1780s.
It was at this spot that the British troops were pushed across from the west riverbank to the east by colonial militiamen who came down upon the bridge from higher ground. The British regulars then marched back to Boston, but not before suffering more losses from militia attacking their route.
There are several sculptures, monuments and plaques with historical information, and enough of the area has been preserved to make it easy to visualize the events. To make it even easier, the park hosts educational reenactments complete with British regulars and minute men to get an idea of what the battle may have really looked like.
3. The Old Manse
The Old Manse of today, overlooking the North Bridge, is largely the same home that witnessed the events of 1775 — only a few updates have been made to the building over the years. It’s an amazing piece of Concord’s history, at various times housing literary icons Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, who created the home’s front garden and the grapevine trellises still in use today.
The summer home was built in 1770 for Ralph Waldo’s grandfather, William Emerson, and the family was home on the morning of April 19, 1775, when the North Bridge battle began. Ralph wrote his first draft of “Nature” in the Old Manse, and the home was used by the Emerson (and Ripley) family until the 1930s.
Tours of the Old Manse are available seasonally, and the staff in the home’s bookstore is extremely helpful, so ask plenty of questions, especially if you’re a Thoreau or Emerson fan.
4. Colonel James Barrett House
About two miles west of Minute Man National Historical Park is the Colonel James Barrett House, a historic home built in 1705 that once secretly housed colonists’ gunpowder and other ammunitions, including cannons. When British troops searched the home on April 19, 1775, they found no such artillery — the militia got wind of the British plans and hid their supplies before the search.
Over the years, the home was restored by Save Our Heritage, and today you can stop by on Barrett’s Mill Road. It’s sometimes open for “open house” events, though most visitors only get a view of the outside of the home. Still, it’s an impressive example of an 18th century structure and one of the reasons British troops made their way out to Concord in the first place.
5. The Battle Road Trail
One of the best ways to experience Minute Man National Historical Park is walking the Battle Road Trail, the 5-mile path British soldiers used to get back to the (relative) safety of Boston after the battle at the North Bridge.
The trail starts at Meriam’s Corner, where militiamen attacked the retreating British regulars. While the skirmish at the North Bridge was over quickly, the British troops’ “battle road” was more than 16 miles long and took eight hours to endure.
The trail winds through beautifully treed meadows and fields as it heads toward Lexington, where the trail ends at the Ebenezer Fiske House Site. It’s the perfect place to walk, jog or bike, especially if you can arrange a ride at each end of the trail.
6. Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
The manor that became the Orchard House was built in the 1650s, not long after Concord was officially founded. It witnessed the town’s major political and social events, and in 1858 became the home of the Alcott family, including Louisa May, who published Little Women in 1868.
Named for apple trees that once lined the property, the Orchard House was the home of the Alcott family until 1877, and is today a literary destination for thousands of Little Women fans around the world. Guided tours dive into the Alcott family members, their belongings and events that shaped Louisa May’s iconic novel. Some 80% of the furnishings in the home belonged to the family at some point, so it’s an authentic look at the Alcotts’ lives.
There’s an Emmy award-winning documentary that details the home’s history, and if you don’t have time to read the novel before your visit, watch Greta Gerwig’s iteration of the novel starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Florence Pugh.
7. The Robbins House
The Robbins House is admirable effort to preserve and share Concord’s African-American history. Named after emancipated slave Caesar Robbins, who fought in the American Revolution, the Robbins House is a small, early 19th century home that was moved from its original location in 2010 to avoid being demolished.
Today, the Robbins House offers a glimpse at the history and lives of slaves in the Concord area, along with a walking tour of sites around town focused on African-American history and anti-slavery efforts. The nonprofit managing the home is focused on sharing stories and lives that are typically ignored or buried in most traditional history books, and they also feature additional virtual tours for guests to learn more after their visit.
8. Walden Pond
Made famous in Henry David Thoreau’s iconic essay, Walden Pond is now a small state reservation just south of downtown Concord. Starting in 1845, Thoreau spent two years at the pond, living in a simple cabin that’s long gone, though granite markers show the dwelling’s original spot on the northern shore.
Thoreau’s journey into the woods – which was only a few miles from town – focused on his connection with nature, the land and the seasons, and it took an additional seven years of writing after his time at Walden Pond to complete Walden. Today, visitors can swim, hike and explore the pond and its reserve, and self-guided walking tours are available for more history.
For the most authentic visit to Walden Pond, consider strolling the Emerson-Thoreau Amble, a 1.7-mile path from the Emerson home to the pond – the very route Emerson and Thoreau took routinely in their heyday.
9. Ralph Waldo Emerson House
After moving into the Old Manse in 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson stuck around in Concord, purchasing his own home the following year. He lived in the house, which he nicknamed “Bush,” with his family until his death in 1882, and today it’s one of the most well-preserved historic homes of any literary figure.
The home’s furniture and décor are original and mostly left alone, so visitors get an authentic look at what life looked like for the Emerson fam. Highlights includes Emerson’s books throughout the home, art acquired overseas and where he hung his hat before and after taking daily walks to Walden Pond, some two miles away.
Tour season starts in April and each tour is a small, intimate group of 10 or fewer visitors. Each tour takes about 45 minutes with room for questions, and is a true gem of an experience for anyone who enjoys Emerson’s essays and poetry.
10. Concord Museum
Across from the Emerson property is the Concord Museum, housing some of the town’s most cherished artifacts, including the “Paul Revere Lantern,” lit in the Old North Church in 1775 when the British were headed toward Concord.
The museum features a number of Revolution-era antiques, as well as artifacts from the Emerson and Thoreau homes in the area, including Thoreau’s chair and desk used at Walden Pond. Altogether, the museum – in operation since the 1880s – offers more than 15 galleries and seasonal exhibits that bring Concord’s history to life.
11. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Sleepy Hollow is Concord’s largest cemetery, and the final resting places of literary icons from the Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne and Alcott families. You’ll find those graves on Author’s Ridge on the cemetery’s northeast side, but the grounds are full of interesting historical names most visitors don’t recognize.
The Melvin Memorial, created by Daniel Chester French to honor three brothers killed in the Civil War, is another impressive stop on your stroll through the area, which has a park-like feel thanks to its winding paths and rolling hills. The cemetery was purposely designed to blend with the surroundings, something Ralph Waldo Emerson noted in his Sleepy Hollow dedication speech.
12. deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is technically in Lincoln, just south of Concord, but it’s well worth a short drive below the 2 to check out the curious 30-acre grounds.
Before it was a museum, the mansion here belonged to Julian de Cordova, a Massachusetts merchant who wanted his estate turned into a museum. That eventually happened, though the museum, which opened in 1950, focused more on New England art and artists than it did de Cordova’s original art collection.
Today, the park is home to about 60 outdoor sculptures and rotating art exhibitions in the museum. There’s not a bad place to walk around Concord and Lincoln, but this is an especially interesting place to contemplate the intersection of nature and local creativity.
13. Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
For a nature break, check out the mellow trails at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. There are two units — one in Concord, one in Sudbury — and the Concord unit offers a handful of trails that each make for leisurely walks along the Concord River and a few ponds.
The land is home to several wildlife species, like turkey, turtles, deer and beaver, and the previous owner of the land, hunter and politician Samuel Hoar, spent time creating natural dams in the area to help create thriving environments for local waterfowl.
14. Main Streets Market & Cafe
Main Streets Market & Cafe is a casual restaurant slingin’ seafood, baked goods and other classic American dishes. We usually stop in when we’re in town, mostly because it’s kid-friendly, the desserts are amazing, and the ale-battered fish and chips always hits the spot.
There are plenty of restaurant options in and around Concord, but we’ve found Main Streets Market & Cafe to offer a consistent dining experience that’s always been positive and family-friendly.
15. Verrill Farm
Verrill Farm is a 200-acre gem a few miles south of downtown Concord, where four generations of farmers have grown produce and other goods since 1918. Today, Verrill Farm offers homemade goods like pies, cookies and breads, and more than 30 types of produce, including strawberries, pumpkins, asparagus, corn, cucumbers and more.
Their farmstand also features local dairy products, eggs and meats, and there’s even a Verrill Farm cookbook for more food inspiration. The farm is dedicated to preserving the land and using sustainable farming practices, even working with a crop scout to ensure the environment is healthy and thriving.
16. Concord Free Public Library
Traveling with three small kids, we’re accustomed to finding libraries wherever we go —they’re a nice break from sightseeing and give everyone a chance to slow down while still learning about where we’re at.
It opened in 1873, when Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a keynote speech, and over the years grew to accommodate the area’s growing population. As far as New England libraries go, it’s one of the better ones to stop in and enjoy when you need quiet time on the road.