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Afternoon Adventure in Northampton

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A view through a chain-link fence into the quaint tree-lined downtown of Northampton, Massachusetts

While we are practicing our social distancing back in the comfort of our own homes, I have been thinking about my college bucket list. One experience I hope to have when I'm back to school is taking a day trip to Northampton with my friends. I've already been to the city a few times, and hope to bring my friend group to the area!  

Northampton is a small city located less than 10 miles from the University of Massachusetts campus. Easily accessible by either car or the B43 bus route, this provides students with a fun, off-campus experience, for the day. The city is known for its small city charm, lined with boutique style shops and restaurants. For Eastern Mass residents such as myself, I’d compare it to our beloved City of Newburyport; with an artistic flare. 

Over Family Weekend, my mom and I explored Northampton together and stopped in for lunch at Fitzwilly’s Restaurant, another Northampton staple. Established back in 1974, Fitzwilly’s is known for its quality comfort food listed at affordable prices. The menu had lots of options and generous portion sizes. We left the restaurant with full stomachs and smiling faces. 

Another favorite store of mine is Sweeties, a local sweets and candy shop that has been in business for over 30 years. I love going in and checking out all of their goods. They cater to a large range of audiences from chocolate enthusiasts to old fashioned penny candy lovers. 

The city also has a large arts and culture community; as it’s home to a number of local galleries including the A.P.E Ltd. Gallery and R. Michelson Galleries. The R. Michelson Galleries is the largest commercial art gallery in Western Mass, with many of its pieces now featured in prestigious museums around the U.S. More signs of the artistic community are shown through the various pieces of street art found on the benches and walls of buildings around town.

Notable buildings, like the First Churches of Northampton, add to the city’s charm. The large church is located in the center of downtown, making it an eye catching sight. In addition to holding regular Sunday ceremonies, the church is used for a number of private and public events, making it a popular meetinghouse for Northampton. 

One of my favorite stores in the downtown area is Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters is a popular retail company specializing in selling apparel, clothing accessories and furniture. It’s primary customers are teenagers and young adults. What makes this Urban Outfitters so special is its store location. It’s actually located in the heart of downtown in the old Institute for Savings bank. Established back in 2008, the store continues to flourish today. Despite being a large and modern retail store, I feel it’s adapted quite well to Northampton’s historic venue by taking over the unused bank.

On the same stretch of Main Street, lies the Old Hampshire County Courthouse. Built between 1884 and 1886, the granite building was built in richardsonian romanesque style and today serves as a historic marker. 

The historic Union Station is another one of the city’s treasures. This station served as the city’s train station from 1897 to 1978. Years later in 2013, the building was converted into a 200 seat banquet facility, a sports bar, and a facility known as the Tunnel Bar which runs beneath the building. 

Northampton is also a hub for many important transportation services. The New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail is a four-mile long, multi-use trail extending from the MassCentral Rail Trail on the northside of town to the Easthampton town line and beyond. This trail feeds into the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which is an 11-mile combination  bicycle and pedestrian trial. The overpass overlooks downtown Northampton. 

Northampton is also home to the Amtrak. In Northampton the Valley Flyer train and Vermonter allow passengers to travel as far south as Washington DC and up to Northern Vermont.

Two major bus services: the PeterPan and Greyhound busses have a stop in Northampton, giving passengers lots of options to choose from. I actually took the Peter Pan bus to NYC, back in the fall for my AHLA trip from UMass Amherst, and we stopped in Northampton along the way. Since I don’t have a car on campus, knowing there’s a lot of transportation options in the area is a really big benefit to me and lots of other students use these services when traveling. 

Northampton is also the location of Smith College, one of our partner colleges in the five college consortium. Smith college is an all-women’s private liberal arts college. More than 30,000 students take advantage of cross-registration opportunities for 6,000 courses offered between the 5 different colleges in the consortium. This collaboration allows students to access additional resources provided by neighboring colleges and gives students increased flexibility when choosing classes. All colleges are easily accessible via car or the PVTA bus system, making transportation as convenient as possible for students. 

Northampton’s historical charm gives the city character and it’s mix of individually owned and chain stores provide customers with a unique shopping experience. The city’s mom and pop restaurants and cafes enhance the city’s uniqueness and personalization. Currently due to the pandemic, the town is protecting it’s community by closing stores and switching restaurants to takeout, but I hope to return when I'm back on campus!


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