Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA - September 13, 2016: Looking down at the view of Plymouth harbor and the Plymouth Rock Monument Canopy. William Bradford and others from the Mayflower supposedly set foot on in 1620. The rock is not mention in any written history, including Mr. Bradford’s journals, until 1715 when it is described as “a great rock” in reference to the town’s boundaries. In 1741, when plans of building a wharf at the site of the landing, is the first written reference to Pilgrims landing on a rock. This rock has numerous stories attached to it in reference to its significance or lack of, to our history. It has been split in two, the top half moved to the towns meeting house. In 1867 at the completion of the canopy covering the lower half of the rock, designed by Hammett Billings, the top portion of the rock was reunited with the lower and the date “1620” was carved into it.

Plymouth is a perfect destination for history lovers. (Getty Images)

You could easily spend a week or more exploring all that Boston proper has to offer, but if you have the time, it would be a shame not to check out some of the area's most compelling attractions that are a short car or train ride away.

Whether you're looking to spend time on some of the most beautiful beaches in New England or want to learn more about our nation's history, there's something to appeal to every type of traveler. U.S. News asked several local experts for their recommendations on worthy day trips, and they offered five great ideas.

Cape Cod


cape cod at sunset

Cape Cod (Ben Nugent)


For many locals, summer means the "cape," and the mass exodus south from Boston every weekend to the many beach towns along its 500 miles of coastline causes legendary traffic jams. Depending on what part of Cape Cod you are headed to (it's generally broken into regions called upper, lower, mid and outer), it can take anywhere from an hour to three hours to reach your destination from Boston. Options for getting there include driving, taking a slow or fast ferry, or even flying.

[Read: The Best Hotels in Boston.]

Keith Loveless, head concierge at The Langham, Boston, says it's important to make a plan before heading down. "The cape is great, but it is a lot to do in a day. I tell people to go to mid-cape, like Hyannis and Yarmouth. It's historical. Mayflower Beach [in Dennis] is great." He adds, "I don't like people winging it."

Provincetown


Provincetown

Provincetown (Courtesy of Cape Cod Chamber)


While technically on the very northern tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is unlike any other town in the area. In 1620, the Mayflower landed here before heading to Plymouth. The 252-foot-tall Pilgrim Monument, completed in 1910, pays homage to the voyagers. Visitors can learn more at the on-site Provincetown Museum. P-town has long been a haven for artists, who find its breathtaking dunes and scenery inspiring, and it also has a large gay and lesbian community.

"Provincetown is a great option for a day trip," says Julianne Boyle, concierge at The Ritz-Carlton, Boston. "Ferries depart from Boston Harbor and take you straight to the tip of beautiful Cape Cod. Spend the day shopping, dining or lying on the beach, and then hop back on the boat to make it back to the city in time for dinner."

Kim Weeks, guest ambassador at the Kimpton Marlowe Hotel, agrees, saying, "Take the fast ferry and be there in just over an hour." She loves the "awesome beaches, shopping, food, drink and fun!"

Plymouth


Plymouth

Plymouth (Courtesy of Plymouth County Convention & Visitors Bureau)


Just 40 miles south of Boston is a destination history lovers will want to make a pilgrimage to, so to speak. Plymouth is where the Mayflower and its passengers finally alighted and made a home for themselves. Visitors today will have a lot to take in, from Plymouth Rock to the Mayflower II, a faithful reproduction of the famous ship. Currently, the Mayflower II is being restored, but it's expected to return to the Plymouth Waterfront in 2019, before the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims' arrival to New England. The ship is part of the Plimoth Plantation, an excellent living history museum where well-trained staff inhabit their 17th-century characters so fully you feel like you've stepped back in time.

[Read: 5 Must-See Boston Museums.]

"That's one of my favorites," says Nicholas MacDonald, head concierge at Hotel Commonwealth, of the museum. "Basically everyone is in character and actually some people live there all year long. They show you how everyone lived back in the 1600s." The museum also holds popular events during Thanksgiving. "You can go down and have Thanksgiving dinner with everyone," he says.

In fact, the whole town celebrates the holiday with a parade, house tours and other activities, offering a compelling reason to visit the area during the off-season.

Lexington and Concord

Another big draw for history buffs is Lexington and Concord, which are about 20 miles west of Boston. Many people choose to visit both historic towns in one trip, and a great place to get started is at the Minute Man National Historical Park's visitor center in Lexington. There's a slew of programs at the park, including ranger-led tours, walks and lectures that explore our nation's Revolutionary War past.

"When I get guests for more than two or three days, we send them on the Concord/Lexington tour with Viator," MacDonald says. "You go through both towns and learn everything from Paul Revere to Sam Adams to the Boston Tea Party." The tour also takes you through Cambridge.

From the Battle Green in Lexington, where British soldiers and Colonial militia (known as the "minutemen") first confronted each other, to the Old North Bridge in Concord, where the minutemen won the day on April 19, 1775, history is everywhere.

[Read: 5 Top Breweries to Visit in Boston.]

Salem


Salem graveyard

Salem (Jasmine Gordon)


Located just 16 miles north of Boston, Salem has plenty to keep visitors occupied, including The House of the Seven Gables, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Witch Museum and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. It's an easy town to get around by foot, so taking the commuter rail from Boston is an excellent option.

"Salem is a short drive or a really easy trip via the MBTA Commuter Rail," Weeks says. "Of course, going around Halloween is fun, but you don't have to. It's a neat town with plenty of touristy shops, but also a lot of really cool historical sites to see. The history museum there is great. It's crazy to walk around the old graveyards because it seems almost like it's out of a movie, but it's a true part of our country's history. And there are also some really good new restaurants there."

To experience more of what Boston has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

Tags: Boston, travel, vacations


Kim Foley MacKinnon is a Boston-based editor, journalist and travel writer. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, AAA Horizons, Travel + Leisure and USA Today, among others. She has also written and contributed to several guidebooks.

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