My family has a long history in New Bedford. My great-grandmother was born here and worked in the Wamsutta fabric mill. Her father was a mason whose work can still be seen at the town post office. It is a New England town lying on the southern coast of Massachusetts with a rich colonial history. We head here about once a year because there are so many things to do in New Bedford, and it is an easy day trip from Rhode Island.
The History of New Bedford
New Bedford was the capital of the whaling industry in the 1800s due to its coastal location and deep harbor. Whaling brought many immigrants, including many Portuguese, which is today’s dominant New Bedford culture. Herman Melville spent time here and based places in his novel, Moby Dick, on this city.
When whaling waned due to the discovery of petroleum, New Bedford became a producer of fabric, with the Wamsutta Mill opening on the banks of the Acushnet River.
Fishing is still a predominant industry in New Bedford. The city is currently the scallop capital of the world, with its seafood auction setting the price for the shellfish worldwide.
Things to Do in New Bedford
New Bedford Whaling Museum
This museum originally lured us into visiting New Bedford. The large whaling museum does a great job educating about whales, the industry of whaling, and the life of the whalers. It explains how whaling affected immigration to the area. There are five impressive skeletons of real whales and exhibitions about protecting them. You can climb the world’s largest ship model, the Lagoda, a scaled version of a whaling ship, and imagine going to sea.
Expect to spend about 4 hours exploring this museum.
Seamen’s Bethel and Mariner’s Home
This stop is one of my husband’s favorite as he teaches the novel, Moby Dick. The Bethel (church) was started by the Quakers as a way to help curb the lawlessness of the fishermen. Herman Melville was actually one of the fishermen who visited this bethel before heading out to sea for his 18-month journey. His pew is marked in the church, which can be toured. After his time at sea, he wrote his famous novel. Yearly the novel is read from start to finish in the chapel.
If you haven’t read it yet, buy a copy of Moby Dick, before or after your visit to New Bedford.
Fort Taber State Park
Within this 50-acre park are Fort Rodman, an American Civil War fort, a military museum, a stop on the Underground Railroad, and hiking and walking trails. The park sits on Clark’s Point jutting into Buzzard’s Bay.
Walk by the US Custom House
This Greek-revival-style building was built in 1836. Here whaling masters would register their ships and cargo. It is still used as a US customs office making it the longest continuously running customs office in the US.
Have you ever wondered how different fish are caught? I am always interested to see how food gets to my table. This museum is a little gem, with staff very willing to share their knowledge about fishing in the area. I even got to race my mom to put on ocean survival suits!
Expect to spend around an hour here.
Where to Eat in New Bedford, Ma
Try some Portuguese Food
We love Antonio’s or Alianca for Portuguese food. If you haven’t tried Portuguese food before think meat, seafood, and potatoes in flavorful sauces.
Either of these restaurants is good, reasonably priced, and casual.
Varied Choices on the Water
Casco Brewers Kitchen and Bar offers sushi, seafood, and BBQ right on the water. It is energetic with a great view and often has live music. I honestly like the Portuguese food better, but this place is fun.
As you can see there are so many options for things to do in New Bedford that a visit will take a full day. You can leave with your fill of culture, history, and natural beauty. The next day you can check out Fall River right next door, featuring the spooky home of Lizzie Borden.
Make New Bedford a stop on yourNew England road trip and let me know what you find in the comments.