45 miles SE of Boston

Most everyone educated in the United States learns at least a little of the story of Plymouth—about how the Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution, left Europe on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Many also know that the Pilgrims endured disease and privation, and that just 53 people from the original group of 102 celebrated what we now call “the first Thanksgiving” in 1621 with Squanto, a Pawtuxet Indian associated with the Wampanoag people, and his cohorts.

What many won’t grasp until actually visiting is how small everything was. The Mayflower (a reproduction) seems like a perilously tiny ship, and when you contemplate how dangerous life was at the time, it’s hard not to marvel at the settlers’ accomplishments. The Mayflower passengers weren’t even aiming for Plymouth. They originally set out for what they called “Northern Virginia,” near the mouth of the Hudson River. On November 11, 1620, rough weather and high seas forced them to make for Cape Cod Bay and anchor at Provincetown. The captain then announced that they had found a safe harbor and refused to continue to their original destination. On December 16, Provincetown having proven an unsatisfactory location, the weary travelers landed at Plymouth.

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Plymouth today is a model destination for visitors. The 17th century coexists with the 21st, and most historic attractions are both educational and fun. Visitors jam the downtown area and waterfront in summer, but the year-round population is large enough that Plymouth feels more like the working community it is than just a seaside village trapped in the past. It’s a particularly enjoyable excursion from Boston if you’re traveling with children; it also makes a good stop between Boston and Cape Cod. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Plymouth hosts America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration (tel. 508/746-1818), a 3-day event that includes a large parade on Saturday. Things will be especially festive in 2020, Plymouth’s 400th anniversary.