Legend has it that back in the 1850s, famed opera singer Jenny Lind dubbed Northampton the “paradise of America.” Though times have changed, the town retains its charm.

As the backdrop to Smith College, a prestigious liberal arts women’s college whose alumnae ranks include literary icons like Sylvia Plath and Madeleine L'Engle, culinary legend Julia Child and countless others, Northampton offers a fittingly vibrant art scene.

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View of the Botanic Garden of Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

The Smith College Museum of Art, for one, houses tens of thousands of pieces spanning centuries and geographies (and it’s free). Nearby, the college’s botanical garden (also free) boasts six acres of outdoor gardens and 10 specialty greenhouses that are open to the public.

Outdoor street market
Lynne Graves

Bibliophiles can spend hours perusing the shelves of Raven Used Books, a Northampton staple since 1993, before heading downtown to Broadside Bookshop, which opened up shop in 1974. The eclectic and busy Thornes Marketplace, another downtown gem, has three levels of locally-owned shops and restaurants. And when adventure calls, Northampton’s labyrinth of bike trails — an old network of train tracks that have since been paved over — weave cyclists through prairies, swamplands and neighboring cities like Hadley and Amherst.