A reason to travel to Amherst, MA in December: the reopened Emily Dickinson Museum

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Poetry pilgrims rejoice: the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts has reopened after a two-year closure. Part of a five-year revitalization plan, the first phase of the museum’s relaunch includes updated interiors (some courtesy of Apple, whose three-season series about the poet, Dickinson, ended last year). Period-specific furnishings and faithfully reconstituted floor and wall coverings join Dickinson’s own piano, bed and shawl, all thoughtfully and elegantly arranged in the very home (aptly named Homestead) where she was born, lived and later died. 

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To tour Homestead, you’ll need to purchase timed tickets in advance. The 45-minute tours are led by knowledgeable, Dickinson-obsessed guides who routinely recite poetry while leading visitors through the home, beginning at the entryway to the library and parlors on the ground floor, and finishing with the upstairs bedrooms of both Dickinson and her mother.

The exterior of the Emily Dickinson Museum © Patrick Fecher, Courtesy of Emily Dickinson Museum

Each room focuses on a different aspect of Dickinson’s life: her education at Mount Holyoke seminary, her passion for chronicling botanicals, her extensive correspondence, her devotion to her family and (of course) a deep dive into her poetry. After the tour, visitors can pick up souvenirs in the charming gift shop, whose proceeds support the museum. 

A collage shows a Victorian-style bed, book and desk in Emily Dickinson's home.
See elements of Emily Dickinson’s life at the museum © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet

On Emily Dickinson’s 192nd birthday (December 10), the museum is set to host a sold-out celebration (there’s also virtual programming) before it closes for the winter on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, similar restoration is underway on the other side of the property at The Evergreens, the neighboring house-museum where Dickinson’s brother Austin and his family lived. 

Visitors can also pay homage to the great poet at her grave site at Amherst’s West Cemetery, just a 10-minute walk from the museum. Her tombstone inscribed with two words from the last thing Dicksinson wrote, a letter to her cousins: “Called back.”

The town is the home of Amherst College (be sure to tour the beautiful campus), and it’s a quintessential Northeastern college town. Small and easy to navigate, it’s overall a great place to explore without a car – though transportation to and from Amherst is much easier with a vehicle.

Eat

Breakfast at The Black Sheep Deli is a no-nonsense affair: order from the counter, wait and pounce on one of the tables as they free up. The delicious breakfast sandwiches offer baked eggs with various additions served up on a roll (or bagel or croissant).  

If you’re looking for a fancier brunch, try 30 Boltwood ⁠– the malted rye pancakes with local maple syrup won’t disappoint. 

For a superb Italian supper, head to Osteria Vespa. Don’t sleep on the spicy Calabrian chili prawns – and ask them to double the order. Bistro 63 is also a popular local dinner spot.

Drink 

Amherst Coffee + Bar is definitely both: during the day it’s a charming spot to stop for a cup of whatever warm drink you desire, while after hours it transforms into a bar with craft cocktails. 

A plate of celery and bar snacks in a dark bar.
The yuzu celery at the Archives © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet

If we could drink one drink for the rest of our lives, it would be the Alpine Martini at The Archives, a speakeasy hidden inside a real estate office, behind a hidden door decorated to resemble stacked file drawers. Don’t miss out on the superlative bar snacks, the kimchi cheese and crackers and yuzu celery.

For an excellent Bloody Mary, head to Johnny’s Tavern, open for lunch with a great bar for daytime tipples.

The exterior of a grey and white Victorian inn.
The Inn at Boltwood is a cozy place to stay when in Amherst © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet

Stay 

Facing the town green in central Amherst, the Inn at Boltwood is a cozy, historic, independent inn with a kind and knowledgeable staff. Perch yourself by the fireplace in the library and enjoy the property’s complimentary coffee and pastries each morning as you read the local paper. There’s also heated outdoor seating, some adjacent to cozy fire pits, just outside 30 Boltwood, the hotel’s lauded restaurant.

This charming and sprawling inn’s proximity to the campus and the town make it a perfect home base from which to explore Amherst’s many offerings, as well as a place to pass a cozy afternoon reading, playing games or conversing with other guests.

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