Worcester, Massachusetts, located 40 mi/65 km southwest of Boston and now the second-largest city in the state, has a long history as a cultural center. Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain all lectured at Mechanics Hall, which was built in 1857: Take a tour or attend one of the performances still held there. In recent years, Worcester has been successfully competing with Boston to attract big-name performers to its Centrum Civic Center.

The Worcester Art Museum is one of the leading small art museums in the country, with a remarkable collection of Italian and Dutch paintings. It also houses a great collection of early American folk art, including a series of portraits of the Freakes family (a wealthy mercantile clan that settled in Boston's North End) that date to the 1600s, making them the earliest surviving examples of American painting.

The American Antiquarian Society showcases documents and printed materials that date from 1640 to 1876. The Higgins Armory Museum has what's said to be the largest displayed collection of medieval and Renaissance armor in the U.S. Don't miss the armor made for children and dogs.

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