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This year, Plymouth, Massachusetts, is celebrating the quadricentennial of the Mayflower voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth 400 celebration will bring together the United States, England, and the Netherlands in a year-long party marked by festivals, educational programs, history, and great food. 

Plymouth is always an interesting and fun weekend getaway. This year, however, it is an American history buff’s dream weekend getaway. From now until Thanksgiving, the quaint harbor town will host national and international visitors who are curious to discover how the colonization of America began.

Whether you love history, want to impart ancestral knowledge to your grandchildren, or are just curious for a peek back in time, the Plymouth 400 celebration might be just the thing for you.

Here’s why you should consider visiting Plymouth in 2020.

The famous Plymouth Rock.

The Town Will Be Celebrating Its 400th Anniversary

On Friday, June 26, 2020, Plymouth will kick off the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. The opening ceremony will begin with a parade through downtown led by the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. The classic marching parade will include the U.S. Air Force Drill Team and Color Guard, the Kentish Guards, the Gold’s Dragoons, and other military corps.

Following the parade, there will be an assembly in Memorial Hall. State and local dignitaries along with representatives from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands will be present for the demonstrations planned for the assembly. Tickets for the assembly must be purchased in advance.

Be sure to stop and view Plymouth Rock, the place where it all began. It is protected by iron gates and concrete blocks, but you should definitely take a picture when you wander by. The rock is located downtown on the waterfront, making it hard to miss. Yes, it’s just a rock; but it’s our presumptive birth-of-nation rock.

Celebrations are already underway in Plymouth, England. The residents began celebrating in November of 2019, commemorating the departure of the Mayflower, and will close the celebrations in November of 2020.

Download the Mayflower 400 program for a look at all of the neat events going on. There are 400 different events -- hosted by the U.S., the UK, and the Netherlands -- highlighting the history of the colonization of North America.

Be aware that due to the current coronavirus outbreak, some of these dates may be changed. Check the Mayflower 400 website for the most up-to-date information.

The Mayflower replica in Plymouth.

The Mayflower Will Return

The Plimoth Plantation maintains a Mayflower replica for visitors to experience. The full-scale reproduction was built in Brixham, England, at the Upham Shipyard and sailed to Plimoth Plantation in 1957. The location of the original Mayflower is unknown, and the last known maritime record of her is from 1624.

For the past three years, the Mayflower has been at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston undergoing a complete restoration. From May 14 to May 19, Boston will hold a Mayflower Sails celebration. Free tickets are available for tours of the ship while it’s still in Boston. She will be parked next to the USS Constitution, which is also open for tours. Two great ships steeped in history, ready for you to explore -- what’s not to love?

The Mayflower Homecoming Festival will be held from May 21 to May 25 in Plymouth Harbor. This Memorial Day-weekend festival is free to attend. If you wish to take a tour of the newly restored ship, it is highly recommended that you preorder boarding passes.

The precise replica of the Mayflower provides insight into an important period in American history. When you tour the ship, consider what it would have been like to live on it for nine months while at sea. The fortitude of the early settlers will leave you inspired.

The sun sets over Plymouth harbor.

You Can Enjoy An Official Maritime Salute

From June 27 to June 28, an Official Maritime Salute will be held in Plymouth Harbor. 

Ships of all types will fill the harbor to salute the 400th anniversary. A regatta will pay tribute to the Mayflower’s journey from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth Rock. You can register your boat to be part of the regatta saluting the anniversary.

Round out the event by chowing down on a traditional lobster dinner on the waterfront. Watch the brilliant sunset as you envision the harbor in the 1600s.

You’ll Witness Fireworks Over The Harbor

If you visit for the Fourth of July, you’ll get to see fireworks over the harbor. The best way to view them is on the water. Captain John Boats offers three different fireworks cruises: a family-friendly cruise, a cruise for the general public, and a party-boat cruise. 

If you have never viewed fireworks from the water, you must make time for this experience. With no crowds, the sound reverberating off the water, the unobstructed views, and the cozy boat atmosphere, a fireworks cruise is truly a special celebration.

A traditional Wampanoag hut.

You Can Learn About The Wampanoag Tribe

When you visit Plimoth Plantation, make sure to stop by the Wampanoag Homesite, where you’ll learn about the Wampanoag people of the region, both past and present. At the village, you’ll chat with Native Americans in period attire about 17th-century life on the Eel River. Although the Wampanoag people were friendly to the Pilgrims, their lives changed forever when colonization began. 

On August 1, Plymouth 400 will host the Wampanoag Ancestors Walk. The walk will highlight the 69 Wampanoag villages of the area; Massasoit, the grand sachem (intertribal chief) of the Wampanoags; and King Philip (Metacomet), Massasoit’s successor. A drum ceremony and reception will round out the celebration.

History buffs and those with Native American heritage will enjoy this celebration of indigenous life.

You Can Participate In The Indigenous History Conference & Powwow

Beginning on October 29 and running through November 1, the Indigenous History Conference & Powwow will be held at Bridgewater State University, about 30 minutes from Plymouth.

The conference will cover indigenous Americans’ lives before the Europeans arrived, how colonization affected the Native Americans, and how the Wampanoag tribes and other Native Americans are retaining their culture and traditions. This unique conference is sure to enlighten and will close with a traditional powwow.

Thanksgiving celebrations in Plymouth.

You Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Where The Holiday Began

Thanksgiving at Plimoth Plantation is a fun way to celebrate the national feast and immerse yourself in American history. Tables festively decorated with nature’s gifts await, and you’ll feast on traditional New England favorites while seated where our nation’s founders celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

This year, Plymouth 400 will present Illuminate Thanksgiving, a weeklong schedule of events inspired by Governor William Bradford, the first governor of the New World. Bradford’s history of the Plymouth Plantation is a record of the Mayflower voyage and the challenges faced by the settlers. The Illuminate Thanksgiving theme is based on a Bradford quote: “As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone to many.” 

The celebration will include a Thanksgiving concert, parade, and other festive events. Illuminate Thanksgiving will take place from November 20 to November 25, culminating in a Thanksgiving feast. Tickets for the feast will be in high demand, so if this is on your bucket list, purchase them as soon as you can.

The Alden House Historic Site near Plymouth.

The Alden House Historic Site Will Be Open For Tours

History buffs will enjoy a tour of the Alden House Historic Site, a designated National Historic Landmark. John and Priscilla Alden, who came to the New World on the Mayflower, moved to Duxbury in 1627 to raise their family. The self-guided audio tour of their homestead and its grounds will allow you to explore at your own pace. 

The idyllic setting will inspire you to linger, perhaps relax in a field of wildflowers while admiring the shapeshifting of the fluffy white clouds above.

The Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.

You Can Spend The Night At Plimoth Plantation

To experience Pilgrim life firsthand, consider spending a night at Plimoth Plantation with the entire family. As part of the family-focused, historically accurate experience, you’ll don Pilgrim clothing, dine on a traditional hearth-cooked dinner, enjoy age-appropriate educational activities, and sleep in a Pilgrim house on a straw or feather bed.

This experience will bring history to life for your grandchildren like nothing else!

A whale off the coast of Plymouth.

The Whale Watching Is Spectacular

When you need a break from all the history, take a whale-watching tour. This 4-hour tour will take you out to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where you may spot humpback, finback, pilot, minke, and right whales. When you get home, you can tell a story about the big one that got away!

Pro Tips

Book early! If you want to join in the Thanksgiving feast or step aboard the Mayflower, purchase your tickets now.

If you are a Massachusetts resident, you can support Plimoth Plantation and demonstrate your patriotism by ordering a Plymouth 400 license plate.

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