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The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Thinking about moving to Massachusetts? Now you'll know which of its cities are the best.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

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Massachusetts, the Bay State, is renowned for many things. It has some of the richest history and oldest buildings in the nation; some of our country’s best colleges; and, of course, Boston.

Bean Town is just one city, however, so we wanted to do all Massachusetts residents proud and determine which cities in the state are its very best. It’s the same thing we’ve already done with states like Washington and, a bit closer to home, New Jersey.

Of course, narrowing our selection down to a list of 10 and one winner overall—Marshfield—was not without a certain degree of challenge, but we figured Red Sox and Celtics fans are accustomed enough to dealing with that. When the results were tallied, the 10 best cities in the Bay State emerged:

1. Marshfield
2. Reading
3. Gloucester
4. Watertown
5. Plymouth
6. Andover
6. Lexington
8. Cambridge
9. Salem
10. Braintree

What’s so great about Marshfield—and where on our list is Boston? Read on and we’ll explain how we came up with this order, and where each of these cities excelled most.

How We Conducted This Study

Just like with our other Big Deal Lists, the goal here was to take something subjective and, with a little bit of research, turn it into fact. This is where research came in. In order to find the 10 best cities in Massachusetts, we relied on the following eight criteria:

  • Cost of living
  • Crime rate
  • High school graduation rate
  • Median household income
  • Median home value
  • Amenities per capita (seafood restaurants, sports bars, Dunkin Donuts, museums)
  • Amenities total (seafood restaurants, sports bars, Dunkin Donuts, museums, and distance from New York City—the further, the better!)
  • The year the city was established (the earlier the better)

We started with a list of the 75 most populous cities, towns, and Census Designated Places in Massachusetts, then gave them a rank from one to 75 in each criteria listed above.

As far as amenities go, we chose seafood restaurants, sports bars, Dunkin Donuts, museums (as a measure of culture), and the distance from New York City, as pretty universal markers of a good life in Massachusetts. As every good Bay Stater knows, the further you are from New York, the better; if you’re close to a bar with the Celtics game on, you’re golden; and if you happen to be a short drive away from one of Massachusetts’ proudest products, Dunkin Donuts, then you’ve got it made.

From there, we decided to break this category up into both amenities per person and the total number of amenities per city, because while we recognize that it’s great to have a range of choices for each person, we didn’t want to dock cities because they have larger populations.

We also included the year each city was established, awarding a better score to those with more years under their belt, and thus, more history.

After we rated the cities, we averaged their individual criteria-level rankings together and gave each city an overall score. The lower that number, the better. To find out how all 75 places in our study ranked, jump down to the bottom of the post for a chart.

1. Marshfield

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user ToddC4176


This town by the water came in on top, mostly because of everything else it is close to. It may be one of the furthest from New York on our list at 239 miles away, but you never have to go too far before you come across a restaurant, sports bar, museums, or even better, a Dunkin Donuts. This fact gave a relatively small city of just over 25,000 residents a high score when it comes to amenities per capita.

Marshfield also received an A+ in education, with a high school diploma attainment rate of 94 percent—that’s 7 percent higher than the Massachusetts average.

2. Reading

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user John Phelan


Reading (pronounced Red-ing) may not have scored many points for the amenities on our list, but it more than made up for this with its high median household income of $99,130, a crime rate 55 percent lower than the state average, and its high school diploma attainment rate of 95 percent.

Numbers aside, Reading is an idyllic community to raise a family—safe, affluent, at least 220 miles away from New York. Even without the most Dunkin Donuts per capita, Reading does get some pretty sweet credit for Cupcake City, home to some of the best cupcakes in New England.

3. Gloucester

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Flickr user Dougtone


Gloucester scored major points both for its total number of amenities and amenities per capita, with a population of just 28,789.

Gloucester is also further away from New York than some of the other cities and towns on our list— 248 miles away, to be exact—and got some history points for being one of the older towns in Massachusetts, incorporated in 1642.

Outside of all the numbers, though, Gloucester is an idyllic city on the water, and so beautiful that its views have been made famous in paintings by Fitz Henry Lane and William Morris Hunt, and in works of literature such as Rudyard Kipling’s “Captains Courageous”.

4. Watertown

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user Daderot


Watertown scored major points for being one of the first cities established in Massachusetts (it was founded in 1630). With such a rich history, it may not come as a surprise that it was one of the best ranked in number of museums per capita, with five in the area.

This Boston ‘burb also ranked better than many of the other cities on our list in terms of median home value, at $431,600. To put that into perspective for you, think of it this way: the Massachusetts median home value is $369,302 and the national median home value is $200,419. Clearly, Watertown’s real estate market is in no danger of drowning.

5. Plymouth

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user Raime


Founded in 1620, Plymouth scored a lot of points as not just one of the earliest cities in Massachusetts, but the entire country. It is reportedly the oldest municipality in New England and one of the oldest in the U.S. This historically rich city did well with modern amenities as well, with some of the most per capita and the total in Massachusetts.

Plymouth has an impressive number of seafood restaurants, museums, and a sprinkling of Dunkin Donuts throughout the city. To top it off, Plymouth is about 230 miles away from New York—a pretty healthy barrier (though residents of both may wish it was even further).

6. Andover

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Flickr user by nlnnet


With a total score equal to that of Lexington, this Essex County town placed highly on our list for its high median income of $70,938, its crime rate 62 percent lower than the Massachusetts average, and its high median home value of $465,400.

Aside from the numbers, though, this affluent town is home to several points of interest, such as the famous Phillips Academy prep school, the gorgeous Andover Inn, the Chander-Bigsby-Abbot House, and of course, Jay Leno—the oldest act on late night television.

6. Lexington

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user Daderot


Much like our first No. 6, Andover, Lexington did well in terms of high median income—well, that might be an understatement. With a median household income of $130,637, Lexington is one of the most affluent towns in Massachusetts. It also has some of the priciest homes in the state at $682,600. To top it all off, Lexington has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the state—and the country—at 96 percent.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Lexington also has a crime rate 57 percent below the state’s average. It really does seem as though this Middlesex County town can do no wrong.

8. Cambridge

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user chensiyuan


Most people know this city as home to two of our nation’s finest universities: Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It also boasts beautiful historic buildings such as City Hall, the Public Library, and the Asa Gray House. Plus, it has famous museums such as the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. As our study shows, however, Cambridge is even more.

This city has dozens of seafood restaurants, museums, Dunkin Donuts, and more than a few sports bars (to watch the Red Sox, of course). It is also a decent drive from New York, at 213 miles away, putting it in fifth place when it comes to the total amenities, and eighth for amenities per capita.

9. Salem

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user John Phelan


Salem may be famous for the witch trials of the late 1600s, but these days it is known for known for much more—namely all of the things there are to do in the city. Salem comes in on top with its amenities per capita, and third with its total number of amenities. To top it off, Salem is a good 234 miles away from New York—plenty of distance for both parties.

Salem also earned points for its rich history and early founding date in 1626. Plus, with a cost of living 26 points above the national average, it is the most affordable city in our top 10.

10. Braintree

The 10 Best Cities in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia user ToddC4176


The final place on our top 10 goes to Braintree—and it doesn’t take a genius to see why. Braintree ranked well with a high median household income of $81,146—that’s about $15,000 more than the typical Massachusetts home. It was also one of the earliest established towns in Massachusetts, founded in 1640.

Braintree certainly does have a rich history, coincidentally filled with some of our nation’s brightest. Braintree was the home of John Hancock, John Quincy Adams, John Adams, and Thomas Watson. In more recent years, Braintree has given us the actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg and, most importantly, William Rosenberg, the brainchild behind Dunkin Donuts. Thanks, Braintree.

But Where’s Boston?

When the numbers were crunched, Marshfield was the winner—the Best City in Massachusetts. Which begs the question, where is Boston on our top 10? While Boston has rich culture, museums, and something to do every day of the week, the city simply didn’t rank well enough when it came to crime, income, or education to make the top 10. Still, that doesn’t mean Boston isn’t a wicked cool city.

(click to enlarge)

Best Cities in Massachusetts Ranking

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Who is Movoto Real Estate, you might ask? Movoto is a national online real estate brokerage. Our blog has been recognized for its unique approach to city-based research by major news organizations around the world such as Forbes, CBS News, and The New York Times.

posted on: December 10, 2013
112,131 views, 30 comments

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30 Comments

  1. David

    So you delete comments that call out your writing skills? I doubt we’ll be seeing you accept a Pulitzer in our lifetime.

    • Chris Kolmar in response to David

      Hey David,
      We didn’t get any comment from you earlier. There is a comment in our Facebook section from David HB, which might be yours.

      What’s up with the writing that needs improvement?

  2. Gail

    Criteria for this “Best Cities” seems lacking & a bit biased – only 2 of your top ten towns were in the single digits for “crime rate”; how does this make them “best cities”; look at the top 10 towns’ graduation rates too – several of them are nothing to be proud of; very specific types of restaurants – how does having a seafood restaurant make it a better town; seriously, D&D as a criteria – did they fund this research…); your amenities seem to be the one that make the difference for some very good towns – maybe other amenities should have been assessed. I hope your ranking doesn’t go very far – you exclude some very nice towns & pump up some questionable towns with this ranking; not sure your picture is the one that should be portrayed for those exploring moving to Massachusetts…

    • Chris Kolmar in response to Gail

      I think your analysis is fair. For amenities, we looked on forums and popular articles about Massachusetts for common themes. There were constant mentions of people loving the history, seafood, and Dunkin Donuts. So we tried to include them.

      From a high level philosophy, I think you can argue that seafood, museums, and Dunkin act more as proxy for an even more general notion of “things to do”. Because “things to do” is very hard to quantity (and is different to everyone) we had to make a call on what things embody that sense for Massachusetts.

      Also, I think i’ts important to note that we are Saturday Night Scientists and not real scientists. These rankings are made to have fun and encourage discussion. As David mentions in the first column, we aren’t going to win a Pulitzer for these kinds of articles and I would very much suggest you visit the specific parts of a city that interest you before you move there.

      Thanks again for starting the dialogue!

      • Christine in response to Chris Kolmar

        Your “high level philosophy” pretty much stereotyped the entire state’s residents as seafood-eating, Dunkin’-drinking, museum-hopping Yankee haters. You claim to be “not real scientists” but fail to include a disclaimer before your narrative to warn readers of your lack of knowledge in statistical analysis. Sorting and filtering municipal population, ranking them by some “average” rates and then applying weights using some very questionable and biased “amenities” is not analysis. There are endless indicators you could have employed to measure quality of life (access to healthcare/open space/transit, income equity, chronic disease rates, just to name a few), but your current methodology is haphazard and elementary. The results are incredibly misleading.

        • Chris Kolmar in response to Christine

          Hey Christine,
          Couple o things: 1) Our methodology is actually statistically accurate and 2) Our tag line is the lighter side of real estate and the right hand side of the page displays many clues this isn’t your typical real estate blog.

          Given that our methods are statistically accurate, the fun part is getting to argue over the criteria, which you are doing. In our opinion, the criteria we choose are better than the ones you listed, but it’s just an opinion. Don’t conflate lack of rigor with a difference in opinion on what the base criteria should be.

  3. rachel

    you used “wicked” wrong. wicked, when used in the massachusetts slang, is a interchangeable with “very”. all this research about the cities in massachusetts, and zero consideration for the local culture, except the stereotype that all we care about is the sox and dunks. that’s some good writing.

    • steve shay in response to rachel

      rachel, They used “wicked” correctly. They wrote, “Still, that doesn’t mean Boston isn’t a wicked cool city.” In other words, they mean, “Still, that doesn’t mean Boston isn’t a VERY cool city.” So they are saying it IS cool.

    • Lol in response to rachel

      “Still, that doesn’t mean Boston isn’t a wicked (very?) cool city.” Looks right to me. It also looks like you’re wicked retahhhhhded.

  4. Jeff

    This list is a joke, you clearly have never heard of Hingham or Norwell. The best towns in MA don’t have a chain restaurant on every corner, or a mall. Go back to the drawing board….I grew up in Braintree and it’s an overdeveloped disaster, try finding some space that isn’t next to a Mickey Ds or a “Dunks”.

    Shocked this is your top 10

  5. Pete

    This is the most rediculous ranking list I have ever seen.

  6. Craig Fitzgerald

    It’s abundantly obvious that you’ve never set foot in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    • Chris Kolmar in response to Craig Fitzgerald

      I’ve been to Brookline and Boston over a dozen times. We did everything based purely on data, not perception.

  7. Really Mcgee?

    So much wrong with this ranking system. First of all…since when does a city have to have a certain populous in order to qualify as best or better than another. A city is a city. If there were 100 dunkins per square mile in an ideal city but the population was only 10000, is it it still the best? No. So those methods of ranking are bogus. Also…distance away from other city is irrelevant unless it is in a persons interest to be within a distance from it for work or school or whatever reason. Nobody is going to move to mass with a motive to be as far away from NY as possible. If that were the motive…Then go to the west coast. Yet another problem I saw with the evaluation is the “crime rate”. First of all, last I checked crime is quite broad. And a particular cities crime rate never truly reflects a cities people, safety, or attractiveness. I’ve now ruled out a significant portion of what you used to rate these places…making the rating completely invalid. If a city has a high income average…again, it really won’t impact what makes a city attractive to somebody. In my opinion…factors that make a city “the best” are completely opinion based…otherwise everybody would move to one place and it would become overpopulated which would be detrimental to its attractiveness and everybody would leave. Even with affordability… because for some people money isn’t really a question…yet other factors are and the same vice versa. So the post is junk…In my opinion.

  8. alex

    you put milton at 16.. however, it’s ranked as the number 2 town to live in in the United States… doesn’t seem to make much sense… am i right?

  9. Joe

    I live in the town next to Marshfield and let me tell it is no where close to the best in Mass. Riddled with drug addicts and assholes. There is a reason why its nicknames are Murderfield and Marshvegas

    • Chris Kolmar in response to Joe

      Marshfield ranks in the top quartile in Massachusetts for crime per 100,000 residents. I think a few isolated incidents bias your perception because they are so infrequent. Kind of like how a plane crash always makes the news because it is so rare.

      For reference, the crime rate in Boston is ~3x higher than Marshfield.

    • GoRams in response to Joe

      Joe must be from Duxbury…Snob.

  10. karen

    I would REALLY like to know how Gloucester is on this list…as number 3 at that…unless your a coffee drinking alcoholic who likes seafood…Gloucester has low crime rate and a good graduation number that’s a joke right there…

  11. Bill

    While I’m glad my hometown of Plymouth made your list, your data is flawed. As the largest town, land area wise, in the Commonwealth we are one of the least populated. We average 421 people per square as compared to Hingham which averages 756 people per square mile (which you claim is too small to make your list)

    • Kerri in response to Bill

      I love all you people and your comments! You’re all amazing. Also- love the comments on Marshfield as #1 and the drug use. I got a great laugh out of the “plane crash” defense.

  12. Liz

    What about the nuclear power plant in Plymouth?!

  13. Jay

    Number of miles to New York is consistently mentioned as well as Dunkin Donuts? I would not want to send my children to many of these towns. Restaurants are fine; a desirable public education system should be more important.

  14. John

    I have lived in Reading for over 30 years – it is great town. But, the criteria used to compile this survey makes very little sense – and also being done by a California based real estate firm??

  15. Fred

    Salem has level 4 schools. Some of the worst in the state.
    How is this good?

  16. Hortence

    What amenities does Salem have exactly? Poor schools, heroin, homeless shelter, potholes on every street, contaminated playgrounds/fields, hyper dermis needles, etc.

  17. Candido Bretto

    I love the fact that Marshfield MA made #1 on this list without any mention of its greatest amenities. Some of the best things about this seaside town aren’t easily discernible to the casual visitor. Ask any longtime resident what they love about Marshfield and their answer is likely not even on this page.

 

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