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Too often, urban redevelopment projects polish places to such a shine that one neighborhood is indistinguishable from the next. But that’s not happening with the revitalization of downtown Haverhill, which is staying true to its gritty, interesting vibe while becoming a lively and energetic hub for the city.

Today, its Queen Anne-style industrial buildings have been reimagined as beautiful lofts, restaurants, and art studios, and exist easily alongside new developments like The Heights at Haverhill, a glass, mixed-use high-rise that glitters at the edge of the Merrimack River. 

The Heights, a Lupoli Companies property, is a perfect encapsulation of what Haverhill’s future looks like, with an emphasis on luxury living, fine dining, and higher education, between its sun-drenched apartments and state-of-the-art commercial kitchens for Northern Essex Community College’s culinary program. Later this year, it’ll also boast two restaurants, the first-floor Bosa and the rooftop Bosa Bar, which has stunning views of the river from every vantage point.

Rendering of The Heights. Courtesy of Lupoli Companies

“Downtown Haverhill has been going through a huge revitalization and is becoming a robust, thriving area,” says Sal Lupoli, president and CEO of Lupoli Companies. “It’s known to many locals as restaurant row and now more great restaurants are popping up. We can’t wait to up the ante with our rooftop bar and restaurant at The Heights.”

Downtown Haverhill is best seen on foot, thanks to an easy loop walk that’s about 1.5 miles long and crosses the Merrimack River twice, incorporating the best of the downtown along with the Bradford Rail Trail. 

“Haverhill’s just got such a funky, grungy, cool vibe to it,” says Erin Padilla, a programs and operations director for Creative Haverhill. “It’s just fun to walk downtown.”

Start your tour at the corner of Main Street and Merrimack Street, home to the Haverhill Farmer’s Market from June to October. Across the street is Harbor Place, another mixed-use building with residences, a UMass Lowell satellite campus, local businesses, and the riverfront tacos and tequila restaurant Barrio. From there, stroll along the river on the newly extended wooden boardwalk to Washington Square.

Stop for: An art break

Downtown Haverhill is filled with art, from the oversized, stylized shoe sculptures that commemorate the city’s shoe-making heritage to The Switchboard, where an artist-in-residence program, studio space, and community events breathe life into the downtown creative scene. Around corners and down alleyways, murals splash color and stories across the buildings’ brick walls. Inside Shoe Town Art Center art classes get people of all ages creating.

Photograph by Doug Levy

Mark your calendar this summer for the Haverhill Art Walks, running the second Saturday of the month from May-September. Padilla says visitors can expect an ever-changing lineup of plein air artists working on the boardwalk, musicians in alleyways, art displays, self-guided tours, and more.

Emerge from the boardwalk back onto Washington Street, where you’ll continue your walk downtown. Be sure to look up at the antique architecture as you stroll past storefronts like the women’s clothing boutique Opal & Oak.

Stop for: A bite and a beer

Downtown Haverhill is filled with restaurants, and the city and chamber of commerce have worked closely with them to ensure outdoor dining could thrive throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Expect more of that this year.

“On Washington Square and up Washington Street, the sidewalks are just filled with tables,” says Melissa Seavey, member relations specialist for the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. For a great sampling of local fare, don’t miss Haverhill Restaurant Week, August 20 to 27.

Photograph by Scott Murry

One standout is The Tap Brewing Company, with its outdoor dining deck overlooking the river, a historic space that’s been a restaurant since 1897, and serves locally made craft beer. Try its pre-Prohibition style J.M. Hickey Lager, going on draft in April and named for the original bar’s owner, says head brewer and brewery manager Jason Barnum. 

Stop for: A paddle on the river

If sitting on The Tap’s deck makes you want to get onto the Merrimack River as well as next to it, head to the city’s public dock right behind the restaurant, where you’ll find standup paddleboard and kayak rentals courtesy of Plum Island Kayak’s kiosk that operates there over the summer. Owner Ken Taylor says it’s a great spot to enjoy a wide, easy stretch of an urban waterway.

Photograph by Doug Levy

Stop for: Some yoga

The Yoga Tree’s indoor space is stunning, with huge windows overlooking the river. But to get even more in touch with Haverhill’s beauty, try its outdoor classes, which are held both on the downtown boardwalk and just down the road at Winnekenni Castle, says owner Ally Vallieres. Check online for a full schedule.

Stop for: A detour to Rail Trail

At the end of Washington Street, cross over the Merrimack River via the Comeau Bridge into Bradford. Take a left onto South Elm Street, and you’ll find the entrance to the Bradford Rail Trail, a paved riverside path that’s dotted with public art sculptures. The Rail Trail will soon be extended further, but until then, use the Basiliere Bridge to cross over the river again and back into vibrant downtown Haverhill.