Chris Kisiel grew up in Woburn. He went to high school in Woburn and eventually bought a home and started a photography studio in the small city just 10 miles north of Boston. He is a longtime member of the school committee and now leads the Woburn Chamber of Commerce as executive director.
“It’s a great place to live,” Kisiel says, noting how many of the city’s teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and officials—including the mayor—are also Woburn natives. “There’s a lot of people who stick around, which tells you something.”
That something, it seems, is that Woburn is a city that can offer community and culture to everyone. Historically more affordable than some of the surrounding towns, Woburn has a vein of working-class character running through it, while still serving up top-notch dining, shopping, and outdoor experiences.
For people most familiar with Woburn from passing through on the highway, the city may seem to be defined by its commercial developments. And to be sure the office buildings of Cummings Park and the retail hub at the nexus of Route 128 and Interstate 93 are important parts of the city, contributing enough to the tax base make property taxes relatively low for the residents who love living there.
The location also benefits local entrepreneurs by making their businesses more easily accessible to customers. At Kadanse, a ballroom dancing studio located just a half-mile from the highway, students come from as far away as the South Shore and New Hampshire, says Kelley St. Hilaire, who owns the business with her husband, Fitz Gerald. The studio is a great place for regular lessons, or to stop in for a social dance night. “The location is amazing,” St. Hilaire says.
Once visitors delve a little further into the city, however, they see a whole other side to Woburn, Kisiel says. Main Street is lined with brick buildings almost entirely occupied by local, independent businesses the reflect the diversity of the city. “There’s a lot of the mom-and-pop, which people really like,” Kisiel says. “The big stores—they haven’t taken over.”
Zaika Indian bistro serves up paratha and pakora across the street from the new Korean fried chicken place Hahaha Chicken (the early reviews are very promising). Head north on Main Street and you’ll soon find authentic Chinese hand-pulled noodles; to the south, dig into heaping piles of Brazilian food at Tudo na Brasa.
But there’s more to Woburn than food and shopping. The Woburn Public Library, built in 1879 and today a National Historic Landmark, is an unexpected architectural gem featuring ornate masonry, a nearly 80-foot tower, and soaring ceilings. In 2019, the library completed an extensive renovation project that restored some of the building’s original grandeur while adding a modern, glass-and-steel wing, harmoniously combining the historic and the contemporary.
Beyond the library, historic Colonial and Victorian houses cluster along the residential side streets, and a classic white church spire stands sentinel over the center.
Nearby, Horn Pond provides a woodland escape just steps from downtown. Miles of foot paths loop around the pond and through the adjacent woods. It’s a great spot for a jog, or for quieter pursuits, like a nature stroll or a leisurely picnic. “I like that you can kind of disappear into the woods around the pond.” Kisiel says.
Strong community spirit is also an important part of what attracts people to town—and keeps them there. Service groups like the Elks and Rotary Club are very active, Kisiel says. The Lions Club Halloween Parade is a major event every year, and other events dot the calendar throughout the year. Last year Kadanse put on an outdoor swing dance demonstration next to Horn Pond, for example.
And as the pandemic shows signs of receding, even more events and community connections are on the horizon, St. Hilaire notes. “Getting back to activities like that is amazing."
Check out these ideas about how to spend your time in Woburn.