Massachusetts : Safety by City
- Cape Cod
- Fall River
- Martha’s Vineyard
- New Bedford
New Bedford, Massachusetts, is synonymous with whales, wealth, war sites, and waterfront fun.
The adventures start on Buzzards Bay, but ferries can take you through the beauty of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Cod.
New Bedford isn’t to be confused with the city of Bedford, the latter of which is a northwest suburb of Boston.
New Bedford sits in the South Shore region, often overlooked for the treasures along Cape Cod.
Make no mistake about it – New Bedford is well worth the visit.
This place was once referred to as “The City that Lit the World” due to its industrial skill set of turning whale fat into lantern oil that was shipped domestically and internationally.
It was once the most affluent city in the world per capita, even with whale carcasses lining the streets during production.
While the Whaling Capital of the World is no longer an appropriate title, the fishing industry is still robust here and among the highest-grossing ports in the country.
Tourism almost happened in New Bedford as an afterthought.
The rich economy of the whaling turned textile industries with a steady income from fishing and scalloping made this a working town.
You won’t find an abundance of hotels here, but if you widen the search along I-195, more will be available.
Warnings & Dangers in New Bedford
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in New Bedford, and the same couldn't have been said a decade ago. The steady decline in violent and property crime is a success, but there's still work to be done. Violent crime is still 40% higher than the national average, but it's not where too many random acts of violence happen. Plus, you have so much to see and do in safe places that basic personal safety steps go a long way.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
SRTA is the public transportation through New Bedford and almost a dozen more towns in this region. The Green Shuttle offers rides to Providence and Boston. Several rental car brands are in New Bedford, and taxis are available too. Seastreak boat ferry takes people from New Bedford to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Just one pickpocket and one purse snatching was reported in 2021, showing that either thieves are few and far between or people really stick to the standard safety guidance and limit what they carry around.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Any waterfront community in New England will face the risk of flooding and tropical weather, especially between June and November when hurricane season is underway. Winters are blustery and cold, with ongoing flood risks. Severe thunderstorms and an occasional tornado or waterspout can also happen.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Robbery rates are at the national average, but just 30% of those were highway robberies. Staying aware of your surroundings and not walking around at night alone will keep your risk low.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in any of these waterfront communities on the South Shore, but you can sign up for alerts from the U.S. Terrorism Advisory System to review bulletins to see if that threat changes.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Phone solicitors and rental scams are the biggest threats here. Rental housing will be expensive anywhere on the South Shore, so a discounted rental price should be the first sign something is amiss. Never wire money to secure a reservation. Use a local travel agency to get trusted options if you want a rental.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Statistically, women have a slightly lower risk in New Bedford. Visiting during the daytime is safer than wandering the docks and town at night. Try to always travel with a friend or a group for the safest experience. Report anything suspicious to the local police.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
According to the 2021 Water Quality Report, all standards were met or exceeded, and no violations were reported. New Water Quality reports must be posted by June of a given year, and you can find those on the utility department's website or ask that one be mailed to you.
Safest Places to Visit in New Bedford
DestinationNewBedford.org and NewBedfordCreative.org are two great websites run by tourism officials in the community.
You can search the secure website for the safest activities in the city and region.
VisitSEMass.com covers New Bedford, Fall River, and Greater Attleboro regions too.
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is right in the city center, covering 13 blocks with several museums and attractions along the way, including:
- New Bedford Whaling Museum
- Ned Bedford Fishing Heritage Center
- New Bedford Port Society: Seamen’s Bethel & Mariner’s Home historical buildings
- Buzzards Bay Coalition: Education about the ecological impact of the bay and a list of eco-friendly activities
- Green spaces, art venues, and performance art stages
Since that is all part of a National Park, download the NPS app to get a full list of things to do, admission/parking info, and safety tips.
The schooner Ernestina-Morrissey sits in its home port of New Bedford near the ferry terminal, and in 2023, tours start up again after seven years of restoration work.
The ship first launched in 1894 and made several arctic trips during her working years.
Check the website ernestina.org closer to your trip to see updated tour information.
The New Bedford Museum of Glass is an elegant experience displaying why New Bedford was known as the art glass headquarters of America.
More than 7,000 display pieces truly astound you with impeccable and unique glass artistry.
Don’t miss the Crystal Kingdom, with miniature animal replicas made from colorful crystals.
Fort Taber Park is home to Fort Taber and Fort Rodman.
Why are there two forts in one place?
Fort Taber was a hastily built earthen structure developed when it became clear that Fort Rodman wasn’t going to be completed fast enough to engage in the Civil War.
Fort Rodman is also listed as Fort at Clark’s Point.
There’s a military museum at this park that will explain the dynamics much better than I just did.
A sandy beach lines the east side of this park.
The city also oversees East Beach and West Beach, in addition to the beach at the park.
West Beach has amphibious wheelchairs to accommodate those with mobility issues.
The only downside to West Beach is that you must have a seasonal pass to park there, and as of 2022, that will cost you $60 as a non-resident.
You must use cash to pay for a seasonal parking pass.
One of the best ways to see the city and bay is along the Harborwalk.
This is actually a hurricane barrier, but since the 1960s has also been a popular walking path along the water.
It does extend to a barrier island, where you can see Fort Phoenix State Reservation, a small historical fort.
You’ll have to drive around the peninsula to get that fort, but more history and beaches abound in that reservation.
Places to Avoid in New Bedford
If you stick to the national park, beaches, and historical areas, you won’t have to worry about a bad neighborhood or a dangerous part of town.
While this was once an affluent community, it now has an average income of $50,000 annually with a nearly 20% poverty rate.
The places that are worth exploring are clearly detailed on the tourism site.
Summer visitors should check the state website’s Current Public Beach Postings section to check the water quality before choosing a beach.
Algae blooms and bacteria can make the water too dangerous for swimming.
Signs will be posted on each beach, but wouldn’t you rather know before you park and get to the sand?
Some businesses will be closed during winter or have limited seasonal hours.
You should check with your preferred attractions and see the schedule during the time of year you plan to visit.
While there will always be plenty of things to see and do on the South Shore any time of year, a little bit of research goes a long way.
Safety Tips for Traveling to New Bedford
- New Bedford Police Department (NBPD) has a website section called “Police Logs,” where you’ll find crime statistics, daily arrest reports, and updates on major incidents. While official crime data is only released once a year, this will give you a better sense of crime trends closer to your trip.
- NBPD is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but the Facebook page is updated most often. The handle is @NewBedfordPolice. The main phone number for the department is (508) 991-6350. It’s smart to save that number on your phone if you have questions before or during your trip.
- If you notice suspicious activity or drug crimes happening that are not urgent, you can report crime tips anonymously to 508-99-CRIME (508-992-7463). While you can leave your name and contact information, you are not required to do so.
- While you might not think a busy fishing town has gangs or drug trades, this city is battling a problem with both. Police raids in the past few years have turned up illegal gang-owned weapons and a drug bust that ranked as the largest in the state’s history. It’s important to report any graffiti you see, as that’s a hallmark of a gang and drug activity.
- New Bedford uses the CodeRED notification system to alert residents and visitors to weather, civil, and safety emergencies. You will need to sign up for an account, and it’s well worth it since most cities in this region, including Providence, use the same tool. The Massachusetts Emergency Agency also offers a Ping3Alerts! app that gives statewide information while also allowing users to upload storm damage information or photos.
- During snow events, a snow emergency declaration will greatly limit where you can park. As part of the Winter Storm Kit on the city’s website, you can review public parking lots open during winter weather. While you’re there, review the vehicle safety kit information if you’ll be driving in the storm.
- If storms cause power outages during any time of the year, calling the city or police department won’t do any good. You need to call the power provider, Eversource (formerly NSTAR), at 1-800-592-2000. The Eversource website also has an outage section where you can check and report outages.
- New Bedford and the South Shore region have the country’s largest gathering of Portuguese Americans. Several Portuguese events are held annually, and the Portuguese Times website and newspaper offer local stories and information. While local television coverage comes mainly from Providence and some from Boston, you can read the South Coast Today or Standard-Times to get hyper-local information.
- If you want to fish here, you’ll need a Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife license. Non-residents will pay more than residents, and there are tiers of licensing for different activities or types of water. You can purchase the license online and be sure to keep it with you at all times while fishing, along with a photo ID.
- Visiting the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park differs from traditional rural parks. This is part of a working city, so you’ll have to deal with traffic and pedestrian-sharing spaces. Don’t cross a street outside a crosswalk, and always confirm the drivers see you before walking ahead. The streets are made of cobblestone, which could lead to trips or falls. Don’t wear heels here, and watch your step.
So... How Safe Is New Bedford Really?
New Bedford has made incredible strides over the past decade to clean up the crime in the community.
While there’s still work to do, the city’s overall crime rate is down nearly 40% since 2011.
It’s especially impressive since many cities saw violent crime surge during and immediately after the pandemic.
“We have intentionally focused on building partnerships across the city and with every member of our community,” Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro said.
“The term ‘we’re in this together’ applied to New Bedford long before the pandemic.
“We are truly a city of one.
We have patrol officers working in concert with clinicians, health service providers, landlords, and business owners to help resolve problems.
We consistently address the root cause of issues that are arising in the community.
It makes a huge difference when we connect with the community.”
Violent crime is still 1.5 times higher than the national average, but 23% of that crime involves strangers, so that lowers your risk right off the bat.
Another 46% of violent crimes happen at home.
The decrease in crime parallels the city revitalization and enhancement of the tourism industry.
While it may lack the luster of places like Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, or Hyannisport, it certainly has earned its place in history and offers many of the same types of attractions without inflated prices.
How Does New Bedford Compare?
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- Visas - The U.S. State Department requires all international travelers to have a valid passport more than six months from expiring and a visa or visa waiver. You can review the process on the department's website, but don't waste any time. This process can take several months. You will need to do an in-person interview, list any criminal history, and provide a list of social media sites from the past five years, whether they are still active or not.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted in Massachusetts and Rhode Island locations. You should carry some cash for places that won't take credit cards but keep it in a hidden pocket or another safe, less obvious place. Exchanging current in your home country will offer lower conversion fees. Some U.S. banks will buy back the unused currency.
- Weather - You should plan for all four seasons, even though this is a waterfront community. Winters can be blustery and cold, with snow, ice, or sleet. Fall and spring have wide temperature swings, so bring several layers of clothing. Bring waterproof outer layers and comfortable walking shoes or snow boots any time of year. Bug spray and sunscreen are needed in the summer.
- Airports - New Bedford has a regional airport, but flights only go to the nearby islands. You can get to Boston Logan International Airport or Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport in an hour but plan for longer if you're using a shuttle or traveling during rush hour.
- Travel Insurance - We recommend travel insurance for all trips, especially due to the risk of weather cancelations here. As I write this, it's at the height of the travel nightmare following Christmas 2022, and thousands of flights are canceled, leaving people stranded. You want to protect against these worst-case scenarios.
New Bedford Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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