**This post was written in 2016. Some of the information provided may not be accurate for 2018 (including special exhibits and events at the BIG E.) Updated price information and dates have been added for 2018.
So, this is quite a big event to tackle and it’s been quite challenging for me to figure out a way to start this post. The first thing I can tell you about the Big E is that to truly understand the event you need to go. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It puts all fairs and carnivals to shame. Trust me, I grew up in a town with a HUGE annual two week fair. It pales in comparison to the Big E.
Growing up, I had never even heard of the Big E. Now, it’s become our annual family tradition.
The Big E runs for 15 days in September. It opens on a Friday and ends on a Saturday. This year, it ran from September 15 to October 1.
Every year we go, we try to go on a weekday. Because as I am sure you know, weekends are insane. The highway backs up in both directions, the off ramps jam up, and parking is impossible to find. And you aren’t even in the Big E yet. On weekends, the buildings are busting at the seams, line are long and it’s just way. too. crowded. Trust me, we have put in our share of weekend visits at the Big E, but we avoid it now at all costs. Especially since we have a child. So my first piece of advice: go on a weekday.
This year, we actually went on a Monday. A kind of dreary day but it ended up staying dry for us all day. Thanks to that lingering threat of rain though, people decided to skip the Big E that day. In fact, the day we went was actually their lowest attendance!
As for driving to the Big E, the most direct way is up 91 North. They offer different tips for how to get to the Big E on their website. I know there are some people who swear by the shortcuts, in fact we have our own sneaky ways to avoid traffic too. This year since it was not so busy, we were able to come in the way the Big E recommends with no issue.
We have never in all our years parked in the Big E lot. The Big E parking lot is located near Gate 9, and is $10 for the day. They accept cash only. The lot does fill up so if you go later in the day or on a busy day, you may encounter a full sign. For us, we like parking in an offgrounds parking lot, right near Gate 4. We usually pay $5 to $10 depending on how far we have to walk. For this visit, we paid $10. But we ended up right next to Gate 4.
Right when you cross the road, you come to the ticket booths and entrance gates. No matter which gate you go to, you need a ticket! We planned ahead and bought our ticket at the Big Y World Class Market. This saved us $3 on each ticket. Admission to the Big E is $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 6 to 12, and children 5 and under are free. If you enter the Big E after 5 p.m., the price is $6 for everyone. Up to date information for admission prices can be found on their website. There is also more details regarding the 17 day value pass and midway passes on the website as well.
The Big E opens at 8 a.m. However, I don’t recommend showing up that early. Most buildings and exhibits do not open until 10 a.m. The midway does not open until 11 a.m. We arrived shortly after lunch. In the past, we have usually aimed to be in the gates by 11 a.m.
You can leave the Big E and return within the same day. If you decide to leave, make sure to save your ticket stub and have your hand stamped as you exit the gate. You need both of those things to reenter the gates on the same day.
So, now that you’ve made it into the Big E gate, where you go next is entirely up to you. There is A LOT to do at the Big E. Some people go right to the Avenue of States building and start eating. Some people like the Craft Commons. Some go right to the midway and go on the rides. Or you can check out the quirky, gimmicky sales pitches in the Better Living Building. We never follow the same path every year. Just start walking and you will find something to do!
I like Gate 4 because there is a lot nearby as far as information booths, first aid, lost and found, stroller/wheelchair rental and restrooms. You can also find many of these things throughout the park, including an additional stroller rental location near Gate 9.
This first aid/lost and found booth was located right near the Craft Commons entrance.
Stroller rentals can be found, as mentioned above, near the Chevrolet Court near Gate 4 and also next to Gate 9. Stroller rentals are $10 a day for single strollers, and $15 for a double. They also have wagon rentals and wheelchair rentals. We personally choose to bring our own stroller which is easy enough. But if you don’t have room in the car or don’t like lugging it around, this is a pretty reasonable option. Just note that these rentals are on a first come, first serve basis and they do not take reservations!
There are also bathrooms found everywhere. Just off the top of my head, some of the cleaner ones are in the New England Transportation Center, the New England Center, the Young Building and the Better Living Center. Most (but not all) have changing tables as well.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the Big E, let’s move on the fun stuff. So, basically at the Big E you can do the following things: buy stuff, ride stuff, look at stuff, and eat stuff. That really does sum it all up. So, where do you go to do that?
Avenue of States
One of the biggest attractions at the Big E, and what really sets it apart from other traditional fairs and carnivals, is the Avenue of States. There are six buildings, each represented by a New England state. Each state has designed and set up their building to represent the true heart of their state. There are exhibits about the state, vendors selling products made in the state and of course, food that is special to their state. You will soon learn that food is the key focus of the Big E. If I haven’t said it yet, go to the Big E with a hungry, empty stomach because you are about to eat the most food of your life!
The Connecticut building has definitely become quite the attraction over the years for us. In years past, this was the building we’d often coast through because it was rather boring. But they have definitely made this a fun building! They have a HUGE Lego exhibit with Legos and Duplos to play with. They have a Pez display with the dispensers available for purchase. There is a great ice cream shop (J. Foster’s) that gives out free tastings! My personal favorite stop: Bradley Taffy (and they are also awesome because they sell water for $1). There’s bbq, pizza, baked potatoes, kettle corn, and cider donuts. You’ll also find exhibits from Mystic Aquarium and the Beardsley Zoo.
The Maine building. One word: Potatoes. No wait, Lobster. No wait, blueberries. Honestly, they have it all. And we eat it all. The baked potato is our personal favorite. Everyone has their favorite place for a baked potato (some say Connecticut, some say from the food vendor trucks), but for us it is and always will be Maine. A word of warning though, the potato line can get long! So if you want a potato, try to get in line during an off peak time (i.e. not during lunch or dinner). The potatoes are $6 a piece, and we always share one. Even though we can never agree on the toppings, and end up having to put chives on just one side. I also LOVE the blueberry pie and have to take home a mini pie with me every year. It’s so good. There’s a lot of other fun stuff in the building but honestly, I loose all focus once I get my potato.
The Massachusetts Building has so many great exhibits (and food!). My favorite little treat in this building is a cup of cranberry juice for $1 and a little cup of raspberries also for $1. They also have a milk stand with $1 bottles of milk for the kids. We always make sure to get our cup of clam chowder from the State Grange booth as well. It is the best chowder in the whole place! And that says a lot coming from a girl raised right near the Cape! There are some great educational exhibits in the center of the building, including fire safety, parks and forests, emergency preparation, and bees. And let’s not forget, there’s a Friendly’s booth!
The New Hampshire building has two of our must bring home items: kettle corn and fudge. Again, which kettle corn and fudge you like is a discretionary thing but we have tried many different spots, and these are still the best in our mind! The kettle corn line can get long so if you do plan to bring theirs home, allow time to wait. Luckily, since it wasn’t busy that night, my husband got his bag to go rather quickly! My other favorite vendor in this building is Harvest Thyme Herbs! They have samples of all their dips too! Yum!
The Rhode Island building is all about the seafood. You’ll find their take on clam chowder (which I’m sorry, is not real chowder). They also have clam cakes and other fried seafood delights. We enjoy the Del’s lemonade stand! And they also have some great stops for $1 waters. My favorite part of the day though when I got to meet and take a photo with the Rhode Island State Police! I absolutely love their uniforms, and I had to tell them so!
The Vermont Building- cheese, cheese and more cheese! The Cabot samples are the best! And they sell their cheese as well- I suggest the Big E special! There is also another great dip place, Halladay’s Harvest. I buy way too much dip from them every year. They have maple syrup, of course, as well as maple candy and cotton candy. Of course, Ben & Jerry’s is there with lots of ice cream goodies. The cider donut place is to die for, so is the apple slushie they sell. And of course, my absolute, most favorite place to eat in the whole Big E: American Flatbread. Oh the pesto tomato pizza… drooling as I type. Vermont is all about the eating. You will leave that building feeling like you are stuffed to the gills with dairy products. But really, is there anyone who does cheese better than Vermont?
One additional thing to add about all the state building is the backyards of the buildings. They all have great places to sit and relax while you enjoy your food. We take our time walking through the buildings, and if we grab food, we always walk to the back yard of the building so we can sit and enjoy it. On a busy day those seats can fill up but since it was pretty quiet, we had no issue finding seats at every building. Once we ate and relaxed, we could head back in for more fun and food!
The Avenue of States can take a while to go through if you really stop to enjoy every exhibit and try all kinds of foods. We usually make two rounds through the State buildings, one to scope things out and eat food, and a second round to buy all the things we want to take home with us. It is a little tricky with a stroller when crowded, but on a quiet day, like the one we had, there was no real issue with the stroller.
So, I hope you’re not full yet because there’s still more food to eat.
So, basically, everywhere you go, there’s food. They fry anything and everything – kool aid, jelly beans, chocolate bars, oreos. You name it, they fry it. There is Greek food, polish food, Chinese food, BBQ, Italian food, American fare. I can’t say if I have ever seen anything healthy but really, it’s the Big E, who wants salad?
I’ve never really known the names of the roads throughout the Big E, but if you can spot a map, you’ll be able to find some of the locations I list next.
- The food court has White Hut and other places to eat, including a BBQ joint.
- New England Avenue has fried everything – oreos, kool-aid, jelly beans. And it’s also the home of the CrazE burger.
- Commonwealth Avenue will have BBQ, baked potatoes, nachos, pierogies, french fries and of course, fried everything else.
- The Avenue of States (along the road, not the actual buildings) has corn dogs and the famous turducken! You’ll also find the Storrowton Tavern here as well.
- West Road is home to the Agawam Lions Club & Springfield Lions Club, which has burgers, chicken and ribs to name a few things. I also found the Greek place on this road.
- There is also food found on Industrial Avenue, East Road, and Hampden Avenue.
What did we eat that day? Fried Reese Cups and a big corn dog!!
So now that you feel disgustingly full, let’s start walking and check things out!
If you like history and enjoy learning about a more simpler time, then you will enjoy the educational demonstrations and replicas throughout Storrowton Village. Most of the buildings can be found right near the Craft Commons, which is just opposite the Avenue of States. The Village has a beautiful town green in the center, where many shows are often held throughout the day at the gazebo. There are live demonstrations showing a cobbler at work. There are many villagers in costume that walk around. Many of the buildings allow for you to walk through, including an old schoolhouse, a church and a law office. It is one of the more quiet, peaceful spots in the Big E. It’s a great place to just stop and take a break from the craziness that is the Big E.
Mallary Comlex (4-H)
The Mallary Complex is located on the opposite side of the Big E, just near Gate 9. You can see cows being milked, learn about dairy products, and you may even catch some cows being judged for 4-H ribbons like we did. There was also a really amazing butter sculpture! And our favorite find by the Mallory Complex is the 4H Milk Booth! They have the best strawberry milk! Also in this area, you’ll find the Wine and Cheese Barn as well as a beautiful Christmas tree exhibit.
Animal Exhibits & Shows
If you like animals, then you will have no problem finding some great animal shows and exhibits. From petting zoos to pig races to seeing cows in the Mallary Complex and horses in the C-Barn. They have livestock competitions. This year they even had the Clydesdale horses near the Avenue of States. Animals are a huge part of the Big E.
We enjoyed the pig race this year especially. My boy even won a pig nose! Which he refused to wear…
Concerts & Shows
The Big E has a ton of free and pay for concerts. Make sure to check out the acts ahead of time and if you see something you like, plan your visit around it! We happened to walk by during a free concert but it sounded like an old 1970’s band that neither of us had heard of!
New England Center
The New England Center is right near Gate 4 and is the home of many creative arts competitions. They have cake decorating and other baking competitions, as well as photography, quilting and knitting competitions. We happened to catch the Square Dancing Show when we walked through! There is also a nursing mother’s area sponsored by the La Leche League, so if you need a private place to nurse your baby, definitely stop by!
The main attraction at the New England Center though: the Big E Cream Puff! That is an absolute must- so save room for one!! Or two….
Other Attractions to Check Out
There are a number of other attractions that are worth checking out at the Big E:
- The Circus! Shows are held daily at 1, 4 and 7 p.m. I cannot explain it, but we totally missed that this year. I was pretty bummed when I realized it later on!
- The Circus Museum has a number of model exhibits, including train displays, which my child LOVED. It’s a nice quiet space to enjoy. Strollers are hard to get in though, since there are stairs into the exhibit.
- The West Springfield Fire Station: Because what child doesn’t love firetrucks!
- The Big E Parade: The Big E hosts two parades, the Mardi Gras Parade is at 8 pm during the weekdays, and 5 pm on weekends and opening day. The Big E Parade, which is based upon which Special Day it is (i.e. Connecticut Day, Springfield Day, etc), is held at 5 pm daily. These are fun to watch – especially when the floats throw out beads or candy. Just be careful where you step after the parade- the horses don’t care where you walk!
- Mr. Biggie: If you’re lucky enough to spot him, Mr. Biggie often roams the grounds of the Big E. He is a very friendly fellow and is happy to give your kids a high five or a hug, and take photos!
- The Big E Band Organ: If you have been to the Big E in years past, you might remember seeing this right near Gate 4. It was once a big display at the main gate but this year we found it tucked away behind the Avenue of States. My boy actually loved this and he sat in his stroller for a while just enjoying the music. Take the time to find this and stop to enjoy the music!
- The Voice Chair– This was a special display this year in the Big E Transportation Center. Sponsored by NBC, the Voice Chair was open for anyone who wanted to imagine what it is like to be on the show, pressing the button like Blake Shelton. It also made for a fun photo-op. I will say, I was kind of bummed Adam Levine didn’t appear when I pushed the button.
Shopping at the Big E
After you’ve had your fill of sightseeing and different shows, if you enjoy shopping, the Big E won’t disappoint. From the Craft Commons near Storrowton to shopping on the midway, and all the way into the Better Living Center, you will find everything. It’s crazy the things people sell… and people buy! With a tired toddler in tow, we actually never made it in the big shopping areas at the Better Living Center or the Young Building. But from years past, expect to find lots of “As seen on TV” products like snow scrapers or grill mats, home improvement items and clothes. They have a ton of demonstrations that are fun to check out. You can also find a stand that will clean your jewelry for you. Trust me, they sell everything you can thing of in these buildings.
We did check out the Craft Commons, which is always a favorite for me and my husband’s own personal torture. I love finding little ornaments and other Christmas decorations. They also have some cute personalized signs and other decor. My favorite stand in the Craft Commons though- the pickle guy!
Also worth checking out is Yankee Candle, located on the bottom floor of the Grange building. If you love candles, this is definitely the place for you!
The Grange is also home to a number of craft vendors selling their wares: homemade scarfs and mittens, jellies and jams, and other craft items can be found here for purchase.
Midway (Rides & Games)
Perhaps the biggest attraction for the kids is the Midway!
For us, we skip the rides while we can (since my boy is so young and doesn’t know any better yet). The tickets are pretty expensive for rides. They offer Midway Magic Passes on Monday through Friday for $28. Those may be a better value if you have a lot of kids that want to ride everything.
There are a lot of rides, that’s for sure. So if you do opt for the midway magic pass, you will definitely be able to stay busy!
I am not sure if it was just that I had never noticed it before, but this year they seemed to have a pretty huge kiddie area. These rides actually required fewer tickets, so if your toddler was only interested in one or two rides, you would probably be better off buying a few tickets. They had a carousel, mini-cars, motorcycles, a boat ride and of course, a train ride. We carefully dodged that one before my boy could see it. Otherwise, that’s all we would have done the whole day!
Also in the midway are a wide assortment of carnival games. The games can be pricey but we found a cute duck game that my boy enjoyed, and of course, husband and I had to have our annual whack-a-mole competition (I won!).
The Big E is such a spectacular event, and it is absolutely a must-do if you live in New England, whether close by like us in Enfield or even out in Eastern Massachusetts, up north in Vermont or way down on the shore in Connecticut. It is unlike any fair you’ll find in this area.
We had a great day when we visited: not too crowded, not too hot, and lots of food and entertainment. It was only fitting that our perfect day ended with this beautiful sunset!
I hope this post will help you with either your first visit, or your 10th visit like us. There is so much to do and see, don’t feel bad if you don’t catch it all. We never do. And I just tell myself, there’s always next year!!
This about sums it up…
1305 Memorial Avenue- West Springfield, MA
Hours: Annual Event – 2018 Dates: Sept. 14-30, 2018
Gates Open at 8am
Avenue of States: 10am – 9pm
Storrowton Village: 10am – 9pm
Most Exhibits & Buildings: 10am – 10pm
Midway: Sunday – Friday, 11am – 10pm; Saturday, 10am – 11pm
Craft Common: 10am – 10pm
Be sure to check the Big E website for future dates.
2018 Prices (check the Big E website for up to date prices):
Adults $15/Children ages 6-12 $10; Children five and under are free.
17-Day Value Passes are $40 for adults and $20 for children ages 6-12.
Midway Magic Passes $30, valid any one day Mon. – Fri.
Be sure to pre-purchase your tickets with Big Y before the Big E opens! You’ll save money!
- Stroller friendly overall
- Large parking lot with plenty of available spaces
- Bathroom facilities are found all over the Big E- most restrooms have changing tables
- Nursing Mothers Lounge found in New England Center
- Cash and Credit accepted
- Food for purchase
- Wear comfortable shoes!!
- Bring the stroller or rent one if you prefer.
- Come hungry and be ready to eat!
- Layered clothes, extra clothes, etc. Depending on the weather, it can be chilly at night.
- We like to bring our mommy hooks to attach to the stroller since we buy alot, but if you plan to shop, make sure you leave room in the stroller or wear a backup to carry things.
- You’ll want to spend the day – so come prepared with diapers, snacks, etc. for the littlest ones.