If you grew up in New England, it’s likely you’ve been to the Big E at least once in your life. And if you haven’t, you’re missing out! The Big E, also known as The Eastern States Exposition, is located on the southern border of Massachusetts in the town of West Springfield. The Big E opens its doors the second Friday after Labor Day and stays open for 17 full days. It’s the biggest fair in New England and the fifth-largest in the nation. The Big E is so huge that many New Englanders and visitors alike, find themselves spending more than one day on the fairgrounds. If you a serious fairgoer, you can even purchase a 17 day pass.

This is a particularly special year for the Big E – it’s their 100th anniversary! The Eastern States Exposition was founded in 1916 with 45,000 people in attendance its opening year. One hundred years later, The Big E is expecting more than 1.5 million attendees. So whether you’re a veteran or a first-timer, be sure to join the centennial celebration that’s happening right now!

The Big E is an event like no other. I’m giving you the top 5 reasons I get excited for New England’s greatest fair, year after year.

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Shirt: Madewell | Flannel: Madewell | Jeans: MOTHER | Sneakers: Converse | Bag: Madwell | Sunglasses: Ray-Ban

1. FOOD

The food is, without a doubt, the best attraction at the Big E. Everywhere you walk you’ll be tempted by the sights and smells of fried deliciousness. Along with traditional fair foods, the Big E is known for its crazy and unexpected concoctions.  A few years back, The Big E began the tradition of introducing its own signature food. The first food to be unveiled was the Cream Puff, which has now become an iconic item at the fair (so don’t leave without trying one!) As the years pass, the food items become progressively more outrageous. Here is a great list of some of the mouth-watering fare you will find this year.

This section would not be complete without mentioning my absolute favorite food from The Big E – the item I wait all year for – Fried Cheese Curds. While the name may not sound particularly appealing, I promise they taste amazing. Fried Cheese Curds are placed at multiple locations throughout the fair, so keep your eyes peeled!

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2. AVENUE OF THE STATES

If you’ve never toured quintessential New England, now’s your chance! Not really, but at least you’ll get a taste (literally) of what the northeast has to offer! Six brick buildings line the Avenue of the States, proudly representing each New England state – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Each state actually owns the land on which the statehouse is situated, making The Big E the only place in the world that you can set foot on all six New England territories in less than an hour. Inside the life-size statehouses is an array of food, heritage and traditions characteristic of each individual state. I’ve listed my personal favorites from each statehouse below!

Connecticut – CT Craft Beer Works | Maine – Baked Potatoes | Massachusetts – Kringle Candle | New Hampshire – Zack’s Mac and Cheese | Rhode Island – Del’s Frozen Lemonade | Vermont – Vermont Maple Cream (get the Cream Cone!)

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3. SHOP

You could spend the entire day shopping at the Big E. With small shops lining every street and multiple vendor shopping centers, it’s hard to walk out empty handed. If you don’t have much time, I would advise skipping the tchotchkes and heading straight to my two favorite shops.

First stop is always The Vermont Flannel Company (located on Commonwealth Avenue and in the Vermont statehouse.) The Vermont-based company is dedicated to comfort and quality. All their products are hand-cut and sewn in the U.S.A. They sell a variety of products including flannel shirts, blankets, pj’s and dog coats in classic plaid patterns. Next up is the Hat Palace (also located on Commonwealth Avenue.) With country music playing loud and cow hides lining the countertops and walls, you can’t miss this place. Every year my husband and I return to this shop for two reasons: 1. The staff are the most friendly and helpful people you’ll ever meet. 2. They specialize in handmade, high-quality leather products. Pick out a leather belt of your choice and the staff will customize it to your size. Every belt they sell is made with real, American leather and smoothed by hand. You’ll be amazed how soft they are – just ask my husband, he buys one every year! The owners also appreciate your business. If you’ve purchased a belt from them in the past, bring it in for a complimentary tune-up. You’ll leave with it looking brand new!

4. BUDWEISER CLYDESDALES

We’ve all seen the iconic Budweiser commercials with six gorgeous Clydesdale horses pulling a bright red Studebaker wagon. But have you ever seen them in person? The Big E brings this American tradition to you as a part of their daily parade. The Budweiser Clydesdales have been a part of The Big E since the 1970s. They only make appearances every other year, so don’t miss out!

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5. BEER

A trip to The Big E wouldn’t be the same without an ice cold beer (or two!) Every year I look forward to stopping by the New England Craft Brew Tent and sipping a pumpkin beer served in a carmel, sugar, and cinnamon rimmed glass. If pumpkin beer is not your thing, you’ve got plenty more options to choose from. Tour the fair with your cold brew or take a break at one of the many beer gardens where you may be able to catch some live music.

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Some other attractions you’ll find at the Big E include livestock displays, horse shows, petting zoos, shopping centers, carnival rides, games, concerts and a daily mardi-gra parade. If you’re only visiting the fairgrounds for a day, be sure to give yourself enough time to see it all!

For more info on this year’s lineup, visit http://www.thebige.com/

JMD