New England has four distinct seasons and endless possibilities for fun (and history lessons) throughout the region and throughout the year.
The six comparatively small states that comprise New England have much in common but differ from one to the other. All have rich histories that began in the early 1600s, but the landscape varies from state to stateâwhich is why visitors love to come to the region and locals like to stay. Small but densely populated Connecticut has busy cities, pretty coastal towns, bucolic hills, tiny riverside villages, and rural farmland. Tiny and even more densely populated Rhode Island has amazing ocean beaches and a full-of-fun capital city. In Massachusetts, you canât escape historyâunless youâre at the beach on Cape Cod or hiking in the Berkshires. New Hampshire has a short strip of seacoast, but the White Mountains are the main attraction both winter and summer. Vermontâs slopes are ski magnets in winter, while boaters head for Lake Champlain in warmer months. And Maine, which is as big as the other five New England states combined but has less than 10% of the regionâs total population, welcomes people from âawayâ to its long craggy coast.
Thereâs plenty to see and do at Mystic Seaport, so plan to spend the whole day here. Climb aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last of the wooden whaling ships, or wander in and out of the schoolhouse, counting house (anÂ old way of saying âbankâ), and more than 60 other buildings in the re-created 19th-century village. Other museum buildings are filled with maps, scrimshaw, figureheads, and other nautical treasures and devices. There are a number of other historic vessels to see too, from sloops and draggers to schooners and a full-rigged sailing ship still used as a training ship.
Grab your towel and sunscreen and head for New Londonâs Ocean Beach Park, where a half-mile long boardwalk frames a broad white-sand beach with calm water for family-friendly swimming. Thereâs also an Olympic-size swimming pool, water slides, kid-friendly rides, a mini-golf course, an arcade, and food concessions. Watch for the boats on the horizon going to and froâsailboats, power yachts, fishing boats, ferriesâŠmaybe even a submarine going upriver to the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton or out to sea.
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven will fascinate young and old alike. The museumâs halls are filled with exhibits on Native Americans, local birds and mammals, the Earth and its solar system, and gems and minerals. The centerpiece, however, is the âGreat Hall of Dinosaurs,â which houses a room-filling skeleton of a brontosaurus and several other reconstructed dinos. To get to the source, however, head north to Rocky Hillâs Dinosaur State Parkâone of North Americaâs largest dinosaur track sites. Estimated to be 200 million years old, the tracks are protected under a geodesic dome, where they can be viewed.
A train ride along the picturesque Connecticut River is a delight for allâparticularly because the Essex Steam Trainâs 1920s-era coaches are pulled along the tracks by a vintage steam locomotive. The 12-mile roundtrip journey from the 1892 Essex Station to Deep River Landing takes two and a half hours. Throughout the year, special excursions are offered including the Essex Clipper Dinner Train, a four-course meal served in beautifully restored 1920s PullmanÂ diner car and events for kids like the North Pole Express and the Santa Special. On a few special weekends, you can even ride in the caboose.
The second- and third-largest casinos in the United States (according to gaming square footage) are 15 minutes apart in a rural part of southeastern Connecticut. Foxwoods Resort Casino, owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, draws 40,000-plus visitors daily to its huge compound in Ledyard. Mohegan Sun, owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribe, draws only slightly fewer people to its themed compound in nearby Uncasvilleâa village named for Chief Uncas, the 17th-century sachem of the Mohegans. Both casinos have thousands of slot machines, hundreds of gaming tables, dozens of restaurants and shops, a choice of hotels, and a full schedule of entertainment, sports, and events.
Providence, Rhode Islandâs capital city, is a very walkable, condensed city with a river running through it. On the riverâs west side, Downtownâs tall hotel towersâthe Omni Providence and Providence Biltmore, for exampleâpunctuate the maze of narrow streets lined with more restaurants than you can count. The hilly East Side of the river is the historic part of the city, where Roger Williams and his followers began the settlement of âRhode Island and Providence Plantationsâ (the stateâs official name) in 1636. Stroll along Benefit Street, past beautifully restored Colonial homes; note the iconic white spire of the First Baptist Church in America, founded by Williams himself. Continue uphill to the picturesque campus of Brown University; Thayer St. leads to another bevy of restaurants and boutiques. Back at river level, be sure to spend time at the magnificent Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which focuses on art, design, and textile projects created by RISDâs students and faculty.
Manufacturing was always big business in New England, and the person credited with starting it all was English-born Samuel Slater (1768-1835), whoâs known as the father of the American Industrial Revolution. Slater built the countryâs first successful cotton mill in 1793 along the Blackstone River, about 5 miles north of downtown Providence. His secret was dividing factory work into simple steps that even very young children could doâand they did, even though it was often very dangerous. Now the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark, the site includes the Mill; the Wilkinson Mill (1890) with its full machine and tool shop; a reconstructed water wheel; and a typical 18th-century workerâs home.
The 19th century was Newportâs Gilded Age. Americaâs wealthiest familiesâAstors, Vanderbilts, Morgansâcooled off by the sea for about six weeks each summer living in âcottages.â Today, weâd call these residences along Newportâs Bellevue Avenue âmansions.â Many of the mansions have been beautifully preserved and are open to the public for tours. The Breakers is, perhaps, the most splendid. The Elms, also quite impressive, adds a Behind the Scenes Tour, where you can explore the servantsâ quarters and kitchens.
Tranquil Block Island comes to life in the summertime, when day-trippers, weekenders, and those who can stay longer descend on what some call âThe Bermuda of the North.â Two ferries depart year-round from Point Judith Terminal in the fishing port of Galilee at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. The traditional ferry (55 minutes) takes both passengers and vehicles, although you donât necessarily need to bring your car; the hi-speed ferry (30 minutes) takes passengers only. The laid-back, pork chop-shaped island, which lies 12 miles off Rhode Islandâs south coast, offers a plethora of outdoor activities: swimming at any of âBlockâsâ 17 miles of sandy beaches (all open to the public), biking to and through nature preserves, gazing at the breathtaking ocean views from 200-foot-high Mohegan Bluffs, climbing to the top of a lighthouse, and fishing or paddle boarding in Great Salt Pond. Visitors can also poke around the shops in New Shoreham, stay in a Victorian-style inn or quaint B&B, eat the freshest seafood youâll find almost anywhere, or simply kick back and relax.
It may be tiny, Â but âThe Ocean Stateâ has 400 milesÂ of coastline. All along the stateâs southern coast, long strips of powdery white sand face great swells of the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean swimming is always fun at Misquamicut, in Westerly. The barrier island extends three miles from Watch Hill to Weekapaug, but people gravitate to the busy State Beach portionâit has a pavilion, concessions, lifeguards, bathhouse, and restrooms. Farther east in Matunuck, a village in South Kingstown, you can hit the Town Beach or East Matunuck State Park. Bring a picnic to either beach or choose from the plentiful lunch or happy hour options. Then, thereâs Narragansett. The Town Beach attracts thousands each day who donât blink at paying the parking and admission fees, while nearby Scarborough State Beach attracts those who prefer to pay a comparatively small parking fee.
History comes to life along Bostonâs Freedom Trail, where you make your way to, through, and among the sites where the American Revolution began. The two-and-a-half-mile-long marked path links 16 historical landmarks, starting at Boston Common and ending at the Bunker Hill Monument and USS Constitutionânicknamed âOld Ironsidesâ in the War of 1812 despite being a wooden ship. In between, you can visit two state housesâthe current one overlooking the Common and the Old State House, the seat of the British colonial government from 1713-1776; two meeting housesâOld South and Faneuil Hall; two churchesâPark Street and Old North (âone if by land, two if by sea)â; and three burial groundsâGov. John Winthrop is buried at Kingâs Chapel, Cotton Mather is buried at Coppâs Hill, and Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock are all buried at Granary. The Paul Revere House, Ben Franklinâs statue, the site of the Boston Massacre, and the Old Corner Bookstore are other stops along the trail. Start at the beginning, middle, or end, or simply visit your favorites. Itâs your choice, and the walk is free.
Driving all the way to Provincetown, or âP-town,â is a pleasant venture whether for the day or a longer stay. The trip (one way) takes about 90 minutes, but plan to stop for a bite to eat in one of the delightful residential communities (Orleans and Eastham) or sparsely populated towns (Wellfleet and Truro) youâll pass along Route 6. If youâd like to take a swim or gaze at the sea, head to the dunes and beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore before you arrive at your final destination. The lively, historical, colorful, busy, sometimes silly, âP-townâ is full of inns, restaurants, shops, galleries, and nightspots. And thereâs something going on just about any time of the year.
With a deep harbor and convenient mainland location, New Bedford was the most important whaling port in the world during the 1800s. That historical significance is on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where exhibits detail the whaling industry, its history, and its impact locally, regionally, and around the world. Step aboard the Lagoda, an 89-foot, half-scale model of a whaling ship and the largest ship model in existence. Another permanent exhibit honors the Portuguese people, particularly those from the Azores where New Bedford whalers regularly stopped to take on provisions and crew; the city still has a significant Portuguese-American community. There are hands-on activities and experiences in The Discovery Center. At nearby 92 Second Street, you can tour infamous Lizzie Bordenâs house. The house is now the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, and the âcreep factorâ is part of the appeal. Ghosts sightings abound. Some folks love to come for reenactments and special holidaysâlike Halloween!
Sure the settlements at St. Augustine and Jamestown might be older, but people in New England think of the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, and The Pilgrims when they think of Americaâs earliest settlements. Plimoth Plantation, on the waterfront in Plymouth, is a living-history museum that replicates this original settlement with aÂ 17th-Century English Village,Â a Wampanoag Homesite, and theÂ Plimoth Grist Mill. TheÂ onsite Craft Center has skilled craftspeople making candles, pottery, and Native American accessories. In the town of Plymouth, thereâs also Mayflower II, a half-size floating replica of the original that you can boardâit should return to its berth after complete renovations in late 2019âand Plymouth Rock, which marks the spot where The Pilgrims stepped ashore.
Fast-forward to the early 1800s and travel across half the state to Old Sturbridge Village, another living-history museum that re-creates rural New England life. In the village, explore homes, meeting houses, shops, offices, a tavern, a cider mill, a stagecoach; in the countryside, a farmhouse, cooperage, blacksmith shop, school. Then there are millsâgrist, saw, and carding. At both Plimoth Plantation and Sturbridge, interpreters in period dress personally interact with visitors and encourage them to join in typical daily tasks like cooking, planting, making crafts, blacksmithing, and caring for animals. Both places are wonderful family attractions and great learning experiences.
The âfar westâ of Massachusetts is green, mountainous, and scattered with interesting towns and villages tucked into pretty valleys. Stretching from the Connecticut state line to Williamstown on the Vermont border, the Berkshires attract folks who love the outdoorsâhiking, rafting, camping, mountain biking, canoeing, fishing, or just strolling through beautiful gardens The region also attracts artists, dancers, and musicians, along with their audiences, to renowned venues: Jacobâs Pillow in Becket for its summer dance performances, Tanglewood in Lenox for the Boston Symphony Orchestraâs summer concerts, and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge to see the artistâs original work on display. And in the fall, the entire area becomes leaf-peeping heavenâparticularly along the Mohawk Trail, a 69-mile scenic drive between Williamstown and Deerfield that winds through deep forest, across rivers, and around a legendary hairpin turn. In winter, ski bunnies head to the slopes at mountains like Ski Butternut and Jiminy Peak.
A drive along the Kancamagus Highway (âThe Kancâ), a 34.5-mile scenic byway that crosses the state from Lincoln near the Vermont border to Conway near Maine, passes through the White Mountains National Forestâa beautiful ride any time of year but truly magnificent when autumn leaves change color. You can stop along the way to admire the White Mountains Presidential Range or take a hike into the forest. A half-hour north of Conway via NH 16 brings you to the Mount Washington Auto Road in Pinkham Notch; from early May through late October, weather permitting, you can drive to the mountaintop or join a tour. Alternatively, take NH 302 toward Bretton Woods and ride the cog railway to the summit. Once at the top, besides the panoramic views, you can explore the weather observatory. Bring a warm coat and hat. Itâs bitter cold and windy up thereâeven in mid-summer!
New Hampshire has 18-miles of seacoast that gets really busy in summer. Families flock to Hampton Beach near the Massachusetts border and Portsmouthâthe last town before crossing into Maine. Hampton Beach has a broad ocean beach and a long boardwalk with shops, restaurants, entertainment, and attractions. Portsmouth, on the other hand, is a port city thatâs also a trendy hub of craft brewing, farm-to-table dining, and fine art galleries. The city is also home to Strawbery Banke, an open-air history museum with a collection that tops a million objects that represent the history of Portsmouth and its busy port for more than 300 years.
There are covered bridges all over the countryâincluding one built in Ohio as recently as 2008âbut New Hampshire has 54 of these iconic American symbols still in use. In fact, the Cornish-Windsor Bridge (1866), which spans the Connecticut River between Cornish, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont, is the only New England covered bridge that connects two states. Itâs also the longest wooden bridge in America and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. The Bath-Haverhill Bridge is the stateâs oldest covered bridge (1829), but now itâs only safe for pedestrian crossing. The Sentinel Pine Bridge (1939), perhaps the most dramatic covered bridge, was actually built for pedestrians; it spans a chasm along the walking trail at Flume Gorge in Lincoln. And the picturesque Albany Covered Bridge (1858) in the White Mountain National Forest, just off the scenic Kancamagus Highway, has a granite fishing pier on its north side. See how many you can findâtheyâre all different, theyâre all beautifully preserved, and theyâre located throughout the state.
Surrounded by Monadnock State Park in the southwest New Hampshire town of Jaffrey, Mt. Monadnock (3,165 feet) sticks out like a sore thumb as itâs the highest peak within a 30-mile radius. The mountaintop views are quite extraordinaryâparticularly when fall foliage is at peak color. On a really clear day, you can see 85 miles southeast to Boston, and 150 miles north to the White Mountains. The only way to reach the summit is by foot, and the miles of trails that crisscross it attract more than 100,000 hikers each year. The short-but-steep White Dot Trail (2.2 miles) to the summit is moderately challenging and takes about four hours round-trip; the White Arrow Trail (2.3 miles) is the easiest ascent. Oddly enough, Monadnockâs top 300 feet, well below Mother Natureâs usual âtree line,â are nearly bare due to a series of uncontrolled fires in the early 19th century. That means the final part of the trek is over bare rock. Tread carefully and carry a big walking stick!
For generations, families have sought respite from the hot, steamy days of summer at Lake Winnipesaukee in central New Hampshire. The stateâs largest lake is 72 square miles, so you wonât run out of space or adventures. Boating is the main attraction, and the easiest, and most pleasant, way to get around. Lakeside boatyards and marinas rent boatsâPower, sail, canoe, kayak, or paddle are all options, but easy-to-operate pontoon boats are the latest rage. The lake has more than 250 islands, some mere pinpricks on the map, with âsecretâ coves, pretty beaches, and mini-hiking trails. Hungry? There are waterfront restaurants in Wolfeboro, Meredith, Alton Bay, Center Harbor, and Gilford.
Those four ski areas are just the tip of the icebergâŠuh, mountainâŠin Vermont. The Green Mountains, which form the stateâs spine, have nearly two-dozen major ski resortsâand even more areas with cross-country trailsâ snuggled in and around all of the peaks. Ski season here starts in November or December and can last until late March Experts, novices, and whole families flock to these popular ski areas, as well as Killington, Okemo, Mad River Glen, Smugglers Notch, Pico, and Jay Peak. If thereâs no snow but temps are below freezing, the snowmaking machines will be pumping out fresh powder. If you visit in summer, most resorts have mountain coasters, zip lines, alpine slides, tubing lanes, and mountain bike trailsâor you can ride the lift and enjoy the view.
Have you ever dreamed about spending time on an old working farm? Maybe milk a cow, ride a horse, or sheer a sheep? Several Vermont farmers welcome visitors for a day, overnight, or a few days. In Marshfield, the 205-acre Hollister Hill Farm has a few dairy cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, a herd of Beefaloâand an 1865 homestead. Shelburne Farms, in Shelburne, starts each day with a chicken parade; kids love to collect eggs, help milk the cows, and play with the piglets, rabbits, and baby goats. Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester has about 270 cows, and guests can milk them, bottle-feed the newborn calves, play with the kittens, and pick fresh vegetables. And at Cold Moon Farm, a small working farm in Jamaica, there are sheep to feed, goats to milk, chicken and duck eggs to collect, veggies to pick, and bread to bake. Each of these farms welcomes overnight guests. You can help with the chores or just watch.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield first opened their eponymous ice cream shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington back in 1978âafter taking a $5 correspondence course in ice-cream making. They added packed pints a few years later, distributing them to restaurants in an old VW wagon. Today, the Waterbury factory is pretty slick, and Unilever owns the company. Even so, Ben & Jerryâs social conscience remains an integral part of the businessâand the ice cream is as good as ever, as you probably know. Head to Ben & Jerryâs Factory in Waterbury, about 25 miles southeast of Burlington, to take the half-hour guided factory tour ($4), where youâll get to watch the ice cream being made, and sample a big cone of creamy, chunky deliciousnessâChunky Monkey, Triple Caramel Chunk, or whatever your favorite flavor may beâat the Scoop Shop. Â Donât forget to pay your respects at the Flavor Graveyardâthatâs where failed flavors are memorialized like Rainforest Crunch, Chocolate Macadamia, and CrĂšme BrulĂ©e.
Lake Champlainâ107 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest pointâwas a main transportation route in colonial times and became historically significant during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Today, the lake is hugely popular for recreationâespecially boating. In Burlington, you can rent a sailboat, dinghy, paddleboard, kayak, or canoeâand take lessonsâat Community Sailing Center. A little farther north in South Hero on Grand Isle and accessible by causeway, Apple Island Marina rents pontoon boats, kayaks, pedal boats, paddle boards, canoes, and rowboats for a fun outing, fascinating bird watching, or serious fishing. If youâre more of a party type than a boater (or paddler or kayaker), consider a scenic, sunset, or dinner cruise aboard Spirit of Ethan Allen, the lakeâs only âfloating restaurant.â Cruises and boating activities on Lake Champlain are available only from mid-May through mid-October, however, as much of the lake freezes over in winter.
Did you know that it takes 40 gallons of maple-tree sap to make one gallon of maple syrup? Vermont produced about 2 million gallons of the sticky liquid in 2017ânearly half of all maple syrup consumed in the United States. Youâll find some 1,500 sugarhouses throughout Vermontâbig ones, small ones, and many Mom ânâ Pop onesâand most welcome visitors. The best time to visit is during sugaring season in early spring when the days warm up but the nights are still cold. The Vermont Maple Festival in St. Albans, a 3-day annual event at the end of April, marks the end of the sugaring season with contests, cooking demonstrations, crafts, antiques, rides, music, and entertainment. Many sugarhouses remain open year-round, though, to show visitors the processâfrom tapping trees and boiling down the sap until it becomes syrup to bottling and grading it. And you can always buy some to take home! To find a Vermont sugarmaker, visit the web site of the Vermont Maple Sugarmakersâ Association.
You canât (or shouldnât) come to Maine without having a classic lobster dinner, a bowl of lobster stew, or at least a lobster roll. Ogunquit, on Maineâs southern coast, is a picturesque town with its share of good restaurants specializing in the king of crustaceans. At the family-run Ogunquit Lobster Pound, locals and visitors pick out live lobsters from the holding tanks and watch it cook in fresh seawater (the traditional Maine way) since 1931. Over at Barnacle Billyâs overlooking Perkins Cove, you can eat your âwicked freshâ lobster inside or on the deck. And at The Lobster Shackâa real lobstermenâs storage shack dating back to the early 1900sâstart with a quart of local steamers or homemade chowder, then get crackinâ on a lobsterâŠor a gigantic lobster roll filled with a full pound of lobster meat. Wherever you choose to enjoy the official state crustacean, come hungry. A pleasant seaside stroll along Ogunquitâs Marginal Way will help you work up an appetite for your dinnerâor work it off afterward.
Portlandâs historic Old Port is still a busy waterfront with active fishing piers, a processing plant, and commercial fishing boats, but itâs also home to cobblestone streets, eclectic restaurantsâ Bon AppĂ©tit named the city itâs 2018 Restaurant City of the Yearâboutiques, and high-end apartments. In the adjacent Arts District, the I.M. Pei-designed Portland Museum of Art (free) has an extensive collection that includes works by Winslow Homer and all three Wyeths, along with European masterpieces by Degas, Monet, Picasso, and others. Nearby, the elegant Victoria Mansion is a 19th-century Italianate mansion (among the first to have central heating and flush toilets). And in the Wadsworth Longfellow House (1785-86)âwhere the poet then known as âHarryâ grew upânearly all the household items and artifacts are original, and the gardens create a green in-town oasis. If you have kids in tow, including toddlers, theyâll be captivated by the Childrenâs Museum and Theatre. Or take stroll along the Eastern Promenade, a two-mile paved trail at the waterâs edge with picnic tables, a public beach, and panoramic views.
Pretty Camden and nearby Rockland are home ports for a fleet of owner-operated schooners that take guests on voyages around mid-coast Maineâs rugged coast, peninsulas, and islands. The schooners, built as cargo ships, have been refitted to accommodate passengers; quarters are small, beds are bunks, and the âheadsâ and showers are usually shared. The route follows the wind and tide, as sailing ships have always done, and the days and nights are unstructured. You can take the helm, help raise and lower the sails, or just sit back and watch for seals and porpoisesâmaybe whales and adorable puffinsâas you sail past gorgeous scenery. These are casual trips, so leave your finery at homeâand pack lightly. But it can be chilly on the sea, even in summer, so youâll need clothes that layer well, socks and rubber-soled shoes, a jacketâand rain gear. The food is good, and each cruise includes a traditional lobster feast. Itâs a great adventure for people of all ages.
Acadia National Park, New Englandâs only national park, takes up a good portion of Mount Desert Islandâoff Maineâs craggy coast south of Bangor and about 150 miles âdown eastâ from Portland. Once at Acadia, drive or bike around the 27-mile Park Loop Road, which passes by Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, giant granite boulders, deep green woods, coastal tidal pools, and amazing ocean views. A turnoff takes you to the 1,530-foot summit of Cadillac Mountain (come early to catch the sunrise). Plan to stop at Jordan Pond House for afternoon teaâpopovers, strawberry jam, homemade ice creamâon the lawn overlooking the lake. Some 45 miles of carriage roads, crossed by a series of elegant stone bridges, also weave through the park. Designed for horse-drawn carriages, motorized vehicles are still prohibited, but you can bike or hike the carriageway. Other hiking trails abound, tooâshort, level trails through the woods and to the shore, moderate lakeside trails, and the extreme (and appropriately named) âPerpendicularâ and âPrecipiceâ trails. Bar Harbor, 2 miles outside the park, is a wonderful town with restaurants, shops, and lovely inns. Camping is also available.
Part of the fun of a Rangeley Lakes vacation is getting there. You drive from Portland into rural western Maine, north through the paper mill town of Rumford, and perhaps passing through Byron where you can pan for gold. As you approach Rangeley, Route 17 passes along the Height of Land, an overlook with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and hills and pristine Oquassic and Rangeley lakes. Look carefullyâif itâs early morning or late afternoon, you may spot a moose. This is outdoors countryâhiking, swimming, boating, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking in summer; snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing in winter. Two large alpine ski areas, Saddleback and Sugarbush, are nearby, too. Accommodations are in fairly rustic inns, lodges, and motels or at campgrounds. You wonât find high-rises, brand names, or neon lights here, but you will find peace and quiet, panoramic vistas, beautiful sunsets, and a brilliant night sky filled with countless stars.