SD › Best Places in New England
Updated: September 8, 2021
The Best Areas to Stay in New England
New England is the historic corner of America, crammed with picture-perfect villages with colonial churches, tranquil greens, and clapboard homes. Almost every town has a house museum dating from the 17th or 18th century, and this is where the Revolutionary War started in 1775. Today there’s a lot more to enjoy, from a gorgeous coastline of craggy headlands, sandy beaches, and islands to a rugged hinterland of mountains, dense forests, and rolling hills.
If you can only go to one state then visit Vermont or New Hampshire (they are the most quintessential having the most to see and do in the smallest area).
- Best New England Destinations for Couples and Honeymoon: Martha’s Vineyard • Newport, RI
- Best New England Destinations for Kids and Families: Boston • Lakes Region, NH • Coastal Maine
- Best New England Destination for Nightlife: Boston
- Best New England Destination for Beaches: Cape Cod
- Best New England Destinations for Food: Boston • Rhode Island • Portland, ME • Portsmouth, NH
- Best New England Destination for Hiking: White Mountains, NH
New England – The Highlights
10 Best Cities in New England
- New Haven
- Concord, NH
10 Best Beaches in New England
- Ballston Beach, Cape Cod (MA)
- Norton Point Beach/South Beach, Martha’s Vineyard (MA)
- Cisco Beach, Nantucket (MA)
- Block Island State Beach (RI)
- Mothers Beach, Kennebunk (ME)
- Goose Rocks Beach (ME)
- Sandy Point State Reservation (MA)
- Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester (MA)
- Popham Beach (ME)
- Nauset Beach (MA)
10 Best Vacation Spots in New England
- White Mountains, NH
- Green Mountains, VT
- The Berkshires
- Martha’s Vineyard
- Acadia National Park
- Lake Winnipesaukee
- Cape Cod
10 Best Craft Breweries in New England
- Center Street Brewing Company, Wallingford (CT)
- Bissell Brothers Brewing Company, Portland (ME)
- Tox Brewing Company, New London (CT)
- Burlington Beer Company (VT)
- Austin Street Brewery, Portland (ME)
- Providence Brewing Company (RI)
- Article Fifteen Brewing, Weymouth (MA)
- Great Awakening Brewing Co, Westfield (MA)
- Granite Roots Brewing (NH)
- Smuttynose Brewing Company, Hampton (NH)
9 Best Food Destinations in New England
- Boston (clam chowder, Boston baked beans, Boston cream pie, Italian food)
- Coastal Maine (lobster, clambakes, clam rolls)
- New Bedford, MA (Portuguese food)
- Cape Cod (fried clam bellies)
- Berkshires (sugar shacks)
- Newhaven, CT (pizza)
- Rhode Island (coffee milk, frozen lemonade, doughboys, coffee cabinet, hot wieners)
- Vermont (cheddar cheese, apple cider/doughnuts, gravy fries/poutine, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream)
- Hartford, CT (Polish and old-school Italian)
10 Best small towns in New England
- Provincetown, MA
- Kent, CT
- Stockbridge, MA
- Shelburne Falls, MA
- Bennington, VT
- Grafton, VT
- Wolfeboro, NH
- Damariscotta, ME
- Eastport, ME
- Exeter, NH
New England Travel Itinerary
It’s easy to plan a travel itinerary for New England based around Boston’s Logan International Airport, where renting a car is convenient and (relatively) good value. From here, there really are no bad itineraries – in the fall, especially, the whole of New England blazes with color, and in the summer there’s plenty to do and see inland and along the coast. Boston is worth at least a couple of days for first-timers, but after that, make time for the small towns, villages, lonely beaches, and mountains that make this such a special region.
- New England Itinerary for 7 days: 2 days in Boston, 2 days in the Berkshires, 3 days in Vermont OR 2 days in Boston, 2 days in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, 2 days in the White Mountains, 1 day in Portland, ME OR 2 days in Boston, 3 days in Cape Cod, 2 days in Rhode Island.
- New England Itinerary for 10 days: 2 days in Boston, 2 days in the Lakes Region, 2 days in the White Mountains, 4 days in Vermont OR 2 days in Boston, 2 days in Cape Cod, 2 days in Nantucket, 3 days in Martha’s Vineyard.
- New England Itinerary for 14 days: 2 days in Boston, 2 days in the Berkshires, 3 days in Vermont, 2 days in the White Mountains, 2 days in the Lakes Region, 1 day in Portsmouth, NH, 2 days in coastal Maine & Portland OR 2 days in Cape Cod, 2 days in Nantucket, 1 day in Portsmouth, NH, 2 days in the Lakes Region, 2 days in the White Mountains, 1 day in Portland, ME, 4 days travelling coastal Maine along US-1.
The 30 Best Places to Visit in New England
1. Boston, MA
The region’s biggest city and the de facto capital of New England, Boston is one of the nation’s most fascinating destinations, rich in historic sights, art museums, restaurants, and family-friendly attractions that could easily fill a week of sightseeing. Boston Common remains the city’s historic heart; from here the Freedom Trail links all the major sights associated with the Revolutionary War. Highlights include the Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and Quincy Market. Kids especially love the New England Aquarium, Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, Children’s Museum, and the Museum of Science. The city’s artistic gems include the Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Beacon Hill, Boston’s poshest neighborhood, is also one of the most pleasant to explore on foot. Its narrow, cobbled streets are lit by original gas lamps and lined with gorgeous 19th-century townhouses. The Black Heritage Trail is here, as is the Massachusetts State House. The North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood, features authentic bakeries, cafes, and restaurants. The atmospheric clapboard home of Paul Revere, where he slipped out on his famous ride in 1775, is still standing in the North End, as is Old North Church, where two lanterns were hung to warn Charlestown militia (“one if by land, two if by sea”). Across in Charlestown itself is the USS Constitution, the celebrated ship known as “Old Ironsides”, and the Bunker Hill Monument. TD Garden is home to the Boston Celtics and the Bruins; Gillette Stadium hosts the New England Patriots; and legendary Fenway Park is where the Red Sox hold court. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum stands south of the city on Columbia Point.
The rugged White Mountains of New Hampshire are a year-round destination, studded with ski resorts in the winter (notably Waterville Valley, Jackson, and Loon Mountain), and offering superb hiking, biking, and scenic drives in the summer. Towering above it all is Mount Washington, New England’s highest peak (at 6,288ft), accessible by car (Mount Washington Auto Road), on foot, or by the famous Mount Washington Cog Railway. The Kancamagus Highway between Lincoln and Conway is one of he most scenic routes across the mountains, while the best hiking trails can be found in and around Franconia Notch (a “notch” is the local name for high pass), Crawford Notch, and Pinkham Notch, along the eastern base of Mount Washington.
3. Cape Cod, MA
This long, hook-shaped peninsula is one of the nation’s most popular summer destinations, studded with clam shacks, beautifully preserved colonial villages, and lined with wild, untouched beaches protected within the Cape Cod National Seashore. At its northern tip lies Provincetown, featuring its own fine beaches, art galleries, tasty seafood, and a thriving LGBT scene; it also contains the Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum and a smattering of Portuguese culture thanks to its historic fishing community. Though the roads and coastline of Cap Cod can be congested in the peak summer months, book ahead and it’s relatively easy to find a quiet strand, village green, or local café. Beyond Provincetown and the beaches, the biggest attractions are the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, charting this history of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, and the Cape Playhouse.
Encompassing much of Mount Desert Island off Maine’s Atlantic coast (connected to the mainland by causeway), this stunning wilderness park is pitted with mountains, lakes, hiking trails, and plenty of wildlife, from seals and beavers to bald eagles. The main gateway is the elegant 19th-century resort town of Bar Harbor, crammed with hotels and holiday stores. The 27-mile Park Loop Road system offers a taster of the park by car from here, taking in the Wild Gardens of Acadia, Sand Beach, and Thunder Cave. It’s also worth venturing over to the western side of Somes Sound to visit picturesque Bass Harbor Head Light and the famous lobster pounds of Southwest Harbor. We also love the most isolated section of the park on Isle au Haut, only accessible by boat, known for its rugged hiking trails, marshes, bogs, and freshwater Long Pond.
The “Little Gray Lady” is one of America’s most famous and romantic destinations, set in the Atlantic Ocean 30 miles off the shores of Massachusetts. Once a major whaling port (part inspiration for Moby Dick), Nantucket today is known for its wild beaches, fresh seafood, and its rich seafaring legacy, reflected in a clutch of maritime museums and the grand gray clapboard and weathered shingle homes that stud the cobbled main settlement, Nantucket Town. The island is perfect for exploring by bike – the best ride follows Polpis Road east to the rose-smothered cottages of Siasconset (aka “Sconset”).
6. The Coastal Route (Hwy-1, Maine)
Highway US-1 in Maine takes in some of the most scenic parts New England’s Atlantic coast, a rugged series of headlands and historic fishing ports beginning with Kittery on the Piscataqua River (and New Hampshire border). There’s a lot to see off the highway – it could easily take a couple of weeks to do it justice. Driving north, our favorite stops are Ogunquit Beach, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, and Kennebunkport, before cutting through the city of Portland. From here the highway runs northeast through several historic towns and the shopping outlet hotspot of Freeport before following the coast of Penobscot Bay from Rockland to Acadia National Park.
Much of western Massachusetts is taken up by the Berkshires, a hilly region of small towns and charming villages best known for its world-class arts festivals and cache of historic mansions. It’s especially popular during the summer festival season and in the fall, when the woods and forests are smothered in color. Highlights include Tanglewood, summer quarters of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge; the Mount, home of writer Edith Wharton; and Hancock Shaker Village, five miles west of Pittsfield. To the north, in Williamstown and North Adams, The Clark and stunning MASS MoCA respectively are world-class art galleries. In addition to the Tanglewood concert series, there’s the Berkshire Theatre Festival, contemporary dance at Jacob’s Pillow, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
The largest New England island, Martha’s Vineyard offers a lot more variety than Nantucket. It contains several different communities, each with its own identity. Edgartown features brightly painted Colonial clapboard homes and gardens, while Vineyard Haven is the main port, crammed with stores. Oak Bluffs is best known for its gingerbread cottages. Elsewhere there are small beaches, hills, farms, and wild, undeveloped moorland. The island can get congested in the summer, but it’s usually easy to find a secluded corner.
9. Newport, RI
Set in a beautiful waterside location on Aquidneck Island, Newport boomed in the 19th century as a summer resort for the Astors, Vanderbilts, and America’s various Gilded Age millionaires. Today it remains a popular yachting destination, with lots of enticing beaches in the summer and the historic Point district crammed with Colonial-era homes, though it’s best known for the fabulous mansions built in its heyday. Most of them are open to visit and are loaded with antiques, marble, and precious art, and are more like European palaces than summer homes. The Breakers is must-see, easily the grandest mansion, built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895. Rosecliff, completed seven years later for Nevada silver heiress “Tessie” Fair Oelrichs, was designed by famous architect Stanford White in the style of the Grand Trianon at Versailles. Belcourt Castle (aka “Belcourt of Newport”) is another favorite, designed by Robert Morris Hunt and completed in 1894.
10. Portsmouth, NH
This small but sophisticated port city on the New Hampshire coast combines a ton of history and colonial remnants with gourmet restaurants and superb craft breweries, its small center easily traversed on foot. The principal attraction is the Strawbery Banke Museum, a living museum of over 30 historic houses and wooden buildings dating back to the colonial period. There’s also several historic homes to explore in town, notably the Moffatt-Ladd House and John Paul Jones House, home of America’s first great naval commander.
Just south of the White Mountains, New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is smothered in forests, ponds, and beautiful stretches of blue water, home to thousands of loons, eagles, and all sorts of wildlife. The biggest lake and the central attraction is Lake Winnipesaukee, best appreciated on a boat ride. The lake is surrounded by historic resort towns, the best of which is Wolfeboro. Weirs Beach, on the congested western shore is a more family-friendly resort town, home to adventure parks and watersports. Looming high above the northern side of the lake, don’t miss the Castle in the Clouds, a beautiful mountain top estate built in 1913 and open to visitors. Further north, Squam Lake is a tranquil stretch of water surrounded by small villages and towns.
Stretching some 150 miles between Vermont and New York state, Lake Champlain is one of New England’s greatest natural features, a magnet for kayaking, boating and cycling enthusiasts (it’s lined with enticing bike trails). The lake is anchored by Burlington, a fun French Canadian-influenced city known for its 19th-century architecture, brewpubs, the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, and Lake Champlain Chocolates. The University of Vermont campus contains the Robert Hull Fleming Museum of Art, while the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum lies in the northern outskirts, commemorating the celebrated Revolutionary War hero. The northern end of the lake is dominated by the rustic Champlain Islands, home of Saint Anne’s Shrine, while the southern stretch is guarded by Mount Independence, a significant Revolutionary War fortress.
Though it lies just outside Burlington, this vast open-air museum deserves to be highlighted on its own – it takes at least a full day to do it justice. Covering some 45 acres, it can be roughly described as a grand collection of Americana, with more than 30 buildings and 18th-century clapboard houses, most transported here from other parts of New England. Highlights include the giant McClure Round Barn and carousel, the Circus Building (housing exhibits on historic American circus troupes), the Ticonderoga, a steam paddlewheeler, a once working lighthouse, the 1785 Stagecoach Inn, and a vast collection of art displayed in the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building and Webb Gallery.
14. Portland, ME
Maine’s cultural and commercial center, Portland makes for a pleasant city break, with several worthwhile museums, indie boutiques, fine restaurants, and plenty of high-quality craft breweries – Allagash Brewery and the Bissell Brothers Brewing Company, both on the outskirts of town, are our favorites. Other highlights include the charming Old Port district, the Portland Museum of Art, historic Victoria Mansion, and the Portland Observatory. Just offshore, Casco Bay’s Calendar Islands offer hiking trails, beaches, and historic sites.
15. Hartford, CT
One of New England’s most surprising destinations, Hartford is traditionally known as the “Insurance Capital of the World,” as well as being Connecticut’s state capital, but it also boasts a rich cache of cultural attractions. The Mark Twain House and Museum preserves the legacy of America’s greatest writer, while the Wadsworth Atheneum displays a fabulous collection of art. The newer Connecticut Science Center is an innovative family-friendly museum crammed with interactive exhibits. There’s also the Old State House, and the Museum of Connecticut History, where the original 1662 Connecticut Royal Charter is kept. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (next door to the Mark Twain museum) serves as a memorial to the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, the book that turned many white Americans against slavery in the 1850s.
16. Stowe, VT
Stowe is Vermont’s quintessential ski destination, the slopes and mountains of Stowe Mountain Resort set above a beautiful 19th-century village. It’s also known for being the final home of the Von Trapp family, inspiration for The Sound of Music (the Trapp Family Lodge is a popular hotel here). Historic Stowe village and the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum lie along Rte-100 (Main St), while Rte-108 (Mountain Rd) leads up to the ski areas (lined with malls and restaurants), and on through the pass known as Smugglers’ Notch. The highest mountain in Vermont is also here, 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield – it’s possible to drive up the Toll Road to Mt Mansfield Peak Visitor Center for sensational views.
17. Lexington and Concord, MA
The Revolutionary War began in 1775 in the small towns of Lexington and Concord, just outside Boston, essential stops today for anyone interested in the history of the United States. There’s enough to see here to fill several days of sightseeing. Both towns have visitor centers, monuments, and museums dedicated to the battles fought here and the minutemen who sent the British soldiers scurrying back to Boston. In Concord there’s a replica of North Bridge and the absorbing Concord Museum. Lexington contains the patriots’ headquarters at the Buckman Tavern, triangular Battle Green where the first bloody encounter took place, and the National Heritage Museum. In between the two towns, the Minute Man National Historical Park preserves the old Battle Road on which the British forces were pushed back. Non-war related attractions include Orchard House, the home of author Louisa May Alcott, and Wayside, the house where fellow writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived. There’s also Ralph Waldo Emerson House, residence of the famous essayist and poet.
One of America’s most beloved poets grew up and lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, for most of her life. Today the Emily Dickinson Museum preserves The Homestead, her birthplace and family home, as well as The Evergreens next door, home of her brother Austin and his wife Susan Gilbert, Emily’s childhood friend. Tours of both houses feature enthusiastic guides and lots of anecdotes about the famously reclusive poet, as well as some personal effects and the desk where her poems were found after her death. Dickinson’s grave lies in the nearby West Cemetery, behind Pleasant Street.
A tiny island in the Atlantic, some ten miles off the coast of Maine (but easily reached by ferry in summer), Monhegan seems frozen in time, known for its rustic village inns, lobster and clam shacks, the 1824 Monhegan Island Lighthouse, and its 17 miles of paths along granite cliffs.
Two of the world’s most famous universities are based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just across the Charles River from Boston. Founded in 1636, the historic halls and libraries of Harvard University are laid out around Harvard Yard, with nearby Harvard Square the center of town life in Cambridge itself. Impressionists and Picasso drawings hold court at the university’s Fogg Art Museum, while German Expressionists and Bauhaus artists take center stage at the Busch-Reisinger Museum. If art doesn’t appeal, opt for the massive dinosaur fossils at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, or take in the chilled-out cafés and bars of Cambridge itself. A couple of miles southeast of Harvard lies the sprawling campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the most revered engineering and science university in the world. The campus is home to Frank Gehry’s whimsical Stata Center (2004), a crazy concoction of tilting columns, shimmering metal, and curved walls. MIT Museum has a number of suitably high-tech displays including an entrancing hologram collection and working robots such as the 1993 version of the “sociable” robot, Kismet, which uses human-like facial expressions.
One of Connecticut’s oldest colonies, the lively city of New Haven is best known as the home of Yale University’s leafy campus. Highlights here include the Louis Kahn-designed Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery (which is free), plus Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, home to a jaw-dropping collection of dinosaur fossils. The city of New Haven itself contains Chapel Street, crammed with bookshops, boutiques, cafés, and student bars, while the Italian District boasts some of the best restaurants in the region; New Haven is famous for its pizza, with Pepe’s (founded in 1925 by Italian-born Frank Pepe), Sally’s Apizza (founded by Frank’s nephew Salvatore Consiglio in 1938), and Modern Apizza (1934) the most celebrated joints.
22. Salem, MA
Salem, just north of Boston, is a great family-friendly destination, with a rich maritime history and of course plenty of attractions cashing in on the famous witch trials that took place here in 1692. Older kids will enjoy the kitschy witch-related sights; the best are the Salem Witch Museum, the atmospheric Witch House, and the Witch Dungeon Museum. The most interesting attraction in Salem is actually the Peabody Essex Museum, a massive art gallery with a collection that’s especially good for Asian artifacts and culture. Much of Salem’s historic waterfront is protected within the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and includes the House of the Seven Gables, an old mansion made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s eponymous novel.
This rustic corner of northwest Connecticut is peppered with scenic villages, gentle waterfalls, and pine and maple woods. The region is anchored by the small town of Litchfield, known for its traditional Town Green, elegant clapboard homes and Historic District; picture-perfect Washington; the antique haven of Woodbury; pretty Lake Waramaug; and the country town of Kent, an artists colony and home to Kent Falls State Park. Other attractions include the historic covered bridge at West Cornwall and the Yale Summer School of Music in Norfolk.
Humble Waterbury Center is headquarters to the wildly popular Ben and Jerry’s ice cream empire, which was established in Vermont back in 1978. Factory tours of the still surprisingly low-key operation also include a short film and a free scoop of the flavor of the day. The gift shop and ice cream counter outside sell all the usual flavors as well as some specials. Waterbury Center is also home to other worthwhile stops such as the Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Smugglers’ Notch Distillery.
Springfield’s main claim to fame is as the home of basketball. It was here in 1891 that Canadian-born James Naismith invented the modern game, commemorated at the entertaining Basketball Hall of Fame. Set inside a giant dome, it’s crammed with interactive games (including a virtual hoop game and a rebound machine) and exhibits (including one dedicated to Michael Jordan), as well as the Hall of Fame itself, where new players are enshrined every year.
One of the greatest art museums in the region is tucked away in Worcester, some 45 miles west of Boston. Its precious collections include a 12th-century Romanesque chapter house shipped over from France, the Roman Antioch Mosaics, and paintings ranging from the early Italian renaissance to El Greco, Rembrandt, Goya, Monet, and Gauguin. There’s also a substantial cache of American art and a vast collection of Qing dynasty Chinese jade.
This museum of Shaker life makes for an intriguing day-trip, a living memorial to the community founded here in 1792. It’s one of the most complete Shaker villages preserved in the US, with all the main buildings intact and plenty of information about the Shakers, an 18th-century Christian sect.
Set just outside the small village of Cornish, this site preserves the studios and gardens of celebrated 19th-century sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (creator of the Shaw Memorial in Boston and the General William T. Sherman Monument in New York City). He lived and worked here between 1885 and 1907.
Protected within Queechee State Park, this 165-foot tree-lined, narrow gorge is one of Vermont’s primary natural wonders. Most visitors view the gorge from the bridge that takes US-4 across the Ottauquechee River, but hiking trails also fan out from the nearby park information center. It’s especially scenic in the fall, when the surrounding forests burst with color.
Vermont is an especially good target for hikers, with the 272-mile Long Trail being one of the most challenging treks in the region (it follows the Appalachian Trail for much of its length). The trail runs along the ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont border to Québec, taking in some of the tallest mountains in the state such as Camel’s Hump (4,083ft) and Mount Mansfield (4,393ft). Most hikers take 25 to 30 days to complete the entire trail, but it’s relatively easy to access for day hikes.
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