When the early European settlers started arriving to colonize North America, many of the English settlers sought to reinvent home, in a sense. The early northeastern states were, therefore, modeled after much of their original homeland, at least in name.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are collectively known as New England. The region is utterly breathtaking at all times of the year, whether creating a colorful show of foliage in the fall and spring, or snowy wonderlands in the winter.
So, what can be seen and done on a visit to New England? Where to begin?
As a keen traveler, especially if you are traveling to the USA for the first time, you’ll fall in love with the history, food, activity, art, and culture in the Northeast. There’s something for everyone, from museums to fishing villages, beaches to mountains.
Let’s go state by state and look at the best places to visit in New England.
Massachusetts is known for institutions like Harvard and MIT. Don’t forget iconic national treasures like the Freedom Trail, which is also a fun thing to do in Boston, and Plymouth Rock, where the pilgrims first landed.
Here’s a list of suggested itinerary items when visiting Massachusetts.
Tip: Check out these places and hotels if you’re looking for a place to stay in Boston.
Start at the coast with Cape Cod, a popular beach getaway. There are more than 500 miles of Cape Cod shoreline to explore, with numerous historic towns, such as Chatham and Provincetown, and beaches to stop by. Cape Cod National Seashore is a protected area that is a jewel for nature enthusiasts.
You can also get a feel for Cape Cod’s history, which is steeped in maritime and fishing legacies. Whale-watching trips are eternally popular, as is the legendary lobster roll lunch offered by almost every seaside restaurant in the area.
The iconic Martha’s Vineyard is only accessible by plane or ferry, which makes it all the more charming, to be honest. The island has much to offer, including gorgeous hikes in the Long Point Wildlife Refuge and Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.
If the beach is more your thing, there’s plenty of that, too, especially in the warmer months. Martha’s Vineyard actually has wineries, too (it’s in the name), and many enjoy the fine local wines at every opportunity.
Nantucket Island is known, among other things, for its strong whaling legacy. Exploring the various historical buildings and museums along its cobbled streets seems to almost throw you back into a past era.
This is also a bike-friendly island! Bikes can be rented (highly recommended) to traverse the flat island easily. Also, why bother yourself with a stuffy car when you can enjoy the fresh New England air? Ride to the lighthouse at Great Point or to Sankaty Head for a fun day out.
Time your visit right and you might even get to enjoy the prestigious Nantucket Wine & Food Festival or the Nantucket Film Festival.
It seems that Massachusetts’ islands are the way to go. Plum Island, like many of the others, even hosts a wildlife sanctuary: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Seals are a big attraction here, as are birds and other sea-faring creatures.
The riverside beaches and watersports on the Plum Island Sound and the mighty Atlantic Ocean are also ever-popular.
The Mayflower bore the first English settlers to establish a permanent European settlement on the new continent. It set sail from England in 1620 and arrived in Plymouth that same year.
The Mayflower journey forms part of the foundation for Plymouth’s historical significance in world history, as well as the American story. Today, you can stroll along Plymouth Harbor and imagine what those settlers felt like arriving here.
For a closer look, visit Pilgrim Hall Museum, which still contains actual artifacts from many of those early settlers. For a real treat, time your visit around Thanksgiving and enjoy the parade with an extra connection to actual history.
You can’t talk about the best places to visit in New England without mentioning this picturesque town. History buffs will probably know Salem best by the infamous witch trials that took place here in the late 1600s. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial offers a fascinating look into the events that led to the deaths of 25 locals.
This is partly why Salem celebrates such a strong connection to Halloween. Every October, the small town comes alive, so to speak, with festivals, haunted tours, and a general creepy atmosphere.
But that’s not all that is worth visiting in Salem. Check out the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which features a tour of a historic ship, the Friendship of Salem. This replica was modeled after a typical merchant ship that was used in the late 1700s.
It’s hard to pick one of these New England destinations as a standout for natural beauty. But if you could, Vermont would be a strong contender. Rolling landscapes, vibrant colors, lakes, and forests – it’s all here.
One of the fun aspects of Burlington is its deeming enthusiasm for farm-to-table dining. Many eateries here push the idea of locally sourced fresh produce, so you know you’re eating hearty, cared-for dishes. Beer drinkers also love Vermont for its abundance of craft breweries.
Go skiing in the snowy mountains in season, bike the Island Line Trail, or even kayak on Lake Champlain. There’s no shortage of outdoor fun in and around Burlington.
The islands are situated right on Lake Champlain, which makes them ideal for a superb, nature-inspired getaway. Simply being there is breathtaking, as the views of the lake and the majestic Adirondack Mountains set the scene for a real appreciation of life.
The villages here play their part, too, with cute names like South Hero and its counterpart North Hero. Both offer that serene small-town atmosphere accompanied by fun local eateries and spots to explore. Of course, there’s the requisite local museum that reveals so much about the islands’ past.
If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to take advantage of catered facilities and activities, the Killington Resort might just be your style of holiday. Here, the name of the game is snow sports like skiing and snowboarding,
There are also hiking and biking trails, a zipline, and a mountain coaster. Killington is a great choice if you’re into sports or action activities. Combine a visit here with excursions to the nearby Killington town, and you’re set for a fantastic New England holiday.
Montpelier is the state capital and, as such, the main center in Vermont. The city takes a lot of pride in its historic downtown, as well as its state capitol, the Vermont State House. Nearby, there are trails to hike and pretty views to be taken in from Hubbard Park.
Montpelier is the ideal small city for a beautiful state visit. It packs a surprisingly impressive amount of social activities, including artisanal food outlets, galleries, museums, and lots of festivals in the summer.
The natural formation of Quechee Gorge is 165 feet deep and can be walked via a trail that runs alongside. The gorge was formed by the river Ottauquechee, creating a picturesque region of cliffs and green forest. If you like, you can extend your stay here in the Quechee State Park.
The Stowe region, like so many others here, is breathtakingly gorgeous when it comes to natural charm. However, it has one thing that other regions don’t, and that’s the highest peak in Vermont state – Mount Mansfield.
In fact, the area is dominated by the Green Mountains, so you’ve got lots to admire and explore here. Try the Stowe Recreation Path as a hike. Additionally, Stowe Village offers everything you need in a New England small town, including lots of local breweries and farm-to-table eateries.
Maine is renowned for its vibrant culture inspired by its coastline location, making it among the best places to visit in New England. It also boasts a proud history when it comes to fishing and lobster, as well as an appreciation for its nature, waterways, and lakes.
Acadia National Park is a fantastic biodiverse collection of ecosystems that invite people to explore through hiking and biking. This isn’t the only national park to visit in New England, but it may be one of the most special. Spend an evening under the stars here, and you’ll never forget what a New England sky feels like.
If you’re visiting Acadia National Park, first, it’s worth mentioning that Mount Desert Island (where the park is located) is worth a trip. The entire island is a gorgeous collection of rugged and wild coastlines, lakes, beaches, and forests.
Bar Harbor is the town that essentially serves as the stop-off point for those wanting to explore Acadia National Park. Here, the waterfront is probably the most popular attraction, with plenty of galleries and shops. Of course, the lobster rolls are the most popular item on the menu, and a walk along Shore Path is the perfect after-roll activity.
That’s not all, though, as the town itself is near Acadia National Park and offers its own share of fun activities that include kayaking, hiking, and sailing. There are also a number of local festivals of various themes throughout the year, ensuring that there’s always something to do on Bar Harbor Island.
The crown jewel of this stunning park is Mount Katahdin. It’s pretty much a bucket list adventure on any park hiker’s checklist to get to the top of this, as the state’s tallest peak at 5,269 feet. Remember to pack a heated vest before climbing this one.
Within the park, there is also an intriguing array of wildlife. Birds, black bears, and moose are sighted regularly. Then there’s kayaking and canoeing on the lakes, as well as fishing in the abundant streams.
Kennebunkport has a presidential claim to fame. It happens to be the summer home of the Bush family, which provided the US with two of its presidents – and it’s not hard to see why. This quaint town is as charming in its historic feel as it is delightful in its modern appeal.
Take the Bush Trolley for a fun town-guided tour. The colonial-era architecture and fun social scene is appealing in every sense of the word. There are even several boutique shops, leisure activities (try Goose Rocks beach), and the scenic Ocean Avenue.
You’ve probably heard of Portland, Maine, even if you aren’t that familiar with New England. Portland sits within Casco Bay, meaning it has a seaside charm and maritime history like so much of New England.
One of the main cultural and historic landmarks is the Portland Head Light, a historic lighthouse that happens to be one of the most popular in the US. The historic charm can be felt in the Old Port district, where cobbled streets and old colonial buildings make you feel like you’re in the 1800s.
While you’re here, don’t forget to chow down on the clam chowder and try a local beer brew.
Not to be confused with the numerous other Sugarloaf Mountains in the world, this one sits in Carrabassett Valley and welcomes skiers and snowboarders in winter and hikers and bikers in summer.
Travelers frequently stay at the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort. Alternatively, nearby Kingfield town offers the bonus of local charm and personality.
Rhode Island, the Ocean State, may be small, but it’s no less vibrant or charming than its neighbors. Among the more famous names associated with Rhode Island are Providence and Newport. Rhode Island is also the place where the oldest beacons of European colonization exist. Some of the oldest towns, cities, buildings, and traditions in the USA exist here.
There is a sense of wealth here, you could say, with several large properties and mansions to admire (at least from the gate). The most famous ones are probably the Breakers and Marble House. These estates will give you a real sense of what the wealthy class lifestyle was like 100 years ago.
Aside from the expected maritime history monuments, you might be fascinated by Newport’s proud legacy related to tennis. The International Tennis Hall of Fame resides here, and it includes a tennis museum, tours, educational activities, and annual inductions.
Newport is also celebrated as home to two of the world’s most prestigious and well-known music festivals: The Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival.
Hikers absolutely must do this three-and-a-half-mile cliff walk along the ocean. Aside from the expected Atlantic Ocean on one side of the trail, the unusual site of the Gilded Age mansions owned by the historical elite on the other side provides a unique feel to this hike.
If you feel like taking a break, you might consider stopping along the trail, either at one of the beaches or by some rocky outcrops. Mostly, though, you’ll want to bring your camera along in order to capture the dramatic coastline in all its glory.
In a way, the name offers a strong clue for what to expect here. Old Harbor on Block Island feels laid back and slow in a lifestyle sense, but it could be just the right atmosphere for a complete mental and spiritual reset.
Old Harbor isn’t just an old harbor. The area offers beaches, hiking trails, and water activities. Try the Mohegan Bluffs for a scenic beach day, or visit the Southeast Lighthouse on a sightseeing adventure.
There are lots of festivals all year round in Providence, which makes it an exciting place to visit. One particular highlight is WaterFire – an event where bonfires are lit on the river!
The historic part of Providence is Benefit Street, which is sometimes referred to as the Mile of History. The street is lined with colonial-era buildings and cultural centers of importance like the Providence Athenæum, the RISD Museum, and the Civil War-associated Providence Marine Corps of Artillery. “America’s Oldest Little Theatre,” the Barker Playhouse, is also located on Benefit Street.
Do you know why Connecticut is called “the Constitution State”? It’s often forgotten that the first written constitution of the US (The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut) was adopted here in 1639. Today, there are several awesome reasons to visit here, including a surprisingly large selection of natural waterfalls.
Mystic is best known for the river that bears its name and for the Mystic Seaport Museum, which happens to be the most popular in the entire state. The town also boasts a pretty marina which has plenty of yachts berthed throughout the year.
Historically, Mystic was a shipbuilding port. It also has a strong whaling legacy that shines through in its local identity. Why not stop by the aquarium, which houses thousands of species, including sea lions, penguins, and the only beluga whales in the state?
West Rock Ridge State Park and the oddly-shaped Sleeping Giant state parks are nature’s attractions in this area. Both offer hiking trails in the gorgeous New England air and landscape.
If you’re into academics, this New England college town is where you’ll find the world-famous Yale University. This Ivy League college is the third-oldest in the US, founded in 1701. The campus offers tours of its historic buildings and sites.
New Hampshire boasts the highest peak in the Northeastern US; Mount Washington stands an impressive 6,288 feet. It also has the oldest capitol building still in operation in the entire US. The Granite State is also one of the most beautiful in the country, as these attractions show.
With the White Mountain National Forest, there are actually several mountains to enjoy from within the New Hampshire park, whether it be views or trails. The delightfully named Sandwich Range and the more regal Presidential Range both offer great peaks from which to view the surrounding land.
While in the White Mountains, keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles or, more importantly, black bears and moose, who may not be as friendly if you catch them by surprise. You may also be interested in knowing that these White Mountains walkways and paths form part of the Appalachian Trail.
Resort-minded travelers will be very impressed with this prestigious facility, which has hosted numerous celebrities and presidents. Aside from the fantastic skiing, there are golf courses, trails, and spas to indulge in, making it one of the best places to visit in New Hampshire.
Once again, as a state park, the idea is to get out into nature and enjoy the trails and scenery. There is a particular highlight that most visitors love – the respective White Dot and White Cross loops that take you to the top of the mountain, quite literally.
Best of all, you can even camp in the park to enjoy that special overnight experience out in nature.
So, what do you think of the list of best places to visit in New England? There is no doubt that the Northeast has a lot to offer. Mainly, its combination of natural beauty and historical charm can be found at the top of a list of reasons to visit.
Beyond that, though, there’s the essential sense of calm and tranquility that pervades most of the region. Walk the endless miles of trails among the lush forests and grasslands. Climb the mountains and take in the majestic views of the land that those early settlers fell in love with.
Try out the celebrated food, whether it be more traditional and from the sea or decidedly farm-to-table with a modern twist. The region’s people have also taken to crafting their own delicious brews, which will appeal to those looking for new artisanal tastes.
Want to explore further? Read these 12 Essential Things to Know before traveling to the USA.
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