New England charms visitors with some of the country’s most picturesque scenery. If you’d like to experience some of its prettiest towns, these destinations from Vermont and New Hampshire to Massachusetts and the rocky shores of Maine are sure to be some of the most unforgettable.
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Oaks Bluff, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Oaks Bluff, located on the northeastern shore of Martha’s Vineyard, is known for its unique, vibrant-colored gingerbread cottages that give the town a storybook feel. The picturesque harbor village evolved from a mid-19th-century Methodist campground, and eventually, the canvas tents were replaced with the hundreds of tiny, elaborately decorated cottages. They became a tourist attraction in their own right in the late 19th century – many are still family owned and passed on generation to generation. In this compact town, you can easily walk off the ferry and spend the day on foot exploring it or visiting the beach. The beaches here face into Vineyard Sound and usually have very minimal surf, which makes the water ideal for swimming or to let the little ones enjoy wading. Don’t miss taking a ride on the Flying Horses Carousel, open from Easter Sunday through Columbus Day – it’s the oldest carousel in the nation, spinning since 1876, and a national landmarked.
The shire town and capital of Windsor County, located on the banks of the Ottauquechee River, is home to 3,200 residents that are spread throughout five even smaller villages and hamlets. Settled in the mid-18th century, it exudes Americana charm as a quintessential New England village with a picturesque covered bridge, old country farms, pretty parks, restored Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival homes, as well as a village green. While it’s especially stunning in the autumn when the leaves have turned, it’s beautiful year round. Wander the streets and check out the beautiful homes and buildings in this town that looks the same as it did a century ago, and be sure to sample the cheeses and maple syrups at Sugarbush Farm.
Weston is another lovely Windsor County town that represents the New England countryside at its finest. A village green with a gazebo, family-owned country stores and shops selling Vermont-made clothing and heavenly Vermont fudge, charming B&Bs and beautiful New England homes help create this Vermont masterpiece that looks as if you’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. The entire village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not only will you find a variety of dining experiences, including everything from relaxed bites at taverns to sophisticated eats at upscale restaurants, Weston also hosts historical museums and theatrical productions.
This beautiful coastal town located halfway between New York City and Boston, is home to Mystic Seaport, originally one of the region’s most important seaports, and its history is wonderfully preserved. It includes one of the largest maritime museums in the country, with more than 500 vessels, including the last remaining whale ship in the world. It also hosts an aquarium where you can get up close to penguins, sea lions, seals and beluga whales, and inland, you’ll find charming Colonial period homes lining Main Street as well as plenty of interesting shops and seafood eateries, including the famous Mystic Pizza restaurant that inspired the 1988 movie of the same name starring Julia Roberts. Stop by the Olde Mistick Village if you’re looking for souvenirs – and, you can indulge in delectable homemade fudge at Franklin’s General Store.
Rockport is a scenic fishing village that’s had a resurgence in recent years, with its once boarded up shops now colorfully decorated, welcoming visitors in. It first became known for its lime stone industry, before becoming famous as the hometown of Andre the Seal, a harbor seal who spent his winters at the New England Aquarium in Boston and his summers in Rockport Harbor, with his true story the subject of a 1994 feature film, “Andre,” and the book A Seal Called Andre. You’ll see a life-sized granite statue of Andre at harborside. Visitors can also enjoy fresh local seafood at one of many oceanfront restaurants, and visit the Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center, which offers a diverse Maine artisan collection.
Bar Harbor, Maine
This haven for nature lovers is known for its beautiful rugged coast and as the home for the majority of Acadia National Park. It gets its name from the famous sandbar that connects Bar Island to the mainland at low tide, which is used by hikers and kayakers as a launching point for exploration. The quaint seaside town is incredibly diverse, offering everything from the sea to the mountains. There are biking and hiking trails throughout the national park, with one of the most popular leading to the top of Cadillac Mountain where amazing vistas await, as well as canoe and kayak tours along the Mount Desert Island coastline. The Abbe Museum offers the chance to learn about native Wabanaki peoples, and at the Two Cats Café, not only can you enjoy a meal, but you can purchase cat-themed souvenirs. Of course, you won’t want to miss the chance to dine on the area’s specialty: lobster, which can be found on nearly every corner.
Franconia, New Hampshire
Franconia is an ideal place to escape the chaos of the city and enjoy the beautiful outdoors. In this tiny, sparsely populated town home to the Cannon Mountain Ski area and Franconia Notch, a mountain pass with towering mountains that rise as high as 3,000 feet on each side, visitors will find all sorts of adventures to enjoy, including fishing, canoeing, kayaking, hiking and biking in the summer months. At this time of year, an Aerial Tramway brings tourists to the top of Cannon Mountain to enjoy the alpine conditions. In the winter, the area makes the perfect base for all types of winter sports and activities. The New England Ski Museum is located next to the tramway and features exhibits on the local aspects of ski history, including several important “firsts” at Cannon Mountain, and the career of area native, Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller.
This pretty town on the corner of three states is known for its outstanding farmers’ market as well as its liberal, counter-culture thinking. It prides itself on being one-of-a-kind, and is the only town with its name in the entire world. Brattleboro is a great place to be in the wintertime, offering the chance to go ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing, and indoors you’ll have just as much to do. You’ll find an outstanding local theater, great local bands, a museum and art center as well as a number of unique shops downtown and a wide range of dining options. Area farms are vital to Brattleboro’s economy, and daily life in general, resulting in an outstanding selection at the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market which includes fabulous lunch fare, fresh produce, bread and pastries.
This Vermont town has long been a popular ski destination in the Northeast, with many of the area activities revolving around the state’s tallest peak: Mount Mansfield. In the summer and fall, it’s a favorite for hiking, and in the winter, non-skiers and boarders can also enjoy tubing and sleigh rides. But its appeal lies beyond the mountain as the village is postcard perfect, with covered bridges and church steeples set against the picturesque Green Mountains. Visitors can also stock up on fabulous made-in-Vermont items like cider donuts and maple syrup in addition to sampling delicious cuisine at the many restaurants. In the summer, the Stowe Theatre Guild enlivens nights, performing a number of entertaining musicals.
This “jewel of the Maine coast” as it’s often referred to, was once a haven for manufacturing, but is now mostly known as a popular tourist destination. It’s so picture-perfect, you might mistake it for a movie set – in fact, it has been used as the setting for several films, including 2001’s “In the Bedroom” and the 1957 drama, “Peyton Place.” Sailboats dot the water in Penobscot Bay and waterside seafood beckons. Simply walking the High Street Historic District to take in classic New England architecture is enjoyable though you can also go sailing around Camden Harbor or hike around Camden Hills State Park. If you visit in early autumn, you’ll be rewarded with the magnificent display of fiery reds, blazing oranges, brilliant yellows and purple hues of leaf peeping season.
Exeter, New Hampshire
This historic town is overflowing with charm. Founded in 1638, it offers appeal to everyone from history enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers to art lovers. A stroll downtown offers the chance to visit attractive buildings with art galleries, restaurants and shops, or view historic homes like the Ladd-Gilman House, now serving as the American Independence Museum where you can see an original printing of the Declaration of Independence as well as original drafts of the Constitution, on its tree-lined streets. If you’re seeking outdoor recreation, you’ll find hiking and mountain biking opportunities.
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Summertime activities are where it’s at in Wolfeboro. Billing itself as America’s “Oldest Summer Resort,” it sits on the eastern banks of Lake Winnipesaukee, featuring whitewashed gateposts, coiffed hedges, and an English-rules croquet club. With its shoreside location, it also offers the chance to take part in every type of water sport imaginable, whether you want to dive in or stay afloat. If you want to stay on land, you might take a narrated trolly tour and then visit the Wright WWII Museum and the New Hampshire Boat Museum, dedicated to all manner of watercraft that figure in the state’s history, before shopping the waterfront’s interesting shops and galleries. When you’re ready to get out on the water but don’t want to get wet, charter the Latitude 43 or head out on the MS Mount Washington.
Hancock, New Hampshire
This small town in southern New Hampshire is a veritable time machine into the past, with most of its buildings that line the main street on the National Registry of Historic places. Hancock considers its 1820 meeting house, known as one of the best Federal-style churches in the state, to be its heart. The meeting house is home to an authentic Revere & Son’s bell, which chimes on the hour, day and night. To truly immerse yourself in the town’s history, stay at the Hancock Inn, the oldest inn in the state, and one of the oldest B&Bs in New England. It began offering accommodation and meals to travelers in 1789 – just six years after the Revolutionary War was over.
Sugar Hill, New Hampshire
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sugar Hill is one of New Hampshire’s youngest towns, incorporated only a little over a half-century ago in 1962. Nestled in the White Mountains, it’s become popular for romantic getaways and opportunities for outdoor adventure. Located near a number of ski centers, the town makes a perfect base for a winter escape with the chance to enjoy alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing. In the summer, ride the cable car up Cannon Mountain and hike the observatory trail, or take the Cog Railway to the top of Mount Washington to take in the view from New England’s highest peak. While in town, start your morning off right at Polly’s Pancake Parlor with homemade pancakes topped with famous New Hampshire maple syrup, and be sure and check out the Sugar Hill Historical Museum which features a sleigh that once belonged to actress Betty Davis.
Provincetown, located at the far tip of Cape Cod, is famous for its gorgeous surroundings that include vast sand dunes and over 30 miles of beaches, as well as being a place that welcomes all types of people. It’s long-been an art colony – in 1914, artists and businesspeople formed the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to show and collect work by local figures, and it’s also a place where people can go to let loose and be themselves without fear of judgement. Explore the colorful downtown area, which hosts everything from grand mansions and fine eateries to fabulous seafood shacks, fudge shops, art galleries and book stores, and enjoy lots of interesting people watching. Painters and photographers find it irresistible, with the broad arc of the sun creating a diffuse illumination that seduces the eye.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
For decades, Bostonians have been escaping the summer heat by fleeing to the natural air conditioning offered by the White Mountains, and in the peak of the Gilded Age, as many as 57 trains arrived daily at the depot in Bretton Woods. In the winter, it’s known as the home of the largest ski area in the state – Ski magazine named it one of the top five ski destinations in the East for snow. The enclave set on an alpine table west of Mount Washington is home to the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort, one of the last surviving handful of New Hampshire grand hotels, which includes two golf courses, alpine and Nordic skiing, a massive spa, sled reds, dog sled adventures, horseback riding, tennis and more. When the hotel opened in 1902, it was the culmination of a series of ever grander White Mountains hotels and today, it’s the most luxurious survivor from those golden days – sink into a wicker armchair on its 900-foot veranda and gaze at a glorious sunset.
Situated just under 45 miles from Portland, Wicasset overlooks the Sheepscot River and has managed to retain much of the charm that represents quintessential Maine and New England, with old lovely churches and magnificent historic homes. There are interesting sites on nearly every corner, including some of the region’s most famous architectural landmarks, like the Nickels-Sortwell House on Main Street with its Federal-style architecture, an elliptical stairway with rope-like carvings and a beautiful oval skylight. The Castle Tucker is a Victorian-style mansion known for its upstairs piazza which overlooks the river. Right downtown, you’ll find wonderful shops and antique stores, restaurants and attractions, like the 1812 Jail and the Musical Wonder House.
This vibrant, historic community tucked in the hills of southern Vermont was established back in 1761. It’s well known for its mountains, valleys and New England village charm. Lined with clapboard homes and divided by a green, it feels as if you’ve entered a Thornton Wilder scene. There’s a number of elegant inns that offer the chance to hangout on the porch and forget about all of your cares, and of course, you’ll find the requisite general store, which comes complete with a ‘70s-era gas pump. You can also visit the Bley House Museum which features painting by local artists, Fenton stoneware, and, in the Marble Gallery, a large display showcases 130 years of quarrying, hauling and finishing marble which are all part of Dorset’s historically significant industry. Dorset’s farmers’ market features freshly picked fruits and vegetables, home baked breads and pastries, grass-fed meat and poultry, artisan cheeses and wines, specialty goods, Vermont crafts, hot prepared foods, live, local music and more.
Shelburne Falls, MA
The village of Shelburne Falls actually spans two towns, Shelburne and Buckland, both of which offer much to explore. Sightseers flock to the Bridge of Flowers, which stretches over the Deerfield River, connecting the two towns. In 1928, the arched bridge had fallen into disuse so the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club sponsored a project taking it from visual blight to public garden. Today, the community continues to work together to keep it in bloom. While the bridge is its claim to fame, you’ll also discover many fine examples of Victorian architecture, delightful shops and galleries. While you won’t find a Walmart here, you will find lots of local, handmade items. The streets are filled with the energy of artisans that craft hand-blown glass, quilts and all sorts of more unique, prized goods made by local artisans, like Ann Brauer’s. An NEA grant recipient with work at the Museum of Arts and Design, she pieces together mesmerizing quilts and wall hangings that evoke New England’s seasons and landscape.
A laid-back village far from busy Route 1, Boothbay Harbor is a picturesque coastal town with a rich history, quaint local shops and boutiques, fabulous dining and the opportunity for world-class boating excursions. You’ll be enchanted with its authentic charm, a working waterfront and its tranquil coves, lighthouses and rocky shores. The village shines with brick sidewalks, a gentle hilly terrain and attractive hand-painted signs, while a 1,000-foot-long bridge connects the east and west sides of the harbor for easy access to all types of fun activities. There are some 25 daily boat excursions that leave right from the harbor, including the chance to enjoy close up encounters with wildlife like seals, puffins and whales or sip champagne aboard a romantic sunset schooner. Visitors can also check out the local boat yards to see the tradition of boat building that’s still alive today, and at Boothbay’s Botanical Gardens there are 250 acres of gardens and grounds to explore with everything from brilliant flowers to stonework and waterfalls.
This seafaring town is truly a sight to behold, canopied under one of the finest stands of elms in New England with an especially pretty harbor. It’s also steeped in history, with pristine preservation of 18th– and 19th-century Georgian and Federal homes complemented by a walkable village lined with historic sites, restaurants, shops and galleries. Here you can enjoy everything from sunset sails and kayaking to golf, tennis, museum exploring, concerts on the pier and a fantastic farmers’ market.