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Set within the heart of New England, New Hampshire is renowned for its rugged scenic beauty that’s inspired many of the country’s greatest artists and poets. It continues to inspire both those that call it home and visitors who get to enjoy it, if only for a brief time. If you plan to visit, these particularly picturesque places offer some of the best escapes in the state.
A popular weekend getaway in New Hampshire, the charming coastal city of Portsmouth made Forbes “America’s Prettiest Towns” list. Originally settled in 1623 as Strawbery Bank, you can get a glimpse at its colonial legacy in the Strawbery Banke Museum. This living history museum features homes, gardens, shops and taverns that all date from the 17th-century. The entire town of Portsmouth is filled with Victorian, Georgian, Federal and Colonial homes. Downtown streets are lined with classic brick buildings that house restaurants, boutiques and galleries, and throughout Portsmouth, you can enjoy a lively local music scene and great local craft beers.
Harrisville is a charming mill town in the southern region of New Hampshire, known for its especially well-preserved 19th-century architecture. Its downtown area, with red brick buildings and mills, is a National Historic Landmark. Between its structures and many tranquil bodies of water, there are lots of postcard-perfect scenes. Explore the town on foot and then head out to one of the many trails to wander the surrounding area as well as to enjoy outdoor adventures like fishing, kayaking, canoeing and swimming.
Squam Lake, Holderness
Holderness sits in central New Hampshire’s Lakes Region and hosts an especially famous lake. Squam Lake served as the beautiful backdrop for the movie “On Golden Pond,” and just like the film, it’s the perfect place for relaxation and quiet reflection. Although it’s just a two-hour drive from Boston, over the past three decades since the making of the movie, little has changed. You’ll still step into that quintessential New England scene, where the call of the loon is often heard while paddling through the water or casting your line for landlocked salmon, rainbow trout, lake trout, largemouth bass, or some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the state.
A fabulous place to escape the chaos of the city and immerse yourself in the outdoors, the tiny town of Franconia has few residents but lots of striking, rugged beauty. It’s home to the Cannon Mountain Ski Area and Franconia Notch, a mountain pass with soaring mountains that rise as high as 3,000 feet. Franconia Notch State Park is one of New Hampshire’s top national parks, popular for fishing, biking and hiking in the summer months. At this time of year, visitors can ride the Aerial Tramway to the summit of Cannon Mountain to enjoy alpine scenery. Next to the tramway is the New England Ski Museum which features displays on the local aspects of ski history, including a number of important “firsts” on the mountain, and the career of area native, Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller.
While many towns on this list are considered historic, Sugar Hill happens to be one of the state’s newest towns. It was incorporated just a little over a half-century ago and has become a popular destination for romantic getaways and outdoor adventurers. Tucked within the White Mountains near multiple ski areas, it makes the ideal base for enjoying winter sports like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding. During the warmer months, you can ride the cable car up Cannon Mountain to hike the observatory trail or ride the Cog Railway to the summit of Mount Washington where panoramic views await. While you’re in town, be sure to pick up some New England maple syrup, and stop by the Sugar Hill Historical Museum which, among its exhibits, includes a sleigh that once belonged to legendary actress Bette Davis.
Exeter is a historic town founded in 1638 that oozes charm at every turn. It appeals to everyone from outdoor enthusiasts to history buffs and art lovers. Take a leisurely stroll through the downtown area, lined with lovely buildings that house art galleries, eateries and shops, and be sure to take time to marvel at the historic homes. The Ladd-Gilman House, which now serves as the American Independence Museum, boasts the original printing of the Declaration of Independence, along with original drafts of the Constitution. When you want to get active, hiking, biking and water sports are just a few of the possibilities.
This Monadnock Region gem offers an outstanding mix of recreational pursuits and cultural activities. In its bustling downtown, you’ll find a number of restaurants, galleries and specialty shops as well as a center for film and performing arts, the Colonial Theatre, which opened back in 1924. Since then, it’s hosted practically an endless list of music events, drama productions and lectures. Actress Maude Adams and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart are just two of the famous that have graced its stage. The Horatio Colony House Museum and Nature Preserve, tucked inside an 1806 Federal House, is a must-visit with its furnishings and decorative art displays, while the preserve offers several miles of hiking trails. The area also hosts a number of covered bridges and the Old Stone Arch Bridge. Completed in 1847, it spans the Branch River and was considered to be one of the most impressive masonry arches of its time.
Set along the Contoocook River, Peterborough is a small, quaint community, but it’s a popular tourist destination with lots to offer in terms of art and culture. It’s home to two theater groups and The MacDowell Colony, the oldest artist’s retreat in the nation. It holds many different events, as well as encouraging artists to create, resulting in the town’s cool art vibe. Peterborough, in fact, is so cool, that Budget Travel named it one of the top coolest towns in the country. History lovers can explore the town’s rich history at The Monadnock Center for History and Culture, while outdoor lovers can enjoy hiking, biking and kayaking. If you’re in need of any type of sporting gear, it just so happens that Eastern Mountain Sports is headquartered here, along with its flagship store.
Wolfeboro is a popular place to visit in the summertime. It claims to be America’s “Oldest Summer Resort,” with its waterside location on the eastern banks of Lake Winnipesaukee offering the chance to enjoy just about every type of water sport you can think of. If you’d like to get out on the water without getting wet, hop aboard the MS Mount Washington, or charter the Latitude 43. On land, you’ll see whitewashed gateposts and perfectly-manicured hedges along with a number of popular attractions. Two favorites include the narrated trolly tours and the Wright WWII Museum, focused on all types of watercraft which figure in New Hampshire’s history.
This charming southern New Hampshire town is a blast from the past, with nearly all of its buildings lining the main street on the National Registry of Historic Places. The heart of it all is the 1820 meeting house, considered to be one of the best Federal-churches in the state. The meeting house hosts an authentic Revere & Son’s bell that chimes on the hour, day and night. There are many magnificent 18th-century colonial homes, and you can even stay in one. The Hancock Inn is the oldest inn in the state, and one of the oldest B&Bs in all of New England. It opened up its doors to travelers way back in 1789, just six years after the Revolutionary War was over.
Nestled in the White Mountains, the village of Jackson offers a wealth of both natural and man-made beauty, in the form of historical buildings. This enchanting place has been drawing artists, romantics and nature lovers for years with its lush landscape that offers everything from hiking and biking to kayaking and ice skating with scenery that is begging to be drawn, painted or captured on film. Some of the must-experience sights include beautiful Jackson Falls, located along the Wildcat River, as well as the Jackson Library, which located within the historic Trickey Barn downtown.