14 Best Places to Visit in New Hampshire
From the historic seaport of Portsmouth and its nearby beaches to the majestic rock-bound peaks of the White Mountains and the vast northern forests, New Hampshire overflows with places to visit and things to do.
Cruise Lake Winnipesaukee on a vintage steamer, ride a train through spectacular fall foliage, photograph covered bridges and idyllic New England villages, or spend summer days watching the kids play in one of the White Mountains' many attractions for families.
Couples will find romantic getaways easy to plan, with country inns and cozy B&Bs in the mountains and overlooking quiet lakes.
The White Mountains alone could fill a vacation with things to see, including beautiful waterfalls and natural wonders like The Flume Gorge and Lost River. Mountain tramways and The Cog Railway ascend to the summits for even more panoramic views. So get started planning your next vacation with this list of the best places to visit in New Hampshire.
1. North Conway and Eastern White Mountains
North Conway's location, in the middle of the beautiful valley carved by the meandering Saco River in the heart of the White Mountains, makes it a natural center for skiing in New Hampshire in winter and outdoor sports in the summer.
Cranmore Mountain, one of the nation's first ski resorts, becomes a summer playground with its Aerial Adventure Park and Mountain Coaster.
Building on these assets, North Conway took advantage of New Hampshire's lack of a sales tax to become a center for name-brand outlet stores. Along with shopping in the outlets and in the boutiques and shops lining Main Street, one of the most popular things to do here is riding the vintage trains of the Conway Scenic Railroad, either south through the scenic Saco Valley or north into the rugged landscapes of Crawford Notch.
The Saco seems made for kayakers as it flows through the valley; you can rent kayaks or go on guided tours with Saco Bound.
Likewise, Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse Ledge, which form a scenic backdrop to the valley's west, seems put there for climbers, and are known as two of the country's best trad cliffs. Watching climbers scale these vertical faces is a popular spectator sport.
Hikers will find trails of all levels, from woodland walks to challenging climbs, making North Conway a good base for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in North Conway
Read More: Best Things to Do in North Conway
Its deep harbor and the availability of an unlimited supply of tall pine trees sought by the British Royal Navy for shipbuilding combined to make Portsmouth one of America's most important Colonial seaports.
The wealth of its merchants is easily appreciated when visiting one of the several historic homes of that era, each with its own special features.
The elegant Warner House, for example, has the oldest colonial wall paintings in their original place, as well as the earliest example of Queen Anne furniture in America. The equally elegant Moffatt-Ladd House, built in 1763, has its original furniture; it and the Rundlet-May House are known for their period gardens.
For a sense of how people lived here during different periods of the city's four-century history, visit the 10-acre Strawbery Banke Museum, preserving homes and other buildings in the old port neighborhood. Rather than restored to the same period, these homes, lodgings, and shops are preserved as they appeared in various eras, and costumed interpreters demonstrate period skills and crafts. Eras represented range from the 1600s to a neighborhood market stocked with foods of the 1940s.
A reminder that even in the north, the wealthy in seaport towns and elsewhere were served by enslaved people, Portsmouth's Black Heritage Trail traces Black culture of the colonial and later periods. Sites include the docks where slaves were auctioned as they came off the ships, and a touching memorial park marking the location of a recently discovered African burial ground.
Portsmouth isn't all about history. Market Square and the adjoining Market Street are lined with independent shops and boutiques, including the ultimate book and toy store for children, G. Willikers! And Portsmouth's dining scene is enough to lure food lovers from Boston.
Along the waterfront, Prescott Park is filled with flowers in the summer, and often with music, as it's the venue for the Summer Music Concert Series. The city's main concert and performance venue is The Music Hall, with a year-round schedule of top names.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Portsmouth
Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH
3. Franconia Notch and Western White Mountains
New Hampshire's notches are passes that have been scoured out into bowl-like shapes by glaciers, and Franconia Notch includes some of the best things to do in the western White Mountains. Interstate 93 becomes a two-lane road here to preserve the fragile ledges and wilderness character of the notch.
The Flume is the first stop heading north, a deep gorge with vertical sides carved by the small brook that still runs through it. An optional longer path leads past Table Rock, Avalanche Falls, Liberty Gorge Cascade, and through a covered footbridge. The Basin, a round pool carved out of solid rock, is just up the road.
For another dramatic rock formation, make a short detour to visit Lost River.
At the head of the notch is Echo Lake, where there's a beach and boat rentals. Behind it, a trail climbs to Artists' Bluff, overlooking Echo Lake and the ski slopes of Cannon Mountain.
Near the lake is the base for the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, which has been airlifting skiers, hikers, and leaf-peepers to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain since 1938. The views widen as the giant gondola climbs, and at the top, even more precipitous views are revealed by a walk along the Rim Trail.
4. Lake Winnipesaukee
Finding things to do around Lake Winnipesaukee is a lot easier than spelling its name. You can drive around it to visit lakeside towns, explore it by kayak, cruise it on a lake steamer, ride alongside it on a train, or just enjoy looking at the lake from an Adirondack chair on your hotel balcony.
And, of course, you can swim in it, at beaches in Weirs, Gilford, and Wolfeboro.
Things for families to do are clustered around Weirs Beach, where you can board the historic cruise boat, MS Mount Washington; the US Mailboat MV Sophie C.; or the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad for a scenic ride to the lakeside town of Meredith. Nearby FunSpot has a huge arcade and the world's largest video game museum for rainy day fun.
More places to visit are on the eastern side of Lake Winnipesaukee, in Wolfeboro, quieter than Weirs Beach, with galleries, boutiques, and lakeside dining. Step back into the golden age of boating with a ride on the Millie B, a 28-foot mahogany replica of a 1928 Hacker-Craft.
5. The Seacoast: Short and Sandy
New Hampshire's 18-mile coastline is the shortest of any state, but it packs a lot of summer fun into those miles. Hampton Beach, one of the best beaches in the Northeast, is 700 feet long and at high tide is 150 feet wide.
There's always a lot going on at Hampton Beach. On the boardwalk that lines the beachfront, the 1899 Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom is a live music and comedy venue and there are movies on the beach, fireworks, and frequent concerts at Hampton Beach State Park's Seashell Stage. Along the boardwalk, you'll find all the old favorite beach kiosks selling soft ice cream, cotton candy, beach toys and souvenirs.
North of Hampton, you'll find more beaches in the town of Rye, beginning with the long crescent of Bass Beach, followed by the wide sands of Jenness State Beach, where you'll often see surfers riding the waves. Farther north, Wallis Sands is protected by stone jetties and abuts the even longer stretch of Rye Beach.
Between the beaches is Rye Harbor, the departure point for several seagoing activities. A cute row of fishing shacks contain places to buy tackle or sign up for deep-sea fishing trips. Granite State Whale Watch operates whale-watching cruises.
From a picnic table or bench at Rye Harbor State Park, you can watch the boats go in and out between the breakwaters that protect the little harbor.
6. Mount Washington
New Hampshire's tallest peak and the highest elevation in the northeast, Mt. Washington is the apex of the Presidential Range of the Appalachian Mountains. On clear days, you can see four states from its summit; when clouds roll in, you'll have trouble seeing your hand at arm's length.
You can explore Mt. Washington in several ways, each a different experience. You can drive your car to the summit on the fully paved Mt. Washington Auto Road, climbing more than 4,500 feet at an average gradient of 12 percent, through woodlands that become more dwarfed and twisted until they are replaced with a rock-strewn landscape and endless views. You can ride the same tortuous route in a van, or in the winter climb halfway on a track-wheeled SnowCoach.
The most popular way to the summit is from the other side on the Mount Washington Cog Railway. One of the most popular things to do in the state, The Cog has been carrying passengers up the mountain since 1869. There's plenty of time at the summit to explore the old TipTop House, see the weather exhibits, and take in the views.
You can also climb Mt. Washington from several different approaches. A favorite, with waterfalls and some of the best views, is the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail from the base of the Cog Railway.
Remember that the weather is capricious, and the mountain has claimed many lives. So pay attention to the forecast and to current precautionary warnings.
7. Monadnock Region Towns
The southwestern part of the state, known by the name of its prominent mountain, is filled with classic New England villages. White church spires overlook well-kept village greens, and colonial-era homes provide the foreground for scenic views along the Connecticut River valley and of Mount Monadnock, America's most-climbed mountain.
Fall is perhaps the most popular time to visit, when picture-perfect villages such as Walpole, Fitzwilliam, Hancock, Jaffrey Center, and Park Hill in Westmoreland are framed in brilliant foliage.
Fall is also the most colorful time for one of the region's most popular things to do: photograph covered bridges. The town of Swanzey, south of Keene, has the most, and you can follow a route through four of them, with a fifth in neighboring Winchester.
This part of New Hampshire nurtures an especially vibrant cultural community. Throughout the Monadnock region, tourists can admire and buy art glass, handweaving, jewelry, baskets, furniture, and woodenware in craftsmen's studios and co-operatives.
8. Kancamagus Highway
The spine of the Appalachian Mountains divides New Hampshire's White Mountains region into two halves, connected at the center by the 2,855-foot Kancamagus Pass. The two-lane NH Route 112 climbs over the spine in a series of tight switchback turns on the western side and somewhat more gradually on the eastern.
Near the summit, viewing areas overlook layers of mountains and the undeveloped wilderness of the White Mountain National Forest, even finer vistas than you can see from the road itself. Note that unless you already have one, you'll need to stop at the Lincoln or Conway end to get a National Forest pass in order to park in these.
Along with the views, you'll be rewarded with several places to visit along the route. Most of these are on the Conway side, first the scenic Rocky Gorge and Lower Falls, both popular for swimming and picnics along the aptly named Swift River. Among the things to do along "The Kanc" is the short hike to Sabbaday Falls, a waterfall in a 40-foot gorge.
A historic house (there used to be an entire town here) and a covered bridge are also worth a stop, and if you're camping, there are two of the best campgrounds in New Hampshire. Jigger Johnson and Blackberry Crossing each has large, well-spaced tent sites in the forest along the banks of the Swift River.
New Hampshire's capital combines the charms of a traditional main street center with an arts and culture scene that would be the pride of a much larger city. The gold-domed State House (yes, it's real gold) is the centerpiece of Concord's attractive downtown, where you'll find independent shops and boutiques.
Highlights among these are the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Gallery and Gibson's Bookstore, a Concord tradition since 1898, where you'll find an entire section devoted to books about the state and by New Hampshire authors. Step onto Warren Street for some sweet indulgences at Granite State Candies.
Not far from Gibson's, the Capital Center for the Arts hosts a full schedule of live performances in all genres, as well as films and simulcasts. For public lunch-hour concerts, recitals, and jam sessions, check the schedule of the Concord Community Music School. The intimate Red River Theatres features first-run independent films, classic and foreign films, and on-screen art exhibits.
For a look at the state's past, and an exceptional collection of works by the White Mountain Artists, step behind the State House to the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Outside of the downtown area, the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center honors two New Hampshire natives instrumental in the space program, with exhibits and hands-on activities on space exploration, aviation, and astronomy.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Concord
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Concord, NH
10. Lake Sunapee
The shores of Lake Sunapee, like those of Squam Lake, show very little development, its waterside cottages well hidden by trees. This wooded shoreline combines with the backdrop of Mount Sunapee to make it one of the most scenic lakes in New Hampshire.
Along with swimming at the long beach in Sunapee State Park, the most popular things to do here are a cruise on the MV Mt. Sunapee II or a dinner cruise on the MV Sunapee Lake Queen. Beautiful all season, these trips are especially photo-worthy, when fall foliage paints the shores and mountain.
Skiers at Mount Sunapee Ski Resort get the best views of all, with the entire lake spread out at their feet; the chairlift takes foliage viewers there in the fall.
On the southern shore of Lake Sunapee, stop to tour the outstanding gardens and 22-room mansion of The Fells, among New England's finest summer estates.
11. Hanover and the Upper Valley
The Connecticut River separates New Hampshire from Vermont for most of their border, forming a scenic backdrop to the towns and river-side farmlands along the region known as the Upper Valley.
Hanover, home to Dartmouth College, is at the heart of the region, and its cultural center with the Hopkins Center for the Arts ("The Hop") hosting national acts in a 900-seat concert hall and theater productions in its smaller Moore Theater. Adjacent is the freshly expanded Hood Museum of Art.
You can rent canoes and kayaks to explore the Connecticut River from the Ledyard Canoe Club and in the winter, rent skis or skates at the skating rink and cross-country center, or go downhill skiing at the college's Dartmouth Skiway in neighboring Lyme.
It's worth driving north to this pretty little town, set around its tidy common, or on to see the river valley views and the stately homes of Bullfinch Row in Orford. Follow the river south of Hanover to visit the sculptor's home and studio at the Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park in Cornish.
In Cornish, you'll also find the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the United States and the longest two-span, covered bridge in the world.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hanover
12. Squam Lake
The beautiful and largely undeveloped Squam Lake is best known as the setting for the Katherine Hepburn film On Golden Pond, and it's just as idyllic in real life as in the movie. Unlike neighboring Winnipesaukee, Squam's shore is lined almost entirely with trees, with only a few cottages visible.
The Squam Lake Loon Initiative protects the resident loon population and there are strict limits on power boat speed; cottage lots are large and often passed through generations, so there is little opportunity for shore development.
Squam Lake lies in the towns of Holderness and Sandwich, both worth a stop. In Holderness, the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center has exhibits on local wildlife and offers narrated nature cruises on the lake.
On Route 113 between Holderness and Sandwich, look for a trailhead for the Old Bridle Path to the ledges on West Rattlesnake Mountain (named for the island below) for beautiful views of Squam Lake.
Center Sandwich is a postcard village, traditional white buildings arranged around a green and pond.
The red brick mill buildings that line more than a mile along the Merrimack River are only a fraction of those that made Manchester a major manufacturing center. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Amoskeag Falls powered one of the world's largest mill complexes.
Today these buildings house offices, universities, eating places, and two museums. One of these, the excellent Millyard Museum, illustrates the role of the falls from Paleolithic times through the manufacturing era, highlighting the important role the waves of immigrants who worked here would have on Manchester.
The immigrant populations have changed over time, but still make Manchester a vibrant multicultural city. Visitors will notice this in the variety of restaurants: Nepalese, Caribbean, African, Mexican, Creole, Colombian, Greek, Pakistani, and Brazilian.
Manchester is a cultural center as well, home to one of New England's top fine arts museums, the Currier Museum of Art, and the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra. At the restored 1915 Palace Theatre, you will find performances ranging from ballet and grand opera to improv, classic films, and children's theater.
Baseball fans can cheer for the Fisher Cats at the Delta Stadium in the city center.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Manchester
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Manchester, NH
14. The Great North Woods
North of the White Mountains, New Hampshire's terrain mellows into a scenic landscape of hills and low wooded mountains, thickly forested and largely unsettled. This northern tip is known as The Great North Woods, an appropriate name for the miles and miles of forest.
Lake Umbagog, which is shared with Maine, is a prime spot for kayaking, with paddle-in camping sites on the remote shores of the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. Here and throughout the region, loons swim in the lakes and moose are not an uncommon sight along the roads (portions of Route 3 are known as "Moose Alley").
On the western side, reached by a scenic drive over Dixville Notch, are the Connecticut Lakes, a series of five, connected bodies of water that form the headwaters of the Connecticut River. Loved for their superb fishing; placid waters for canoeing and kayaking; the abundance of wildlife; and, in the winter, the snowmobile trails that crisscross the lakes and woodlands; this region is a paradise for outdoor lovers.