20 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in New Hampshire
From its 18 miles of seacoast – the shortest of any coastal state in the US – to the summit of the Northeast's highest peak, New Hampshire packs plenty of variety into an easy-to-reach area. Along with the many places to visit, New Hampshire's natural attractions offer plenty of things to do in the great outdoors, many of them free.
The attractions that draw tourists to this part of New England include beautiful ocean and lake beaches, miles of kayaking waters, above-timberline hiking on the Appalachian Trail, sailing on mountain-ringed lakes, fun-filled theme and water parks for kids, exciting rides to mountaintops, and tours of historic houses.
Whether it's challenging hikes, sailing, foliage viewing in the fall, tax-free shopping, skiing in the winter, covered bridges, or colonial history, you'll find it – and plenty more – in New Hampshire. To be sure of seeing the highlights of this small but varied state, use our handy list of the top attractions in New Hampshire.
1. Mt. Washington Cog Railway
On a clear day, the view from the summit of Mount Washington spans four states; on a cloudy day, you may be able to look down on the tops of clouds while the summit is in sunlight.
The easiest way to reach the top of Mount Washington, the highest elevation in the northern Appalachians at more than 6,000 feet, is on the steep Cog Railway that has been carrying tourists since it opened, the first of its kind in the world, in 1869. Those who long for the nostalgia of an authentic coal-fired steam engine train, can reserve the steamer special morning departures from late May through late October.
At the top, the Sherman Adams Visitors Center houses a small museum; a cafeteria; and the Mount Washington Observatory, a research station that studies extreme weather conditions, for which the mountain is notorious. In 1934, the world record wind speed was recorded here.
The Cog Railway only ascends to the summit between May and October, but in the winter, you can ride as far as the Waumbek Station, an Alpine meadow at 4,000 feet elevation. There you can enjoy the sweeping views, and sip hot chocolate in the warming huts or around a fire pit.
Address: 3168 Base Station Road, Marshfield Station, New Hampshire
Official site: www.thecog.com
Accommodation: Top Resorts in New Hampshire
2. The Flume Gorge and Franconia Notch
The Flume Gorge, in Franconia Notch State Park, is an 800-foot-long crack in the rock at the base of Mount Liberty. Its walls rise 70 to 80 feet above the brook that flows through it, and you can follow it on a boardwalk just feet above the water.
When the mile-high sheet of ice that formed the notch melted, torrents of water raged down this valley, carving a 20-foot smooth-bottomed depression into the solid granite of the mountain. Follow signs to The Basin, where the now benign Pemigewasset River still continues the process begun 10,000 years ago.
The first aerial tramway in North America, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway carried its first passengers to the 4,080-foot summit high above Franconia Notch in 1938. On clear days, you can see New Hampshire's Presidential Range and mountains in Vermont, New York, and even Canada. The short Rim Trail to the observation tower offers spectacular views straight down into the floor of the notch.
A notch is a pass that was carved through a mountain range by retreating glaciers, and Franconia is one of the biggest notches in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Franconia Notch has miles of hiking trails; a campground; and Echo Lake State Park, with a beautiful sandy beach and boat rentals.
Address: I-93 exit 34B, Franconia Notch
Official site: www.cannonmt.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Franconia
3. Mt. Washington Auto Road
Completed in 1861, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is America's oldest continuously operating tourist attraction. Ascending more than 4,500 feet from the base to the summit, the 7.6-mile road is not for the faint of heart. Climbing at an average gradient of 12 percent, the narrow road begins benignly through woodlands, with occasional valley views.
The forest begins to shrink as the elevation increases and the road enters the zone where trees are stunted and bent by the high winds; then trees disappear entirely as the road climbs past the timberline into a precipitous rock-strewn landscape. The views across the White Mountains just keep getting better as you climb. It takes about 30 minutes from its base on the eastern side of Mt. Washington. The return trip may take a little longer if you need to stop and cool the brakes.
You won't get to display the bumper sticker proclaiming that "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington," but you can experience the Auto Road riding in a purpose-built van with someone else driving. In the winter, you can ride to the tree line on the track-wheeled SnowCoach. These and the vans are still called coaches in homage to the horse-drawn coaches that made the trip to the summit between 1861 and the beginning of motorized trips in 1912.
Address: Route 16, Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire
Official site: https://mt-washington.com
4. Kancamagus Highway and White Mountain National Forest
This is really not a highway, but the winding two-lane NH Route 112, which climbs over the spine of the White Mountains via New Hampshire's Kancamagus Pass.
In addition to sweeping views, this scenic route, stretching 35 miles from Conway in the east to Lincoln in the west, offers access to several natural and man-made attractions. The entire area is part of the vast White Mountain National Forest, which protects 148,000 acres of wilderness.
Be sure to take advantage of the scenic pull-outs, as some of the best views are not visible from the road; this is especially true on the western side of the summit. At the Conway end are a covered bridge and two especially scenic spots on the Swift River: Rocky Gorge and Lower Falls, both popular for swimming and picnics.
A half-mile trail leads to Sabbaday Falls, where a mountain stream flows through a gorge with 40-foot walls. Wooden railings make it safe to look straight down at the waterfall and potholes.
The Kancamagus Highway ends in Lincoln, where Loon Mountain is not just a winter ski resort, but a year-round sports center. The gondola that carries skiers in the winter takes summer and fall visitors to the summit for views, a nature trail, and a tumble of glacial boulders that form caves and passageways.
Open all year, this drive is especially beautiful during the fall foliage season.
5. Strawbery Banke
Strawbery Banke was the name of the first 1623 settlement at what is now Portsmouth. The 10-acre Strawbery Banke Museum contains houses from four centuries of the old port neighborhood. Some are restored and furnished to show life in the various eras, while others are preserved to show construction methods and restoration techniques - of particular interest to those who are restoring old homes.
Costumed interpreters demonstrate cooking, crafts, and skills from the various periods, and you can watch authentic boats under construction. The homes vary from that of a prosperous merchant and political leader to a 1950s duplex, and represent various ethnicities that called the neighborhood home.
Period gardens, a 1770 tavern, a fully stocked World War II era neighborhood market, and frequent special musical and historical programs make this an interesting place to visit. In December, the houses and workshops are open for candlelight evening tours.
Address: 454 Court Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Official site: www.strawberybanke.org
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Portsmouth
6. Conway Scenic Railroad
A good way to enjoy the scenery of the long valley of the Saco River as it winds between the mountains is on the Conway Scenic Railroad. Trains run in two directions from the beautiful 1874 Victorian station in the center of North Conway.
The Valley Excursion heads south along the meadows and woodlands to the town of Conway, while the longer Mountaineer route leads north, past the cliffs of Cathedral Ledge and through the dramatic cleft of Crawford Notch. Both routes have unobstructed views of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range.
On the shorter southern route, you can reserve lunch in the vintage dining car, resplendent in polished wood and etched glass. The northern route is especially beautiful in the fall, when the hardwood forests of Crawford Notch are at their brightest reds and yellows.
In the winter, the northbound train travels through the snow-covered woods as far as Attitash Mountain in Bartlett.
Address: Main Street, North Conway, New Hampshire
Official site: www.conwayscenic.com
7. Market Square and Portsmouth's Historic Houses
At the heart of the historic center of this seaport and shipbuilding town, Market Square has been the city's busy hub since the days when New Hampshire's Colonial Legislature met here. Overlooked by the impressively tall steeple of North Church, the square and the brick-paved streets that radiate from it are surrounded by venerable mercantile buildings that now house shops, cafés, and restaurants.
As it winds its way along the waterfront, through Market Square and into streets of sedate old homes, the Portsmouth Harbor Trail connects more than 70 of the city's historical sites and scenic attractions. Among these are 10 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, 10 National Historic Landmarks, and a number of historic homes that are open to visitors.
Each of these has unique features, history, and collections. Warner House, built in 1716, has the oldest Colonial wall paintings still in place and the first example of Queen Anne furniture known in America.
The 1758 John Paul Jones House, where Captain John Paul Jones lived while in Portsmouth, exhibits collections of china, silver, glass, portraits, and clothing.
Moffatt-Ladd House, built in 1763, still contains original furniture and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.
The 1785 Governor John Langdon House interior features ornate woodwork and period furnishings, and the Rundlet-May House, built in 1807, features furniture made by local craftsmen.
8. Hampton Beach
New Hampshire may have the shortest seacoast of any state, but it has one of the Northeast's favorite family beach resorts. Hampton Beach has been a popular resort town for generations, and still has its "casino" – a community focal point of beach resorts at the turn of the 20th century.
These were not built for gambling but to house a ballroom, tearooms, and family entertainment. Today, the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, which was built in 1899, is a live music and comedy venue on the boardwalk that lines the long white-sand beach.
Other activities in this always lively town are concerts at Hampton Beach State Park's Seashell Stage, movies on the beach, and fireworks.
Fun parks, soft ice-cream, and deep sea fishing trips from the harbor round out the beach vacation experience. Each June, the beach becomes a giant art gallery, when international contenders vie for the title at the Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Competition.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hampton
- Read More: Best Beaches in New Hampshire
9. Mt. Monadnock
The world's most climbed mountain owes its popularity to several factors: you can climb it easily in a day, its trails offer options for different abilities, and it is an easy day trip from the Boston area. Most hikers use one of the five main trails, but the 35-mile trail network includes alternative routes for those who hope to climb in solitude.
The mountain stands alone and has given its name to the geological term describing a mass of solid rock that withstood the force of moving glaciers scraping away the earth that once encased it. Because it stands alone, the views from its summit ledges are unobstructed, wide-reaching, and beautiful, especially when fall foliage paints the surrounding forests red and orange.
That also means that the mountain is visible as a backdrop to scenery and villages across the entire southwest corner of New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, it's called the Monadnock region, and is also known as the "Currier & Ives Corner" for its idyllic villages with white church spires and its abundance of covered bridges. Postcard villages here include Fitzwilliam, Jaffrey Center, Hancock, and Harrisville.
10. North Conway and Mt. Washington Valley Ski Resorts
North Conway was one of the first ski resorts in America and is still a major ski destination. Six mountain resorts in the scenic Mt. Washington Valley offer state-of-the-art lifts and trail grooming, while North Conway and Jackson are centers of the lively après-ski scene.
Cross-country (Nordic) skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, dog-sledding, sleigh rides, and ice skating make these resorts appealing to those who eschew downhill skiing. Most are four-season resorts, with golf, tennis, swimming, and other activities.
In the summer, Cranmore Mountain has an Aerial Adventure Park and Mountain Coaster, while Attitash Bear Peak offers an alpine slide, water slides, mountain bike trails, and horseback riding. Wildcat Mountain, one of the most challenging for skiers, has a zipline and stupendous views of Mt. Washington from its summit, where the skiers' gondola takes tourists in the summer and fall.
At the other side of Mt. Washington from Wildcat is Bretton Woods, also with a zipline and other year-round activities. Black Mountain is an especially family-friendly ski area, as is King Pine, at the all-season Purity Springs Resort in Madison.
North Conway is as well known to shoppers as it is to skiers, with one of New England's largest concentrations of outlet stores, as well as tax-free shopping. In the summer and fall, the Conway Scenic Railroad runs the entire length of the valley in vintage cars.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in North Conway
- Read More: Top-Rated Ski Resorts in New Hampshire
11. Story Land
Story Land is straight out of a fairy-tale book, made for kids, but with such clever and original places to play that parents love it, too. Kids can board a pumpkin coach to Cinderella's Castle, ride in a wooden shoe or sail in a pirate ship, take a swan boat for a spin around the lake, or "drive" parents around a track and through covered bridges in an antique car.
Then they can get dizzy in a spinning teacup and slide down from a treehouse or playhouse in a giant pumpkin. The charm of Story Land is not only its imaginative rides and play areas, but the fact that they are original and unique to this long-time family operation. Clever new attractions are constantly being added to appeal to different ages.
Address: NH Route 16, Glen, New Hampshire
Official site: https://www.storylandnh.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Glen
12. Clark's Bears
Formerly known as Clark's Trading Post, Clark's Bears has been entertaining families with trained bear shows for more than 50 years, and as you watch these animals ride scooters, shoot basketball hoops, and balance on barrels, you'll notice that the bears are having as much fun performing their tricks as the audience is watching them.
In addition to the bears, the several daily shows include performances by a team of acrobats. Between shows, families can ride a steam train through the woods, learn to "drive" Segways, play in the splash park, and visit the quirky fun houses and museum collections along the Victorian Main Street.
Like Story Land, Clark's is family owned (the fifth generation is now in place), and its attractions are original and unique. Just up the road, Whale's Tale Water Park is a good place to take kids on a hot summer day, with speed slides, a wave pool, and two huge water slides.
Address: US Route 3, Lincoln, New Hampshire
Official site: http://clarksbears.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lincoln
13. Currier Museum of Art and Zimmerman House
The more than 11,000 works in the Currier's collections are as wide-ranging as they are significant. Not surprisingly, particular attention is given to New Hampshire artists and works of the White Mountain School of artists, with several examples including Bierstadt's view of Moat Mountain. Along with the paintings are superb examples of New Hampshire-made antique furniture.
The second floor is divided between the American gallery and an admirably varied collection of European paintings that include works by Constable, Monet, Corot, Tiepolo, and Lorenzo de Costa. The first floor includes the double special exhibition gallery and the museum's collections of modern and contemporary art. The former includes works by Picasso, Matisse, and O'Keeffe, the latter, a Calder mobile sculpture.
Also part of the museum, and accessible by tours originating here, is the Zimmerman House, by Frank Lloyd Wright. This outstanding example of Wright's Usonian homes is the only Wright-designed building in New England open to the public. The tours, which include the interior entirely furnished as Wright designed it, put the house and furnishings in their historical and artistic context.
Address: 150 Ash Street, Manchester, New Hampshire
Official site: www.currier.org
14. Lake Winnipesaukee
South of the White Mountains is Lake Winnipesaukee, the focal point of New Hampshire's Lakes Region, which also includes nearby - and far less developed - Squam Lake and Newfound Lake. Winnipesaukee is a beehive of summer activity, surrounded by water parks, beaches, fast food, and family-oriented attractions.
The west side of the lake is the most developed, especially around kid-friendly Weirs Beach and more trendy Meredith, while the eastern resort town of Wolfeboro is quieter. Water sports are abundant, with sailboats, kayaks, and motor boats vying for water space with the historic cruise boat, M/S Mount Washington.
The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary in Moultonborough protects breeding waters of these treasured birds and offers visitors a chance to learn about them. Nature and wildlife is also the focus of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, which operates nature cruises on this well-protected lake that was the setting for On Golden Pond.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Weirs Beach, near Lake Winnipesaukee
15. Fall Foliage Drives
New Hampshire is at its most beautiful in September and early October, when fall paints its maples shades of scarlet and orange and its birches a luminous yellow. Almost any road you follow will bring views, whether it's a winding, tree-lined country lane or a highway that opens up sweeping mountain vistas.
For its variety of views, follow the Connecticut River up the west side of the state, where routes 12, 12A, and 10 offer a changing series of views across valley farms to the mountains of Vermont. Take side roads into villages along the way - picture-perfect Walpole is at the southern end - for white church spires and village greens surrounded by blazing maples.
In the central Lakes Region, country roads north of scenic Squam Lake wind through pretty villages of Holderness, Sandwich, and Tamworth, with views to the White Mountains. Route 16 leads north to one of the state's most iconic fall views as the distinctive cone of Mt. Chocorua is reflected in a forest-ringed lake.
Few images of fall in New Hampshire are as iconic as a covered bridge framed in bright foliage, and while you'll find these bridges scattered across the state, nowhere are there so many so close together as in the town of Swanzey, in the state's southwest corner. These are marked on the state highway map, so you can easily follow a route that includes six of them.
Several options allow the driver a chance for "leaf-peeping" - cruises on Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Sunapee, train rides into the mountains from North Conway, or various tramways to peaks in the White Mountains.
16. Polar Caves
Glaciers, which once covered the White Mountains in a mile-thick layer of ice, formed Polar Caves by scraping huge chunks of rock ledge off the mountainside as they melted and slid southward. These boulders and granite slabs fell into a tumble at the base of a towering cliff, creating caves and passages underneath and between them. Some of the spaces are so deep that ice remains there into the summer.
At the foot of the caves is the Rock Garden, a series of trails among huge rocks strewn on the forest floor, easier to navigate than the steeper trails among the caves. Wooden stairs and walkways lead up to dimly lit passages and caverns to explore; some, like the Bear's Den are challenging, with tight spaces between surfaces. Signs tell stories of Native Americans, escaping slaves, smugglers, and others who used these caves.
Polar Caves Park is more than the caves, and there is enough so a family could spend hours here, watching and feeding a huge flock of ducks and geese that roam free and swim in a large woodland pond. An illustrated sign helps kids identify the variety of birds, and fallow deer will eat from their hands.
Address: 705 Rumney Rte 25, Rumney, New Hampshire
Official site: https://polarcaves.com
17. Santa's Village
Stepping through the igloo gatehouse of Santa's Village, kids feel as though they've entered into a Christmas wonderland where toys come to life, and all the favorite things about the holiday season are all around them.
An elevated monorail ride, the Skyway Sleigh, gives an aerial overview of the fun to come, as riders skim above the treetops. Rides and games all feature Christmas themes: a ride with spinning drums; a roller coaster for younger children called the Peppermint Twist; a penguin spin-out coaster; and the Chimney Drop, a bounce ride where kids feel like Santa dropping down a chimney. They can get wet in the Yule Log Flume, or there's an entire section devoted to water rides and slides.
New in 2020 is The Great Humbug Adventure, a dark ride through Scrooge's house looking for humbugs.
The carousel has reindeer instead of horses, prancing to the tune of Christmas songs. At Sugar n' Spice Bake Shop, a giant gingerbread house, kids can dress their own gingerbread men and women with frosting clothes.
Everything - all rides, shows, 3-D movies, live music, and entertainment, even the pet condo and strollers for little people, are included in the admission price, and the games and rides are well designed for various age groups, so kids from toddlers to teens will have fun here.
Address: 528 Presidential Hwy, Jefferson, New Hampshire
Official site: https://www.santasvillage.com/
18. Lost River Gorge
During the last Ice Age, glaciers covered the White Mountains with a mile-high sheet of ice. When these melted and receded, the combination of meltwater and moving ice carved deep potholes into the granite and tore loose giant boulders, dropping them helter-skelter across the landscape. It was a combination of these that created this natural wonder.
Lost River disappears into caves formed by a tumble of glacial boulders, appearing again in cascades and long waterfalls and swirling in giant cauldron-shaped pot holes as it drops through the steep ravine. You can explore all the caves and the narrow passages formed by the masses of broken granite ledge or bypass them to climb through on boardwalks and stairs.
If you're claustrophobic, avoid the tightest of these passages, appropriately called "the lemon squeezer." At the top is a garden of woodland wildflowers, a forest adventure trail, and a suspension bridge that leads to a 750-foot boardwalk through a glacial boulder field.
Address: Route 112, Kinsman Notch, New Hampshire
Official site: www.findlostriver.com
19. Isles of Shoals Cruises
A group of nine islands off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire, the Isles of Shoals were described in 1614 by Captain John Smith (who modestly named them Smythe Isles) as "barren piles of rock." The description is apt, but their complicated and fascinating history includes tales of shipwrecks, pirates, ghosts, murder, and buried treasure. Their story also includes more than 400 paintings by the impressionist artist Childe Hassam, who came to the summer arts colony that once thrived here, attracting well-known authors, poets, and artists of the day.
The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company in Portsmouth takes passengers to Star Island for a three-hour shore stop, where they can enjoy island landscapes and visit the historic Oceanic Hotel, a 200-year-old chapel, and buildings from the 19th-century village. The smaller White Island has a picturesque lighthouse that is a New Hampshire State Historic Site.
Other boat trips, offered by Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, explore the harbor, the coastline, and Great Bay.
Official site: https://islesofshoals.com
20. Woodman Institute and Garrison House
Combining local history (Dover was the state's first permanent settlement) with a wider range of natural sciences and cultural exhibits, the privately endowed Woodman Institute complex is a delightful trove of surprises. The 1818 Woodman House is filled with collections of minerals, birds, shells, mammals, Native American artifacts, and Civil War items that include Abraham Lincoln's saddle. An entire room is devoted to the extensive doll collection of a local teacher; another to memorabilia from World War II.
In the adjoining 1813 home of Senator John Parker Hale are furnished rooms, police and fire memorabilia, nautical items, needlework, antique toys, and decorative arts, plus a fascinating collection of early photographs used to document pre-labor-law practices in New England's mills, including child labor.
But the most precious of all is the last surviving fortified colonial garrison house, the William Damm Garrison, built in Dover in 1675 and preserved here under a portico. It is completely furnished with period artifacts, including tools, household equipment, furniture, and needlework. You can inspect all these at close range, even climbing the narrow steps to see the upper floor. You are also welcome to picnic on the museum's lawns and enjoy the gardens.
Address: 182 Central Avenue, Dover, New Hampshire
Official site: http://woodmanmuseum.org
More Must-See Destinations in and near New Hampshire
There is so much to do in New Hampshire - historic Portsmouth, hiking trails in its White Mountains, and beautiful campgrounds for outdoor lovers - that you could spend several vacations here without ever crossing its borders.
But its several neighbors are worth visiting, too. To the east is Maine, with lively Portland and the beautiful Acadia National Park. To the west is Vermont, also a major destination for skiing and hiking.
To the north is the province of Quebec, in Canada (be sure to take your passport), and south is Massachusetts, with all the attractions of Boston and the beaches of Cape Cod.