New Hampshire is a playground for visitors looking for mountains, ocean, and lakes paired with old New England charm. The variety of landscapes from the Atlantic Ocean to the peaks of the White Mountains is interspersed with quaint villages nestled in valleys and sprawling pasturelands.
New Hampshire is home to luxury resorts, extensive hiking trails, farm-to-table restaurants, festivals, history, and gorgeous scenery. Experiencing the relaxing pace of life and natural beauty is tonic for your well-being.
New Hampshire’s coastline is short but packed with seaside charm. Portsmouth, on the Piscataqua River, is a working fishing city with ocean access.
Downtown’s Market Square is the city’s restaurant hub, offering fresh coastal cuisine in small chef-run restaurants tucked away in 17th- and 18th-century brownstones. You will find amazing restaurants including the Black Trumpet Bistro, where the chef prepares unique dining options for their weekly prix fixe menu. As a James Beard Foundation semifinalist, their reputation for hospitality is first-class.
The Strawbery Banke Museum is an outdoor history museum and a lovely spot to spend a sunny afternoon. Explore their historic buildings, heirloom gardens, and costumed residents while learning about the history of the Portsmouth area.
Pro Tip: For more information on Portsmouth, consider how to spend a day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
2. Hampton Beach
Hampton Beach is the vacation destination arm of the town of Hampton. The oceanfront village is packed with opportunities to play on the long, inviting beach. The boardwalk is loaded with fun things to do and see. The dining and bar scene is everything you would want from a fun resort area. Hampton Beach is a throwback to the old-style beaches where the main drag runs along the beach and parking is plentiful.
Pro Tip: To learn more about Hampton Beach, see my tips on how to spend a perfect day in quaint Hampton Beach.
Exeter is home to Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the oldest and most prestigious boarding schools in America. As you stroll the campus quad, the lush green space is surrounded by meticulously maintained antique brick buildings. It is easy to imagine spending your high school years in this close-knit community.
Exeter was New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War capital. You can visit the American Independence Museum to view one of the rare first printings of the Declaration of Independence. The museum houses many documents and offers several docent-led tours for your enjoyment.
If you are craving some contemplative time with nature, hike the Jolly Rand Trail. The 3.7-mile out-and-back trail is rated as moderate and winds through the wooded Kimball Reserve.
Pro Tip: Stroll down Water Street and stop at one of the many coffee shops to watch the stream of students and faculty grab their afternoon pick-me-ups.
Peterborough is a quintessentially quaint New England town. Situated in the valley of the Monadnock Region along the Contoocook River, Peterborough’s charm and panoramic views give it high marks when it comes to evoking a classic feel.
Take a drive up Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park. At the summit, climb the fire tower for a spectacular view of the Peterborough area. The access road is a short 1.3-mile ride to the top. If you are feeling adventurous, you can choose one of the hiking trails up the mountain for a good workout.
If you love poking around for antique art, stop at the New England Art Exchange. You can browse paintings, fine prints, sculptures, drawings, and photography.
Pro Tip: If you are planning to drive up to Pack Monadnock, reserve your parking spot ahead of time.
5. Sunapee And Newbury
Home to skiing, lake life, state parks, and other natural areas, Sunapee and her lake neighbors are a necklace of jewels in the New Hampshire Lakes Region.
Visitors to Mount Sunapee State Park in Newbury can enjoy the beach, boating, camping, and hiking. The area is a popular vacation spot for many New Englanders.
Mount Sunapee Resort, also located in Newbury, is a family-focused ski resort and part of the Vail Resorts Epic Pass system. Operating 67 trails serviced by nine lifts, Mount Sunapee Resort is a great place for a multigenerational ski weekend.
Pro Tip: Sunapee is a popular destination with locals year-round. Plan on making reservations if you want to stay close to the lake.
Cornish is a small farm town in western New Hampshire. It is famous for the beautiful Saint-Gaudens Park, which was the summer home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the great American sculptor. There are often artisans in residence, and demonstrations, tours, and classes are available. A popular place for events, the grounds, gardens, and buildings are beautifully maintained.
Pro Tip: Saint-Gaudens is a popular wedding destination, so check before your arrival to make sure the park is open for viewing the day you plan to visit.
Home to Dartmouth College, Hanover is more than just a quaint New Hampshire hamlet. It is the center of an Ivy League college campus that embraces the great outdoors. The students and faculty take great pride in their Environmental Studies program.
The Hanover Inn, located on Dartmouth College’s campus, offers first-class amenities wrapped in historic charm. Dine at the Inn’s PINE Restaurant, where farm-to-table is a continued tradition. The chef offers Tuscan and American cuisine prix fixe or a la carte menus featuring ingredients sourced from local farms and encompassing seasonal products.
Pro Tip: The Appalachian Trail runs through Hanover, offering residents and visitors a chance to “walk the trail,” even if it is just for a few short miles.
Lincoln is home to the breathtaking Franconia Notch State Park. Mother Nature’s gifts are boundless, and she showcases many of them for the park’s visitors. Nature enthusiasts come here to unplug and breathe the crisp mountain air.
Editor’s Note: Franconia Notch State Park has earned its place on our lists of eight excellent hidden gems in New Hampshire and 15 best stops during a New Hampshire fall foliage road trip, too.
Drive down I-93 between the Kinsman and Franconia mountain range peaks for the most beautiful eight-mile drive in central New England. In the spring and summer, the greenery is so deep and saturated, it is almost unnatural. In the fall, the vibrant foliage is a riot of colorful patchwork. In the winter, the peaks sparkle when the sunlight reflects off the clean, white blanket of snow.
Flume Gorge, at the base of Mount Liberty, is a popular hiking spot. The trail is an easy two-mile loop. It is well maintained, but expect to climb some stairs and hills. There is an entrance fee, and you must reserve your parking spot online.
Lincoln offers many options for campers, hikers, boaters, and picnickers. It is a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon or a long weekend.
Pro Tip: Download your trail maps while you have Wi-Fi; connectivity is spotty in the White Mountains.
9. North Conway
The best way to see the country is by train. Conway Scenic Railroad offers you the chance to explore while riding the rails. The Mountaineer to the Notch runs from North Conway Village to Crawford Depot. You can travel coach or first class and add lunch service. The five-hour round trip showcases some of New Hampshire’s finest scenery, including sheer bluffs, steep ravines, and stunning panoramic views.
If you prefer a more tranquil visit, stop at Echo Lake State Park. Enjoy swimming, picnicking, and some hiking. The Echo Lake Trail takes you in a loop for a beautiful, easy way to enjoy the lake. Alternatively, you can work out your legs with a moderate hike to Cathedral Ledge for a panoramic view of North Conway.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to hike all the way to Cathedral Ledge, you can drive up the road to the gate and walk the last mile to enjoy the amazing views.
Lake Winnipesaukee is synonymous with New Hampshire fun. The largest lake in the Lakes Region, Winnipesaukee has everything you need for a lake vacation. Swimming, boating, hiking, or just relaxing on the beach are at your fingertips.
The Loop Drive around Winnipesaukee takes you on a 97-mile adventure through the lakes. The views are spectacular at any time of year. Bring your camera; there are plenty of panoramic photo opportunities along the way.
Bed and breakfast stays are synonymous with quaint towns. The Nutmeg Inn is a piece of Meredith history decorated with charming 18th-century appointments coupled with modern conveniences. With rooms named after spices, you get the feeling you are visiting your great-aunt’s homestead, complete with a rocking chair deck.
Pro Tip: The Loop Drive takes you through Meredith and Laconia (see more on this community below).
Famous for Laconia Motorcycle Week, known to the locals as Bike Week, Laconia welcomes over 400,000 motorcycle enthusiasts each year in mid-June. If a bike festival is on your bucket list, start planning now for next year. Finding suitable accommodations can be tricky.
Weirs Beach on the western shore of Lake Winnipesaukee is a popular resort destination because of its family-friendly beach, boardwalk, and classic drive-in. Watching a movie at the Weirs Drive-In Theater will add a touch of nostalgia to your visit.
Every trip to the beach requires ice cream, and Kellerhaus offers homemade ice cream, chocolates, and candy. With their goodies made on-site, they offer the freshest local ingredients. They also serve a Weekend Waffle Breakfast from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The breakfast is a great value, and you can even add a scoop of their sweet ice cream to your waffle.
Pro Tip: The week before Bike Week can be hectic with preparations, if you are looking for quiet and relaxing, you should choose a different time to visit.
The New Hampshire countryside is dotted with quaint towns and villages just waiting to be discovered.