We gave our expert travel writers the impossible task of narrowing down which adorable New England towns they think our readers should visit this year. From New Hampshire’s cultured seacoast to Cape Cod’s white sand beaches, several of the places they suggest are on the water. We’re not complaining — we love fresh seafood! However, if the mountains are calling, TravelAwaits writers have an answer for that as well. Here are 11 adorable New England towns to consider adding to your travel list in 2023.
1. Ogunquit, Maine
Every summer, countless beach lovers make the pilgrimage to Ogunquit, Maine. “It’s no surprise,” says Sean Conneely. “Situated along the state’s southern coast, it is a picturesque, compact jewel of a town.”
A 3-mile expanse of smooth, white sand, Ogunquit Beach provides the perfect playground for every beach activity. However, this 4-square-mile town offers attractions beyond its famed beach.
Stroll the Marginal Way, a coastal path boasting sweeping views of Maine’s rocky coastline, or visit Perkins Cove, a bustling commercial area that was once an artists’ colony. Indoor activities include the seasonal Ogunquit Museum of American Art (the setting alone is worth a visit) or a show at Ogunquit’s Leavitt Theatre or Ogunquit Performing Arts.
Don’t miss out on Ogunquit’s many great restaurants. Maine’s signature seafood offering, lobster, is widely available, of course. But culinary options range far and wide, from Italian to Thai to Mediterranean. “So, whether it’s a lazy day at the beach or a tasty lobster, Ogunquit never disappoints,” Conneely asserts.
2. Portland, Maine
Located on a peninsula in Casco Bay, Portland is surrounded by the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean. “That means the seafood doesn’t get any fresher and there are plenty of chances to get out on the water,” says Mira Temkin. “Or do both.” On her Lucky Catch lobster excursion, Temkin got to pull traps from the ocean. Afterward, they cooked up her catch! Don’t want to do the hard work yourself? Check out our article on How To Do A Lobster Crawl In Portland, Maine.
Summer is really the best time to visit when you can go on a lighthouse tour, Temkin tells us. Check out Portland Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. Or take a day trip to Acadia National Park (about 3 hours away). According to Temkin, “this charming town is a mecca for the arts, too, with concerts on the water, chamber music, ballet, symphony, an art museum, and more.”
3. Chatham, Massachusetts
There are so many adorable towns in New England, but Sandi Barrett’s go-to getaway is anywhere on Cape Cod. Extensive white sand beaches and amazing seafood eateries wrap around The Cape from the bridges to Provincetown. “I typically headquarter in Dennis and work my way out to the corners of the island from there,” says Barrett. Her favorite spot on The Cape is charming Chatham.
“When I’m feeling I need a little luxury, I head over to Chatham Bars Inn for a bubbly cocktail and a light nosh,” says Barrett. “If it’s a little less posh day, then a brew and nibble at the Chatham Squire fit the bill. It’s easy to work up an appetite wandering the downtown area filled with little shops.”
There is always an interesting event taking place in Kate Gould Park, the center of Chatham’s downtown. “Unique art exhibits featuring local artists, concerts, and other community events bring this delightful park to life,” Barrett tells us. “Chatham is truly adorable.”
4. Gloucester, Massachusetts
“The smell of the sea and oil paint mix in this adorable town on Cape Ann,” describes Meryl Pearlstein. “I always stop to honor Gloucester’s fishing heritage with a visit to the Fisherman’s Memorial, which looks hopefully out to sea,” she tells us. Near the myriad fishing boats is Crow’s Nest, the bar frequented by Mark Wahlberg in The Perfect Storm, which Pearlstein deems as a “great introduction to local culture.”
A short drive from downtown, Rocky Neck is an art colony filled with works by water colorists, sculptors, and makers. Parking is tough here, but you can take a water shuttle from downtown to the dock by The Studio, a great place for a lobster roll and beer. For more creativity, Pearlstein suggests checking out the Hammond Castle Museum, which she calls “an artifact-filled fantasy from inventor John Hays Hammond, Jr., with a pipe organ and hidden wine cellar.” Sounds neat!
Wondering what the best time to visit Gloucester might be? Pearlstein says “Gloucester is crowded during the summer, beautiful in the fall, and pure New England heartiness when it’s cold.”
5. Marblehead, Massachusetts
“I can get lost wandering the winding, narrow streets of Old Marblehead,” Pearlstein tells us. “More than 200 pre-Revolutionary War houses date from the mid-1600s, some with windows almost to the ground. There’s the famous Lafayette House rumored to have been ‘notched’ to allow passage of Lafayette’s carriage, beautiful bed and breakfasts, and Marblehead Harbor with its tranquil Lighthouse Park and thousands of sailboats.”
Pearlstein recommends stopping for an art break to see the historic Spirit of ’76 painting in Abbott Hall. Grab a brew at Maddie’s Sail Loft or The Landing (the setting for the movie Coma) and try to score a window seat for a chowder at The Barnacle, a tiny clam shack. Bring home some “wicked dark” chocolates from century-old Stowaway Sweets.
Founded in 1638, Marblehead’s Old Burial Hill cemetery was featured in Hocus Pocus. Pearlstein says it is “popular for perusing somewhat ghoulish carvings.” Marblehead is about as historic and charming a town as you’ll find anywhere in New England.
6. Newmarket, New Hampshire
“Small, friendly, and walkable, Newmarket is an amuse-bouche of New Hampshire’s cultured seacoast,” Robin Catalano shares, “… without the crowds of its equally photogenic marquee city, Portsmouth (about 25 minutes away).” A former mill town located on the Lamprey River, Newmarket has a tidy main drag composed of striking historic buildings that house shops, cafes, restaurants, and studios.
Catalano recommends scouting for birds and forest flora at Heron Point Wildlife Sanctuary across the river, then heading into town for comfort food and craft cocktails at Savannah Kitchen, or a locally-made beer at Deciduous Brewing. For the morning crowd, Crackskull’s Coffee & Books has an enormous menu of coffees, teas, and sweet treats. “I’m keeping an eye on the opening date of the Tipsy Tabby, the area’s first cat cafe, where you can cuddle a new feline friend while sipping a latte,” Catalano confides.
7. Woodstock, New Hampshire
Woodstock, New Hampshire, wins SJ Morgensen’s vote for one of the most adorable New England towns to visit. “Nestled in the White Mountains, the views are incredible,” she describes. “Any time is a great time to go depending on what you’re looking for. We enjoyed hiking in the cooler mountain temperatures during the summer, although winter is popular for skiing. And of course, in the fall, the area explodes with brilliant colors.
“Make sure you drive the Kancamagus Highway,” Morgensen relays. “You’ll love the views and there are plenty of pull-offs so you can snap the perfect picture.” She recommends heading to Woodstock Inn Brewery for craft beer and good food. You can also stay at the inn, a good spot for exploring the little towns all around. Nearby Franconia Notch State Park is a must-visit. Jump in the tram for spectacular scenery as you head up Cannon Mountain. At the summit, take a short hike to see views of mountains in four states.
8. Bristol, Rhode Island
“My stay in Bristol, Rhode Island was filled with everything I wanted for a weekend getaway,” Barrett attests. Bristol’s charm begins at the waterfront and expands outward, encompassing beautiful old buildings, fabulous restaurants, and leisurely outdoor adventures.
Take a step back in time at Blithewold Mansion. “Strolling the elaborate gardens takes you through intricately planned beds, densely forested areas, and glades with sweeping views,” describes Barrett. Perched on Narragansett Bay, the mansion is filled with ornate, period decor.
According to Barrett, the Bradford-Dimond-Norris House bed and breakfast is the coziest spot to rest your head after a day of touring. “I loved the four-poster bed, antique decor, stunning fireplace, and perfectly appointed powder room,” she recalls. “Breakfast was served in a sunshine-lit dining room and I enjoyed a lively conversation with the other guests seated at the long table.”
“Bristol is a lovely town with lots to offer visitors,” says Barrett, “… perfect for a quick getaway from Boston.”
9. Newport, Rhode Island
The jewel of Rhode Island’s coastline, Newport shines like a polished diamond. Newport’s history is rooted in sailing and the bygone Gilded Age. Once a playground for the rich and famous, it can now be enjoyed by everyone. “The beauty of Narragansett Bay, with its sailing ships and yachts, will have you dreaming of seafaring stories of wealth and adventure,” Barrett tells us.
Newport is a treasured destination for the young and young at heart. “Bands of bachelorettes mingle with boomer couples as each generation revels in Newport’s good-life atmosphere,” describes Barrett. “You will find rich history, amazing cuisine, and charming views that will captivate your attention no matter how old you are.”
10. Watch Hill, Rhode Island
“Taylor Swift fans are familiar with Watch Hill,” says Pearlstein. “The singer’s 1930 mansion sits along 700 feet of beautiful shoreline.” Watch Hill comes with a historic pedigree, filled with grand shingle “cottages” that overlook three immaculate beaches. Packed with summer vacationers, Watch Hill empties out during colder months, leaving you alone to beach comb for sea glass — a favorite pastime here.
“I love the Flying Horse Carousel, a fixture since 1883 and one of the country’s oldest operating merry-go-rounds,” Pearlstein tells us. Watch Hill Lighthouse and its small museum offer a great overview of the area.
New England is chock-full of quaint general stores. “The General Store at The Harbour House Inn and the town’s antique stores keep me busy searching out treats and memorabilia from my childhood,” Pearlstein says. A classic wooden New England resort, Ocean House has a commanding seaside view and a fabulous Sunday jazz brunch. If you feel like splurging, spend a night here getting pampered, any time of the year.
11. Burlington, Vermont
“I’ve never found a city that so seamlessly mixes college life with gastronomy, lake living, and winter sports,” Pearlstein tells us. Burlington, while not the state’s capital, is certainly the center of activity in Vermont. “The University of Vermont (UVM as it’s known) adds a vibrancy with its beautiful campus and fills the bars and restaurants that line pedestrian-only Church Street with students mixing with locals,” describes Pearlstein.
“A preponderance of chefs from CIA [Culinary Institute of America] or those who felt like escaping NYC have opened a bevy of locavore-focused restaurants here,” Pearlstein informs us. Hen of the Wood and Leunig’s Bistro are her favorites. Walk off these meals with a stroll around beautiful Lake Champlain, or take a sunset cruise for a simply idyllic evening. During the winter, you can easily drive to Bolton Valley for downhill skiing. “Or just strap on your Nordic skis and cross-country from UVM to the lake,” suggests Pearlstein. “There’s plenty of snow to be had in Burlington!”