From the historic enclaves of Boston to the coastal towns of Maine, or the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, the best places to visit in New England have much to offer all year long.
Summers here are nothing short of glorious, with long, lazy afternoons by the sand dunes, while autumn brings a rush of scarlet and flame hues to the countryside foliage.
While New England may be culturally and geographically diverse, there’s a powerful sense of local identity and pride throughout the region. Many of the towns and cities here can trace their history back hundreds of years, giving them the ambiance of living museums.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect lobster roll or the most beautiful national park, here are a few stops that belong on your New England bucket list.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Maine is known for Acadia National Park. It’s not hard to see why around four million visitors a year pass through this spectacular park on Mount Desert Island, with 158 miles of hiking trails, plus well-maintained carriage roads perfect for mountain biking.
From the sheer rock face of the Precipice Trail, where peregrine falcons nest each year, to the dramatic coastline of Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park is a place of breathtaking natural beauty.
Wealthy philanthropist John D. Rockefeller spearheaded the charge to earn this place protected national park status so that future generations might experience it.
There’s far too much to see and do in Acadia National Park in a single day, but if you’re pressed for time, be sure to head to the top of Cadillac Mountain.
As the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard, the peak offers unparalleled views from 1,530 feet on a clear afternoon. Afterwards, hop on The Island Explorer, the park’s convenient shuttle bus, and head to Jordan Pond House, which serves tea and piping-hot popovers on a grassy lawn.
Quincy Market, Boston, Massachusetts
Since 1826, this bustling market hall has held a special place in Bostonian life. Thanks to a multimillion-dollar overhaul in the 20th century, Quincy Market has retained its historic character, yet feels up to the challenge of serving the modern-day public.
The main reason to come here is, of course, the food, which is served by 35 stalls lining the colonnaded interior hall, as well as 18 full-service restaurants. Don’t leave without enjoying a bowl of New England’s favorite fish soup at Boston Chowder Co.
Boston Harbor Islands, Massachusetts
First-time visitors to the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park often find themselves agog that this pristine patch of nature can exist steps from the center of one of the busiest metropolitan areas on the East Coast.
Consisting of 34 small islands and peninsulas, the protected area is a breath of fresh sea air. Pack a picnic, hop on the ferry, and explore this pretty archipelago to learn more about Native American stories and military history.
Frenchman Bay, Bar Harbor, Maine
Named in honor of Samuel de Champlain, the intrepid explorer who sailed his ship into these waters in 1604, Frenchman Bay runs along the town of Bar Harbor and the shores of Mount Desert Island, location of Acadia National Park.
There’s nothing lovelier than sitting at one of the many waterfront restaurants and bars in town and gazing out at Long Porcupine, Bald Porcupine, and Sheep Porcupine island. Feast on a lobster bake, and then, if you’re visiting between mid-April and October, head out on a thrilling whale-watching trip.
Portland Head Light, Portland, Maine
Natural splendor awaits anyone willing to venture to Fort Williams State Park, located a 15-minute drive outside of Portland.
The whole 90 acres of unspoiled greenery centers around The Portland Head Light, which bears the distinction of being both the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine and the most photographed lighthouse in the entire country.
New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts
For families and animal lovers of all ages, the New England Aquarium is a must-visit attraction located right in the city center.
Even before entering the building, visitors are greeted with the sight of California sea lions and northern fur seals swimming, feeding, and dozing in a 42,000-gallon open air harbor.
Once inside, make a beeline for the Giant Ocean Tank, a massive permanent installation containing 200,000 gallons of saltwater in a cylindrical tank stretching several stories high.
Back when it first opened in 1970, it bore the distinction of being the largest cylindrical tank in the world. As you walk up the adjacent spiral rampway, you’ll spot sea turtles, moray eels, and bonnethead sharks swimming lazily among the corals.
Another essential exhibit is the impressive artificial rock island and attached pool that is home to dozens of rockhopper penguins and African penguins.
Kids in particular will adore watching these athletic birds zooming through the water. Keep an eye on the feeding schedule for a chance to spy the little ones in action.
North End, Boston, Massachusetts
It doesn’t get much more charming than Boston’s North End, the city’s oldest residential neighborhood of winding cobblestone streets crammed with restaurants, bakeries, and bars.
Although the area is famous for its Italian-American community, it’s also played host to waves of Jewish and Irish immigrants since European colonists first settled in the area in the early 17th century, all of whom have left their mark on the area.
Today, the North End has more than 100 eateries crowded into a small area. Among the most iconic spots to hit are Mike’s Pastry, which has been serving impeccable cannoli and rainbow cookies to generations of Bostonians, and Caffé Vittoria, which has been pouring perfect espressos to go with their decadent tiramisu since 1929.
Another one to try is Neptune Oyster, which has managed to remain one of the hottest dining spots in town for the better part of two decades.
Every day from 11 a.m., locals sidle up to the bar for superlative oysters, along with sustainably sourced New England seafood like Rockport mackerel, Massachusetts Bay bluefin tuna, and Acadian redfish.
Maine has no shortage of quaint coastal towns, but even among these, Kennebunkport stands out for its sandy beach, well-preserved architecture, and quintessentially New England charm.
Starting around the 18th century, affluent sea captains sailing into this port town began to put down roots and build stately mansions, many of which can still be seen today.
Go for a stroll through the downtown area, stopping in art galleries and cafés whenever the mood strikes.
Rough Point Mansion, Newport, Rhode Island
One of the many pleasures of visiting Newport is gazing at all the lavish mansions lining the major streets and coastal areas.
While simply wandering around town is enough to appreciate the historic facades, the Rough Point Museum affords visitors a more intimate look at the interiors of one of these grand homes—not to mention an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Before being turned into a permanent museum, the mansion belonged to Doris Duke, an heiress and philanthropist. In addition to the ornate furnishings, pay attention to the manicured grounds, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
Another of Newport’s former summer homes for the ultra-wealthy class during the Gilded Age, The Breakers looks like it might as well have belonged to a French aristocrat.
Commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the opulent interior has 70 rooms, including a chandelier-lit Great Hall with 50-foot-high ceilings. Ornate moldings, intricate mosaics, and ceiling paintings intentionally give it the air of an Italian palazzo.
Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
Long considered one of Boston’s toniest neighborhoods, Beacon Hill is resplendent in red-brick, Federalist Era-townhouses.
The flickering gas lamps and abundance of trees and climbing ivy give it an especially stately character. It’s the perfect place for a laid-back afternoon of people-watching and browsing the boutique shops.
Beacon Hill also happens to be home to some of the most coveted tables in Boston. Swing by Toscano’s for one of the best plates of pasta in town—the rigatoni norcina, with black truffle cream and house-made sausage, is particularly good—for lunch or an aperitivo.
Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island
Situated along the eastern coastline at the edge of town, this well-maintained National Recreational Trail takes roughly an hour or so to walk.
Along the way, you’ll pass some of the most luxurious mansions of Newport’s apex during the Gilded Age. The scenery is nothing short of incredible the entire way, with sheer cliffs rising 70 feet above the slate-colored waves of the Atlantic in places.
Note that while most of the trail is fairly easy with little to no incline, some sections toward the south involve scrambling over boulders. If you’re planning to attempt the whole route, make sure to bring comfortable footwear.
Rockland Harbor Trail, Rockland, Maine
One of the best things to do in Rockland is to trek all or part of the town’s eponymous route. This five-mile trail starts in the center of Rockland and runs right along the coastline for the entirety of its length.
The scenic route culminates in a walk along a breakwater all the way out to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, which has illuminated the way for sailors since it was established in 1902.
After admiring the lighthouse itself, swing by the Maine Lighthouse Museum, which offers fascinating insights into the lives of the solitary men and women who have manned these beacons over the generations.
Katama Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Even on an island full of beautiful beaches, Katama Beach, also known as South Beach, is the one to beat. Consisting of a wide swath of soft sand near the southern end of the island, this beach is open to everyone.
For the perfect beach day, there’s something for every taste here, from an area buffeted by waves perfect for boogie boarding and surfing to a sheltered space where small children can safely splash around.
Over the last two decades, Portland has developed one of the most dynamic culinary scenes in the United States.
Once considered a partially de-industrialized shipping port, the city now boasts a lively and eminently charming walkable downtown packed with cafés, bars, and James Beard Award-winning eateries, and is one of the best places to visit in New England if you love food.
Spend an afternoon walking along the waterfront, then stop for a glass of bubbly along with a selection of any of the dozen varieties of Maine-harvested oysters.
Anyone with a penchant for pastries will swoon for the bakeries in Portland. The morning buns at Standard Baking Co., Alison Pray and Matt James’ bakery below their revered Fore Street Restaurant, are every bit as good as they say.
Over at Two Fat Cats Bakery, your go-to order should include a couple of whoopie pies, the tender-crumbed cake sandwiches beloved by Mainers, as well as a thick slice of one of their legendary pies.
The latter rotate throughout the year depending on what’s in-season, but the Black & Blue, made with wild Maine blueberries, blackberries, and ginger, is always available.
Finally, don’t miss the chance to snack on one of the lighter-than-air potato doughnuts at Holy Donut, which come in innovative flavors like sweet potato coffee cake and maple bacon.
Aquinnah Cliffs Overlook, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Keen photographers looking to capture the ultimate trophy shot of Martha’s Vineyard should look no further than Aquinnah Cliffs, a striking bluff on the Atlantic Ocean carved by glaciers eons ago.
Previously known as Gay Head, the clay cliffs bear visually arresting streaks of crimson, not to mention a phenomenal view of the crashing waves below.
Opt to wander along the upper trail along the cliff edge, from which you can spot the nearby Elizabeth Islands on a clear day. Be sure to stop by the Gay Head Light, a historic lighthouse at the western edge of the cliffs.
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