Exploring New England, an engaging mix of windswept coasts and urban areas with first-rate museums and trendy neighborhoods, is a great vacation for families, as there’s so much variety here.
Follow Revolutionary War history trails, view world-class art, and swim off long, sandy beaches. Board a lobster boat, go cycling, hike a national park, and get hands-on with high-tech exhibits at the superb new MIT Museum in Cambridge.
Here are 14 of the best things to do with kids in New England.
Walk the Boston Freedom Trail
Walking Boston’s Freedom Trail is one of the quintessential things to do in New England with kids, especially with children who study the American Revolution in school.
You follow a red brick line on city sidewalks for two and a half miles past 16 official sites, which you can easily do even if you only have one day in Boston.
Although the trail starts at the Boston Common, pick it up anywhere along the route. Along the way, learn about the contributions of famous figures—Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams—and lesser-known Patriots.
You pass the Old North Church, where two lanterns in the belfry signaled to Paul Revere the advancement of British troops on Concord and Lexington.
You’ll also see the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides because her thick hull repelled British cannonballs.
Meander on your own or book a kid-friendly guided tour. Various themes are available. On Pirates & Patriots, in addition to learning about the namesake personages, you and your kids hear about rebels, sailors, and smugglers during the Revolutionary era.
With African-American Patriots, find about the fight for independence from the point of view of African-American revolutionaries such as Crispus Attucks, Phillis Wheatley, and Peter Salem.
Finally, to learn about women fighting for rights and freedom during the Revolution and for centuries after, book the Revolutionary Women Tour.
Hike or Bike Acadia National Park
In Maine’s Acadia National Park, immerse yourselves in iconic New England landscapes. Exploring Acadia’s sea-splashed rocky coasts, forests, cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain, the tallest on the Atlantic Coast, is one of the best things to do in New England with energetic teens.
On a hike or bike ride along the two-mile Ocean Path Trail, you can stop to swim at Sand Beach and witness the power of the sea at Thunder Hole.
Funneling into the natural inlet, the surf pushes out air causing the waves to explode high into the air with a booming roar. Continuing to Otter Point rewards you with spectacular ocean views.
Explore Boston’s Seaport District
Exploring Boston’s Seaport District is one of the best things to do with kids in New England. The trendy waterfront area blooms with art, shops, restaurants, concert venues, and notable museums, not least the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.
Along Seaport Boulevard, kids connect with the fanciful forms of the artworks on display. View Frank Stella’s colorful Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation I) as well as Okuda San Miguel’s seven vibrant sculptures, Air Sea Land, depicting the creation and interdependence of light, water, animals, and humans.
For snacks, consider Ben & Jerry’s, Better Bagels, LoLa Burger, Flour Bakery’s pastries. For a weekday lunch, buy grab-and-go sandwiches, tacos, and fish from the food trucks along Seaport Boulevard.
Teens love to shop. At the Superette, designed to be reminiscent of a European market square, pop into Scotch & Soda, an Amsterdam chain of upmarket casual clothes, and Injeanius, a Boston-based company selling sustainable jeans for various body types.
Hike Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge
Walk the windswept trails of Chappaquiddick’s Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and feel the salt-tinged sea breezes as you wind your way through the coastal scenery of this 516-acre refuge situated just off Martha’s Vineyard.
Gulls, piping plovers, terns, and oystercatchers frequent the nature reserve. Paths lead past salt marshes, ponds, wind-sculpted red cedars, tidal waters, and to a beachside lighthouse.
Constructed in 1893, the light, like the original 1801 structure, guides sailors through Muskeget Channel, although the modern beam is automated. It can be seen an impressive nine miles out at sea.
Visit Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art
The Institute of Contemporary Art’s harborfront glass building has become a Boston icon—some locals like it and some don’t—but the museum’s collection is a must-see for contemporary art lovers. It’s also accessible to older kids.
The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women, a mainstay of the permanent exhibits, includes Yayoi Kusama’s Love is Calling, an intriguing work that uses mirrors to create a sense of infinity, as well as sculptures and lithographs by Louise Bourgeois. Ellen Gallagher’s DeLuxe is a collection of 60 prints that investigate the complex role of hair in African-American culture.
The museum hosts several rotating exhibits. Teens can also find jewelry, ceramics, and prints at the museum’s store.
Learn About Lobstering
One of the best things to do in Bar Harbor, Maine is to board a lobster boat to find out how the tasty crustaceans are caught. As you and your kids savor the sea spray and the wind, listen to the crew detail the history of Maine lobster fishing and the lobster’s life cycle.
You’ll get a good view of the creatures when the harvesters hoist the trap before releasing their catch. Along the way, you pass Egg Rock Lighthouse and seals sunning and barking on rocks at low tide.
Alternatively, combine a scenic drive with photo stops through Acadia National Park with a talk and demonstration of lobstering, during which you’ll learn about the whole process of catching lobsters and preparing them for the table.
Take in Sweeping Views at Aquinnah Cliffs Overlook and Gay Head Light
Locals consider the views from Aquinnah Cliffs, with its sweep of the Atlantic and lighthouse, to be the most scenic panorama on Martha’s Vineyard. You get close to the red cliffs on a walk along this New England beach. To savor the best panoramic view, hike up the hill.
The original wooden Gay Head Lighthouse, operational in November 1799, was the first to serve Martha’s Vineyard. A brick lighthouse replaced the first structure in 1854. Like the Cape Pogue Lighthouse, the Gay Head Light is automated.
Join the Rebels at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
Visiting the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum is one of the best things to do with kids in New England to bring history to life.
Located on Fort Point Channel—in the same body of water where the actual Boston Tea Party happened more than 240 years ago—the museum mixes high-tech exhibits with spirited role-playing to capture the feistiness of one of the most famous chapters in American history.
On December 16, 1773, colonists protested against taxation without representation by boarding three ships in Boston Harbor, and defiantly dumping 342 crates—92,000 pounds—of British tea into the sea. At the interactive museum, you and your family join a meeting of firebrands complaining about taxation that ends with the group agreeing to do the deed.
Revved up, you walk aboard faithful replicas of period ships and toss lightweight bales representing the tea into the harbor (the bales are hoisted back by their ropes and reused). Tea Party-era portraits come to life in the form of convincing holograms that enable you to eavesdrop on spirited conversations between a Patriot and a Tory.
The multi-sensory Minuteman Theater vibrates during battle scenes in the film “Let it Begin Here”, which tells the story of the night of April 19, 1775, Paul Revere’s epic ride, and the start of the American Revolution.
Pedal the Rail Tracks in Newport, Rhode Island
You and your kids literally ride the rails with Rail Explorers in Newport. Similar to the on-rail bikes used by maintenance workers, the rail explorer vehicle’s four steel wheels roll along actual railroad tracks.
You travel hands-free; no steering is necessary since you’re locked into the course. But pedaling is required.
Harness your family’s energy to power either a two or four-seater, and enjoy the workout, family cooperation, and the views. Choose from two trips; both offer vistas of Narragansett Bay.
On the Northern Ramble, you pedal six miles without stopping, passing views of marshes, the beach, the water, and a lighthouse. A shuttle bus drives you back to the start.
On the Southern Circuit, you pedal three miles to a turnaround with bay views and picnic tables (bring a snack). Then you “cycle” back along the same route.
View Maine Art at the Farnsworth
Taking your art-loving teens to the Farnsworth Art Museum is one of the best things to do in Rockland. A lesser-known gem, the museum contains an impressive collection that emphasizes works by artists who have lived or worked in Maine.
On a tour of the facility’s 20,000-square foot gallery, peruse paintings by such noted artists as Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper N.C. Wyeth, and James Wyeth, as well as photography by Eliot Furness Porter, and sculptures by Louise Nevelson.
At the museum’s store, your teens can find Maine-inspired posters, prints, and puzzles, and lovely notecards.
Swim & Explore a Historic Fort at Boston Harbor Islands
Spend a beach day at Boston Harbor Islands, easily reached by ferry from Boston in the summer and fall months. Although the 50-square-mile national recreational area consists of 34 islands, many families choose to visit Spectacle or Georges islands.
On Spectacle, within view of the Boston skyline, stroll the sandy beach, hike a trail with water and hillside views, and swim.
Georges, although not suitable for swimming, is a great trip as it intrigues kids with its Civil War-era structure Fort Warren, a National Historic Landmark, once a training camp for Union troops and a depot for Confederate prisoners. Explore the fort on your own or take a ranger-led tour.
Ghost stories always capture the imagination of teens, so ask the rangers to tell the tragic story of the Lady in Black, who is believed to haunt Fort Warren.
Learn About Technology at the MIT Museum
For teens enamored with technology and science, the new MIT Museum on Kendall Square, Cambridge, is a must. The 56,000-square-foot facility contains more interactive exhibits than the former museum and focuses on the world-famous university’s research and innovation.
At the Maker Hub, get hands-on by using mechanical motion to fashion moveable art and employ gravity to create a chain reaction. Explore the fascinating world of artificial intelligence at AI: Mind the Gap, whose exhibits demonstrate how AI “learns”.
At Gene Cultures, find out about new biotechnologies and ponder the ethical questions of how these interventions in genetic technology are employed.
View Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park
Located in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the Portland Head Light sits atop a peninsula jutting into Casco Bay. Social media-conscious teens will want to visit the Portland Light for their posts.
Among the U.S.’s most photographed lighthouses, the 80-foot-high white tower with its former Keeper’s House, is an iconic and beautiful site.
Get your feet wet at Ship Cove, a small beach that’s visible at low tide, to test the coldness of Maine’s waters. For more time outdoors, explore adjacent Fort Williams Park, a U.S. Army fort from 1872 to 1964.
Walk the cliffside side path with its sweeping coastal views and visit the Children’s Garden, blooming with colorful plants in season.
See the Mansions of Newport
Called summer cottages by the wealthy families that built them, Newport’s mansions are grand and grander. Excess ranked high as a building principle of the late 19th century.
A tour of these opulent homes is one of the best things to do in Newport. It shows just how rich and extravagant these industrialists and turn-of-the-century moguls were.
Marble House, containing 500,000 cubic feet of the stone, and The Breakers, a lavish mansion with 70 rooms, are especially impressive. Be sure to stroll the Cliff Walk, a National Recreational Trail, that affords oceanside views of some of the stately homes and their manicured lawns.
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