New England

20 Unique Things to Do in New Hampshire

by Paul Joseph  |  Published June 17, 2019

Dotted with quaint towns, dramatic mountainous peaks, and vast expanses of wilderness, the US state of New Hampshire has an incredibly diverse topography. Picture-postcard views are available every which way you turn, making it a magnet for lovers of the great outdoors, while winter sports enthusiasts are drawn here by the promise of world class cross country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities.

The world’s first mountain-climbing Cog Railway train chugs along through New Hampshire (Photo: Dennis Jarvis via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Whatever your reason for visiting this visually stunning state, you’re sure to be captivated by what you find. And for those who enjoy getting off the well-trodden tourist path during their travels, New Hampshire is also blessed with some truly unique attractions and places of interest. Here’s our pick of the best.

Explore a truly quirky museum

Situated across the street from Lake Winnipesauke, the 107-year-old Libby Museum contains a mind-boggling assortment of taxidermy, Native American artefacts, and other esoteric exhibits. Founded by and named after a late dentist called Henry Libby, who had a passion for collecting natural, anthropological, and historical wonders, the museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and its collection is spread across one large open room. Among the highlights are a seven-foot-long stuffed alligator, an authentic pair of Egyptian mummy’s hand, and a necklace made of monkey teeth.

LOCATION 755 North Main Street, Wolfeboro HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-4pm Sun 12.30pm-4pm Closed Mon

A small child explores a taxidermy room at the Libby Museum (Photo: Libby Museum)

Absorb an African American history lesson

New Hampshire’s African-American community has often played a prominent – but under-appreciated – role in the history of the state. The Black Heritage Trail was established as a remedy to this, telling evocative stories through regular exhibits and themed tours. Run by trained tour guides (some are NAI certified), the fully guided tours take place every Saturday and Sunday afternoon from May through October and transport visitors on a plotted journey through more than 300 years of heritage, enhancing their knowledge and understanding of how African Americans helped make New Hampshire the place it is today. Walking Tour s are 90 minutes long and are limited to 25 people per group.

A house blessing ceremony during the Black Heritage Trail (Photo: Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire)

Ascend a mountain on the world’s first mountain-climbing Cog Railway

Perhaps the most famous natural landmark in New Hampshire is Mount Washington, the highest peak in northeast America, no less. And if mountain trekking isn’t your thing, you can still explore its imposing perimeters thanks to the world’s first mountain-climbing Cog Railway. Fully operational, the railway carries visitors to the mountain top aboard biodiesel-powered locomotives, offering an exhilarating voyage through landscape and nature. Trips last three hours, including two hours travel time (there and back) and one hour to explore the summit, where you’ll find a Visitor Centre complete with museum, snack bar, and jaw-dropping panoramic views.

LOCATION Bretton Woods

Mount Washington Cog Railway

The Cog Railway train makes its way towards the summit of Mount Washington (Photo: Mount Washington Cog Railway)

Connect with Spirits of the Past on a Haunted Trolley Tour

Every place on earth has its stories of ghoul and gore that have passed down the ages, providing us with murky folkloric tales whose true provenance is steeped in mystery. In the New Hampshire city of Portsmouth, visitors can delve into New England’s murky past aboard a Spirits of the Past Haunted Trolley Tour. Said to be New Hampshire’s only haunted trolley tour, guests are accompanied by expert guides to three of the city’s most notable cemeteries, as they are regaled with fascinating stories to leave you shivering. During the 1.45-hour tour they’ll also get to see eerie photos of yore, showing such creepy scenes as elaborate mourning costumes and plumed horses drawing lacquered funeral carriages.

New England Curiosities

A haunted trolley tour trundles along (Photo: New England Curiosities)

Immerse yourself in retro gaming

For most adults, arcades were a resonant (though hopefully not too regular) feature of our childhoods, and this museum offers the perfect chance to relive those magical memories. Said to be the largest arcade museum in the world, the American Classic Arcade Museum chronicles the golden age of video games, featuring almost 200 vintage arcade machines from the 1970s and 80s. Visitors can enjoy such retro thrills as pinball machines, along with vintage games like Tetris, Toobin’, Galaxian, Tron, and Space Invaders.

LOCATION 579 Endicott Street North, Laconia HOURS Sun-Thurs 10am-10pm Fri 10am-11pm Sat 10am-12am

Open your mind at a UFO Festival

New Hampshire plays host to a number of festivals each year, but perhaps the quirkiest is the Exeter UFO Festival. This annual celebration in downtown Exeter was created in 2009 to commemorate the 1965 sighting of strange, low-lying lights in the town. While the mystery of these lights were never officially solved, the theory that it was the work of UFOs became steeped in local folklore. Today the festival is a major fundraiser for local children’s charities and programmes, drawing UFO enthusiasts from around the country and featuring a range of extra-terrestrial themed talks and lectures, along with kids’ activities.

LOCATION Old Town Hall, 9 Front Street, Exeter DATES 31 August-1 September 2019

Get crafty at a local brewery and pub

New Hampshire has a rich and fast-growing craft brewing scene and at the heart of this burgeoning industry are Earth Eagle Brewings. Founded in 2012, the Portsmouth-based brewery is not just a working brewery but also a convivial pub featuring craft beers and casual food, plus outdoor seating and live music. There’s also a homebrew supply shop where those interested in brewing their own beer can pick up essential supplies and equipment and gain pearls of wisdom from knowledgeable staff.

LOCATION 165 High Street, Portsmouth HOURS Sun-Thurs 11.30am-10pm Fri-Sat 11.30am-12am

Earth Eagle Brewings

The sun-filled beer garden at Earth Eagle Brewings (Photo: Earth Eagle Brewings)

Relive your boyish childhood

Tucked away in the basement of a residential home in the New Hampshire port city of Portsmouth is the Museum of Dumb Guy Stuff, an eccentric shrine to boyhood in the 1960s. Curated by a writer and collector called Clayton Emery, the museum is home to an array of vintage ‘boys’ toys’ including train sets, a miniature Western towns complete with Billy the Kid and Calamity Jane action figures, original Barbie dolls, and a rich assortment of DC Universe memorabilia.

LOCATION 114 Mechanic Street, Portsmouth

Get your candy kick

Housing the longest candy counter anywhere in the world – stretching an impressive 112-foot – Chutters Candy Store is a guaranteed crowd pleaser for sweet-toothed kids and adults alike. Located in the town of Littleton in Grafton County, the stalwart store has been drawing candy lovers for over a century, at which time an English Congregational minister who came to Littleton in the late 1880s decided his vocation in life was not the church but in fact confectionary. The rest, as they say, is history.

LOCATION 43 Main Street, Littleton, Grafton County HOURS Mon-Thurs 9am-5pm Fri-Sat 9am-7pm Sun 10am-5pm

Marvel at wintery wonders

On the grounds of the Hobo Railroad in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, a series of caves, tunnels, fountains, slides, and sculptures made of icicles draw visitors from far and wide during winter time. Dubbed Ice Castles, these full-scale, manmade stalactites are a sight to behold at any time of day, but in particular at night when they light up with an icy glow. The Ice Castles are part of a wider project that originated in Utah, and has now spread to location across the US.

LOCATION Lincoln

Ice Castles

The stunning ice castles of Lincoln (Photo: Eric Kilby via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hang out with wild animals

If you’re visiting New Hampshire and are missing any furry friends back home, then Benson’s Wild Animal Farm will help alleviate your withdrawal symptoms. A former zoo turned public park, the site was once home to a silverback gorilla named Tony thought to be the largest gorilla ever kept in captivity. Tony, alas, has long since passed, but the park continues to house an impressive collection of wild animals, as well as other attractions such as a miniature railroad.

LOCATION 19 Kimball Hill Road, Hudson HOURS Mon-Sun 5am-9pm

Wonder down a cat-themed alley

One New Hampshire alleyway has become home to an open-air public gallery of feline art that makes it one of the region’s most unique public spaces. Branching off of Elm Street in the city of Manchester, the narrow side street known as Cat Alley is thought to have been the brainchild of someone called C.T. Durgin, whose role is honoured by a bronze plaque that states that he named the alley after seeing a pair of stray cats fighting here. As the story continues, a local realtor later took a shine to the alley, and began raising money and working with local businesses to get permission for local artists to decorate the alley with cat-themed artwork.

LOCATION Dean Avenue, Manchester

Dine in spooky surroundings

Nestled in a mid-18th century farmhouse, the Country Tavern Restaurant combines gourmet cuisine with an atmospheric setting – so atmospheric, in fact, that it is said to be haunted. Indeed, the restaurant devotes an entire page of its menu to the theory, featuring an article reprinted from a local newspaper about a female ghost who inhabits the eatery, having been murdered by her sea captain husband. There are also claims of numerous ghostly incidents having taken place here down the years, including archaically dressed apparitions and flying dinnerware.

LOCATION 452 Amherst Street, Nashua HOURS Tues-Thur 11.30am-9.30pm Fri-Sat 11.30am-10.30pm Sun 10am-2pm Closed Mon

Country Tavern Restaurant

An exterior shot of Country Tavern Restaurant (Photo: Country Tavern Restaurant)

Delve deep into the submarine world

Submarines have always capture people’s imagination and visitors to New Hampshire have the chance to visit a real life submersible that played an important role during the Cold War. Decommissioned in 1972, the 200-ft U.S.S. Albacore is today a free-to-enter museum that lets you sit at its helm, spin its knobs and dials, and imagine what life was like for those who served on-board when the vessel served as a research sub. The Albacore is also surrounded by a memorial garden that honours submariners who have lost their lives at sea down the years.

LOCATION 600 Market Street, Portsmouth HOURS Mon-Sun 9.30am-4.30pm

Test your pumpkin-decorating skills at a magical regatta

Another truly original New Hampshire event is the annual Goffstown Giant Pumpkin Regatta, which celebrates the humble, but exceedingly versatile, pumpkin. Every October locals come together to compare and admire each other’s home-grown, self-carved and decorated pumpkins, before sending them down the river on boats helmed by quirkily costumed racers. With some of the gourds weighing upwards of 1,000 pounds, life jackets are recommended!

LOCATION Goffstown, Hillsborough County DATES 20 October 2019

Goffstown Giant Pumpkin Regatta

Participants at the Goffstown Giant Pumpkin Regatta navigate the waters (Photo: Goffstown Giant Pumpkin Regatta)

Learn about the history of skiing

Created to collect, preserve, and exhibit examples of equipment, art, and artefacts relating to ski history, the New England Ski Museum attracts more than 25,000 visitors each year. New England Olympians, lost ski areas and local legends all feature here, while a permanent exhibition called From the First Tracks to the Fall Line: eight thousand years of skiing, presents a chronology of skiing from its prehistoric roots up to the current day.

LOCATION 135 Tramway Drive, Franconia HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm

Marvel at a truly momentous mural

The remarkable Epic of American Civilization mural that lives inside Dartmouth Library has to be seen to be believed. Spanning 3,200 square foot, the mural depicts the history of America through images of human sacrifice, ancient gods, Christ with an axe, a raft of snakes, a skeleton giving birth, and other gruesome horrors. Created by Mexican-born artist José Clemente Orozco, the piece took two years to complete and is said to tell the story of America, as well as the rise and fall of the Aztec Empire, through visual metaphor – leaving visitors to make their own interpretations.

LOCATION 6025 Baker-Berry Library, Hanover

The Epic of American Civilization mural

One section of The Epic of American Civilization mural (Photo: Mobilus In Mobili via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Immerse yourself in old-time Americana

Perched alongside Route 3 in northern New Hampshire, Clark’s Trading Post is a small theme park preserving the eccentric tradition of the New England roadside attraction. The venue has plenty of kitsch exhibits, including gun-toting hillbillies and other relics of old-time Americana. There’s also a steam-powered train ride into the woods, as well as several (fully functioning) coin-operated pianos and mutoscopes that will keep kids entertained for hours – and leave parents bankrupt.

LOCATION 110 Daniel Webster Hwy, Lincoln

Discover a farmhouse with an illustrious past

Poetry fans visiting New Hampshire may well want to add to their itinerary a trip to Robert Frost Farm, once the home of one of the world’s most revered 20th century poets. Set on a quiet farm, the home is part of the National Register of Historic Places and offers numerous reminders of the eminence of its former occupant, including the stone wall that inspired one of his most famous poems, Mending Wall. The land surrounding the farmhouse also offers numerous tranquil walking trials.

LOCATION 122 Rockingham Road, Derry HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm

Robert Frost Farm

A sign introducing people to the Robert Frost Farm (Photo: Rebecca Siegel via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Piece together an archaeological puzzle

Depending on who you ask, America’s oldest archaeological landmark was either the work of Native Americans, Middle Eastern pilgrims, ancient farmers, or encroaching colonialists. But one thing without question is that Mystery Hill’s complex composition and enigmatic origins have made it a major New Hampshire attraction. The site consists of a series of small stone walls, odd stone arrangements, underground chambers and a one-acre granite outcropping with carved rock structures built on top. Debate around its true heritage has always been fierce – and continues to be so to this day.

LOCATION 105 Haverhill Road, Salem