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.
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 as well as enjoying well known attractions during their travels, New Hampshire is blessed with some truly unique sites and places of interest. Here’s our pick of the best.
Explore the rugged & expansive White Mountains
Covering about a quarter of New Hampshire, the White Mountains are a mecca for adventurous types, with hundreds of miles of trails and other opportunities for outdoor exploration. Among its numerous national & state park, perhaps the range’s most famous landmark is Mount Washington, standing tall within the legendary Mount Washington State Park and the highest peak in northeast America. If mountain trekking isn’t your thing, you can also explore its imposing perimeters aboard the world’s first mountain-climbing Cog Railway. Visitors are carried to the top via biodiesel-powered locomotives where there’s an informative Visitor Centre, along with a museum, snack bar, and jaw-dropping panoramic views.
Other notable attractions in the area include the White Mountains National Forest, with its mountainous hardwood forests and majestic alpine peaks, Clark’s Bears amusemeent park in Lincoln, and the jaw-dropping cascading waters of Sabbaday Falls, Jackson Falls and Arethusa Falls.
Admire the historic homes of Portsmouth
The port city of Portsmouth on the Piscataqua River is perhaps best known for its array of distinctive houses dating back to the 17th- and 18th-century, along with other colonial-era buildings. Winding its way along the waterfront, through Market Square and into streets of sedate old homes, the Portsmouth Harbor Trail connects more than 70 of the city’s historical sites and attractions, including a number of homes that are open to visitors, each boasting their own unique features, history and collections. You can even explore Portsmouth by joining a guided bike tour such as the 2-hour Best of Portsmouth & New Castle Island Sightseeing Tour. Taking you to some of the area’s most popular historic sites and points of interest, tours can be booked through Viator.com.
As well as its historic homes, Portsmouth has a number of other places of interest, too. Enhance your understanding of how African Americans helped make New Hampshire the place it is today on The Black Heritage Trail; explore U.S.S. Albacore, a real life submersible that played an important role during the Cold War; step back in time at the Museum of Dumb Guy Stuff, an eccentric shrine to boyhood in the 1960s; and get at a taste of New Hampshire’s burgeoning craft brewery scene at Earth Eagle Brewings, home to a convivial pub featuring craft beers and live music, plus a homebrew supply shop.
Ascend the world’s most climbed mountain
Sufficiently challenging to leave you feeling like you’ve achieved something special, but also undemanding enough to ascend in one day, Mount Monadnock lays claim to being the world’s climbed mountain. Located in the Monadnock region of southwest New Hampshire, the mountain can be navigated via a number of trails suitable for varying abilities. The views from the mountain top are simply stunning, while many also take the time to explore some of the idyllic villages that surround it.
Hit the slopes in one of America’s oldest ski resort towns
Skiing is a major deal in New Hampshire, and North Conway – one of the country’s oldest ski towns – is a major draw with visitors from across the state and beyond. Set amid picturesque mountains and forest, the village is home to Cranmore Mountain ski resort, offering state-of-the-art lifts, trail grooming, and a buzzing après-ski scene. Every winter sporting predilection is catered for, from cross-country and snowshoeing to sleigh rides and ice skating, while North Conway is almost as well known for shopping as it is for skiing, with one of New England’s largest concentrations of outlet stores found here.
LOCATION 239 Skimobile Road, North Conway
Visit a world class art museum
New Hampshire has a distinguished artistic heritage and among its most eminent arts institutions is the Currier Museum of Art. Feature more than 11,000 modern and contemporary works spanning a wide range of periods and painting styles, the museum pays particular homage to New Hampshire artists. Along with the paintings, the museum also houses several impressive examples of New Hampshire-made antique furniture.
LOCATION 150 Ash Street, Manchester HOURS Thurs-Mon 11.15am-4.45pm Closed Tues-Weds
Attend a local festival
New Hampshire plays host to a number of great festivals each year, and among the best is the New Hampshire Film Festival, which has grown to become one of the most eagerly awaited events on New England’s cultural calendar. Taking place in the city of Portsmouth, dedicated movie buffs come in their droves to get inspired with thought-provoking cinematic stories from visionary talents in independent movie-making.
For something a little more quirky, the Exeter UFO Festival was created in 2009 to commemorate the 1965 sighting of strange, low-lying lights in the town. Today the festival draws UFO enthusiasts from around the country and features a range of extra-terrestrial themed talks and lectures. Or how about testing your pumpkin-decorating skills at the 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.
Cool off at a waterpark
New England’s most visited waterpark, Whale’s Tale in the town of Lincoln has been entertaining thrill-seeking visitors for more than three long decades. The par features a huge range of slides, rides, pols and play areas, with something for every age and taste. Perennially favourite attractions include Shipwreck Island, Willie’s Wild Waves, Whale’s Harbor, Poseidon’s Voyage, and the wave simulator at Akua Beach. Day tickets can be purchased at Viator.com.
LOCATION 481 Daniel Webster Highway, Lincoln
Embark on a scenic coastal road trip
Stretching for just over 18 miles, New Hampshire’s coastline is fairly short, but there’s no lack of things to see and do along its modest expanse. The route also makes for a popular coastal road trip, with drivers following the ocean from Seabrook Beach to Portsmouth, past the miles of sand of Hampton Beach to Fort Constitution, famous for being raided by Colonials back in 1774. Other notable attractions worth a stop off include the state’s smallest town, picturesque New Castle, and the Seacoast Science Center in Odiorne Point State Park.
Let the kids loose at a family amusement park
Located in the village of Glen in the White Mountains is arguably the region’s best children’s theme park. A favourite with families spanning the generations, Story Land is packed full of rides and attractions with everything from adrenaline-thumping roller coasters to the more sedate environs of Cinderella’s Castle. There are also regular special events including the chance to dine in the company of famous animated characters.
LOCATION 850 NH-16, Glen HOURS
Discover a charming small town
New Hampshire is awash with small but perfectly formed towns and villages and among the most popular is Hampton Beach. Located a short coastal drive south of Portsmouth, the resort village boasts a long, wide, white sandy beach with a surf that varies from gentle to surfable. The atmosphere exudes family-friendly charm by day and a distinct party vibe by night, with most of the nocturnal action taking place along the shaded boardwalk opposite the beach where restaurants and bars fill up with revellers during peak season.
Further inland, another town that draws plenty of visitors is Exeter. Oozing character and charm at every turn, the town’s historic downtown district is a pleasure to amble through, with everything from boutiques, art galleries and picturesque buildings to enjoy. Venture beyond this area and you’ll soon find yourself along tree-lined streets dotted with prestigious homes dating back centuries. Even further from New Hampshire’s Atlantic coastline is Hanover, where a vibrant cultural scene combines with picturesque scenery to secure it a regular spot in surveys of America’s prettiest towns.
Get a flavour of the region’s wine scene
New Hampshire may not be America’s best known state for wine making, but it is nonetheless home to some top class wineries that use a combination of classic European and locally sourced grape varieties to produce wines of real distinction. The centrepiece event for the region’s wine scene is New Hampshire Wine Week, which sees wine industry giants, educational seminars, hundreds of grape varieties and gourmet food descend on New Hampshire for one fun-packed week each winter.
Alternatively, you can join a Meet the Winemakers tour, which is hosted at Seven Birches Winery in the White Mountains and invites visitors to sample wines in progress, chat with one of the expert winemakers, and taste some delicious regional wines during a Full Flight Wine Tasting. Tours last for 1 hour and can be booked through Viator.com.
Visit America’s oldest structure
Known as America’s Stonehenge, this fascinating archaeological site comprises several large rocks and tone structures – some believe dating back a thousand years before Columbus discovered the New World, which, if true, would make it the oldest structure anywhere in America. Open to the public for a fee, the area also features a museum, a picnic zone, snowshoe trails and an alpaca farm.
LOCATION 105 Haverhill Road, Salem
Take a self-guided walk to a natural gorge
The White Mountains are blessed with some awesome natural attractions and The Flume Gorge is up there among the most impressive. Positioned within the Franconia Notch State Park, the site comprises an 800-foot-long crack in the rock at the base of Mount Liberty, with walls that rise up to 80 feet above the brook that flows through it. Visitors come from far and wide to admire the attraction, as well as to explore the miles of scenic hiking trails to be found nearby.
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 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.
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
Peruse intriguing exhibits at a 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.
Or if you fancy immersing yourself in retro gaming, the American Classic Arcade Museum offers the perfect chance to relive those magical childhood 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.
Immerse yourself in astronomy & space science
Interactive exhibits, engaging programs, and a state-of-the-art planetarium are just some of the main highlights at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. The 92-seat planetarium is arguably the flagship attraction, offering visitors a memorable expedition through space as the domed screen is filled with wraparound images and sound for a captivating 45-minute show. Free telescope viewing is available at monthly SkyWatch events.
LOCATION 2 Institute Drive, Concord HOURS Fri-Mon 10.30am-4pm Closed Tues-Thurs
Delight in some natural wintery wonders
Formerly located on the grounds of the Hobo Railroad in the White Mountains, but now moved to a permanent location 5 miles down the road in North Woodstock, are a series of caves, tunnels, fountains, slides, and sculptures made of icicles that 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 Clark’s Farm Road, North Woodstock
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
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