Cities of New England are great small gems to explore on vacation
With the exception of Boston, MA, New England cities are medium-size, human scale and just right for exploring on foot or trolley – or even by riverboat cruises. From the shoreline cities of New Haven, CT; Providence, RI; Boston, and Portland, Maine, to the smaller inland gems like Burlington, VT, New England cities serve up a wonderful mix of authentic historic places where the early Colonial and maritime history of America unfolded. New England cities also offer the best of contemporary museums and theaters and concert halls, along with innovative dining, shopping, and family entertainment.
Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, is one of America's most legendary cities and the economic and cultural hub of New England. Boston is home to some of the world's finest hospitals and many cultural and sports organizations. Boston and its suburbs are the location of world-class universities.
A must-see in Boston is the Freedom Trail, a three-mile walk past 16 historical sites that covers two centuries of America's past. The starting point is the Boston Common and locations on the trail include the State House, the black Heritage Trail, the site of the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, Old North Church, the U.S.S. Constitution, and Bunker Hill Monument.
Boston's attractions for the science-minded include the Museum of Science, with more than 400 exhibits featuring live animal and physical science demonstrations; the New England Aquarium, presenting 2,000 aquatic creatures and a four-story glass ocean tank; and the Children's Museum, with world famous interactive exhibits.
History is abundant at places like Bunker Hill, Old South Meeting House, where the Boston Tea Party started; the Paul Revere House; the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum; and U.S.S. Constitution Museum in the Charlestown Navy Yard, home of "Old Ironsides."
Art museums and galleries can fill a long list, topped by the Museum of Fine Arts , with collections of French impressionist paintings, Egyptian, Chinese and Japanese art. Others are the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park; the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, with its notable collection of 19th century French Impressionist and medieval Italian paintings; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston's outpost of the avant-garde; and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Art, a 15-century-style Italianate palace.
Portland, Maine's largest city and its financial and retail capital, perches on a peninsula jutting out into island-studded Casco Bay. Historic and modern architecture blend gracefully along the waterfront and in the Old Port section. The Old Port shopping district of Portland has been restored to its glory days of the 19th century with Victorian brick buildings where visitors can explore a mix of restaurants, breweries, art galleries, boutiques, and shops.
Portland Harbor, at the base of the Old Port, is a jumble of condos, fish markets, and ferry docks, and a departure point for cruises. Concerts also are presented at the Portland Symphony Orchestra in Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. The nearby Portland Head Light, located at Fort William Park, is the most-photographed lighthouse in America. Within Fort William Park, people explore the fort's remains; walk along the cliffs; picnic on grassy hills; or fly kites.
At the Children's Museum of Maine, young visitors can climb a mountain, walk into a bear's den, work on a 40-foot schooner, operate a space shuttle, and more. Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum is where railroad buffs can enjoy a three-mile ride along the shores of Casco Bay on a two-foot gauge train and tour a historic railroad museum.
Other attractions include Shipyard Brewing Company, producing English style beer; and the Portland Museum of Art, with three centuries of art and architecture, including works by Picasso, Monet, Degas, Wyeth, and Homer.
Providence is a special blend of three-and-a half centuries of American history living cheek-to-cheek with a sophisticated contemporary culture of performing arts, shopping, and fine dining. Federal Hill is the city's Little Italy, packed with good dining and Mediterranean ambiance.
The East Side includes the largest patch of National Historic Society buildings in America, including dozens of pristine houses of the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian periods. Benefit Street on the East Side passes the world-class Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design.
A downtown renaissance that got underway in the late 1980s uncovered the Woonasquatucket and Providence rivers in the heart of Providence. The rivers are now bordered by the fabulous WaterPlace Park. During the warm-weather months, the rivers are the site of WaterFire, a series of 100 bonfires that blaze on the surface of the rivers.
The Tony-winning theater group Trinity Repertory Company is located in Providence, as is the Providence Performing Arts Center, where many touring Broadway shows are presented. For nature in abundance, Roger Williams Park offers a zoo and the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium.
The Colonial city of Newport — nicknamed "America's First Resort" — is known around the world as the home of fabulous mansions of the 19th-century Gilded Age and as a center of 12-meter yacht racing. Other charms of the city are beautiful Colonial-era dwellings; the windswept drama of the Cliff Walk; Ocean Drive; famous jazz, folk, and classical music festivals; local wineries; and plenty of sailing.
One of the highlights for visitors to Newport is the mansions built by fabulously wealthy leaders of industry and society in the late 19th century. Then include The Breakers, Marble House, The Elms, and Rosecliff.
Although Newport no longer holds the America's Cup, the city still boasts its legacy as the Sailing Capital of America. The United States Navy and Newport have been linked since the beginning of this nation. Newport houses the Naval War College and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. The Naval War College Museum, a National Historic Landmark, features exhibits on the history of naval warfare.
Portsmouth sits near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, which divides New Hampshire and Maine. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was established in 1800 as the country's first naval shipyard.
The region is noted for its many attractions and shopping opportunities, which include outlet malls in nearby Kittery, Maine. Strawbery Banke Museum offers a multi-faceted visit into the world of the Puddle Dock neighborhood of Portsmouth over a period of 300 years. Nine furnished houses and gardens illustrate different eras in American history.
Across from the museum, Prescott Park features extensive flower gardens. The park also is the site the popular Prescott Park Arts Festival, which presents a musical and dozens of performances in July and August.
The Isles of Shoals, nine rocky isles six miles off the New Hampshire and Maine coast, were discovered by the Western world in 1614 and have served over the years as a base for fishermen, a haven for the occasional pirate, and a summer retreat for artists and the well to do. Excursion boats cruise to the shoals.
U.S.S. Albacore Museum and Park offers year-round guided tours of the most advanced U.S. Navy submarine built before the atomic submarines. Built in Portsmouth, the U.S.S. Albacore served as the prototype for today's submarine fleet.
Located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington has a culture that is a hip combination of Montréal to the north and Boston to the southeast. It's an American city with a read café culture and a downtown you can stroll on foot, especially around the Church Street Marketplace.
Church Street Marketplace covers four blocks in the middle of the Queen City's historic downtown, which boasts a wide range of architectural styles, including Victorian and Art Deco. The marketplace has more than 100 retailers, from colorful street vendors to upscale stores, and scores of great restaurants and bars.
Other popular stops for visitors include the Vermont Pub and Brewery, with its 14-barrel whole-grain cellar and pub tours; Shelburne Museum in nearby Shelburne; Sand Bar State Park, a 2,000-foot sand beach with swimming, boating, and sailboard rentals ; Magic Hat Brewing Company, where ancient alchemy meets modern science and the Heritage Winooski Mill Museum, with exhibits Vermont's largest wool manufacturing center.
With prevailing winds averaging 10 knots and steady out of the north-northwest, Lake Champlain is a perfect spot for sailing or cruising, with a number of charter boat services operating in and near Burlington, the largest city on the lake.
Located on Long Island Sound between New York and Rhode Island, New Haven has a historic downtown with a classic green, a world-class university, and many fine museums. Home of Yale University, the city offers a broad palette of cultural riches in the performing and visual arts. New Haven is home to three Tony award-winning theaters – the Long Wharf, the Yale Repertory Theatre and the Shubert Theater. The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom.
New Haven's selection of museums is enticing and quirky: the Eli Whitney Museum features lectures and workshops on machinery and technology; the Shoreline Trolley Museum presents 100 trolleys dating from 1903 to 1939; Yale University Art Gallery features 100,000 objects of art, including the works of Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Manet, Degas, Picasso, O'Keeffe, and Pollack.
Ever since Dutch traders began using the Connecticut River in the early 1600s, Hartford has been abuzz with financial transactions; several major insurance companies are headquartered here.
Hartford is home to the Wadsworth Atheneum, America's oldest public art museum. The castle-like exterior is refurbished; the sculpture garden has been renovated; gallery space is expanded. The permanent collection of 45,000 works of art includes many paintings from the Hudson River School.
People who love the classics of American literature can visit the 19-room, Tiffany-decorated Hartford mansion that was Mark Twain’s home and workplace from 1874 to 1891. During this period, Twain wrote “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.” Tours are offered and browsing is encouraged at the mansion and Twain museum.
Other Hartford attractions are the Hartford Stage; Bushnell Park, Center Church and Ancient Burying Ground (the church features stained glass windows by Louis Tiffany); and Elizabeth Park, with 14,000 rose bushes. Katharine Hepburn's grave site at Cedar Hill Cemetery is a draw for fans of the late actor, a native of Hartford.
Located near Mystic, midway between Boston and New York City, New London, perches on the shores of both the Thames River and Long Island Sound. The historic waterfront is best known as the home of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and America's Tall Ship the barque Eagle.
The city's newly completed downtown waterfront park is the host to a variety of public celebrations with a common theme of the city's connection to seafaring. Every July, the waterfront park hosts a three-day Sailfest, with free musical entertainment, tours, and sailing on three Tall Ships.
Ocean Beach Park, one of the loveliest beaches in the Northeast, is a half-mile of pristine sugar-sand beach. The boardwalk displays beautiful views of the Thames River and Long Island Sound. Water traffic includes an occasional submarine sighting thanks to the nearby Naval Submarine Base New London. Cultural attractions are rich and diverse. The Garde Arts Center presents Broadway touring shows, dance, music and family theater.
Located 78 miles west of Boston off the Massachusetts Turnpike, Springfield enjoys a charming downtown, and it is skirted with fun and offbeat museums and other entertainments, including the Basketball Hall of Fame and a sculpture garden honoring native son Dr. Seuss.
The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden honoring Theodor Seuss Geisel, is now open at the Quadrangle. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art features three galleries, a studio, and a museum shop stocked with picture book favorites. Springfield is also home to the Eastern States Exposition -- “The Big E” -- an annual autumn agricultural fall of giant proportions.
Worcester, in central Massachusetts about 45 miles west of Boston, is home to nine colleges and universities Since the late 1980s, biotechnological research has been important to the city's economy. Also of interest are Ecotarium: a Museum of Science and Nature. The Worcester Art Museum offers magnificent artwork from five millennia of world cultures. Highlights include paintings by Cassatt, Gauguin, Goya, Monet, Sargent and Whistler and floor mosaics from the ancient city of Antioch.
Manchester is located in south-central New Hampshire along the Merrimack River, 20 miles from the Massachusetts border and 58 miles from Boston. Manchester's nickname is the "Queen City." The renowned Currier Museum of Art is located in downtown Manchester and features European and American paintings by Picasso, Monet, O'Keeffe, and many other artists. The Currier also owns the Zimmerman House, the only residence in New England designed by the acclaimed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Concord, the state capital, was settled by immigrants from Massachusetts in 1725, and some of the city's earliest houses remain today at the north end of Main Street. The 1819 State House is the oldest state capitol in which the legislative branches meet in their original chambers.
A few miles northeast of Concord, in Canterbury, members of the Shaker sect settled in the 1790s. Canterbury Shaker Village offers visitors a close look at 200 years of the Shaker way of life at its 24 original buildings on a hilltop surrounded by fields, woods, and ponds. A guided tour describes this utopian society. The gift shop offers Shaker reproduction furniture and local handcrafts Concord is the home of the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium, honoring the teacher who died in the Challenger space shuttle explosion. There is a 92-seat theater where visitors can take an unforgettable expedition through space.
To see life in a slightly faster lane, check out the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It is the only super speedway in the New England area and is host to a diverse series of racing divisions that includes AMA motorcycle competition, CART, IndyCar, NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch Series, and vintage racing.