Great Things To Do in New England -- Shopping, tours, food, outdoor fun, spas, culture
It’s nearly impossible tally the number and range of great things to do on a singles or couples or family getaway to New England. Especially when you consider the variety of places and experiences in these six states: from mountain snow sports to dune tours, big-city nightclubs to dinners on the farm. Each state – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont – has its own geography, culture, and atmosphere.
Some pleasures – like a fine spa treatment or a day on the beach -- are common to all states. Some are unique. Vermonters love their maple season; Rhode Islanders cherish their ethnic dining in Providence, the capital, and their Newport mansions. Browse the ideas below and begin exploring.
55 Coogan Boulevard
Mystic, CT, 06355
You won’t have to fish for compliments here!
Mystic Aquarium’s stated mission is to stimulate interest in the aquatic world. That mission is accomplished every day as visitors learn how to hold a crab in the Discovery Lab, watch California sea lions zoom by the underwater viewing area, touch the back of a stingray or the slick skin of an alligator or laugh at the antics of harbor and fur seals. Whether it’s watching feeding time at the African penguin exhibit or gazing at beautiful beluga whales in their acre of glacial streams and northern evergreens, every visitor is enchanted with their encounters with marine life. Other attractions include the state-of-the-art National Geographic Theater and the aquarium’s rescue clinic (you can take a peek inside).
One Franklin Park Road
Boston, MA, 02121
Warning: The best of the beasts roam at this Boston-area zoo
It’s all happening at the Franklin Park Zoo, where you can wander from one exotic environment to another, each one filled with interesting animals. There’s the Kalahari Kingdom, where lions roam (and roar); the Outback Trail that kangaroos, kiwis and kookaburras call home; the woodsy Tiger Tales; the grassy Giraffe Savannah; and the Tropical Rain Forest (gorillas and hippos!). Plan to attend a zookeeper chat or watch animals being fed, visit the Franklin Farm to get to know goats and chicks, take a train or carousel ride; or go wild on the zoo playground. And don’t miss the new Children’s Zoo to play next to the red pandas. Family fare is offered at the Giddy-Up Grill, Kalahari Kitchen, or bring a picnic.
Route 171 - 455 Old Mountain Road
Moultonborough, NH, 03254
Get above it all by touring this mountaintop castle
Let your spirit soar at Castle in the Clouds, the enchanting mountaintop estate built in 1913-14. Marvel at the Arts and Crafts architecture, the astonishing views from every room, the vintage apparel in the closets and the innovations of the day (central vacuuming and an intercom among them). Stroll through gardens and meadows. Stop by Shannon Pond to watch huge rainbow trout jump for food from special fish-feeders. Dine at the Carriage House Restaurant and visit the art gallery or hike past waterfalls on the 28 miles of trails. Kids can use period tools in the mansion kitchen or practice letter-writing in the guest room. Don’t miss Christmas at the mansion, with music, an artisan fair, carriage and sleigh rides.
607 West Thames Street
Norwich, CT, 06360
Get pampered from head to toe at this Norwich spa
If you think “spa” just means Swedish massages and a steam room, you have not experienced The Spa at Norwich Inn. With its 37 treatment rooms, the spa’s services are almost limitless, including luminous facials; hot stone, Thai and Swedish massage; tips on the latest makeup trends; and pampering for your hands and feet. (Try a milk and honey manicure or a peppermint pedicure.) Set on the inn’s 42 garden-filled acres, the spa also offers healthy cooking demonstrations, tarot card readings and a variety of fitness classes as well as an indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, tennis courts and salon. And if you emerge wanting to extend your relaxation, book into one of the inn’s 49 guest rooms or suites.
909 East Main Road (Route 138)
Middletown, RI, 02842
Island serenity will grow on you during vineyard visit
Planted in 1977 on an island hill overlooking the Rhode Island Sound, Newport Vineyards has grown to include 60 vineyard acres, two restaurants and a busy tasting room. But some things, like the complex flavors of its wines and its family feeling, have never changed. Visitors can sip a Newport Merlot, Island White or Bellevue Blush in the tasting room or by the fire at Brix Restaurant. Or tour the vineyards and go behind the scenes of the wine-making process. The Aquidneck Land Trust’s Sakonnet Greenway Trail loops through the vineyard if you want to take in a morning hike (then enjoy a glass of wine in the Vineyard Cafe). Other activities include yoga, wine and cheese classes and live music.
1168 County Road
Montpelier, VT, 05602
Life is sweet for visitors to Vermont farm’s sugarworks
Could anything be yummier than a visit to Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in central Vermont? Open year-round, seven days a week, the sugarworks is a result of 200 years of family tradition, producing scrumptious maple syrup and other products. Visitors can hike a gentle trail to the maples, tour the sugarhouse, sit on a maple stump at the woodshed theater to watch a multimedia display and – of course! – sample some of the farm’s syrups, jams and jellies. You’ll also love the outdoor Vermont farm life museum, the country store and whimsical carved and soft-sculpture folklife characters scattered throughout the property. Don’t leave without trying sugar on snow (hot maple sugar drizzled on shaved ice) or a maple creemee.
92 Bourne Lane
Ogunquit, ME, 03907
Farm-to-table dining at its best in southern Maine
At Jonathan’s Ogunquit, you can look forward to more than a wonderful, one-of-a-kind farm-to-table meal. You can also expect a one-of-a-kind experience, from tables looking out onto gorgeous gardens studded with whimsical statues to the restaurant’s entrancing 600-gallon fish tank. If you are there on a show night, you’re in for a treat. Concert series musicians have included July Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Rush; comedians include Paula Poundstone and the topical Capitol Steps troupe. But, mainly, it’s about the food in this casual-fine dining restaurant, where you might start with Boursin stuffed mushrooms, work your way through an entree featuring lamb raised at Jonathan’s farm and end with the legendary creme brulee.
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, off Route 20
Sturbridge, MA, 01566
So much to see and do in this re-created 1830s town
Step back in time – but step lively – at Old Sturbridge Village, where the 1830s come to life in 40 original buildings that form a rural New England town. But the early 19th century was a busy time, as you’ll see when you visit the blacksmith shop, or watch an oxen-driven plow in the field, or watch one of the village’s authentically costumed staff hand-dip candles or make dinner on a hearth. Activities include everything from learning a historical craft like textile-making to taking a trip in a stagecoach or, in the winter, in a horse-drawn sleigh. Holidays are magical from fireworks on the Fourth to Christmas by Candlelight in December, with a roaring bonfire and strolls around the decorated village.
312 Daniel Webster Highway
Meredith, NH, 03253
Chill out or warm up to a variety of activities at lakefront resort
Come to relax or come to play: Mill Falls at the Lake is your ideal destination either way. Kick back at the Cascade Spa, in the indoor pool or in your comfy room at one of four inviting inns. Dine at the Waterfall Cafe overlooking a tumbling 40-foot waterfall or at Lago, with its rustic Italian specialties. Or enjoy the outdoors: Hike up scenic Mount Major or along the Winnipesaukee River Trail, go winter trail biking or take a guided ice-fishing tour. In warmer weather, take a chartered boat cruise to view a Lake Winnipesaukee sunset, or get to know the lake via an aqua cycle, kayak or canoe. Don’t forget to shop at the fun-to-explore Mill Falls Marketplace.
Multiple Centers & Dock Locations
Providence, Newport, Westerly, RI and Fall River, MA
Learning and fun go hand-in-hand during Save the Bay activities
Hands-on learning is key to the mission of Save the Bay: to protect and improve the national treasure that is Narragansett Bay. But so is fun. So you might want to spy on a seal during seal-watch cruises October through April (cruises leave from Newport and Westerly, R.I., and Fall River, Mass.); or visit a lighthouse during narrated tours of close to two dozen Rhode Island historic lighthouses in the bay; or learn about long-tailed ducks during birding boat tours; or help pull in a bottom trawl from an education/research vessel. Back on land, the beachfront Exploration Center and Aquarium includes a touch tank, interactive exhibits and the opportunity to help feed some of the bay’s favorite critters (including sharks!).
97 Depot Street
Manchester Center, VT, 05255
Take stock of designer-brand fashion & bargains
Sitting pretty in one of Vermont’s loveliest valleys is shopping heaven: the Manchester Designer Outlets. Shoppers with an eye for a bargain, can stroll into outlet stores including Eileen Fisher, Ann Taylor, Michael Kors, Armani, Eddie Bauer and Kate Spade, just to name-drop a few. If you want to take a break from retail therapy, the walkable town features many chef-owned restaurants, from family style to fine dining, as well as a day spa, an ice-skating rink, an arts center and the American Museum of Fly Fishing! More shopping? Go antiquing, visit a classic general store or take in a farmers market. And come back for the holidays, when the town’s trees and lanterns sparkle and sleigh rides await.
306 US Route 1
Kittery, ME, 03904
Store this away: These outlets are well worth the trip!
You might actually drop before you finish shopping at the famous Kittery Outlets in southern Maine, one of New England’s largest shopping destinations. Among the more than 120 famous-name stores are Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, The Gap, Under Armour, Brooks Brothers, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, OshKosh B’Gosh, Crate and Barrel, and Coach. Special deals are available for AAA members, members of the military and first responders, college students and folks over 50. And check out “It’s All About Me Shopping Weekends,” where the outlets partner with local hotels to give guests a tote bag, coupons and special offers. Area attractions include the Nubble Lighthouse, Water Country park, the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, and many beautiful beaches, golf courses and art galleries.
55 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA, 01609
Spend a picture-perfect day at this interactive art museum
It’s all about access at the Worcester Art Museum, where you can take a 20-minute zip tour of one artist or one work of art, or pop in to the Drawing Center to sketch what you’ve seen, or touch a knight’s helmet at an art cart. And there’s so much to see in a museum with a collection of 35,000 paintings, sculptures, photos, drawings and decorative arts. With a range from the floor mosaics of ancient Antioch to edgy contemporary works, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Check out the newly reinstalled medieval galleries, marvel at Renaissance and Baroque masterworks, take a guided tour (or go mobile) or step up to an iPad and enter your idea for an artwork label.
105 Haverhill Road
Salem, NH, 03079
Ponder the mysteries of ancient North American history
You don’t need to travel to Great Britain to see those marvelous megaliths and ceremonial meeting places of ancient peoples. Similar wonders exist at America’s Stonehenge in coastal New Hampshire. A maze of manmade chambers, walls and gathering sites, it begs the question: Was this all assembled by an ancient Native American culture or by migrant Europeans? The self-guided Stonehenge trail (after a 10-minute introductory video) is about a half-mile, although the property includes 105 acres of trails, perfect for winter snowshoeing (in January and February, you can snowshoe by candlelight and warm up later with hot chocolate). Kids can participate in a simulated archaeological dig at the learning center, and there are plenty of picnic areas. Oh, and seven alpacas.
680 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI, 02840
This Newport mansion & its stunning landscape are still a marvel
Take yourself back into the Gilded Age when you tour Rough Point, the oceanfront estate of philanthropist and art collector Doris Duke. When the heiress died in 1993, she left her seaside home, originally built for a Vanderbilt in 1887 in the English manorial style, to the Newport Restoration Foundation to be opened as a public museum. It is preserved as she left it, with French furniture, European art, Chinese porcelains and Flemish tapestries from her global travels. An eclectic collector, she combined her treasures with those of her family to decorate her home. Visitors may take a 75-minute guided tour or a self-guided stroll through the mansion and the magnificent formal gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
The trail that gives visitors an experience to savor
Sip your way across the state of Connecticut by following the delightful CT Wine Trail, which meanders over hills, through valleys and into some of New England’s most charming towns. Each of the trail’s 25 wineries and vineyards has a tasting room where you can sample robust reds, crisp whites and a wide variety of local fruit wines. Some vineyards offer tours, live music, special dinners from brunch to five-course feasts – even weekend yoga. Seasonal offerings range from chocolate and wine pairings to hot mulled wine. Following the trail is a breeze: Blue wine trail signs lead you from one corner of the state to another. Pick up a wine passport, collect stamps and win prizes (including trips to Spain).
Mountain View Road
Whitefield, NH, 03598
Mountain resort high on comfort & fun things to do
From its stately perch in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa offers visitors first-class comfort, personalized service, distinctive dining and lodging – and a full slate of activities. Enjoy rolling dogsled rides and mountain biking in the fall, skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and golf and tennis in the summer. The resort’s small working farm invites guests to help collect eggs, visit with the goats or take a knitting class. Or, stay inside the spacious inn and take advantage of the Tower Spa (with a spectacular view from the inn’s top floor), indoor pool or game room. Luxurious guest rooms and suites take full advantage of mountain, garden or golf course views.
Your taste buds will go into full bloom on these delicious food tours
Sample the culinary delights, architecture and history of two of Rhode Island’s foodie-favorite cities – Newport and Providence – when you sign up with the Rhode Island Red Food Tour. Stroll through Newport’s historic neighborhoods, stopping in to sip or savor the wares at an historic tavern, waterfront cafe and hip hotdog haven, among others. Or, set your culinary sights on Providence, one of America’s top food cities, where your walking tour through the capital city’s arts district will include eight stops, from a Parisian-inspired cafe to a coal-fired pizza palace. Restaurants on the tours support local and regional farms and purveyors. Tours of this eclectic assortment of great places to eat and drink last three and a half hours.
103 U.S. Route 4
Mendon-Killington, VT, 05751
A different, natural approach to health & wellness
No treadmills, no diets! The wellness regimen at the multiple award-winning New Life Hiking Spa instead includes hiking in the fresh Vermont mountain air and eating wholesome, balanced meals featuring fresh, natural food. From spring through fall, the spa offers daily hikes for beginners (past streams and working farms), intermediates (through diverse, wooded terrain) and advanced (up White Mountain peaks), rewarded by time at the spa, where services include several types of relaxing massage and invigorating facials. Guests also have the option to receive nutritional and personal fitness training, and to take classes in yoga, wellness and cooking. With trained, down-to-earth counselors, guests will get a healthier take on life amid a casual, friendly, camp-like atmosphere.
1650 Hartford-New London Tpke. (Rt. 85)
Oakdale, CT, 06370
Escape into an adventure of prehistoric proportions
Kids will jump for Jurassic joy at The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village, where 40-plus life-sized dinosaurs inhabit a mile and a half of pristine nature trails. You can even picnic along the trails (there are many scenic spots) if you aren’t afraid of running into the animatronic dilophosaurus or the scary therizinosaurus with the longest fingernails on Earth or the 40-foot-tall brachiosaurus. You can continue the dino theme at the manmade Raptor Bay, the obstacle-filled T. Rex Tower Playscape (complete with zip-line and giant slides), the aMAZEasaurus maze, and the Jurassic Moon Bounce. Even Splashpad, the water playground, has dinosaur water cannons. And you can dig for dino fossils at the Discovery Depot.