Bordered by the Canadian province of Quebec in the north, the US states of Massachusetts and Vermont in the south and west, and Maine and the Gulf of Maine in the east, New Hampshire is one of the northern states in the New England region of the Northeastern United States. Besides being one of the original Thirteen Colonies, New Hampshire is acclaimed for its towering mountains, lush forests, and crystal-clear waterbodies, providing an unparalleled setting for nature and adventure lovers. Dotting the state’s rugged and heavily forested terrain are numerous alluring small towns, each of which exudes a distinctive New England charm, attracting thousands of holidaymakers to discover the beauty of these hidden gems. So, whether you want to enjoy a long vacation or a quick relaxing getaway away from the noise of urban metropolises, these small towns in the Granite State are worth checking out.
An enchanting small town on the White Mountains' western side in New Hampshire's Grafton County, Franconia is considered a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. The town is well-known for being home to the northern half of the gorgeous Franconia Notch State Park and portions of the White Mountain National Forest in its eastern and southern parts. Vacationers visiting Franconia during winter can enjoy the various winter sports activities, like skiing, snowboarding, etc., at the Cannon Mountain Ski Area. During summer and fall, explorers are welcome to tour the amazing sites in Franconia Notch State Park, including Flume Gorge, Flume Covered Bridge, Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge, Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, Artist’s Bluff Trail, the Basin, Echo Lake Beach, and the Franconia Notch Bike Path. Moreover, the tourists must not miss other notable attractions like the Lafayette Place Campground, Franconia Heritage Museum, the Frost Place – Museum & Poetry Center, the New England Heritage Museum, and the Besaw Iron Furnace Interpretive Center.
Exeter is an alluring river town that sits along the banks of the tidal Squamscott River in Rockingham County at the extreme southeastern corner of the state. Boasting tree-lined streets and ample historical architecture, Exeter perfectly amalgamates small-town tranquility with the amenities of a modern city. Besides being home to the Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the country’s oldest secondary educational institutions, Exeter also has a lot of exciting attractions that will surely captivate any visitor. History buffs must visit the American Independence Museum in the Ladd-Gilman House, Exeter Historical Society Museum, Exeter Town Hall, Gilman Garrison House, and the historic Bandstand. Tourists can also browse the many locally-owned shops like Whirlygigs Toy Shop, Water Street Bookstore, and the Chocolatier; art galleries like the Art Up Front Street Studios & Gallery; breweries like Sea Dog Brewing Company; and upscale restaurants like Otis Restaurant, the Green Bean, Laney & Lu Café, etc., that line Exeter’s lovely downtown. The Swasey Parkway, Robert H. Stewart Waterfront Park, Founders Park, and Gilman Park are best for those who wish to indulge in outdoor activities and reconnect with nature.
Overlooking the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire’s Grafton County, Sugar Hill offers the most magnificent views of Dalton, Franconia, Kinsman, and Presidential Mountain ranges. Named after the large sugar maple groves found within the town limits, this quaint New England town is acclaimed for its rich maple syrup heritage. The famed Polly’s Pancake Parlor offers delicious homemade pancakes topped with authentic New Hampshire maple syrup, whereas Harman’s Cheese & County Store offers natural, premium-grade, white cheddar cheese, besides a variety of jams, jellies, and mustards. History enthusiasts would love to witness the different artifacts and memorabilia displayed at the Sugar Hill Historical Museum. The merrymakers would not want to miss the town’s annual lupine festival, where the fields are filled with blooming pink and purple lupine flowers for a short duration in June every year. The festival also features concerts, open-air markets, wagon rides, and other amusement activities.
A serene town in Grafton County that sits in the beautiful Upper Valley along the Connecticut River, Hanover is best known for being home to the principal campus of Dartmouth College, one of the nine colonial colleges established before the American Revolution. Adventure lovers must hike the Appalachian Trail that passes through Hanover’s downtown, linking it with other hiking trails and nature preserves. Travelers can tour the Dartmouth College campus, witness the vast collection of artifacts and artworks at the Hood Museum of Art, enjoy a performance at Hopkins Center for the Arts, watch a baseball game at the Red Rolfe Field, catch a movie at Nugget Theater, and hike the Moose Mountain. After a hectic, action-packed day, do not forget to satiate your taste buds at Murphy’s on the Green and the Base Camp Café.
Peterborough, an adorable small town in Hillsborough County, is situated at the meeting point of New Hampshire Route 101 and U.S. Route 202 along the banks of the Contoocook River. Named after Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough, the town is acclaimed for the MacDowell Colony, a wooded creative retreat that provides support and residencies for artists, writers, and composers. Tourists can browse the various quality antique shops, fine art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants that line Depot Square – Peterborough’s retail hub. Outdoor lovers would love to explore an array of recreational activities, including hiking trails, cross-country skiing, cycling, kayaking, bird-watching, etc., offered by Miller State Park, the Temple Mountain Reservation, and Edward MacDowell Lake. Theater enthusiasts must witness the seven main-stage shows and two second-company children’s shows that the Peterborough Players stage from June to September. Merrymakers are attracted to the town’s many annual events, including Snow Ball, Children & the Arts Day, Thing in the Spring music festival, and Greensborough – a summer festival.
This picture-perfect small town is settled along the Ammonoosuc River at the northern extremity of the White Mountains in Grafton County. Travelers can stroll down Littleton’s Main Street and browse the various local businesses like Lahout’s Ski Shop, Jax Jr. Cinemas, Little Village Toy & Book Shop, Chutters Candy Store, as well as coffee shops, boutiques, breweries, and retro diners. They can also visit the lovely Riverwalk Covered Bridge, pay tribute to the Pollyanna statue outside the Littleton Public Library, witness a performance at the Littleton Opera House, get creative at Littleton Studio School, walk along one of the many hiking trails like Kilburn Crag, Parker Mountain trails, or the Dells, learn about the town’s rich history at the Littleton Area Historical Museum, and stay at the historic Thayers Inn.
Hancock, an attractive small town in Hillsborough County, has been named in honor of John Hancock, an American Founding Father who served as Massachusetts’s first Governor. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hancock Village Historic District spread across the town center of Hancock, includes almost every building along Main Street. The most prominent among these buildings include the Hancock Meetinghouse and the First Congregational Church. The town is also home to the Hancock Inn & Fox Tavern - which is one of the oldest bed&breakfasts in New England, Seven Maples Campground, Harris Center for Conservation Education, Hancock Historical Society, and Hancock Town Library. The 718-acre Nubanusit Lake, located between Hancock and Nelson, is perfect for water-based recreations like swimming, boating, and kayaking.
Meredith occupies the heart of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region on the western edge of Lake Winnipesaukee in Belknap County. Named after Sir William Meredith, 3rd Baronet, this major resort town is known for its many larger and smaller water bodies, including Lake Winnipesaukee, Lake Winnisquam, Wickwas Lake, Pemigewasset Lake, and Lake Waukewan. Meredith Village, the town’s commercial hub, is placed on the northern extremity of Meredith Bay and Lake Waukewan. Travelers visiting Meredith must not miss the Meredith Marina, taste wine at Hermit Woods Winery, ride the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, take a scenic cruise aboard MS Mount Washington, do tons of shopping options at the Mill Falls Marketplace, explore the Meredith Sculptures, tour the picturesque 114-acre Stonedam Island Conservation Area in Lake Winnipesaukee, learn about local history at Meredith Children’s Museum and Meredith Historical Society & Museum, and catch some of the best theatrical performances at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse.
Located along the Piscataqua River, this charming seacoast town is a well-known summer tourist destination in New Hampshire’s Rockingham County. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Portsmouth Downtown Historic District includes the town’s entire historic urban core as well as its Market Square. Portsmouth’s noted historic house museums include the John Paul Jones House, Moffatt-Ladd House, Governor John Langdon House, Richard Jackson House, Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion, etc. Holidayers must see the town’s interesting attractions, such as the USS Albacore Museum & Park, Strawbery Banke Museum, Music Hall, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, North Church, and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. During summer, merrymakers often throng to Prescott Park, which hosts outdoor concerts and festivals.
Nicknamed the “Switzerland of America,” Gorham is a captivating Coös County town in the Androscoggin Valley on the northern end of the Presidential Mountain Range. Placed amidst splendid natural scenery, Gorham strikes an ideal blend between adventures and relaxation. The town’s well-known tourist attractions include the Gorham Historical Society & Railroad Museum, Douglas A. Philbrook Red Barn Museum, and the Medallion Opera House. During the warmer months, travelers can avail ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and ATV rides, while in the cold season, they can participate in various winter recreations. Outdoor lovers can enjoy the town’s serene waterbodies with a guided kayak trip offered by the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center; book a ride on the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the summit of breathtaking Mount Washington; cycle along the Presidential Rail Trail, cruise along Mount Washington Auto Road; camp at the Moose Brook State Park; and spot local wildlife with Gorham Moose Tours.
New Hampshire’s second-largest town by area, Lincoln, is located to the southwest of the White Mountains, right off U.S. Route 93 and at the western end of the Kancamagus Highway. Travelers visiting the town can stroll down the charming Main Street, filled with cozy stores and eateries. They can also visit the Clark’s Bears, White Mountain Central Railroad, Loon Mountain Ski Resort, Whale’s Tale Water Park, Hobo Railroad, and different sites within the Franconia Notch State Park (including Flume Gorge and Lonesome Lake). Many tourists visit Lincoln during the fall season to witness the fantastic fall foliage along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway.
Snuggled at the heart of the magnificent White Mountains, Jackson is ideal for a relaxing summer vacation or a winter weekend getaway. This quaint resort town's most notable attraction is the Honeymoon Bridge, or Covered Bridge 51, which spans the Ellis River. Jackson’s other noteworthy sites of interest include Wildcat Mountain, miles of cross-country skiing trails managed by the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, Eagle Mountain House Golf Club, Jackson Art Studio & Gallery, Christmas Farm Inn, and the Red Fox Bar & Grille. Vacationers can also visit the adorable Flossie’s General Store to pick a souvenir of their choice, collect puzzles at the White Mountain Puzzles, witness the exhibits displayed at the Museum of White Mountain Art, go horseback riding at Black Mountain, take a sleigh ride at Nestlenook Farm, and spend some quality time along the Jackson Falls.
A one-stop destination for vacationers visiting the White Mountains, North Conway is a popular year-round resort destination in the eastern part of Carroll County along U.S. Route 302. Travelers visiting North Conway can browse about 60-plus retail and outlet stores at the Settlers Green, explore the Green Hills Preserve encompassing several mountains in Mount Washington Valley, and enjoy skiing at the nearby Cranmore Mountain Resort. The town and its adjoining areas provide hiking opportunities in the White Mountain National Forest, rock-climbing activities in Cathedral Ledge in Echo Lake State Park, and sightseeing opportunities via the Conway Scenic Railroad train rides. From late September to early October, thousands of travelers flock to see the autumn foliage on the surrounding mountains and forests. In winter, North Conway is a nighttime destination for skiers visiting the nearby resorts.
Set in the picturesque White Mountains and encircled by the White Mountain National Forest, Bartlett is a small town in Carroll County just 10 minutes north of North Conway village. Besides offering tourists scenic views of the White Mountains, Bartlett is famed for being home to the Attitash Mountain Resort as well as the Bear Notch Ski Touring Center, a family-friendly area that offers various hiking trails for Nordic ski enthusiasts in the upper Saco River Valley. Some other must-visit attractions in and around the town include Diana’s Bath, Crawford Notch State Park, Bartlett Covered Bridge, Alpine Garden Winery, and Conway Scenic Railroad in nearby North Conway, which daily operates a train to the town for sightseeing.
From the picturesque White Mountain towns like Franconia and Sugar Hill to the gorgeous waterfront towns like Portsmouth, the nation’s 5th-smallest and 10th-least populous state is filled with countless pretty towns that allure travelers searching for an authentic New England experience. Each of these small towns in the Granite State showcases impressive natural sceneries, historic landmarks, thriving cultures, and wide-open spaces catering to a multitude of outdoor recreations. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and embark on a journey to these beautiful towns to spend memorable time with your loved ones.