View of Market Square, the main economic and commercial center of the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, via quiggyt4 /

6 Loveliest Small Towns to Visit in New Hampshire This Summer

Nicknamed “The Granite State” after a 19th-century poet famously used the phrase to describe it, New Hampshire certainly shares similar qualities with this plentiful rock type. The comparison with this toughest and most attractive of stones struck a chord with proud residents, and the name stuck.

And “attractive” is certainly a word that can also be used to describe the state’s best small towns. Dotted around New Hampshire’s incredibly scenic countryside are numerous picturesque small towns, each waiting to be discovered by adventurous travelers. Find out more with this list of six lovely small towns to visit in New Hampshire this summer.


A historical diner in a 1950 dining car in Peterborough, New Hampshire
A historical diner in a 1950 dining car in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Image credit: John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons.

Located in New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region and only 70 miles north of Boston, the lovely town of Peterborough exudes New England charm. Fun is plentiful here, with culture vultures especially well-catered to. Highlights for these folks include Peterborough Players, a summer theater company that has been delighting audiences since 1933 with a mix of classic and contemporary plays. Other downtown destinations worth checking out include the Mariposa Museum & World Culture Center featuring exhibits from across the globe.

For those who like to plan their getaways, consider timing a visit to coincide with one or more of the summer events that take place in Peterborough. Topping most lists is the Monadnock Music festival in July. big draw for its eclectic mix of live performances, this multi-venue event highlights both local and national artists and even features concerts and activities just for kids. Hiking Mount Monadnock is also fun in summer. One of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world, this four-hour round-trip hike is worth it for stunning summit views.


Downtown Wolfeboro
Downtown Wolfeboro. Editorial credit: Jaminnbenji /

Known as the “Oldest Summer Resort in America,” Wolfeboro sits on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and is ideal for those seeking a lakeside summer experience. Its reputation as a summer hot spot started way back in 1763 after the region’s last colonial governor, John Wentworth, had a summer home built on Lake Wentworth. Word spread and Wolfeboro was soon attracting summer vacationers from across the northeast. The star attraction is Lake Winnipesaukee with its endless opportunities for fun water-based activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming. Kayaking and paddleboarding are also popular, with plenty of rental opportunities available.

Prefer to let someone else do all the work? Check out the MS Mount Washington’s summer sailing schedule for a first-rate scenic cruise around the lake’s many islands and bays. The Cotton Valley Rail Trail, a 12-mile multi-use path, is fun for those who enjoy walking and biking. Wolfeboro's summer calendar is also packed with fun things to do, including the popular Fourth of July Parade and fireworks display; the Great Waters music festival, returning in summer 2024 with a series of concerts by renowned musicians; and the On the Green Arts and Crafts Fair in July where visitors can browse handmade items from local artisans.


Main Street, Hanover, New Hampshire.
Main Street, Hanover, New Hampshire. Image credit: Ken Gallager via Wikimedia Commons.

Hanover is an ideal New England town for a summer visit. Bursting with energy thanks to its student demographic (it’s home to famed Dartmouth College), this lovely community is a delight to explore on foot. Easy downtown walking tours take in the college campus with its many historic buildings and beautiful greens, along with attractions such as the Hood Museum of Art with its impressive collections from around the world. The Hopkins Center for the Arts (aka, "The Hop” is another cultural must-see and regularly hosts performances, films, and exhibitions.

Prefer your fun in the great outdoors? Recreational opportunities can be enjoyed in and around Hanover, including on the Connecticut River, a stunning scenic backdrop for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding; and the Appalachian Trail which passes through Hanover is ideal for a summer hike. A great event to join in is the town’s Summer Streetfest in August, which sees Main Street transformed into a lively pedestrian zone with music, food, and entertainment.


Fall view of Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee in the historic town of Meredith, New Hampshire.
Fall view of Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee in the historic town of Meredith, New Hampshire.

Situated on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, Meredith is a charming town known for its beautiful scenery and welcoming atmosphere. Lake Winnipesaukee is the big draw, especially if the town's waterfront area is included in your summer travel itinerary. In addition to embarking on water adventures like kayaking and canoeing, it’s also nice for a stroll along the boardwalk. Summer scenic cruises are available, while the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad offers land-based sightseeing aboard a heritage railway.

Downtown Meredith is also fun to experience in summer. In addition to its many unique boutique shops, art galleries, and eateries, it’s also where you’ll find the Meredith Sculpture Walk featuring outdoor art installations by local and regional artists. Mill Falls Marketplace, a restored 19th-century mill complex that now houses boutiques, eateries, and a cozy inn, is also fun to visit. Other summer fun things to do in Meredith include the Fine Arts and Craft Fair in August.


Littleton, New Hampshire, in autumn.
Littleton, New Hampshire, in autumn.

Located in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Littleton is a popular destination for those wanting to explore the region's natural beauty and outdoor adventures. The Ammonoosuc River runs through the heart of the town providing a scenic backdrop for Main Street attractions like Chutters candy store, famous for having the world’s longest candy counter. The Riverwalk Covered Bridge with its views of the river and access to several parks and trails is also pleasant.

Franconia Notch State Park is also fun to visit. This 6,600-acre property is home to the Flume Gorge, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, and the Old Man of the Mountain Memorial. For hikers, the Appalachian Trail and the numerous trails in the White Mountain National Forest provide endless opportunities for exploration. Other reasons for a summer visit include the 52nd annual Littleton Art Festival with its local and regional artists, live music, and food vendors; and the weekly Littleton Farmers' Market.


Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Downtown.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Downtown. Editorial credit: LawrenceC /

As one of New Hampshire’s oldest towns, Portsmouth is steeped in history and bursting at the seams with fun things to do. Set along the Piscataqua River, the town's lovely downtown area is a highlight and features beautifully preserved 18th-century buildings, cobblestone streets, and plenty of unique shopping experiences. The Strawbery Banke Museum is a must-visit and provides an immersive experience of life in Portsmouth from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Portsmouth’s waterfront area is equally captivating. Highlights include walking the Portsmouth Harbor Trail which takes in significant sites including Portsmouth Historical Society’s John Paul Jones House and the Portsmouth Harbor Light. Other great excuses for a summer visit include the Market Square Day Festival, a celebration of the town with live music and family fun; and the Prescott Park Arts Festival where the riverfront setting provides a magical backdrop for performing arts throughout the summer.

The Final Word

New Hampshire’s small towns are ideal summer destinations. From the artistic haven of Peterborough and the lakeside charm of Wolfeboro to the dynamic college town of Hanover and the picturesque waterfront of Portsmouth, each town presents a unique experience that highlights the best that the Granite State has to offer. With their welcoming atmospheres and diverse attractions, these six lovely towns certainly exemplify the charm and appeal of New Hampshire, inviting visitors to slow down, soak up the scenery, and immerse themselves in an authentic slice of New England life.

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