Annapolis, Maryland, USA downtown cityscape on Main Street at dawn.

7 Most Beautiful Historic Towns in the Mid-Atlantic

Stretching from the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains, America’s Mid-Atlantic region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. After more than four centuries of colonization, immigration, conflict, adaptation, and growth, the Mid-Atlantic is full of small towns with historic and distinctive small towns. We have collected a list of seven great small towns, each with a deep cultural heritage.

Lititz, Pennsylvania

The Bulls Head in Lititz, Pennsylvania, USA – An English pub offering an eclectic American-British menu.
The Bulls Head in Lititz, Pennsylvania, USA. Editorial credit: George Sheldon /

You might not expect a place nicknamed “The Coolest Small Town in America” to be located in the heartland of Pennsylvania's Amish population, a people known for their rustic and simple way of life. Yet the Lancaster County town of Lititz offers an incredible mix of tradition and modern flair. Main Street has colonial-era buildings that house trendy galleries, boutiques, and eateries, but the town’s most famous business is the historic Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. Visitors can pair a quiet stroll through the tranquil gardens of Lititz Spring Park with a rollicking good time at the Lititz Spring  Bandshell.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Historic Downtown Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, from above – rooftops and storefronts.
Historic Downtown Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, from above. Editorial credit: Geoffrey Kuchera /

Harpers Ferry earned its name in the history books as the site of John Brown’s Raid on the federal military arsenal in 1859, one of the key events leading up to the American Civil War. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, with a restored downtown area that recreates the setting from 150 years ago, is a big draw for historical tourism. Harpers Ferry is also a showcase of West Virginia’s natural beauty, with its setting at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers making it an excellent spot for nature sightseeing and outdoor adventure.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Governor's Mansion, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
Governor's Mansion, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Editorial credit: Matt McClain /

Williamsburg has occupied its spot on the Virginia Peninsula between the James River and York River since 1632, making it one of the oldest towns in the mid-Atlantic region. Williamsburg was Virginia’s colonial capital, and this era is famously re-created at Colonial Williamsburg, a 300-acre living history park. Even if you do not pay for admission into the historic buildings, a free walk through the grounds of the park and the adjacent College of William and Mary (founded 1693) is a memorable step back into the past, albeit with nice modern touches that cater to tourists and students.

Annapolis, Maryland

Downtown Annapolis, Maryland, USA, overlooking Main Street with the State House.
Downtown Annapolis, Maryland, USA, overlooking Main Street with the State House.

Annapolis, founded in 1649 and Maryland’s capital since 1694, packs an impressive amount of history and culture into a compact waterfront location. The short walk from the still-in-use 1779 Maryland State House to the Chesapeake Bay waterfront passes through a National Historic District, with dozens of colonial-era buildings bunched along narrow streets and buzzing with lively shops and eateries. Nearby, along the Severn River, sits the United States Naval Academy, which has called Annapolis home since 1850. Annapolis is also home to the excellent Banneker-Douglass African American History Museum.

Swedesboro, New Jersey

Formerly known as Rambo Tavern, dating back to the early 18th century when leased from Trinity Church. Later named Washington Tavern, now operates as a restaurant with a different name.
Formerly known as Rambo Tavern in the early 18th century. By Jerry & Roy Klotz, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The short-lived New Sweden colony of the mid-1600s is largely forgotten in the Mid-Atlantic region, with the New Jersey town of Swedesboro standing as its most obvious remnant. The Swedes who settled the town used their traditional log-building skills to construct the Nothnagle House (circa 1640), which is likely the oldest remaining log structure in the United States. The somewhat newer and more architecturally impressive “Old Swedes” Church (1784) stands as another Swedesboro historic highlight. Visitors who are interested in the town’s unique heritage should start out at the informative Swedesboro-Woolrich Historical Museum.

Watkins Glen, New York

Waterfall canyon at Watkins Glen State Park, Upstate New York.
Waterfall Canyon at Watkins Glen State Park, Upstate New York.

Watkins Glen is one of many great small towns located in the Finger Lakes region, but it is definitely the only one that hosts an annual NASCAR auto race! Along with its racing heritage and the action at Watkins Glen International Speedway, the town is known as the heart of the wine country that surrounds the shores of Seneca Lake. Watkins Glen is also home to a state park of the same name that is a true natural wonder. The park trail, accessible right from downtown, passes through a narrow gorge and reveals 19 spectacular waterfalls.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Luxury waterfront homes by the bay in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, USA, during the summer.
Luxury waterfront homes by the bay in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, USA. Editorial credit: Khairil Azhar Junos /

While the Mid-Atlantic seaboard is full of great beach towns, Rehoboth Beach is renowned for having some of the most transparent water and finest sand in the region. The pristine beach conditions are matched by the classic Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, which offers excellent views and numerous food and entertainment options. Rehoboth Beach has also become an artistic hub, with numerous art galleries, music venues, and playhouses located in town. It is no wonder that Rehoboth Beach is a favorite destination for many of America’s political elites, earning it the nickname “The Nation’s Summer Capital!”

Discover the Heart of History in the Mid-Atlantic

The Mid-Atlantic is one of the most densely populated regions in the United States, yet big cities like New York, Washington, and Philadelphia have not crowded out all the small towns. On the contrary, the region is home to a seemingly endless collection of towns that are bursting with historical and cultural significance. So make sure to give yourself some time to explore the diverse and fascinating cultural heritage of the Mid-Atlantic!

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