View of boats in Paugus Bay, Weirs Beach, Laconia, New Hampshire.

8 Most Underrated Cities In New Hampshire

One of the ten smallest states in both size and population, New Hampshire only has one city, Manchester, with more than 100,000 residents. That said, the Granite State has numerous smaller cities and towns that are beautiful and interesting places to visit. Depending on your preference, you can enjoy mountain vistas or ocean views—or easily do both in a day! While soaking up all of New Hampshire’s natural beauty, though, be sure to enjoy the welcoming charms of its cities and towns. From Portsmouth to Merrimack and more, New Hampshire is full of great cities and towns that are well worth checking out.


Houses along the water at sunset in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Portsmouth is the largest town along New Hampshire’s coastline, with about 22,000 residents. Established in 1623, Portsmouth is celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2023. Portsmouth is still an active seaport and shipbuilding center but now is just as renowned for its beautiful waterfront and vibrant downtown area. Portsmouth has a lively arts scene and ongoing concert series during the summer months. For water-loving visitors, Peirce Island and Four Tree Island offer great fishing, and several of New Hampshire’s best public beaches are very close to town. For those with an interest in the Russo-Japanese war, Portsmouth is where the peace treaty was signed in 1905!


The Main Street Bridge over the Nashua River, in Nashua, New Hampshire
Nashua River, in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Despite being the second-largest city in New Hampshire, with more than 90,000 residents, Nashua tends to get overshadowed by other nearby cities. Nashua’s more recognized neighbors include the state’s largest city, Manchester (20 miles north); Concord, the state capital (35 miles north); and Boston, Massachusetts (45 miles south). However, Nashua is increasingly earning its own reputation as a lively and livable small city. In addition to its numerous public parks and green spaces, Nashua has a walkable downtown that is bustling with shops, restaurants, breweries, galleries, and more. Nashua is also home to an indoor skydiving and surfing park!


The Winnipesaukee River, in Laconia, New Hampshire.
Winnipesaukee River, in Laconia, New Hampshire.

Laconia, the "City on the Lakes," is in central New Hampshire, wedged between Lake Winnisquam and Lake Winnipesaukee. Established as a town in 1855, Laconia currently has a population of about 17,000. Formerly home to numerous water-powered textile mills, today Laconia has a beautiful location among the lakes. Laconia has four lakefront public beaches, as well as several parks and recreational trails. The town is home to the oldest motorcycle rally in the US, with the 100th anniversary of Laconia Motorcycle Week happening in 2023. Laconia also hosts a family-friendly pumpkin festival every year in late October.


Annual Nutfield Holiday Parade in downtown Derry, New Hampshire
Parade in downtown Derry, New Hampshire. Image credit Warewardson via Shutterstock

Derry does not get much publicity compared to its larger neighbors Manchester, Nashua, and Concord, but this bustling town of nearly 35,000 residents is deserving of its own place in the New Hampshire spotlight. Ulster-Scots settlers from Northern Ireland founded Derry in 1722 and the town was once a key hub of the shoemaking industry. While no longer an industrial center, Derry sits along beautiful Beaver Lake and has two public beaches along with numerous public parks and other recreational opportunities. The town is also home to Derry Opera House and Pinkerton’s Stockbridge Theater, both of which offer a range of live performances throughout the year.


Aerial Drone Photography Of Downtown Dover, New Hampshire, during The Fall Foliage
Downtown Dover, New Hampshire.

Located along the Cocheco River in southeastern New Hampshire, Dover has a population of around 32,000. The town is also celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2023 and stands as the oldest town in New Hampshire and the seventh oldest in the United States. While it has a nice mix of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, Dover is an especially great place to visit with children. Dover is home to the New Hampshire Children’s Museum, which includes two floors of interactive exhibits and activities designed for kids of all ages. Dover also has a children’s concert series that runs through the summer and an annual Apple Festival in the autumn.


Falls after the rains in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Rochester, New Hampshire.

Rochester is about ten miles up the Cocheco River from Dover and has a very similar population of about 32,000. Once home to the Abenaki people of the Pennacook tribe, the first English settlers arrived in the town in 1729. Known as the "Lilac City" (a nickname it confusingly shares with Rochester, New York), Rochester is well situated for tourists who want to visit both the New Hampshire seacoast and the White Mountains. Rochester has a historic downtown district that is undergoing a significant revitalization, as well as numerous parks, trails, and recreational areas, including a kayak and canoe launch along the Cocheco River.


Salem New Hampshire, the entrance to Canobie Lake Park
Canobie Lake Park, Salem, New Hampshire. Image credit Adam Gladstone via Shutterstock

Salem, established in 1750, is sometimes called the "Gateway to New Hampshire" due to its location along Interstate 93 right at the Massachusetts border. Because New Hampshire has no state sales tax, shoppers from Massachusetts and other New England states have turned Salem into a bit of a shopping mecca. In addition to the Mall at Rockingham Park, the state’s biggest shopping center, Salem’s 30,000 residents enjoy a range of entertainment and recreational amenities in the downtown area. The town motto, "Industry, Commerce, Recreation," connects its past as a factory town to its present as a bustling New Hampshire community.


Merrimack sign and town hall in Merrimack, New Hampshire
Merrimack, New Hampshire.

Merrimack, situated along the river of the same name, is about halfway between Nashua and Manchester in southern New Hampshire. The first English colonists arrived in what became Merrimack around 1655, and the town was formally established in 1746. Merrimack has a current population of roughly 26,000 residents, and the town stands as a former industrial hub that has transformed into a locale known for its lively downtown area and recreational options. Merrimack has several great hiking trails located both in Grater Woods and the Horse Hill Nature Preserve. History buffs can also walk through Reed Cemetery, which has been in active use since before American independence.

While New Hampshire does not have the big cities that you will find in nearby states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, it definitely has many smaller cities and larger towns that are well worth checking out. With the state’s abundant natural beauty, high quality of life, and tax-free shopping, any of New Hampshire’s small cities can be a “hidden gem” for visitors from New England and beyond.

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