Storefronts in historic Concord, Massachusetts. Image credit Joseph Sohm via Shutterstock

8 Must-See Historic Towns in New England

Many people tend to be confused or misinterpret the true image of New England. Most think that there is a country that is similar to England, or a state in the US called New England. However, the truth is that New England is composed of six US states—Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

But there was a time when New England was perceived to be a willing and subjugated expansion of the British Empire—an imperialist agenda that was thwarted when the first battles of the American Revolution raged, ironically, in what would become the six states of New England. Today, the many must-see historic towns in New England preserve the relics of liberty, equality, and fraternity through several attractions that captivate visitors and residents alike. Although there are many small towns in these six major states of the East Coast, only eight out of the hundreds will be explored and presented due to the depths and abundance of history in these towns. Come see for yourself why these places are the best of the best. 

Concord, Massachusetts

Main Street in historic town center of Concord, Massachusetts
Main Street in historic town center of Concord, Massachusetts

Make an accord for yourself to visit the quiet town of Concord. Only about 20 miles from Boston, a minuteman statue at Concord’s Old North Bridge will welcome you to the historic town, a masterpiece built by Daniel Chester French who also sculpted Abraham Lincoln's likeness at the Lincoln Memorial. Long ago, Concord was once called Nashawtuc (“between the rivers”) by the Nipmuc Native Americans, and it was between these placid rivers of Concord that the first battle of the American Revolutionary War took place in 1775.

In addition to kickstarting the war for the freedom and soul of America, many people flock to Concord to pay respects to American Transcendentalists like Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Should you wish to see more of what Concord has to offer, then find good lodgings at Concord’s Colonial Inn, North Bridge Inn, or Residence Inn.

Northampton, Massachusetts

Streetview in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Streetview in Northampton, Massachusetts.

There is a good reason why Northampton has often been hailed as “Paradise City.” Due to its pristine position near the Connecticut River, Mount Holyoke, and Mount Tom Ranges, Northampton is a utopia for outdoors enthusiasts and adventurers. However, the town is also a popular attraction for history buffs since Northampton was the site of two wars—first, King Philip’s War in 1675 to 1876, then Queen Anne’s War from 1702 to 1713.

More importantly, Northampton was an excellent hideout for Sojourner Truth, David Ruggles, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and other abolitionists. The David Ruggles Center elaborates more on the contributions the abolitionist movement made to Northampton. Besides these features, one can also learn more about President Calvin Coolidge at the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum. Study more about this town that was originally called Nonotuck (Algonquin meaning “middle of the river”), and spend your long, thoughtful nights at the Hotel Northampton.

Old Saybrook, Connecticut

Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Editorial credit: Rachel Rose Boucher /

Lounging along Connecticut’s Gold Coast, Old Saybrook is one of the oldest towns in the state. Established in 1635 on land once owned by the Algonquin Nehantic and Pequot Native Americans, Old Saybrook served as a military base to protect the mouth of the Connecticut River that spilled out into Long Island Sound. To this day, many of the Dutch and New England architecture can be admired in Old Saybrook, a town just across Long Island

For those wanting a better appreciation of Old Saybrook’s past, look to the Fort Saybrook Monument Park which highlights the town’s military significance. Afterwards, explore the General William Hart House, former residence of a renowned Revolutionary leader who protected the Connecticut River from British ships. The Ferry Landing State Park and the Baldwin Bridge on Ferry Road offers scenic explorations and ferry trips across the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. As for lodgings like the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina and the Pier Blue Inn, they will have sufficient luxuries for you to enjoy your trip in Old Saybrook.

Salem, Massachusetts

People dressed in costumes at the annual Haunted Happenings event held during the month of October in Salem, Massachusetts
People dressed in costumes at the annual Haunted Happenings event held during the month of October in Salem, Massachusetts, via Heidi Besen /

History rarely has an ending where everyone lives happily ever after. This is especially true for the ominous town of Salem. From the harrowing period of 1692 – 1693, many women in Salem were weighed and wanted for being witches. The Salem Witch Museum illuminates the dark history of the Salem witch trials while contextualizing it alongside other witch trials worldwide. Visitors can pay homage to the many condemned women buried in the Charter Street Cemetery/Old Burying Point due to a people’s ignorance and paranoia.

Elsewhere, the Salem Heritage Trail includes interactive attractions that solemnize the period, such as the Witch House, the Bewitched Statue, and the Salem Witch Village. For those who are not invested in learning the history of witches, you may opt to explore the Hammond Castle Museum, the Pioneer Village, or The Friendship, a replica of an ancient sea vessel. If you wish to feel safe and sound in the eerie air of Salem, spend the night at The Cove at Salem, Hawthorne Hotel, and The Hotel Salem.

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Bradford Street, in Provincetown, Massachusetts
Bradford Street, in Provincetown, Massachusetts

For people who want to explore the site where the Pilgrims from The Mayflower first landed, and helped establish the beginnings of Thanksgiving, they would normally turn to Plymouth where the Pilgrims settled. However, Plymouth was not the first place the Pilgrims actually landed in America. In fact, it was the serene town of Provincetown that the Pilgrims first struck land from across the Atlantic Ocean. Situated at Cape Cod’s northernmost tip, tourists can uncover the truth at the Pilgrim Monument and the Provincetown Museum.

Functioning also as a proud safe haven for members of the LGBTQ+ community, tourists also experience many of the bohemian luxuries and liberties of a free people at the the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Let this underrated and overlooked town give you a great sense of history for your own Thanksgiving, and occupy your moments at either the Admiral’s Landing, Ainsworth Cottages, or Anchor Inn Beach House.

Mystic, Connecticut

Main Street in Mystic, Connecticut.
Main Street in Mystic, Connecticut, USA. Editorial credit: Actium /

Mystery and history come alive in the village of Mystic, a seaport town containing treasures from the land and the sea. The Mystic Seaport Museum, for example, houses 19th-century artifacts and memorabilia from the many shipwrights and seafarers who have all contributed to Mystic’s development. Meanwhile, the Mystic Museum of showcases the artistic aptitude of a people living along the Mystic River. However, the main attraction in Mystic is the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship still afloat in the US.

Beyond the history lessons and cultural curricula, tourists can unleash their wild side at the Tree Trails, where games and challenges await. Wonderful marine animals also await at the Mystic Aquarium, just on the other end of the Mystic River Bascule Bridge. As for lodgings, the Inn at Mystic, The Whaler’s Inn, and Harbor View Landing have all the necessities you will require for a happy and mystical stay.

Newport, Rhode Island

Business street along Thames in Newport, Rhode Island
Business street along Thames in Newport, Rhode Island. Image credit Yingna Cai via Shutterstock

On the island of Aquidneck in Rhode Island, the seaside town of Newport is known for the Gilded Age mansions dominating Bellevue Avenue. Many of these baroque and splendid edifices are now museums depicting the early New England lifestyle. The most famous of these mansion-museums is The Breakers, a mansion from 1895 resembling a palace straight from the Renaissance. Visitors who want to understand more about the Irish immigrants who helped improve and develop Newport can learn of the Irish-American community at the Museum of Newport Irish History.

Elsewhere, the Newport Art Museum exhibits the arts and culture of the Classic Coast. Newport’s yacht-heavy harbor has played host to the annual sailing regatta known as America’s Cup. Go on historic and panoramic sightseeing at the Fort Adams State Park, where one can gaze out at the Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. For sports enthusiasts, the International Tennis Hall of Fame will be an entreating vestibule for you to cherish. Last but not least, remember to book rooms at the Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina, The Chanler at Cliff Walk, or Newport Beach Hotel & Suites.

Woodstock, Vermont

Brick buildings with shops in Woodstock, Vermont
Brick buildings with shops in Woodstock, Vermont, Image credit Albert Pego via Shutterstock.

Although Woodstock in Vermont has little to zero relations with the Woodstock Festival that happened in Bethel, New York, the village still has its own historic charms for you to relish. One can conveniently tour the historic architecture surrounding Woodstock’s central square, known as the Green. Among these excellent edifices along the banks of the Ottauquechee River is the Norman Williams Public Library, an 1880s repository composed of pink sandstone.

At the village’s outskirts lies the Billings Farm & Museum, an 1890 dairy farmhouse that offers recreational exhibits depicting 19th-century farm and agricultural life. Within the sinuous and meandering trails riddling Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, one might stumble upon a Queen Anne-style mansion from the 1800s. There are many more surprises to uncover in Woodstock, so stay a while at the Woodstock Inn & Resort or the Shire Woodstock to recharge and replenish.

In Conclusion

History, like any story, is rooted in conflicts, and there are times when conflicts lead to the best of times and the worst of times. This is especially true for the many historic towns in the six states comprising New England. The past seems dark and terrible when learning of the horrid fates of those condemned for witchcraft in Salem, or for those who endured the hardships of battle in Concord and Northampton. But the past can also contain inspiration and hope for a better tomorrow, as exemplified by the people who built a utopia out of Newport and Woodstock. More places promise a riveting episode of history in the six states of the East Coast, but for now, start your adventure into the past by exploring these must-see historic towns in New England.

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