Aerial summer view of colonial Chestertown on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland USA.

8 Must-See Historic Towns in the Mid-Atlantic

The Mid-Atlantic region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. From the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains, this diverse and distinctive region is home to an amazing collection of historic towns that are great places to visit. To help get your travel plans started, we have listed eight must-see historic towns for your Mid-Atlantic itinerary.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Folks enjoy an alfresco meal in Merchants Square, a retail and dining area near Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Merchants Square, a retail and dining area near Colonial Williamsburg. Image credit James Kirkikis via Shutterstock.

Williamsburg has commanded a prime spot on the Virginia Peninsula between the James River and York River for nearly four centuries. Williamsburg’s past as Virginia’s colonial capital has been lovingly re-created on the 300 acres of Colonial Williamsburg, one of the world’s oldest and most famous living history museums. Visitors can walk the grounds for free and admire the rebuilt and restored colonial structures or pay for admission to guided tours of the Governor’s Palace, Capitol Building, and more. If you prefer history that is a bit more modern and kitschy, check out the Virginia Musical Museum, which is packed with music-related artifacts in the back room of the Parker Piano Outlet!

Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis, Maryland, skyline at Chesapeake Bay.
Annapolis, Maryland, skyline at Chesapeake Bay.

Like Williamsburg, Annapolis was a colonial capital but has maintained its status as Maryland’s state capital. Annapolis does not need a living history museum because it has retained so much of its historic architecture, including the still-in-use 1779 Maryland State House and the dozens of brick and stone buildings that house various shops and restaurants. The town’s narrow streets open to reveal a stunning waterfront with more shops and eateries. Annapolis is also home to the United States Naval Academy, established in 1850, and the must-see Banneker-Douglass African American History Museum, housed in the historic 1875 Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Chestertown, Maryland

The charming business district in Chestertown, Maryland.
The charming business district in Chestertown, Maryland. 

The small community of Chestertown has occupied its spot along the Chester River since 1706, starting as a Chesapeake Bay port and now a popular tourist destination. The downtown area has a nice collection of colonial-era buildings, and its Arts and Entertainment District around Main Street houses more than a dozen galleries and studios. That said, Chestertown’s waterfront is the star attraction, especially for fans of wooden sailing ships. A reproduction of Sultana, a schooner built in 1768, is docked in the harbor as a floating museum. The waterfront also hosts an annual Tall Ship and Wooden Boat Festival, as well as an annual re-enactment of the town’s 1774 “tea party” protest against British taxation. 

Saratoga Springs, New York

Aerial view of Saratoga Springs, New York in autumn
Aerial view of Saratoga Springs, New York, in autumn.

Upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains are home to dozens of great small towns, but few can match Saratoga Springs’ historic connections. The town’s mineral springs have made the town a health resort destination since colonial times. In 1777, the critical Battle of Saratoga, which helped secure the success of the American Revolution, occurred nearby. Since the mid-1800s, visitors have also been able to attend horse races at Saratoga Race Course, the oldest active sports venue in the nation. In addition to all this history, today’s Saratoga Springs is also known for its outstanding Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the dazzlingly colorful mineral deposits (called tufa) along Orenda Spring.

Lititz, Pennsylvania

The former Wilbur Chocolate factory, downtown Lititz.
The former Wilbur Chocolate factory, downtown Lititz.

Lititz is located in Pennsylvania’s heartland for the Amish, a people whose simple way of life seems like it was transported 250 years ago. Lititz also has several colonial-era buildings in its downtown area and is famously the home of the historic Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. Yet, at the same time, Lititz is nicknamed “The Coolest Small Town in America” because it has combined its historic charm with a lively mix of trendy galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. Meanwhile, lovely Lititz Spring Park offers a quiet escape amid its tranquil gardens. Lititz is also home to the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania, an 80-acre nature preserve for those who want to explore the great outdoors. 

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Aerial view of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Aerial view of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. 

Harpers Ferry was the site of one of the most important events in the lead-up to the American Civil War: John Brown’s 1859 raid on the federal military arsenal. As part of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, the downtown area has been restored to look much as it did in 1859. But historical tourism is far from all that Harpers Ferry has to offer. Set at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, Harpers Ferry is home to some of the best nature sightseeing and outdoor recreation in the entire Mid-Atlantic region. Or, if you prefer the sweeter side of history, check out True Treats, which has candies based on recipes going all the way back to ancient Greece!

Swedesboro, New Jersey

Davidson House, Swedesboro, New Jersey. Image credit LittleGun, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Davidson House, Swedesboro, New Jersey. Image credit LittleGun via Wikimedia Commons.

Even Mid-Atlantic history buffs may not have heard about New Sweden, a short-lived colony during the mid-1600s. However, the southwestern New Jersey town of Swedesboro stands nearly 400 years later as a testament to the New Sweden colony and its forgotten regional influence. The town’s Nothnagle House, built in the traditional Swedish style around 1640, is probably the oldest log structure in the nation, and the 1784 “Old Swedes” Church is another impressive highlight. In addition, the Swedesboro-Woolrich Historical Museum brings to life the story and the importance of New Sweden. To get the full community feel, visit during the annual Swedesboro Day festival in late September.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach Museum.
Rehoboth Beach Museum.

Even among the dozens of great beach towns along the coastline of the Mid-Atlantic region, Rehoboth Beach stands apart. The beach is known far and wide for its clear water and fine sand, especially by Mid-Atlantic standards. Rehoboth Beach is also renowned for its classic boardwalk, lined with shops, eateries, amusements, and fantastic views. Particularly in recent decades, the town has become a hub for artists, most famously at the Rehoboth Art League, with its "Doors of Fame" have been autographed by artists since the 1930s. Rehoboth is also a hugely popular beach escape for Washington, D.C. elites, including President Biden. No wonder it is called “The Nation’s Summer Capital!”

You may think of the Mid-Atlantic as a region of big cities, and it is indeed home to metropolises like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. But, beyond the big cities, the Mid-Atlantic contains a countless array of small towns that are brimming with centuries of history. Many key American events, from battles to social movements to technological advances, happened in the Mid-Atlantic region, so touring some of its historic small towns can be a truly rewarding experience.

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