New Hampshire is brimming with small towns that attract and engage the curious traveler. Fans of New England charm will find plenty of it here. Classic college towns like Hanover provide brick buildings and a youthful atmosphere, while waterside areas — from Tamworth and Wolfeboro, near Lake Winnipesaukee, to Rye, Seabrook, and Portsmouth on the Atlantic Ocean coast — give a flavor of classic New England. These towns in New Hampshire are as different as possible for one state, but they share one trait in common: tourists will remember them long after visiting because of their warm and welcoming nature.
The seaside town of Rye, population 5,600, lies along 8 miles of seacoast, the most of any New Hampshire town. It is about 5 miles from Portsmouth and near the state line of neighboring Maine. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy Odiorne Point State Park, a state park with beachfront grounds. Rye Harbor welcomes those looking for boating or other options on the water, while the Seacoast Science Center is a hands-on marine museum geared for students of the coastal world, no matter what age. Wallis Sands State Beach makes for another choice in Rye's menu of tourist-friendly options. Jenness Beach, in the southern corner of town, draws visitors year-round for its sweeping maritime views.
Folded into New Hampshire's White Mountains, along the state's eastern border with Maine, North Conway is a pleasant village of just 2,100 residents. As if aware of its diverse attractions, North Conway is well-prepared for tourists, drawing "leaf-peepers" to its fire-colored forests each autumn. The Conway Scenic Railroad offers train rides among the green peaks and is one of North Conway's primary draws.
Nature seekers will find their bliss in the White Mountain National Forest and on Mount Washington, two of the state's standout natural wonders. The town also runs a dinner train experience, a great variation for tourists who want to take a picturesque ride through Crawford Notch, a mountain pass, and a part of the state park of the same name. North Conway also hosts the New England Ski Museum.
The friendly little town of Littleton, population 6,100, is sometimes ignored by tourists. Set in the state's northern neck, it lies close to the White Mountains and near the Moore Reservoir, which separates it from nearby Vermont. Despite its modest size, Littleton offers an abundance of activities to make sure visitors keep having fun. The charming Main Street boasts multiple art galleries and vintage stores as well as a Downtown Historical Walk, with permanent signs describing points of local history and interest.
Littleton serves as a good jumping-off point for outdoorsy types interested in the White Mountains. Other prime attractions, like Cannon Mountain Ski Resort, Franconia Notch State Park, and the Appalachian Trail, are not to be missed.
The village of Tamworth, with just 2,900 inhabitants, offers a slower pace and a natural wonderland. Seated in New Hampshire's Lakes Region, a famous area for summertime and year-round vacationers, the small town lies close to White Lake State Park, a space with its well-known Chocorua Lake that stretches across more than 900 square acres among New England woods and the White Mountains range. Families traveling with children should seek out the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm, a worthwhile outing that illustrates bygone modes of New Hampshire country life.
Famous as the hometown of Dartmouth College, which was established in 1769 and today ranks among the best universities in the world, Hanover's 11,000 souls have good reason to live here and welcome out-of-town guests. On the western border with Vermont, the town, established in 1761, attracts visitors with cultural favorites like the Hopkins Center for the Arts, the Nathan's Garden botanical site, and the Baker-Berry Library, a historic library on Dartmouth's campus. Performances of all kinds take place at Opera North and Northern Stage, both outside town.
Another major draw at Dartmouth is the Hood Museum of Art, a robust modern collection. Travelers of all ages and tastes can come and enjoy Hanover's diverse charms, given its status as one of America's quintessential college towns.
A seaside neighbor to Rye, Portsmouth, counting 22,300 residents, balances the bustle of a larger place with a slower pace. Outdoor adventures to places like Pierce Island and Four Tree Island make Portsmouth a great place to plan a picnic. The town's historic main street attracts visitors of all kinds. Trivia alert: the town hosted the signing of what would be called the Treaty of Portsmouth, a 1905 pact that ended the Russo-Japanese War.
Prescott Park, a celebrated local garden and green space, hosts a yearly warm-weather concert schedule. As a classic New England small town, Portsmouth's other standouts include the Strawbery Banke, an outdoor history museum that takes its name and its Old English spelling from the many wild strawberries that 17th-century settlers found to grow locally. The town maintains a cooperative economy with nearby Kittery, Maine, just north across the Piscataqua River.
Seabrook, with 8,400 residents, sits in the southeast corner of New Hampshire's Atlantic coast. With part of its border on the state line with Massachusetts, Seabrook makes a great base for regional exploration and allows for a mix of New Hampshire and regional offerings for the visitor passing through or looking for a longer stay. Families can walk Seabrook's Beach or opt for the Blackwater River estuary, while the Seabrook Back Dunes provide many ways to enjoy the state's seaside natural settings.
For some fun in town and on the water, a recent surfing trend makes Seabrook unique among New Hampshire's warm-weather destinations. Come July, those looking to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks blaze a trail to Seabrook from neighboring Massachusetts: the toys are legal in New Hampshire but illegal across the state line.
Wolfeboro, with 6,600 inhabitants, is a charming lakeside town on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, a hugely popular summer destination. The town has a locally famous classic Main Street, with post-card-perfect views and all-American storefronts. Wolfeboro Bay gives unparalleled access to the lake, and travelers can grab a chair at the town's numerous restaurant and cafe patios, where on-the-water views will inspire photos and memories to last for years.
In terms of local culture, start at the Clark Museum complex, with four buildings detailing old Lakes Region customs. The Wright Museum is another top draw in town, with displays about World War II and the testimonies of veterans who served. For a sugary treat, parents should take their kids, or vice versa, to the Yum Yum Shop, a lakeside bakery and ice cream counter — and a local legend — in operation since 1948.
New Hampshire's Warmest Welcome Awaits In Its Small Towns
New Hampshire's depth and breadth of great small towns runs longer than this list. Its coastal settlements, like Portsmouth and Rye, have long inspired visitors with their seaside feeling and connection to history. The state's inland towns are also attractive, with towns like Hanover and Wolfeboro giving a flavor of a part of the region that contracts with coastal living — but equally a part of New England's best traditions. In short, New Hampshire stands as a unique choice for a travel target, whether for the first time or a repeat visit.