Aerial view of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

New Hampshire's Best Small Towns For A Weekend Escape

Officially admitted to the Union on June 21, 1788, as the 9th State, New Hampshire is one of the wonderful northern states in the New England region of the American Northeast. Aside from being one of the Thirteen Colonies, the White Mountain State's snowy alpine scenery, spotless water bodies, flourishing wilderness areas, and extensive granite quarries captivate residents and tourists alike. Scattered throughout the state’s 8,954 sq. mi, terrain are uncountable teeny towns offering a pleasant hometown feel and perfect for those in search of a relaxing weekend getaway.


Hanover, New Hampshire.
The Baker-Berry Library on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Editorial credit: Jay Yuan /

Hanover, a serene college town in Grafton County, chartered by Colonial Governor Benning Wentworth, is situated along the Connecticut River adjoining New Hampshire and Vermont’s Upper Valley region. Called after Hanover, Connecticut - the hometown of most of the community’s early settlers, the town is widely known for being home to the principal campus of Dartmouth College - an Ivy League university and one of the nine higher educational institutions established before the American Revolution. Adventure lovers are especially lured by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that winds through Hanover’s pleasant downtown, connecting it with various other nature preserves and hiking trails. Apart from touring Dartmouth College’s picturesque campus, travelers must also take note of the massive collection of artworks and artifacts at the Hood Museum of Art, witness a baseball game at Red Rolfe Field, hike the Moose Mountain, watch a movie at Nugget Theater and enjoy a performance at Hopkins Center for the Arts. Satiate your taste buds at Murphy’s On The Green and relax after an eventful day at the Hanover Inn Dartmouth.


Lost Pond, Gorham New Hampshire
Lost Pond in Gorham, New Hampshire.

Dubbed the “Switzerland of America,” this idyllic Coös County community is situated on the northern tip of the Presidential Mountain Range in Androscoggin Valley. Surrounded by eye-catching natural landscapes, Gorham superbly merges relaxation with adventures. The Gorham Historical Society & Railroad Museum, Medallion Opera House, and Douglas A. Philbrook Red Barn Museum are some of this 2,698-resident town’s remarkable attractions. Participate in hiking, mountain biking, and ATV riding activities during the warmer months, while various winter recreations are available for vacationers in the cold season. Outdoorsy types can access the Presidential Rail Trail, travel up the Mount Washington Auto Road to get unparalleled views of the White Mountain region, observe native wildlife with Gorham Moose Tours, take a guided kayak trip provided by the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center, camp at the Moose Brook State Park or stay at first-class accommodations like The Glen House and Top Notch Inn.


Odd Fellows Hall at 115 Water Street in the historic town center of Exeter, New Hampshire
Odd Fellows Hall at 115 Water Street in the historic town center of Exeter, New Hampshire. Editorial credit: Wangkun Jia /

Founded on April 3, 1638, by John Wheelwright and a group of clergymen exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony, Exeter is an enticing river town along the shores of the tidal Squamscott River in southeastern New Hampshire’s Rockingham County. With abundant historical architecture filling Exeter’s tree-lined streets, this 16,049-inhabitant town perfectly amalgamates small-town tranquility and modern-day facilities. In addition to housing the Phillips Exeter Academy, the town also has a lot of engrossing attractions such as the American Independence Museum in Ladd-Gilman House, Gilman Garrison House, Congregational Church, Exeter Town Hall, Exeter Historical Society & Museum, etc. At Exeter’s vibrant downtown, browse the scores of small businesses like Water Street Bookstore, Whirlygigs Toy Shop, and Chocolatier; breweries like Sea Dog Brewing Company; art galleries like the Art Up Front Street Studios & Gallery; diners like Laney & Lu Café; and hotels such as Hampton Inn & Suites Exeter. For those who wish to spend time amidst the greens, the Swasey Parkway, Gilman Park, Robert H. Stewart Waterfront Park, and Founders Park are excellent spots.


Aerial view of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Aerial view of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

New Hampshire’s second-oldest settlement, Portsmouth, located along the Piscataqua River in Rockingham County, is an outstanding summer tourist destination. The National Register-listed Portsmouth Downtown Historic District with over 1,200 colonial and Federal-era buildings reflecting Portsmouth’s maritime heritage, encompasses the entire historic urban core and Market Square of the town. The John Paul Jones House, Governor John Langdon House, Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion, Moffatt-Ladd House, Richard Jackson House, etc., are some interesting house museums. The USS Albacore Museum & Park, Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, Strawbery Banke Museum, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Music Hall, and North Church are must-visits while on a vacay to the town. Head straight to Prescott Park for outdoor concerts and festivals during summer and de-stress at the Ale House Inn.

Sugar Hill

St. Matthew’s Chapel in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire
St. Matthew’s Chapel in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire.

Sugar Hill is a picture-perfect Grafton County town that overlooks the White Mountain National Forest and presents panoramic views of the Dalton, Kinsman, Presidential, and Franconia Mountain ranges. Formally incorporated in 1962 and labeled after the sugar maple groves within the town limits, Sugar Hill is acclaimed for its maple syrup heritage. The popular Polly’s Pancake Parlor is noted for its delectable homemade pancakes, French toast doused with maple syrup, and waffles, while the Harman’s Cheese & County Store serves foodies an array of locally-made dishes in addition to high-quality white cheddar cheese. Stop by the Sugar Hill Historical Museum to check out the displayed artifacts and The Sunset Hill House for a comfortable stay. Do try to attend the Sugar Hill Lupine Festival, where the abutting fields are covered with blossoming pink and purple colored lupine flowers only for a short duration annually every June. Festival activities also include an open-air market with local vendors, art shows, concerts, and town dances.


The town center in Meredith, New Hampshire.
The town center in Meredith, New Hampshire.

A widely known resort destination in Belknap County, Meredith, dubbed after Sir William Meredith, occupies the core of the state’s Lakes Region on Lake Winnipesaukee’s western edge. Apart from Lake Winnipesaukee, other notable larger and smaller water bodies that lie wholly or partially within the town boundaries include Lake Winnisquam, Pemigewasset Lake, Lake Waukewan, and Wickwas Lake. Moreover, Meredith Village, located between the northern extremity of Meredith Bay and Lake Waukewan, is the town’s commercial center. When visiting Meredith, tour the Meredith Marina, catch theatrical performances at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, ride the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, discover Meredith Sculptures, shop from the myriad stores at Mill Falls Marketplace, taste wine at Hermit Woods Winery, learn about the bygone days at Meredith Historical Society & Museum, explore the 114-acre Stonedam Island Conservation Area, and rest for the night at Church Landing at Mill Falls - Meredith’s leading lakefront lodge.


Autumn in Peterborough, New Hampshire
Autumn in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

This enchanting town, christened after Concord’s leading land speculator, Lieutenant Peter Prescott, is situated in Hillsborough County along the Contoocook River at the intersection of New Hampshire Route 101 and U.S. Route 202. One of Peterborough’s most prominent sites of interest - the MacDowell Colony, is a wooded creative haven that provides support and residencies to over 300 artists, composers, and authors. Countless fine art galleries, antique stores, boutiques, restaurants like Harlow’s Pub & Restaurant, Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, and cozy accommodations like Riverhouse by Weekender fill the town’s retail hub. The Edward MacDowell Lake, Temple Mountain Reservation, and Miller State Park offer ample recreational activities like bird-watching, swimming, kayaking, fishing, cycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, etc., for outdoor enthusiasts. Witness performances staged by Peterborough Players from June to September besides attending any of the town’s yearly celebrations like Thing in the Spring music festival, Greenerborough - a summer festival, Snow Ball, and Children & the Arts Day.


Littleton, New Hampshire
The River Walk Covered Bridge with the Grist mill on the Ammnosuoc River in Littleton, New Hampshire.

Littleton is a quaint Grafton County town along the Ammonoosuc River banks on the northern extremity of the White Mountains. Called “Chiswick” initially, the settlement was renamed in honor of Colonel Moses Little at the time of its official incorporation in 1784. Vacationers visiting this commercial hub of the state’s North Country region must walk down Littleton’s Main Street and peruse the many local businesses such as Little Village Toy & Book Shop, Lahout’s Ski Shop, Chutters Candy Store, Jax Jr. Cinemas, in addition to the numerous coffee shops, breweries, boutiques, and eateries serving delicious dishes. Furthermore, tourists can also pay tribute to Pollyanna’s bronze statue outside the Littleton Public Library, learn about the past at the Littleton Area Historical Museum, watch a show at the Littleton Opera House, visit the magnificent Riverwalk Covered Bridge, take a stroll along any of the hiking/biking trails, and enjoy their stay at the famed Thayers Inn.

From the high-spirited college town of Hanover to the stunning White Mountain town of Sugar Hill, the gorgeous towns in the 5th smallest and 10th least populous state of the country lure thousands of vacationers looking for a memorable and authentic New England experience. Boasting sheer natural beauty, fascinating colonial architecture, colorful festivals, lots of recreational activities, great appetizing cuisines, and above all the friendly smiles of welcoming inhabitants, these lesser-known communities in The Granite State are worth checking out either on your long holidays or short weekend escapades.

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