Odd Fellows Hall, Exeter, New Hampshire. Image credit Wangkun Jia via Shutterstock.com

These Towns in New Hampshire Have The Best Main Streets

The main street of a small town can be the pivotal element that defines its appeal, encompassing everything from attractions to cleanliness, decorations, and the beauty of its natural surroundings. It's often where you'll find the most prominent landmarks and venues, including arts and dining options with outdoor seating. A main street that ticks all these boxes can significantly enhance your excitement to explore the rest of the town.

The main street acts as the face of any city or town, regardless of its size. In New Hampshire, small towns greet tourists with charming and attractive main streets. Hanover, hosting Dartmouth College, an Ivy League institution, and Plymouth, are vibrant college towns with bustling thoroughfares throughout the year. The Appalachian Trail passes through downtown Hanover, while both Plymouth and Littleton, situated in the White Mountains Region, are riverfront towns offering stunning views of the mountains.


Downtown Concord, New Hampshire.
Downtown Concord, New Hampshire.

As a state capital, you might expect Concord to have a dynamic downtown area, and indeed, this small city exceeds those expectations. Its downtown is a hub of attractions without the overcrowded feel. Just steps from the Merrimack River, its plethora of unique boutiques caters to shopaholics and window shoppers alike, offering clothing, home furnishings and decor, books, gifts, music, and antiques. Many products are handmade and local, including art and gifts. Once a mere functional four-lane road, the main street has been transformed into a captivating area offering experiences for everyone.

Now known as South Main Street, this welcoming thoroughfare boasts wide sidewalks lined with a diverse array of shops and restaurants, a cinema, an excellent theater, and a prominent gold dome landmark. It serves as an ideal place for mingling and experiencing local culture, including outdoor relaxation spots like The Draft Sports Bar & Grill. Concord, home to approximately 43,000 people, embodies a strong sense of community pride and progressiveness, living up to its nickname "New Hampshire's Main Street" and offering a main street worth valuing.


Downtown Exeter enjoys foot traffic on a cold Friday as corporate competitor Toys R Us goes out of business.
Downtown Exeter enjoys foot traffic on a cold Friday as corporate competitor Toys R Us goes out of business. Editorial credit: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com

Fans of indie films may recognize Exeter from the captivating 2014 movie, In Your Eyes. As one of New Hampshire's oldest towns, located about nine miles from the seacoast, its vibrant historic downtown has been thriving since 1638. Exeter's central Main Street, arguably one of the most picturesque downtown areas in the U.S., offers waterfront access. It connects to Hwy 111 along the Squamscott River, with numerous dining hotspots and the unique Puddlejumpers Children's Store situated at this crossroads.

A short walk away, visitors can admire the grand Phillips Exeter Academy and its campus. The American Independence Museum and the shopping along Water Street, leading to Swasey Parkway and Village Green with its gazebo, are perfect for an afternoon stroll, culminating in a riverside sunset. Art Up Front Street, with studios and galleries on Front Street, and the historic pharmacy, showcase the charming Old New Hampshire atmosphere through its lemon-hued clapboard and robust brick facades downtown.


Main Street, Hanover, New Hampshire.
Main Street, Hanover, New Hampshire. Image credit: Ken Gallager via Wikimedia Commons.

A college town often boasts a vibrant downtown and a bustling main thoroughfare, and Hanover is no exception. Home to Dartmouth College, one of the few Ivy League institutions, Hanover's cultural offerings and culinary diversity are magnified, providing ample attractions for travelers and a wide array of dining options for the active and scholarly alike. The main street, which cuts through the heart of the campus, remains vibrant throughout the academic year and summer, the latter being the preferred season for hiking the nearby Appalachian Trail.

In Hanover, visitors can mingle with faculty and students alike, ensuring there's never a dull moment—a perfect opportunity to feel intellectually stimulated and rejuvenated. This quintessential New England college town is beautifully maintained, from its buildings to the landscaping, flowerpots, and lamp posts that line the charming sidewalks, all imbued with the refined atmosphere of Ivy League tradition. Exploring the quaint shops and restaurants, including the nationally acclaimed Morano Gelato, provides a chance for engaging conversations with locals and visitors.


Littleton, New Hampshire, in autumn.
Littleton, New Hampshire, in autumn.

Nestled against Vermont, Littleton embodies charm in the White Mountains region, just as its name suggests. The downtown area, known for its scenic beauty along the Ammonoosuc River and featuring a central gazebo, is exceedingly picturesque. Serving as the focal point for a sparsely populated area, Littleton's main street is a key attraction, with landmarks such as the Pollyanna Statue and the 2004 Riverwalk Covered Bridge offering perfect selfie backdrops. The Coffee Pot Restaurant and the riverside Schilling Beer Co. are local favorites for meals.

With panoramic mountain views, Main Street's cafes and shops provide a daily retreat for locals and a discovery path for visitors against the backdrop of majestic peaks. The historic Thayer's Inn and its restaurant across the river contribute to the town's picturesque charm. For those seeking fairy-tale visuals, Littleton's historic grist mill and classic opera house are must-visits, especially for an evening performance. Summertime brings vacationers eager to explore the White Mountains, with Littleton offering a convenient base for hiking and enjoying the outdoors, complemented by accommodations that allow guests to indulge in local flavors against a mountainous backdrop.


Meredith, New Hampshire
Meredith, New Hampshire

Located in the Lakes Region, Meredith's lakeside charm makes it a coveted weekend escape for residents of New Hampshire. Accessible by water, this idyllic town on Winnipesaukee Bay enchants with its downtown area, where the gentle waves meet the sweep of spires and Yankee architecture just beyond the waterfront highway. A visit often starts at the 48 Main Cafe & Creperie, with the nearby Meredith Library and Hermit Woods Winery & Eatery offering quintessentially American experiences, not to mention the picturesque Meredith Inn by the water.

Meredith's enviable location is further blessed with Lake Waukewan within a mile, offering a more secluded setting for leisurely days. Whether boating, browsing at the Innisfree Bookshop, or finding unique kitchenware at So Little Thyme, Meredith melds its enchanting village charm with memorable experiences for both friends and family. Beyond the lakeside strip, which offers hilly, curving paths to the north, Mill Falls Marketplace stands out as a prime spot for immersing in local culture, with the foundry-chic Giuseppe's offering a glam dining experience at this waterfront crossroads.


Main Street in town center of Plymouth, New Hampshire,
Main Street in town center of Plymouth, New Hampshire, USA. Editorial credit: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock.com

Plymouth, a picturesque university town home to Plymouth State University, boasts a vibrant downtown area. With over 100 shops, a variety of dining options, and numerous watering holes, it pulses with student life. Main Street, which stretches from south to north along the Pemigewasset River, just across the railway, hosts popular spots like the Flying Monkey Theater and the historic Main Street Station, as well as the university's Silver Center for the Arts.

Nestled in the White Mountains, Plymouth is rich in history and natural beauty, a stone's throw from its quaint, brick-lined downtown. The town offers a wide selection of shops, eateries, and inns, such as the popular Cold Spring Resort and Simply Sunflowers for affordable jewelry. A scenic riverside stroll reveals the expansive university campus on the river's opposite side, providing ample green space for exploration, picnics, and youthful reminiscence. Plymouth's historic charm is further highlighted by the Town Common, adorned with flowers and a fountain, inviting relaxation and enjoyment of the town's many delights.


Historic buildings near Market Square in downtown Portsmouth.
Historic buildings near Market Square in downtown Portsmouth. Image credit Wangkun Jia via Shutterstock.

Portsmouth, located a short distance from the ocean and the Maine border along the Piscataqua River, is a stylish city of 22,000 people. With a handsome yet gritty working port, Portsmouth is refreshingly unpretentious, despite some kitsch and musty artifacts. Its commitment to preserving historical treasures has cultivated immense local pride, showcased by attractions like the rusty old tugboat and the iconic salt pile. Downtown Portsmouth, a coastal gem, comes alive in the summer, with impeccably bricked sidewalks leading past chic storefronts. Starting from the south, the Friendly Toast offers a gateway to explore the winding lanes up to the famous Market Square, featuring must-visit shops such as Ireland On the Square and Book and Bar.

Portsmouth exudes a unique blend of ambition and historical charm, with its colorful colonial downtown filled with shops, eateries, and museums housed in historic buildings, alongside the 1511 Warship. Highlights include the USS Albacore Museum with its submarine exhibit, the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company with its picturesque lighthouse, and the historic Strawbery Banke, open from May through October. Market Street, primarily a waterfront thoroughfare, features attractions like the spectacular Sarah Mildred Long Bridge. Diverging into Pleasant Street and Middle Street to the south, a walk through the area reveals architectural treasures dating back to the 17th century and the picture-perfect riverfront of Prescott Park at sunset.

The significance of a main street in small towns cannot be overstated. Meredith, with its captivating lakeside charm along Winnipesaukee Lake, offers an enticing bayfront downtown, rivaling even the oceanfront allure of Portsmouth's award-winning fair. From quaint shops to memorable dining experiences and the best gelato enjoyed on a bench in Hanover, these towns overflow with charm, history, and character.

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