- New Hampshire
Explore the Granite State through local recommendations
The country’s fifth smallest state, New Hampshire has a rural reputation. Best known for its spectacular wilderness – including the highest peak in the Northeastern USA, Mount Washington – Granite Staters (as people from New Hampshire are known) take equal pride in the cultural richness of their big cities. Despite its modest dimensions, this picturesque pocket of New England has something for everyone, from the thrilling adventure sports of the White Mountains to Portsmouth’s prolific waterfront and lively performing arts scene. Famously rebellious and independent, this is a place where people work hard to support leisure – and relish every minute of it.
Go Coastal in Portsmouth
The largest town on New Hampshire’s small but mighty Atlantic Ocean coast, Portsmouth is a miniature metropolis. Midway between the international hubs of Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine – about a one-hour drive to each – Portsmouth’s eclectic mix of restaurants benefit from easy access to New England’s celebrated seafood, straight-from-the-farm produce and world-class cheeses from neighboring Vermont. But it’s the city’s love of a good performance that makes Portsmouth the cultural epicenter of this free-spirited state. From summertime performances at the Prescott Park Arts Festival to locally produced plays at the Players’ Ring Theatre and Music Hall’s wide-ranging offerings, Portsmouth offers a multitude of performances rivaling cities many times its size.
New Hampshire has just under 30 kilometers of Atlantic waterfront, but it packs enormous beauty into its seacoast’s short stature. Locals are devoted to its spectacular wooded beaches, like New Castle’s Great Island Common, and paddling hot spots like the Peirce Island Boat Launch. Visitors can casually nature-gaze, following the leader on tours with respected outfitters like Portsmouth Kayak Adventures, where knowledgeable guides lead tandem kayaks and stand-up paddleboards through the blissfully protected waters of the Portsmouth Harbor backchannel.
A group stand-up paddleboarding among Portsmouth’s coastal islands
Down by the Waterfront
In recent years, Portsmouth’s waterfront district, South End – on the shore of South Mill Pond – has morphed from a port community, where sailors frequented dive bars and told extravagant fish tales, into a fashionable (and pleasantly walkable) enclave of cute little cafes, shops and destination restaurants. Its dockside warehouses and cobblestone alleys are still home to some charmingly eccentric characters. But outsiders have also been seduced by the area’s transformed waterfront, which is now home to relatively recent arrivals like Elephantine, a tiny cafe and bakery owned by a locally beloved, Egypt-born couple. Portsmouthers recommended its superb espresso and fresh bread baked by a real-life French-trained boulanger. The neighborhood is now a culinary destination, with more restaurant seats than residents. Lucky us!
Among New England’s most important ports, aptly named Portsmouth is a culinary destination for seafood lovers. That’s a point of pride among locals, who understand that not everyone has access to luscious lobster rolls and ultra-sustainable, impossibly fresh, locally farmed oysters. But Granite Staters also want visitors to know that the coast’s dining scene goes far beyond fish. At Moxy, for example, chef Matt Louis’s cooking is inspired by his home state. His upbringing and research into the foods of local Native Americans and early European settlers is reflected in the food. He incorporated those ancient recipes and “from the earth” wisdom into his own culinary craftsmanship (and he has the two James Beard “Best Chef of the Northeast” nominations to prove it!). Among his seasonal standouts, there are dishes like New Hampshire mushroom ragout and autumn squash risotto with Maine Grains farro. Meanwhile, other dishes highlight New England’s culinary high point: seafood; like Maine scallops and crispy Rhode Island calamari. Another prominent Portsmouth restaurateur, Jack Blalock – owner of Old Ferry Landing, one of the early, now iconic waterfront restaurants – is also the city’s mayor. Say hello when you see him around town – and you surely will!
Old Ferry Landing, a mainstay restaurant on Portsmouth’s waterfront
Coffee Shops as Hangouts
Portsmouth is nicknamed the “City of the Open Door” for a reason. It’s a famously friendly place, where outsiders are made to feel welcome and, after even a day or two, they become familiar with the same smiling faces. With the graciousness of a small town, locals will often wave to their honorary neighbors. Spend a weekend there, and you’ll surely be greeted by name. Nowhere is that spirit more on display than the city’s coffee shops and cafes. White Heron is a local favorite for its organic house-roasted coffee, house-made chai, bright interior, welcoming vibe and status as the informal gathering place of the city’s creative community. Another longtime local institution, Ceres Bakery serves New England regional favorites like Anadama (a traditional yeast bread with cornmeal and molasses). Here, the motto is, “Eat Something, you’ll feel better.” It’s advice a mother would give – and what more does one need to feel at home?
Tuscan Market, an Italian-inspired stop for coffee and more
Trek the Trails of the White Mountains
Just over 2 hours (around 169 kilometers) from Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s White Mountains draw people from around the region – and the world – to hike, rock climb, ski and enjoy the state’s natural beauty. These are among the highest, most scenic peaks in the Northeast, and local trail guides boast that the state has some of the best climbing in the world. Mount Washington, the region’s tallest peak, is so high it has its own climate and weather station.
The White Mountains are home to some of the most celebrated parts of the Appalachian Trail, and it’s easy to see why. With so many spectacular mountain trails to choose from, it can be hard to decide which to take. But whatever your skill level or outdoor passion, you’ll soon find out that New Hampshire almost certainly has something to satisfy your sense of wonder. Whether it’s birdwatching, admiring the cascades at Ripley Falls, hiking Bald Mountain, taking an easy 5-kilometer walk along Zealand Trail, going climbing at Franconia Ridge Notch or staying overnight at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s huts, there is something for everyone. To get to the 1,916-meter summit of Mount Washington, you can hike, climb, drive the Mt. Washington Auto Road or ride up via the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
Passengers aboard the Mount Washington Cog Railway
Small-town Charm in the White Mountain Region
New Hampshire’s White Mountain Region is speckled with historic small towns like Littleton, Jackson and North Conway. Each has its own charm and distinct character while being connected by historic train lines, steamboat stops and former coach trails (now scenic byways) that offer their own diversions. Many were founded as ski lodge villages or lakeside resorts at a time when escaping the city for an entire summer season was fashionable among fresh air-loving, Victorian era urbanites. In Littleton, locals advise a stop at Shilling Beer Company, where you can sip a continental European-inspired beer in a converted 18th-century grist mill alongside the Ammonoosuc River. Or, head out on the water and explore New Hampshire’s largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, on a historic mail boat, The M/V Sophie C., which cruises from its Weir’s Beach dock delivering mail and ice cream to several of Winnipesaukee’s 274 islands. For a glimpse of life in old New England, White Mountain Region locals recommend North Conway’s Five and Dime, an old school-style shop that sells a wide range of household goods at inexpensive prices, like the original Dollar Store.
To get a true sense of White Mountain Region towns, many Granite Staters recommend Jackson. To get there, pass over a historic covered bridge, as if entering a film set version of New England. For a beloved Jackson institution, stop into Wildcat Inn and Tavern, which has been in town “forever” – and judging by the old photos and letters framed on the walls, that's only a slight exaggeration. The tavern’s weekly pasta feed, where residents enjoy free pasta and discounted beer, is the best place in town to befriend the locals. In the mornings, you’ll find regulars at Yesterdays, an all-day breakfast spot with pancakes good enough to write home about and a BYOB (bring your own beverage!) policy that’s both fun and budget-friendly. For wintertime snowshoeing, sleigh rides, hot cocoa and ice-skating, Nestlenook Farm is worth a short drive out of town and plenty of pictures.