Things to do in New England
Arguably the most beautiful region in the United States, New England is surely the ultimate holiday destination for anyone whose idea of a perfect getaway involves fascinating historical attractions, great food and drink, and stunning coastal scenery.
It would take all the time in the world to explore every facet of the six states that make up New England – Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut – but here, we will do our best to give you some pointers on the places you should definitely not skip on your upcoming visit to this wonderfully unique and relaxing part of the American Northeast.
Fine food, fascinating heritage, stunning scenery: an introduction to New England
Firstly, let’s get a brief overview of what you can expect to enjoy if you will soon be embarking on your first trip to New England. We were pleased to hear from Tamara Gruber, a Rhode Island resident who runs the popular family travel blog , on this subject. As an expert in planning perfect getaways all over the world, Tamara was the ideal person to ask what the most important places to visit are in the region she calls home:
‘Many visitors are drawn to New England because of its bucolic charm. They imagine a postcard-like scene of a New England farm, protected by its hand-built stone walls and backing up against mountains glowing in vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows in autumn. Yet New England is as varied as the rest of the United States, ranging from luxury mansions to working-class towns. However, if you only have a short time to visit, you will want to hit a few must-see highlights.
‘The port cities of Newport, Rhode Island, Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine are must-dos on any New England trip. Not only is Newport the yachting capital of the world, it is also where New York society used to summer. Today you can enjoy time on the water and touring some of the “cottages”, which may convince you that if America doesn’t have royalty, it certainly has palaces.
‘Boston is brimming with the history of the American Revolution. From the to walking the famous , you can get a view of history from the other side of the pond. While Boston is full of history, Portland is all about the food. You can take a lobster boat tour or just sample some of the freshest lobster right off the dock at the . The Old Port district is filled with culinary gems and shops, while craft beer lovers can hop on a tour to visit some local breweries.
‘If you have a little more time, the Green Mountains of Vermont will deliver those scenic views you have been dreaming of. In Vermont, you will find covered bridges, scenic small towns like Manchester and Woodstock, cutting-edge farm-to-table cuisine, antiques, and specialty artisans. Of course, the prettiest time to visit is the autumn, but summer is a delight in these mountain and lakeside resorts, while winter beckons skiers and winter sports enthusiasts.’
Acadia National Park, Maine
As Tamara alluded to, one of New England’s greatest pulls for visitors is the unrivalled variety and beauty of its natural landscape. And, whilst each of the region’s six states has enough in the way of stunning scenery to keep even the most energetic of explorers happy, arguably the finest example of all is Acadia National Park, which can be found in Maine.
To tell us more about the unspoilt environment which makes Acadia such a well-loved destination among those who have a weakness for incredible sunsets and spectacular ocean views - as well as the hospitality of charming coastal towns and villages – we enlisted the help of Greg A. Hartford, who runs the hugely informative website. Greg, whose beautiful original photographs can be enjoyed throughout this article, describes himself as a born and raised ‘Mainer’ who is still discovering new corners of Acadia decades later. Here’s what he has to say about this unmissable location:
‘The northeastern section of the United States is referred to as New England. The State of Maine is furthest to the northeast. On its southern coast is a wonderful gem of a park called Acadia National Park. Most of it is located on Mount Desert Island (pronounced “de-ZERT”), the second largest island on the eastern seaboard of the United States. The park encompasses a total of 49,052 acres (19,851 ha) with 30,300 acres (12,300 ha) being on Mount Desert Island.
‘Even though this is in a northern state, the temperatures remain rather temperate due to the Gulf Stream that moves up along its coast. The best time of year to visit is from May through October. July and August are its busiest months. Once September arrives, the crowds decrease and people who hope to see the autumn colours that New England is famous for begin arriving. Peak colour time is usually in the first three weeks of October.
‘The stunning beauty of this area is undeniable. Maine is known for its “rugged” coastline and there certainly is much of it here. The mountains, as many as 26, greet the ocean in a spectacle that is combined with hundreds of inlets, coves, fishing and sailing vessels, and charming villages imbued with what is called “Down East” character.
‘Bar Harbor is the most well-known town on the island and is regarded as Acadia’s main host. Located on the northeastern part of the island, it has many shops, restaurants and pubs as well as many choices for lodging from vacation rentals and bed & breakfasts to inns and hotels that are often right next to the ocean. There are, however, several other coastal towns and villages that border the park such as Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Seal Harbor and Tremont.
‘Some of the “must-visit” places include Cadillac Mountain (the highest mountain on the island), Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff, Jordan Pond, and the Carriage Roads which were originally built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as roadways for horses and carriages. They meander throughout the park on the island and are available for walking, hiking, biking and horse-drawn carriages. No motorised vehicles are allowed.
‘Other than the beauty of this place, most everyone also comes to enjoy the exceptional seafood. The one that most everyone requests is, of course, the Maine Lobster. Other favourites include steamed clams, and my personal favourite, deep sea scallops! Enjoy!’
Where to dine
As we have often noted in , eating out at high-quality restaurants is truly one of the best things about going on holiday. It will come as no surprise to learn that New England, with its proximity to the sea and centuries-long history of attracting affluent visitors, has become something of a magnet for the US’s most celebrated chefs and restauranteurs.
Whether you are hoping to spend your entire trip indulging in the region’s world-famous seafood or would prefer a more varied menu, you are sure to find plenty of high-class eateries here to sate your appetite. With six states of culinary mastery to choose from, we could have highlighted any number of wonderful restaurants, but have chosen to focus on just two locations which, in different ways, epitomise New England and its gastronomic heritage.
Castle Hill Inn, Newport, Rhode Island
Our first recommended location actually gives you the choice of two excellent restaurants – or you could try both! The luxurious and historic (established in 1875) is home to both , which is a classic fine dining establishment committed to showcasing flavours from around the world via an innovative range of dishes, and , which specialises in serving more casual (yet equally delicious) fare in an elegant waterside setting.
The expert team behind Castle Hill Inn’s superb dining options were on hand to tell us more about what guests can look forward to enjoying at each:
‘If you are looking for an unforgettable dining experience with remarkable ocean views, bountiful local flavour, and extraordinary service, venture out to enjoy one of Castle Hill Inn's world-class Newport restaurants. Combining seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with culinary techniques from around the world, the kitchen’s talented team creates dishes that are inspired, delicious, and beautifully presented. Paired with a wine list consistently recognised by magazine as one of the world’s best, the food at Castle Hill is worth the trip alone.’
The Dining Room at Castle Hill
‘Castle Hill Inn’s elegant Newport Dining Room offers an exquisite culinary experience led by Executive Chef Lou Rossi. He showcases seasonal, local ingredients in a variety of thoughtful and unexpected dishes using cooking techniques from around the world. His creations, paired with our award-winning wine list and panoramic views of Narragansett Bay, make dining at Castle Hill an unforgettable event.’
The Lawn at Castle Hill
‘After decades of entertaining, The Lawn at Castle Hill is as much a tradition as it is a restaurant. The Lawn epitomises quintessential Newport al fresco dining. Open seasonally, The Lawn offers evolving menus of casual favourites accompanied by sweeping views of the East Passage. Perched above, Castle Hill Inn’s Terrace Bar serves up outstanding vistas and well-crafted cocktails.’
Eventide Oyster Co., Portland, Maine
In the last few years, oyster bars have become all the rage in America’s most fashionable cities (New York in particular), and this trend shows no sign of slowing down. However, for the true taste of US seafood, you need to go back to the original source – the pristine waters of the Gulf of Maine.
The was inspired by the kind of seafood restaurant that became prominent in the American Northeast and beyond in the late 19th century. Here’s all you need to know about the restaurant, and the sumptuous dishes which can be enjoyed there, from the team themselves:
‘Located in the heart of Portland’s bustling Old Port, Eventide is an elevated take on the traditional American oyster bar, offering classic coastal New England food and drink inspired by the quality of New England seafood. They use the freshest available seafood pulled straight from nearby Casco Bay and the greater Gulf of Maine.’
The restaurant’s most famous dish is displayed ‘on an ice-laden block of Maine granite known as “The Rock.” Here, you will find Eventide’s array of oysters both “From Maine” and “From Away”, which form the cornerstone of the menu.
‘Another signature dish is definitely the Brown Butter Lobster Roll. Regarded as one of the best lobster rolls in the country, it combines fresh lobster meat with a nutty, salty brown butter vinaigrette. Served atop a bao-style steamed bun, the roll is rich yet polished.’
Culture and history
As much as fine food and drink is important, however, no cruise to any destination would be complete without taking the time to discover some of its cultural highlights. Fortunately, New England is among the most historically significant and culturally distinguished regions in the whole of America.
Whether it is attractions that bring to life the fascinating colonial history of Massachusetts (which you can read about in detail ) or the extraordinary selection of opulent mansions dotted throughout the county of Newport, Rhode Island, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to ways of expanding your knowledge whilst visiting New England.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Image Above: Winslow Homer – ‘Boys in the Pasture (1874)’ (Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / The Hayden Collection)
Widely regarded as one of the greatest and most eclectic institutions of its kind, the (MFA) really is the perfect place for art lovers to visit, whatever their favourite era or discipline may be.
Open seven days a week (opening times and admission prices can be found ), the MFA features an incredible range of both permanent and temporary displays; a quick look at demonstrates just how diverse and extensive the museum’s constantly evolving exhibitions are. A representative from the MFA was able to share with us more information concerning the museum’s history and recent milestones:
‘The original MFA opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1876, the nation’s centennial. Built in Copley Square, the MFA was then home to 5,600 works of art. Over the next several years, the collection and number of visitors grew exponentially, and in 1909 the Museum moved to its current home on Huntington Avenue.
Image Above: Benin Kingdom Gallery (Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
‘Today the MFA is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world; the collection encompasses nearly 500,000 works of art. We welcome more than one million visitors each year to experience art from ancient Egyptian to contemporary, special exhibitions, and innovative educational programmes.
‘The Museum has undergone significant expansion and change in recent years; 2010 marked the opening of the , with four levels of American art from ancient to modern. In 2011, the west wing of the Museum was transformed into the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, with new galleries for contemporary art and social and learning spaces. Improved and new galleries for the MFA collections are always opening.’
Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, Massachusetts
As is well-known, the state of Massachusetts is arguably the most historically important place in the whole United States, having played a key role both in the nation’s founding and numerous significant events that have taken place in the centuries that followed.
It was noted earlier in the article that Boston is a particularly unmissable destination for those interested in learning more about the region’s – as well as the nation’s – colourful past, and one place in which you can really immerse yourself in this history is at the city’s famous .
The marketplace is one of those rare locations that manages to successfully combine historical worth and genuine contemporary importance, with its heritage waiting to be discovered by families who may just have been heading to the area to do some shopping or be entertained by one of the many talented local street performers. The dedicated team at Faneuil Hall Marketplace explained to us why it continues to be so popular with both locals and visitors:
‘History flourishes at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, as it sits in the heart of Colonial Boston, where the American Revolution began. Take a stroll back to the 1800s with the , when the population of the city of Boston was exploding and Faneuil Hall was host to food merchants in pushcarts trying to keep up with the newcomers and their need for good food. Adjacent to the Marketplace visitors will find historic Faneuil Hall, which has been operating for 275 years as a site for meetings, protest and debates.
‘Upon entering the property, visitors will find activities, events and performances both inside and outside the marketplace, suitable for all ages. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is known to have some of the best street theatre in the country, with world-famous variety acts including jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and pogo-ists which captivate visitors year-round with their one-of-a-kind acts.
‘With live street performances and annual signature events, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is the perfect location for visitors to spend their day in Boston. For more information, visit or follow us on , and .’
After reading this article, we are sure you’ll agree that New England is a destination that really does have it all. Whatever the ages or tastes of your party, and however long you plan to visit for, you will simply never run out of brilliant things to see and do in this magnificent corner of America.
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