New England is an area comprised of six states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The region contains some of the United States’ oldest cities and is rich in American history. This is the America of Paul Revere and his midnight ride, of clambakes on the beach, and covered bridges. There are a strong maritime culture and diverse geography; from the Atlantic Ocean and its barrier islands to the Berkshire Mountains and National Seashore. New England maintains its own unique identity and maritime culture. It’s unlike anyplace else in the United States.
Boston is the largest city in New England and in Massachusetts. It is here that many of the important events leading up to the American Revolution took place, so plan to spend at least a full day there. No matter how you choose to spend your time in New England, there are a few attractions that should not be missed, even if they are major tourist attractions. I always say tourist attractions became so for a good reason. I believe you’ll gain a greater understanding of the people and culture of this region, and the United States.
Where do you begin… 8 Things You Must Do In New England
Follow in the footsteps of Paul Revere
There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the history and culture of New England than by walking the Freedom Trail. There are sixteen official sites on the Freedom Trail, such as Boston Commons and Faneuil Hall, but the cool part is that it’s all just part of the fabric of the city of Boston. You can walk the trail in your own time, in any order you wish. I encourage you to take a break and visit a pub or three.
I also recommend taking a guided walk with the Freedom Trail guides. Dressed in authentic wardrobe of the period, each person represents a historical figure of importance in the story of the American Revolution.
Visit Boston’s Italian Neighborhood – The North End
Paul Revere’s house, the oldest existing house in Boston, is located in the North End. Built in 1680, it is on the register of National Historic Landmarks and is now a museum. You may recall the story of the midnight ride of Paul Revere to warn the colonists that the British were coming? This leads us to the next stop on the Freedom Trail, the Old North Church. the most popular tourist attraction in Boston. It was here that the phrase “one if by land, two if by sea,” defined how many lanterns citizen Robert Sexton was to hang in the steeple of the church. Robert Sexton is buried in Copp’s Hill cemetery, the third stop on the Freedom Trail, located in the North End.
The neighborhood maintains its distinct Italian vibe even if there aren’t many Italians still in the area. I spoke to a man who owns a barbershop that has been there since the 1930s. You’ll find quite a few family-owned businesses, too. Depending on when you visit, you may also be able to catch an old school Italian festival. Check out this website for dates and descriptions.
Experience Life in the New World
Experience what life was like at one of the first English settlements at Plimouth Village.
Costumed actors reenact life down to the finest details. Tours are self-guided, but you can interact and ask questions of the actors. There are also modern-day docents on hand to help you get the most out of your experience.
Attractions at Plimouth Village include a reproduction of the Mayflower (the name of the ship on which the Pilgrims sailed), a Native American village, and the Plimouth Grist Mill, which even today, remains a working mill.
Get Transcendental at Walden Pond
Walden Pond was the home of transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau. He retreated from society for two years and lived here in the woods. It was at Walden Pond that he wrote his novel Walden, a reflection on living a simple life without much human contact.
Today it is a national park and is beautiful any time of year. With over 400 acres of open space and woods, you can fish, hike, ski, swim, and canoe at Walden Pond. In the fall when the leaves on the trees change color, it is particularly beautiful. Walden Pond is only 15 miles from Boston.
I like this review of Thoreau’s book…
“In Walden, Thoreau … opens the inner frontier of self-discovery as no American book had up to this time. As deceptively modest as Thoreau’s ascetic life, it is no less than a guide to living the classical ideal of the good life. Both poetry and philosophy, this long poetic essay challenges the reader to examine his or her life and live it authentically.” – Kathryn VanSpanckeren
Sail Penobscot Bay, Rockland, Maine
Eat fresh seafood. With over 500 miles of coastline, it would be crazy not to! Local specialties include Maine lobster, seafood chowders, fried clams, fresh oysters, and cod.
Other foods unique to New England are baked beans, maple syrup, cranberries, and Cabot cheeses. Be sure to try a lobster roll, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Boston cream pie, and fried clams.
Take an architecture walk in Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island is a treasure trove of architectural history. There’s Newport Historic District, designated a National Historic Landmark. The city’s oldest house is here, along with the largest collection in the U.S. of intact colonial buildings dating from the early 1800s.
Don’t miss the Newport mansions, built during America’s “Gilded Age,” a time of rapid economic growth and prosperity. This is where the ultra-rich railroad tycoons making their fortunes in the late 1800s built their summer homes along the coast.
These houses reflect a very eclectic blend of architectural styles: Gothic Revival, Shingle Style, Beaux arts, and Colonial; the most impressive of all of the mansions is The Breakers.
The Breakers was built by the Vanderbilt family in 1893. It’s a seventy-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, inspired by the palaces of Genoa and Turin in northern Italy.
There are eleven houses in all, and each has different visiting hours. Be sure to check the website of the Preservation Society of Newport County for hours of operation
Revel in the seashore
There are forty miles of pristine beaches, sand dunes, bogs, marshes. lighthouses, and plant and animal life to explore. It’s one of the largest barrier islands in the world. The six swimming beaches (Coast Guard, Nauset Light, Marconi, Head of the Meadow, Race Point, and Herring Cove), have lifeguards from June through August. Each beach has different facilities and hours, so be sure to check the website before you go.
Visit Nantucket Town on the island of Nantucket
The entire town is a National Historic Landmark. Soak up the charm of this maritime village while strolling or biking the cobblestone streets. There are over 800 buildings built before 1850.
Learn about the whaling industry: this perfectly preserved town was originally a huge whaling port, and the Nantucket Whaling Museum was once a candle factory.
Take a witchy literary walk in Salem
Visit the House of the Seven Gables, immortalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book of the same name. In 2007, the House of the Seven Gables and the surrounding area were named a National Historic Landmark.
In Salem, be sure to visit some of the new age and witchcraft shops. The oldest is Crow Haven Corner. You can buy everything from crystal balls to tarot cards and schedule a psychic reading. Why not? You’re in Salem!
With so much culture, history and scenery to explore, delicious foods to sample, and opportunities for more active vacationers – why not book that New England vacation today?
If you go
Boston, Massachusetts’ Logan Airport is the point of entry for all flights. For most travelers, this is the most convenient airport no matter which part of the US you’re traveling from.
There’s also an extensive bus and rail system in the northeast section of the United States connecting the major cities of Boston, New York, Providence. Check out Amtrak.com