New Hampshire may be a small state, but it’s packed full of attractions and activities for visitors. From its 18 miles of coastline to its centrally located Lakes Region to the looming White Mountains up north, New Hampshire offers plenty of opportunities to recreate outdoors. Then there are fun amusement parks, historic sites and thought-provoking museums to explore while vacationing in the Granite State. Here are some of the best things to see in New Hampshire. Note: Some attractions and activities may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and mask requirements and capacity restrictions may be in place. Check directly with the attraction for more details.
Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves
The Lost River Gorge is tops among what to see in New Hampshire, namely because it’s a nifty natural attraction and unusual outdoor experience. Open seasonally, the Gorge Trail is a self-guided, 1-mile boardwalk loop trail with over 1,000 stairs — you’ll want to make sure to dress for the weather and wear sturdy footwear. Along the way there are scenic spots to stop and admire Lost River and its cascading waterfalls in the gorge. If you’re limber and not too claustrophobic, you might choose to maneuver through 11 different boulder caves, including one particularly tight spot called the Lemon Squeezer. Recent visitors to this attraction in the White Mountains appreciate that any of the cave crawls can be bypassed. Lost River Gorge is less than 6 miles from North Woodstock’s Main Street, where The Wilderness Inn Bed & Breakfast welcomes overnight guests in a craftsman-style 1912 home.
Address: 1712 River Road, North Woodstock, NH 03262
Mount Washington Cog Railway
Ascend to the summit of the highest peak in New England aboard the Mount Washington Cog Railway. In less than an hour, aboard one of the specially designed biodiesel locomotives, you’ll pass through steep grades and three climate zones to reach the Mount Washington summit at 6,288 feet in elevation. When you book your tickets online, you can also choose to take a historic steam locomotive at certain times of the year. Schedule and pricing may vary based on weather and train excursion selection. Check out Mount Washington Cog Railway’s website for more information. The Cog Railway makes multiple daily trips in the summer months to the summit, with its visitor center and rooftop observation deck. The railway does operate shorter trips to about 4,000 feet in elevation in the winter months, as well. Past travelers appreciate the on-board live commentary that covers the history, flora and fauna of the area. The Mount Washington Cog Railway is in the White Mountains near Bretton Woods, home to the majestic and elegant Omni Mount Washington Resort with a full-service spa and multiple dining options.
Address: 3168 Base Station Road, Mount Washington, NH 03589
The largest lake in the state at 72 square miles, Lake Winnipesaukee is one of New Hampshire’s most popular summer vacation spots. Families flock to the lake to go boating, fishing, swimming, kayaking and canoeing on the crystal-clear water that’s surrounded by thick forest and looming mountains. A popular excursion is a scenic boat ride on the historic M/S Mount Washington. The resort towns that ring the lake are chock full of fun things for families to do, including old-fashioned arcades, go-karts and mini-golf. Lodging abounds in the area, from vacation homes and lakeside cottages to budget motels and small inns. Classy Church Landing at Mill Falls in Meredith has a convenient and scenic location right on the lake, within walking distance of several restaurants and shops in town.
In the heart of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley, North Conway is a fabulous vacation destination for fans of scenic railroads, covered bridges and outdoor adventures. It’s an especially popular spot in the winter months, as there are 13 ski areas within a 20-mile drive of the village. Diana’s Bath waterfalls is an easy hike on a fairly flat gravel path, but the small parking lot can get quite busy in the summer, so try to go early or late in the day, say recent hikers. Visitors flock to North Conway’s many shopping outlets and malls, with no general sales tax charged on goods in New Hampshire. The Red Jacket Mountain View Resort might be a good choice for accommodations if you’re traveling with kids, since your overnight stay includes admission to the on-site indoor Kahuna Laguna Water Park.
Hampton Beach State Park
Hampton Beach State Park is packed with people in the summer, especially on sunny, hot weekends. Walking the wide sandy beach or picnicking under an umbrella for the day is free at this coastal state park. ‘You’ll need to pay to park your car, and recent visitors suggest making parking reservations ahead of time online at the New Hampshire State Parks website — otherwise, you’ll likely have to hunt for a first-come, first-served metered space around town. Across the street from the beach is the legendary Hampton Beach Casino dating back to 1899. Not so much a popular place to gamble (though there are a few games of chance), this historic strip is filled with family-friendly arcade games, small amusement rides, snacks and souvenir shops. If you want to stay overnight, check out the oceanfront Ashworth by the Sea, the area’s only full-service hotel.
Lincoln is a great home base for exploring New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The small town is home to Loon Mountain Resort for skiing, tubing and snowshoeing in the winter and zip lining, gondola rides, biking and hiking in the summer. Other local attractions for warm-weather visitors include Whale’s Tale Water Park, Hobo Railroad, Clark’s Bears and Flume Gorge. If you’re visiting the White Mountains on a romantic getaway, consider booking one of the five rooms at the Red Sleigh Inn, a quaint bed-and-breakfast located in a colonial-style home built in 1902. Past visitors rave about the plentiful, complimentary snacks and drinks always available in the common gathering space as well as the filling two-course breakfast.
Hood Museum of Art
Home to a wide range of art and artifacts, including indigenous Australian contemporary art and a major archive of photojournalism, the Hood Museum of Art is located on the campus of Hanover’s Dartmouth College. The collection is vast, with more than 65,000 pieces of art in the museum’s care, though only a portion are on display to the public at any given time. Recent museum enthusiasts note that with free admission, it’s certainly worth a 30- to 60-minute stroll through the exhibits. Right next door to the Hopkins Center for the Arts and the Hood Museum is the elegant Hanover Inn, the oldest continually operating hotel in the state.
Address: 6 E. Wheelock St., Hanover, NH 03755
McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
Concord’s McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center honors two New Hampshire residents: Alan Shepard, who was the first American to travel into space in 1961, and Sharon Christa McCauliffe, a teacher who was aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger that tragically exploded just after it launched in 1986. Visitors to this family-friendly attraction can learn about space travel and space science through hands-on exhibits, demonstrations and planetarium shows. The capital of New Hampshire has plenty of hotel chain, budget-friendly lodging, but if you’re looking for something different and historic, consider The Centennial Hotel in a 19th-century mansion.
Address: 2 Institute Drive, Concord, NH 03301
Visitors to Prescott Park in the seaside city of Portsmouth rave about the beautiful flowers and ornamental plants and what a great job the gardeners do with the gardens’ landscaping in the summer months. The 10-acre, waterfront park makes for a lovely place to stroll and take in the sights and smells of the serene space; there are also benches for rest and reflection. Admission to the park is free. In the summer, concerts, movies and theater productions take place in the park. Within walking distance of the park is the Ale House Inn, set in an 1880 former brewery warehouse.
Address: 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
Canobie Lake Park
Canobie Lake Park has been delighting visitors since it opened in 1902 with its botanical gardens, swings, canoes and penny arcade. Today ‘it’s a fun for the whole family amusement park filled with exciting rides, a water park, dozens of midway games and dining venues that serve quintessential New England favorites like lobster rolls and fried dough. Thrill rides at this amusement park include the spinning, strobe light-filled Psychodrome and a roller coaster called Untamed that sends riders on a beyond-vertical drop of 97 degrees. The amusement park is open seasonally, generally Memorial Day Weekend through Halloween. Check the website calendar for specific days and hours of operation (early and late in the season it’s open weekends only). Canobie Lake Park is located in Salem, in the southern part of the state. The closest hotel is the basic, budget-friendly Red Roof Inn Salem, which gets high marks from past travelers for its convenient location next to I-93.
Address: 85 N. Policy St., Salem, NH 03079
Russell-Colbath Historic Site
The Russell-Colbath Historic Site is in Albany, New Hampshire, along the Kancamagus Highway between the towns of Lincoln and Conway in the White Mountains. Built in 1832 by the Russell family, a simple home on the property serves as an example of what living quarters were like for original settlers of the area. Guided tours are available July to September, and recent visitors praise the on-site docent, who can explain some of the home’s history and preserved household items on display. Operated by the U.S. Forest Service, the Historic Site also includes a half-mile, accessible trail with interpretive panels explaining the important industries of logging and railroading here in the 19th century. The Russell-Colbath Historic Site is open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Outside of Conway along the Kancamagus Highway is the Kancamagus Swift River Inn, with 10 quiet and quaint rooms that include daily continental breakfast.
Address: Kancamagus Highway, Albany, NH 03818
Part of Franconia Notch State Park, “the Flume” is a scenic gorge with a 2-mile loop trail that allows visitors to admire the looming granite walls, rushing Flume Brook and even a classic New England covered bridge. The boardwalk trail at this attraction in the White Mountains does include many steps, and you’ll want to make sure to wear sturdy shoes to traverse it safely. Admire plentiful mosses, ferns and flowers along the way. Recent visitors note that the optional Wolf’s Den one-way path that involves crawling on hands and knees through boulders is especially fun for kids. Nearby lodging includes Indian Head Resort in Lincoln, with resort rooms, cottages, bungalows and rustic houses.
Address: 852 Daniel Webster Highway, Lincoln, NH 03251
For small children or nostalgic adults, this is probably one of the most fun places in New Hampshire to spend the day. Storyland in Glen, New Hampshire, dates back to 1954 and still retains some of its first few attractions that celebrate children’s nursery rhymes and fairy tales, including a giant Humpty Dumpty and Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach — both make great photo opportunities. Young children like to visit the petting zoo featuring animals right out of favorite storybooks like the “Three Little Pigs” and “Billy Goats Gruff.” Older children can pilot Swan Boats on a calm pond. More thrilling attractions include the Bamboo Chutes flume ride and the Roar-O-Saurus wooden roller coaster. Nearby Nordic Village Resort in Jackson gets rave reviews from past travelers for its spacious accommodations that include standard king rooms, one-bedroom condos and two- and three-bedroom townhouses.
Address: 850 NH Route 16, Glen, NH 03838
Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park
This National Historical Park honors Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a prominent American Renaissance sculptor who spent his later years (1885 to 1907) in Cornish. Visitors to this historic site can see his home, tour his studio and walk the grounds where his sculptures are on display. Recent parkgoers recommend watching the introductory film about Saint-Gaudens in the visitor’s center, if available. Travelers should note that some areas are only open seasonally. In addition, there are wooded hiking trails up to 2 miles long on the 100-acre property, if you’re looking to get a little exercise amid nature while visiting Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park. Cornish is located in central New Hampshire, near the Vermont border. Some of the closest budget lodging can be found to the north in the Connecticut River Valley, including the Fireside Inn & Suites West Lebanon.
Address: 139 Saint Gaudens Road, Cornish, NH 03745
Christmas-themed Santa’s Village is a celebration of the jolly old fellow himself, as well as all things that make this winter holiday special, from elves and reindeer to sleighs and sweet treats. Family-friendly rides at this amusement park in Jefferson include the Reindeer Carousel, Christmas Ferris Wheel, ‘Santa’s Express Train and Yule Log Flume. There’s also a water park that’s open in the summer, with slides, splash pads and water sprays. Regular visitors note how well-kept and clean this amusement park is. Typically Santa’s Village is open daily mid-June through end-August, with limited weekend hours in the late spring and Labor Day through Christmas. Be sure to check the website for operating hours before you visit. One inexpensive option for overnighting nearby is the Coos Motor Inn in Lancaster.
Address: 528 Presidential Highway, Jefferson, NH 03583
Strawbery Banke Museum
Set on 10 acres in downtown Portsmouth, Strawbery Banke Museum brings 300 years of American history alive with costumed role players and craftspeople who share what life was like in New England centuries ago. Visitors can tour historic buildings and interactive exhibits to learn about the people who once made their homes in this waterfront neighborhood. Past travelers say a highlight of their visit is chatting with the craftspeople in period dress, such as barrel makers and boat builders. This outdoor history museum is typically open daily from May 1 to Oct. 31. Tickets are $19.50 for adults; $9 for children ages 5 to 17. Children under the age of 5 are free. There is also a family admission price, which is $48. This includes admission for two adults and children between the ages of 5 to 17. Tickets can be purchased online or in-person. Outdoor ice skating on Puddle Dock Pond is available in the winter months. Just around the corner from Strawbery Banke is The Sailmaker’s House, an intimate and historic boutique hotel with just 10 guest rooms.
Address: 14 Hancock St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
Whale’s Tale Water Park
Cool off during New Hampshire’s hot and humid summer months at Whale’s Tale Water Park in Lincoln. Thrill rides include a body slide called The Plunge, where you might reach up to 40 miles an hour and the Banzai Pipeline, which is a speedy tube ride that shoots you into a quarterpipe. Other attractions include Whale Harbor with short slides and gentle water sprays for toddlers, Shipwreck Island with its massive bucket dump, and Willie’s Wild Waves, the only wave pool in the White Mountains. Past travelers consistently praise the friendly staff at Whale’s Tale Water Park, which is generally open mid-June through Labor Day. Located less than a mile on US-3 is the Days Inn by Wyndham Lincoln, which has an indoor and outdoor pool and a kids’ playground.
Address: 481 Daniel Webster Highway, Route 3, Lincoln, NH 03251
Castle in the Clouds
This unique attraction in Moultonborough offers a variety of things for visitors to do. You can tour an historic, 16-room, mountaintop mansion, built in 1913 and features some modern technological advances of the time, including a central vacuum system. The self-guided mansion tours of the first two floors are available from late-May to late-October. There is an $18 fee for adults and $10 for children ages 5 to 17. Guests can also take a 45-minute guided basement tour of the mansion for $15. Admission for both the self-guided tour and guided-tour is $25. Travelers can also spend the day hiking more than 28 miles of scenic trails. Marked trails include gentle paths to waterfalls or more strenuous hikes to mountain summits. Trails in the Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area are free to access for summer hikes and winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There is a gift shop, cafe and restaurant on-site with outdoor seating offering sweeping mountain and lake views. There aren’t many hotels near Castle in the Clouds, as it’s located in a rural part of the Lakes Region. The closest lodging might be Center Harbor Inn, set right on Lake Winnipesaukee and featuring a sandy beach and kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals for guests.
Address: 455 Old Mountain Road, Moultonborough, NH 03254
The Polar Caves in Rumney were formed by a moving glacier 50,000 years ago. Visitors can pass through nine distinct boulder caves, while enjoying the cooler temperatures on a hot summer day. The granite spaces are all named: shimmy through Orange Crush and walk the narrow path of Devil’s Turnpike. The caves are linked by a wooden boardwalk, and all cave entry is optional. Be prepared to crawl, twist and get a little dirty if you choose to make your way through the natural obstacles, say recent travelers. Visitors can also feed the fallow deer and ducks at the on-site animal park. Polar Caves, which celebrates its 100th anniversary as a tourist attraction in 2022, is open seasonally, mid-May through early September. Nearby Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Plymouth White Mountains offers daily hot breakfast.
Address: 705 Rumney Route 25, Rumney, NH 03266
Family-operated since 1928, Clark’s Bears features an entertaining and educational 30-minute bear show. Other attractions include a water-raft ride, Segway trails, a train ride though a quintessential New England covered bridge, a freestanding climbing tower and acrobatics show. Historic museum exhibits include a 19th-century horse-drawn fire engine, vintage motorcycles and early Americana household appliances. One tip from past guests: The “Wolfman” who emerges from the woods to entertain train passengers may frighten toddlers and preschoolers. Clark’s Bears is located just off Route 3 in Lincoln. The Woodstock Brewery Inn is located about a mile down the road off of US-3. The inn offers not only 40 guest rooms for overnight visitors, but also a craft brewery you can tour, four different pubs for dining and imbibing and live entertainment several nights a week.
Address: 110 U.S. Route 3, Lincoln, NH 03251
The Kancamagus Highway is a 34.5-mile National Scenic Byway that stretches from the towns of Lincoln to Conway in the White Mountains. This portion of Route 112 is a wildly popular scenic drive in the autumn for its plentiful vistas of colorful fall foliage. Many pull-off points allow for stretching legs along this curvy, wooded highway, where you can take in views of mountains, waterfalls and rivers. Along the highway, there are also parking lots at trailheads that allow you to traverse through the woods on foot. Past road-trippers and leaf-peepers note that cell service is very limited in this remote area. You won’t find any motels or hotels along this stretch of rural road that reaches 2,885 feet in elevation, though there are multiple White Forest National Forest campgrounds.
Gunstock Mountain Resort
This ski area in the Lakes Region welcomes outdoor enthusiasts in the winter with its 49 downhill ski and snowboard trails, 27 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, and a tubing hill. You can also hike or snowshoe up the mountain, practice tricks in the terrain park and even ski or snowboard under the lights at night. Gunstock Mountain Resort also shines in the summer months with its activity-packed Adventure Park. Go zip lining amid the trees up to 70 miles an hour, zoom through the forest on a Mountain Coaster, or walk along swinging bridges on an aerial obstacle course. If you’re looking for a more mellow activity, consider a scenic gondola ride. Tent and RV campsites are available at Gunstock Mountain Resort. Further afield is the Margate Resort on Lake Winnipesaukee in Laconia. Past travelers praise the resort for its sandy beach and indoor and outdoor pools.
Address: 719 Cherry Valley Road, Gilford, NH 03249
Currier Museum of Art
Manchester’s Currier Museum of Art has a collection of 15,000 art objects, with a focus on painting and sculpture from the 14th through 17th centuries as well as contemporary works. Rotating gallery exhibits and special exhibitions showcase the varied collection. The Currier also offers access to two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, the only houses designed by the influential architect that are open to the public in New England. Guided house tours are offered in the spring through fall, and the Currier Museum of Art is open year-round. DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown is about a mile from the museum and within easy walking distance to downtown shops and restaurants.
Address: 150 Ash St., Manchester, NH 03104
A popular attraction for all ages in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, Funspot in Laconia is the world’s largest arcade with more than 600 games, including classic video arcade games and pinball machines, 20-lane candlepin bowling alley, indoor mini-golf and rides for young children. Kids love playing games of skill to earn tickets to redeem for prizes, or you can spend a couple of hours playing old favorites like Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Asteroids. With its plethora of classic games, past travelers applaud the attraction for its nostalgic factor, while others say it’s a good value: $20 gets you 125 game tokens. Laconia’s Summit Resort has two-bedroom suites, making this lodging option a good fit for families.
Address: 579 Endicott St. N, Laconia, NH 03246
Jenness State Beach
Smaller, with fewer bells and whistles than its neighbor Hampton Beach, Rye’s Jenness State Beach is popular among families especially on sunny summer weekends, where you’ll need to arrive early in the day to snag a metered parking spot, according to past visitors. Beachgoers also appreciate the bathhouse with restrooms, changing rooms and warm showers. Lifeguards keep watch as kids frolic in the waves in the summer months. Dogs are not allowed on the sandy beach in the summer, but leashed pets are permitted in the off-season. Dunes Motor Inn, with oceanfront rooms under $200 a night, is right across the street.
Address: 2280 Ocean Blvd., Rye, NH 03870
Squam Lakes Natural Science Center
A highlight of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center is a .75-mile outdoor trail, where visitors can learn about the different animals — from bobcats and eagles to black bears and otters — that make their home in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Captive live animals are on display here, though visitors may not always spot them as they might be hidden and resting in their large enclosures (the mountain lions especially like to rest quietly in their dens in the mornings). The Live Animal Exhibit Trail and other hiking trails on the science center property are open seasonally. Squam Lake pontoon-boat cruises are also available in the warm-weather months. Cruise around the calm water with a guide and keep an eye out for the resident loons. The Inn on Golden Pond, namesake comes from the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond,” which was filmed in the area. The bed and breakfast has received high marks for welcoming both small children and pets.
Address: 23 Science Center Road, Holderness, NH 03245
Bear Brook State Park
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature on your trip to the Granite State, you can’t go wrong with Bear Brook State Park, the largest developed state park in New Hampshire. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing, boating and swimming are a few of the activities you can enjoy in the warm-weather months in this recreational area in the southeastern part of the state. This is a heavily wooded area, and cell service isn’t always available — so come prepared with insect repellent and perhaps a paper map for navigation. Primitive campsites are available for RVs and tents at Beaver Pond Campground, with advance reservations available online. The closest lodging outside the park is near Concord, including Tru by Hilton Concord, which is just off I-93 and offers free hot breakfast.
Address: 61 Deerfield Road, Allenstown, NH 03275
You might also be interested in:
More from U.S. News