A ‘Nurturing Environment’ for College Students
The Northeast region of the U.S. is home to some of the oldest cities in the country and some of the oldest and most historic colleges and universities. Many of these schools are in small, quaint towns where the student population is the heartbeat of the city. But even in larger cities, the environment allows college students to thrive academically and socially. “It’s got great quality of life. It’s a nurturing environment. People blossom intellectually,” says Steve Jermanok, a travel adviser at Massachusetts-based ActiveTravels. “New England is really high on academia and intellectual pursuits. You have a lot of mentors in the field in this region who will happily tutor your students in a nurturing environment.”
From small towns to big cities, here are 10 destination college towns in the Northeast.
There are three colleges in Amherst, the largest of which is the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, a public school. Amherst College and Hampshire College are private liberal arts institutions also located in the city. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the Mead Art Museum and the Emily Dickinson Museum may interest art connoisseurs. Mount Holyoke Range State Park and the Yiddish Book Center are also popular attractions. “There’s a lot of college students in that area, so you have a lot of younger generations,” Jermanok says. “Great rural back roads for biking. Little craft breweries in the area. Small, charming little towns to explore.”
While many of the quintessential college towns in the Northeast are smaller, Boston provides a big-city feel for students wanting such an experience. With professional sports teams, eclectic restaurants and bars, concerts and other forms of entertainment, Boston offers just about everything. The city and its surrounding towns are home to a number of schools, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, Tufts University and others. Ivy League institution Harvard University is in Cambridge, just across the Charles River from downtown Boston. “The area provided the perfect mix of a college campus and a city playground with Boston right next door,” says Kevin Servellon, a 2019 Harvard graduate.
A destination for fall foliage lovers when the leaves change colors, Burlington is home to the University of Vermont. The campus is situated near Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. Church Street Marketplace, a popular pedestrian mall with numerous dining options, is also nearby. Burlington has a lot to offer to any college student, Jermanok says. “Great farm-to-table restaurants, fantastic activities on the water, like kayaking and even ice skating in the winter,” he says. “You’re really close to ski slopes and within a half an hour of Stowe. There’s a great craft brewery scene, so students love that part of Vermont. It’s wonderful.”
Home to Bowdoin College, Brunswick is located in southeastern Maine, just north of Portland. North of campus is the Androscoggin River and to the south are various islands that lead to the Atlantic Ocean. Those visiting or staying in Brunswick can bask in the quintessential Maine experience, with views of several lighthouses and their choice of dining at lobster shacks and other seafood spots. A city with what Jermanok describes as having “a rustic feel,” other areas of interest are the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge and craft breweries.
Durham, New Hampshire
With a population of just under 16,000, according to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau, Durham gives students at the University of New Hampshire a true New England small-town feel, with plenty of farmland, flowing rivers and old Colonial home parks, writes Eric Hurwitz, a travel author and curator of VisitingNewEngland.com. The downtown area has plenty of dining and shopping options, as well. “All in all, Durham might just be one of New England’s most authentic college towns as it rarely overwhelms with 21st century trappings,” Hurwitz writes on his website. “It still has a peaceful aura from another area with its dignified college buildings, people and places.”
Hanover, New Hampshire
Located in western New Hampshire in the Upper Connecticut River Valley, Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, one of the eight Ivy League institutions. With a population of just under 12,000, according to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau, Hanover provides the charming New England feel that attracts many people. The city is home to the Hood Museum of Art and murals from 1930s muralist José Clemente Orozco. “Hanover would have been a classic small-town New England community without Dartmouth College, but this esteemed academic institution puts Hanover over the top as one of New England’s most appealing towns,” Hurwitz writes.
Ithaca, New York
Home to Ithaca College and the Ivy League’s Cornell University, Ithaca is located in central New York at the base of the Cayuga River, part of the Finger Lakes region of New York. With several rivers and lakes running through the city, the town adopted the slogan, “Ithaca Is Gorges,” a nod to the surrounding beauty and bodies of water. Buttermilk Falls State Park, Robert H. Treman State Park and Ithaca Falls on Fall Creek all feature waterfalls and areas for hiking, and the city boasts a solid food scene, Jermanok says. The Cornell Botanic Gardens and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art are other popular destinations.
New Haven, Connecticut
Home to Ivy League school Yale University, New Haven is known as one of the best cities in the U.S. for pizza, according to travel and dining websites like Tasting Table, Mashed and The Daily Meal. Sally’s Apizza and Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana are known for their white clam pizza. Modern Apizza near Yale’s campus is another fan favorite, according to food and travel blog Eater. Yale also has several art museums and is a short train ride away from Boston and New York City. “It has a lot to offer, and you’re on the Long Island Sound,” Jermanok says. “You’re close to beaches and you can get out of there and in 20 minutes can be in small, charming towns on the Connecticut coastline.”
Providence, Rhode Island
More on the big city side of the spectrum, Providence provides college students with a major metropolitan experience while also being situated near smaller, interesting New England towns accessible for quick day trips. The Woonasquatucket, Providence and Seekonk rivers converge near downtown, not far from the campus of Ivy League school Brown University. The rivers meet at WaterFire, an award-winning sculpture by artist Barnaby Evans. Each year, more than 80 sparkling bonfires line the water, creating a dazzling display of flickering firelight set to music in front of a captivated crowd. Just north of downtown is Providence College, and the downtown area has plenty of dining options on the water.
Nestled in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts is Williamstown, home to Williams College. Though small, there’s still plenty to do in this quaint New England town. It’s a haven for fans of art, with the Clark Art Institute — known for its impressionistic works — the Williams College Museum of Art, the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and the Williamstown Historical Museum. Each summer, the city hosts the Tony Award-recognized Williamstown Theatre Festival, which has showcased performances by theater luminaries such as Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman and Charlie Pine. Several state forests nearby offer hiking and other outdoor recreation activities.
Other Campus Resources
Destination College Towns in the Northeast
— Amherst, Massachusetts
— Boston, Massachusetts
— Brunswick, Maine
— Burlington, Vermont
— Durham, New Hampshire
— Hanover, New Hampshire
— Ithaca, New York
— New Haven, Connecticut
— Providence, Rhode Island
— Williamstown, Massachusetts
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