A beginner's guide to New Hampshire
New Hampshire is not only an outdoor and nature lovers’ paradise, with everything from sparkling lakes and soaring mountains to waterfalls, tranquil ponds and a stretch of Atlantic coastline, but it offers plenty of cultural delights too, along with fantastic tax-free shopping and lots of outstanding gourmet fare.
The biggest question is not “Should I go?” but how to choose from the myriad of fabulous options that await. New Hampshire is arguably best done as a self-drive experience, providing the independence and freedom that will practically guarantee an unforgettable holiday, no matter what your particular tastes and desires.
What to do
What to do is all up to you – looking for a thrilling outdoor adventure, more gentle active pursuits, or a little of both? From hiking, mountain biking and golfing to paragliding, hang gliding and white water rafting, you’ll find it all here. You can spend a relaxing day lounging on the sand, or join a whale watching tour to see the magnificent creatures that pass through the waters off the coast. If you’re into farm - and/or sea-to-table cuisine, this state is home to a wealth of restaurants serving mouth-watering dishes that utilise the freshest ingredients possible, and, as it offers tax-free shopping, along with an abundance of antique shops and outlet malls, it’s a shopping enthusiasts’ delight too. History buffs will find plenty to experience as well, with living museums, towns that date back long before the Declaration of Independence was ever signed, and much more.
Take in the views from the highest peak in New England
One of the must-dos for any trip to New Hampshire, is to take the Cog Railway to the summit of Mount Washington, where you’ll feel as if you’re on top of the world. Located in the White Mountains, the train winds its way to the top along the steepest track in America. Once you reach the peak, at 6,288 feet, you’ll be able to take in spectacular views of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Canada and the Atlantic, as well as Mount Madison, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson and other statesman of the Presidential Range, that are all lined up as if posing for a photo.
Those who are up to the task might want to consider climbing up instead, which is another adventure all in itself. The 8.2-mile round-trip trek on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail provides a truly unique New England hiking experience.
Play on the beach and in the water
New Hampshire’s seacoast region brings the chance to play on the beach and get out on the Atlantic. Rye Harbor State Park is one of the best spots along the state’s 18-mile coastline, where saltwater fishing is popular pastime and numerous chartered boats leave from the harbour. Cruises to the Isles of Shoals and other boating excursions also depart from here.
Hampton Beach is the place to go if you’re looking for the quintessential New England experience on the sand. This is another departure point for fun activities like fishing charters, whale watching trips and lobster boat tours, although the beach is the primary attraction here. Hampton Beach is the centre of excitement, and offers a number of facilities, including a visitor centre and outdoor amphitheatre. At low tide, there are tide pools, often filled with colourful creatures like starfish, sea urchins and hermit crabs that are fun for exploring, and the beach is also popular for activities like kite flying and Frisbee. Of course, you could also just bring some beach towels, sandcastle-building supplies, favourite books and a picnic, and spend a relaxing day near the water’s edge.
Challenge your sense of adventure
This diverse nature’s playground offers plenty for those who want to challenge their sense of adventure, with the opportunity for a variety of heart-pounding experiences. Fly like an eagle on a hang-gliding or paragliding trip at Morningside Flight Park in Charlestown, or, if you’re looking for a different kind of bird’s-eye view, take an exhilarating zipline ride, whizzing over some of the state’s most stunning terrain. There are courses for first-timers as well as extreme tours for those who want the biggest thrills and highest speeds.
Yet another amazing adventure awaits on the state’s white water. The White Mountains are home to some of the best, whether you want to navigate your own raft, or let someone else do the hard work, you’ll find a number of outfitters providing a variety of experiences for white-knuckle thrills. Off-roading is a possibility too, with over 1,200 miles of trails for all-terrain vehicles, including the Ride the Wilds Trail System, the longest of its kind in the entire country. You don’t need your own ATV, as there are multiple options for rentals.
Shop ‘til you drop
Shopping really is a must while you’re in New Hampshire, as it’s tax-free. Whether you want to pick up a few souvenirs, search for antique treasures or revamp your wardrobe, this is the place to do it, with everything you could ever imagine for sale, and with the added bonus of not having to pay taxes.
The quaint coastal town of Portsmouth is not only a great place to base yourself for trips out onto the Atlantic, but it’s one of the best places to shop, with a downtown area that’s filled with small, independent retailers, ranging from specialty cooking stores to gift shops and clothing boutiques. Treasure hunters won’t want to miss Antique Alley, located along Route 4, which connects Portsmouth to Concord. Then there are also the many outlet malls that are ideal for fashion shoppers and more, with bargains on brand name and designer goods. The Mall of New Hampshire, Merrimack Premium Outlets and Tanger Outlet Center are the top spots to go for discounts at places like Van Heusen, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach and Jones New York.
Where to eat
New Hampshire’s culinary scene has become increasingly popular. Whether you’re looking for fine dining on the water or comfort food in one of the many charming mountain towns, you could easily make an entire holiday of eating your way through the state. There are ethnic restaurants serving international cuisine for a taste of foreign lands, and chefs on a mission to source only the best local ingredients, resulting in diverse menus with delicious regional fare.
Portsmouth is home to the waterfront Black Trumpet Bistro which uses locally-sourced meat and produce, along with house-made preserves and condiments, while Surf offers fresh, local seafood with a view. In the White Mountains town of Bretton Woods, you can dine on dishes like house-smoked ribs in a former railroad station at Fabyan’s Station, where a model train circles the dining room, honouring the late 19th-century, a time when some 60 trains made a stop here every day. When in Sugar Hill, be sure to have breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor, renowned for serving homemade pancakes topped with famous New Hampshire maple syrup. In the southern end of the state near the border of Massachusetts, is Pickity Place, housed within a cottage that was the very inspiration for “grandmother’s house” in Little Red Riding Hood. Here you’ll feel as if you’re living a real life fairy-tale, while dining on a set multi-course meal created using many ingredients that are grown right on site.
Where to stay
You’ll have a wide range of accommodation options to choose from in New Hampshire, from century-old inns to mountain lodges, lakeside resorts, luxury hotels and more. Nestled in the heart of the White Mountains is the North Conway Grand, a magnificent resort hotel that sits adjacent to Settlers Green Outlets, providing convenient access to some 70 designer stores as well as offering gorgeous mountain vistas and outdoor activities like hiking, biking, golfing and kayaking.
The Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is a luxurious historic resort that serves as an idyllic retreat for both relaxation and adventure, including a menu of fabulous spa treatments, while White Mountain Hotel, just steps from Echo Lake State Park near the town of North Conway, offers easy access to a number of popular attractions, like the waterfalls of Diana’s Baths, as well as being home to one of the top golf courses in Mount Washington Valley.