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We consider ourselves fortunate to live in New England. The area is pretty compact by geographic standards and every state brings a different taste of history, activity, and culture. There are some very iconic attractions in New England that are important parts of a New England itinerary. In no particular order and with something for every taste from history buff to outdoor enthusiast, sports nut, and more, here are ten amazing family attractions in New England that should not be missed.
Cape Cod National Seashore Massachusetts
Photo by: Flickr/Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism
As part of the National Park Service, the Cape Cod National Seashore consists of more than 40 miles of unspoiled New England beaches. The bluffs of the beach are magnificent as are the opportunities for wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, ranger-led treks, kayak trips, and lighthouse tours. We have terrific memories of spying seals bobbing their heads up while we dipped our toes in the turbulent waves then touring Nauset lighthouse and learning about the history of protecting the big ships from the craggy Massachusetts shore. The northern most part of the seashore brings you to Provincetown, a town known not only for its arts vibe and great food, but also for whale watching excursions. Dolphin Fleet Whalewatch will set you up on a trip into the Stellwagen Bay where visitors are almost certain to see the massive whales during the summer months under the tutelage of a very knowledgeable guide. Spotting a breaching whale of mom and calf pair is unforgettable for wildlife enthusiasts.
Enjoy more of the sights and sounds of Cape Cod with the family.
Mystic Seaport and the Connecticut Shoreline
Photo by: Flickr/Rusty Clark
Connecticut’s shoreline history comes to life at the Mystic Seaport. The seaport is a living history museum that allows families to learn the details of a New England whaling village. The replica village with costumed historians allows everyone to learn about life in another time through hands-on experiences like clothes washing, knot tying, yarn spinning (tale telling where the kids can be part of the production), carriage rides, and tours of actual whaling ships. Wander around the indoor exhibits at nearby Mystic Aquarium to learn about local and exotic sea life. Our favorite is the touch tank where tykes young and old can pick up a starfish or crab while the nearby scientist tells them all about the creatures. The aquarium is also a renowned rescue facility that nurses lost creatures back to health and releases them back into the wild. For the historical side visit the USS Nautilus at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in nearby Groton. A free glimpse of thousands of submarine artifacts and a tour of an actual submarine await your family!
Cliff Walk and the Mansions of Newport, Rhode Island
Photo by: Michelle Brennan
The gilded history of the bygone days of summer cottages awaits travelers in Newport, Rhode Island. Tour at least one of these unbelievable fabulous mansions. We had a great time imagining ourselves as part of the Vanderbilt family as we toured bedrooms and servants quarters of these ‘cottages’ that were the summer homes of the rich and famous of the era. The ballroom at The Breakers is utterly magnificent and will make your bonus room look like a doll house! For a different view of the mansions walk the 3.5 mile cliff walk and admire the ocean vistas of these mansions as you see them from the back side. Most of the trail is suitable for all families with the guided eyes of mom and dad as there are a few steep cliffs. More adventurous groups will opt to clamor to the ocean when possible to check out tide pools, rocks, and sea shells.
Mount Washington, New Hampshire
Photo by: Michelle Brennan
New Hampshire is our home away from home. We can’t get enough of the outdoor hiking and adventure that await us every season. The King of New Hampshire is Mount Washington. This over 6000 ft. peak may pale in comparison to other mountains across the country, but in these parts it knows little competition. The snow capped peak is visible on clear days which are fabled to not happen very often. There are several ways to enjoy seeing and learning about the highest peak of the White Mountain chain. It can be viewed from afar while driving into the forest, however the best way is to see it from the top. Hiking can be daunting and is recommended for only the heartiest of hikers due to unexpected and severe climate changes that can occur. Hiking a nearby summit for a better view of the peak is advisable. Mount Jefferson offers this challenge. From the trail on Jefferson be on the lookout for the puffs of smoke from the Cog railway, which offers yet another way to get to the summit. Choose the vintage steam engine or environmentally friendly biodiesel option; both are good choices. The last option is to use the Mount Washington Auto Road. Brave families drive their own vehicle to the top, but we have opted for a guided tour either in the summer in a van with a well-informed driver or in the winter inside a track vehicle snow coach. If you are not ready to brave a trip to the top of the mountain, stop in downtown North Conway to experience the free weather center. Hands-on exhibits capture the severity of the weather on top of Mount Washington. While there, plan a Sunday drive on the Kancamagus Highway which is especially gorgeous in the fall.
Historic Boston Massachusetts: Freedom Trail Boston and Plimouth Plantation
History enthusiasts need to look no farther than Boston for experiential and immersive learning. Plan a docent-led walk along the historical 2 and ½ Freedom Trail, which highlights important sites from the birth of the USA and the Revolutionary War. Visit the Old South Meeting House where the infamous Boston Tea Party was planned; see Paul Revere’s house and the Granary Burial ground where he is laid to rest. As part of the Freedom Trail, take a visit to Old Ironsides, a warship from the war of 1812 that also owes part of its history to Paul Revere. The nearby Boston Tea Party Museum will provide visitors a role as a member of the Tea Party and allows them to dump tea into the water. An hour south of Boston is Plimouth Plantation. This living history museum brings to life the village of the first settlers from England on American soil. These folks are commonly referred to as Pilgrims, and guests of the plantation will learn about the lives of the early settlers from costumed docents, the ships that brought them to the new land, but also about local native people and their way of life.
Plan a road school adventure to learn about Boston’s history.
New England’s National Park: Acadia
Photo by: Flickr/InAweofGod’sCreation
The crown jewel of the New England seashore is Acadia National Park. Craggy shores, majestic mountains, magnificent lighthouses, fabulous hiking, and wildlife splendor offer so many options to the traveling family. Plan on at least driving the park loop road to get to the top of Cadillac Mountain and see some amazing views. This was the first road trip my husband and I went on many years ago. Cadillac Mountain left some indelible memories! More adventurous families can try some hiking. A favorite is the easy Ship Harbor Loop Trail that travels from forest to shoreline. Check the tide chart before leaving and maybe find a tide pool for a critter check. More experienced hikers with older children will relish the iron rung hikes that are deemed strenuous and technical with iron bars to climb the granite cliffs near the shore. We are looking forward to one day riding the old Carriage Roads on horseback!
See more of Maine! Here to the 10 Best Places to Visit in Maine.
Basketball Hall of Fame Springfield, Massachusetts
Photo Courtesy of Basketball Hall Of Fame
Families with sports nuts, particularly basketball, won’t want to miss the giant basketball shaped dome that is the Basketball Hall of Fame. James Naismith got a team together at a local YMCA in 1891 to play his new game and the rest, they say, is history! The Hall of Fame showcases many details and artifacts of famous basketball personalities throughout the years. Learn about local heroes such as UCONN championship coaches for men and women respectively: Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, but also magnificent players like Michael Jordan or ‘Dr. J’ Julius Earving. Try your hand at shooting a few shots on the hallowed hoops of the hall of fame. My 14 year old son has been trying to get into a championship game here for a few years as local AAU championship games are held on this court. Maybe this will be his year? After a dose of basketball, head to the nearby Springfield Quadrangle to see the outdoor sculpture garden honoring Dr. Seuss and the friends he has brought to life for so many children. Horton, the Lorax, and the Grinch are celebrated here. The Quad also has a science museum and art museum for exploring.
Photo by: Bigstock.com/raycart
Connecticut has beautiful shorelines, mountains, river systems, and its own historical sites. There is a bit of everything. One of the most beloved attractions is the Gillette Castle, which holds court over the state bisecting Connecticut River. Gillette Castle was designed and built by famed Connecticut actor William Gillette who made his fortune portraying Sherlock Holmes. He must have found his love for mystery during those acting days because the castle is certainly filled with oddities. Interesting artwork, house fixtures, and a mirror system for surveillance highlight the tour of the castle. Families can also choose to hike the trails that were once a railway around the property and picnic outside. Another way to enjoy the area is the Essex Steam train and riverboat ride. The steam train will be a must for all train enthusiasts, and the riverboat ride will allow river views of the famed castle.
Photo by: Flickr/Church Street Marketplace
Lake Champlain straddles the New York, Vermont, and Canadian borders. This 490 square mile lake creates a beautiful vista on the shores of happening Burlington, Vermont. Many families soak up the leisure activities that the lake provides. Around the lake, children can frolic on the beach, enjoy the 12 mile bike path, swim, play at playgrounds, and more. Families might also enjoy resort areas such as the Basin Harbor club right on the shores of the lake along with camping and cabin options. The ECHO, a lakeside aquarium and science center, specializes in local wildlife and aquatics. Kids will love the hands-on exhibits, history of the ships that used the lake during war time, and, of course, Champy the elusive sea monster that is rumored to call Lake Champlain his home. Ten miles south of ECHO families will find the Shelburne museum. This museum houses a plethora of New England memorabilia including paintings by Whistlers Mother, a steam ship from Lake Champlain, other artwork and special exhibits designed to entice the whole family such as Circus Polooza. Maybe decide to hike part of the Long Trail Vermont’s 272 mile long trail that runs the length of the state. Small villages along the trail are renowned for their quaint atmosphere and arts influence.
Find more fun in Vermont. Discover the Top 10 Things to do in Vermont with Kids.
Photo by: Michelle Brennan
Nantucket Island is located off of Cape Cod. Accessible by ferry, the idyllic New England Island allows for an escape from the mainland to a cobblestone lined historic island with glorious beaches and famed lodging, restaurants and shopping. We spent a few days here a few years ago and are awaiting the chance to head back. While we stayed in town nearby all of the shops and restaurants, we never felt cramped or crowded. We rented bikes to tour the island and rode over 20 miles one day to get out to Sconcet Beach to check out the waves. Jetties beach was more sheltered with a restaurant at the beach and less waves. At night we watched the squid swim around the fancy boats moored at the dock while we strolled about the cobblestone streets. While we rode our bikes we stopped at the Maria Mitchell Aquarium staffed by college students on internship and also the Nantucket Whaling museum where we learned so much about the historic whaling trade of Nantucket. Oh and the sunsets….they are unforgettable!
Featured photo by: Shutterstock