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Conway Scenic Railroad
Photograph: Courtesy Visit New Hampshire

The best things to do in New Hampshire

Ranging from the fun to the educational, these experiences around the Granite State are not to be missed

Written by Gerrish Lopez in association with Visit New Hampshire.

No matter where your interests lie, you can always find fun in the Granite State. The best things to do in New Hampshire range from thrilling to relaxing, fun to educational. Some say the state is defined by its quaint towns and delightful small cities, while others point towards the state’s natural beauty, accessible year-round and on full display during Fall foliage season. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to the many lakes and forests—including White Mountain National Forest, home to the region’s highest peak—while culture and history enthusiasts can enjoy New Hampshire’s many museums and historic sites. Beautiful scenic drives tie everything together, making a trip around New Hampshire a top destination in all seasons.

Note: many NH attractions are seasonal, so plan accordingly!

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Santa's Village: part of the 'How I Live Free' series by Visit New Hampshire.

The highest peak in New England is known for unpredictable weather and record-breaking wind speeds (230-plus mph) at the summit, but it affords spectacular 360-degree views from the top. The hike to the summit is rewarding, but you know you’d rather drive, and fortunately, there’s the 7.5 mile Auto Road. Drive yourself or book a tour and enjoy stunning scenery on the way up. In winter, consider a SnowCoach tour for a sub-arctic adventure.

The varied collection at this art museum in Manchester includes sculpture, photography, decorative arts, American and European paintings. Local artists are also on display; for example, you might see those of the White Mountain School of Art. The collection also includes two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, the Zimmerman House and the Kalil House.

This 34.5-mile scenic drive along New Hampshire’s Rt. 112 brings you through the White Mountains and past jaw-dropping vistas. It’s a must in the fall, when you’ll see a variety of colors as the winding mountain road varies in elevation. There are plenty of spots to pull over for a hike and to snap some photos. The Pemigewasset Overlook is a great spot to watch the sunset over the seasonal reds, yellows, and oranges.

One of several historic trains running along scenic routes through New Hampshire, the Conway Scenic Railroad features scenic mountain excursions and historic train journeys. The scenic excursions journey past mountain vistas and rocky outcrops of Crawford Notch. Heritage Valley trains to Conway and Sawyer River recreate the experience of traveling by train from town to town in historic early 20th-century rail cars. 

The Lucknow Estate, known as Castle in the Clouds, is open seasonally to the public. It’s an Arts & Crafts-style mansion with sprawling gardens overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. The drive up the road to the property passes beautiful vistas, and a trolley ride leads to the house. Architecture fans will enjoy the home’s hand-crafted elements. Period furnishings decorate the house, and an art gallery features a rotation of works. Dine at the Carriage House Restaurant and stroll the trails that lead around the property and into the mountains.

The largest lake in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region has been a getaway destination for generations. The drive around Lake Winnipesaukee takes you through seven small towns along nearly 180 miles of beautiful shoreline, and each town is worth a stop. Find a cozy inn or lakefront cabin, stop in a local cafe for a meal, relax on the quiet shores and listen to nature, and you’ll be worry-free in no time. 

Head to Rumney to find out why New Hampshire is called the Granite State. Boardwalks allow visitors to easily explore a series of nine caves carved out by glaciers. Tucked away in a pine forest, you can also picnic, go rock climbing and rappelling and visit the animal park.

Spend a day—or a few—in this charming port city with a historic waterfront, 17th and 18th-century buildings, and an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. Portsmouth mixes the old and new into a compact, walkable city with a friendly vibe. Visit the 10-acre, outdoor museum Strawbery Banke for a history lesson before strolling up and down streets packed with unique shopping, dining, and cultural activities. Elegant restaurants mix with kitschy cafes and several breweries, including the innovative Earth Eagle, plus a strong bar and nightlife scene.

This National Historic Landmark is one of the most intact surviving community sites of the Shaker religious sect, dating to the early 19th century. Tour 25 restored buildings and explore 700 acres of fields, ponds, gardens, and forests. Stick around for lunch, shop for goods from local artisans or participate in a workshop on woodworking, broom making, and more.

Aside from Mt. Washington, the White Mountains include plenty of outdoor activities and some of the best hiking in the Northeast. Choose from easy day hikes or multi-day treks. Either way, you’ll see gorgeous scenery - forests, wildlife, and stunning granite mountain ridges. The Appalachian Mountain Club runs a series of huts for the overnight trekker, and the Lake of the Clouds hut is on many a hiker’s bucket list. But it's not only hiking that takes centre stage in the White Mountains: sip delicious wine at excellent spots like Seven Birches Winery, float to your heart's content down the pristine waters of the Saco River on an inflatable tube, or in winter, take a Snowcoach Tour up to the treeline on Mt. Washington into a ethereal sub-Arctic world. Naturally, camping is also a major drawcard here. There are campsites to suit all types, from RV campgrounds to backcountry tent sites. 

Visit Big and Little Squam lakes and you’ll find breathtaking surroundings, miles of hiking trails, and the Natural Science Center. The Center features a public garden, lake cruises, walks through forests, meadows, and marshes, and an animal exhibit trail with black bears, bobcats, and otters.

Located in Loudon, the NHMS is the largest sports and entertainment venue in New England. The track has been a thrilling destination for fans since 1990. In addition to top NASCAR events, the speedway hosts driving experiences throughout the year, allowing enthusiasts to get behind the wheel and speed around the legendary 1.058-mile oval speedway and 1.6-mile road course.

Hanover is home to the prestigious Dartmouth College, but it’s much more than a college town. Shop at the League of NH Craftsmen gallery or Left Bank Books or visit the Hood Museum of Art. Located on the Connecticut River, Hanover offers plenty of outdoor activities. And of course, there are plenty of pubs and cafes to refuel after a day of exploring.

Formerly a research submarine, the Albacore is now open to the public, giving visitors a firsthand look at the first true underwater submarine. The US Navy performed top-secret tests on features for use in modern submarines. From the control room to the bunk rooms, you’ll hear stories from actual crew members. Look through the periscope and get a closer look at all the cool gadgets that make up the sub.

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