New England was the site of the second successful settlement in what would become the USA, begun when the Mayflower landed with its cargo of pilgrims in 1620. It was also the cradle of the rebellion that would win the country's independence, as well as the heart of the industry that produced one of its most quintessential novels, Moby Dick. This resonant history runs alongside a breathtaking natural world of rugged coast and sky-spiking mountains, while baseball and family attractions round out the region's appeal. Here we've gathered together ten attractions which encapsulate all that New England has to offer.
This enthralling living history museum transports visitors back to nineteenth century New England, when men sailed out to sea in wood-hulled boats. It’s a recreation of a whaling village, the kind of place the Pequod sails from in Moby Dick, with a demonstration shipyard, period lobster shack, town chapel and much more. On the side streets, musicians bellow sea-shanties and storytellers entrance listeners like Marlowe in Heart of Darkness. The museum also displays the last surviving wooden whaling ship in the world, and stages demonstrations on oyster fishing, shipwreck rescues, and whaleboat launching.
Puffing a cloud of steam above its brightly colored carriage roof, this fabled train was the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway when it opened in 1869. It ascends Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England, and at one point the tilt reaches a vertiginous 37% - the second steepest slice of railway track in the world. The journey takes around an hour, meandering leisurely through dense deciduous woodland, climbing hard past fir and spruce, before finally breaking beyond the treeline and chugging the last dizzying stretch up bare alpine tundra. Once at the summit, you can explore the Sherman Adams Visitor Center and the Mount Washington Observatory’s Weather Museum, or simply drink in the breathtaking views.
Maine’s rugged coastline is one of New England’s great natural wonders, and Acadia National Park encompasses its most breathtaking stretch, reserving the outer chunk of the Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland and a handful of islands offshore. This is a varied terrain of flourishing forests, granite peaks, crystal lakes and a wild wave-struck shoreline, which can be explored on foot, by kayak and by bike. Old carriage roads, stitched together by a series of 17 stone-hewn bridges, make terrific cycle routes through this wilderness, populated by peregrine falcons, black bears and moose.
In 1620, religious Dissenters fleeing persecution in England boarded the Mayflower and sailed for the New World. They set up a settlement on the coast of what would later become Massachusetts, naming it Plymouth after the English coastal town from which they had sailed. Despite early hardship and privation, the Plymouth Plantation survived, and became the second successful settlement after Jamestown in Virginia. The Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum that recreates this settlement as it would have looked and functioned in 1627. Constructed in line with decades of scholarly research, this museum is exceptionally evocative, enlivened with costumes, kitchen utensils, recipes, crops and crafts drawn from the period. Even better, all the actors have been trained in the speech, dialect and concerns of the 1627 Pilgrims, and will answer any questions in the first person.
There was once an entire industry dedicated to hunting the leviathan, whose bones and oil were of great value in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. With the discovery of crude oil, the industry plummeted into decline from 1850 onwards. But the mammals remained an integral part of the region’s ecosystem, and the mighty swath of Atlantic Ocean off the New England coastline is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. The watching is best in the warmer months, from May to October, when Humpback, Finback, Minke and Right whales all migrate to the area’s feeding grounds, packed with tasty mackerel, herring and krill. You might be lucky enough to see a humpback breaching the water and arcing her vast frame in the open air before plunging back to swim to the depths below. From Boston you can sail with various companies to the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, a top spot for spying the gargantuan creatures.
This State Park combines fascinating history and panoramic views with top-class contemporary cultural events. Fort Adams is the largest coastal fortification in the United States and the final incarnation in a string of attempts to provide adequate defences for Narragansett Bay, a sublime natural harbor coveted by the nascent nation’s enemies. This history can be explored in tours of the Fort, which roam its towering walls and delve into its shadowy network of subterranean tunnels. From those walls, visitors can drink in phenomenal views over the harbor and Narragansett Bay along with the invigorating sea air. And every year, the park hosts the iconic Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals, which have been at the heart of American music culture since the 1950s.
Depending on the depth of your passion for education, you can visit either or both of these Ivy League universities, nestled 130 miles apart on the New England coast. Harvard was founded in 1636 and is America’s oldest college, counting eight Presidents among its alumni; it has several superb museums open to the public, including the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum with its excellent Native American exhibits. Yale was founded around 70 years later, and moved to its current location in New Haven in 1717; free tours introduce visitors to the architecture and history of this fabled storehouse of knowledge.
Boston is the largest city in New England, and it was the also the sight of several key events relating to the Revolutionary War. The Freedom Trail runs a 2.5 mile red-brick path through the city’s downtown, weaving together a number of sites related to the eventual achievement of American independence. Beginning on Boston Common, it passes Boston Harbour, where the Sons of Liberty hurled crates of East India Company tea into the ocean, and ends at the Bunker Hill monument, where plucky colonial fighters repelled two assaults by the well-trained British army in the first battle of the Revolutionary War. But the Trail is also a great way to see modern-day Boston, winding through several neighborhoods including older Beacon Hill, the fast-paced Financial District, the maze-like streets of the Italian district and the Irish enclave of Charlestown.
Boston Children’s Museum turned 100 in 2013, and undoubtedly stands among the best of its genre, filled with colorful, tactile and challenging exhibits that are guaranteed to grab and hold a child’s attention. Meet the characters from Marc Brown’s book and television series at Arthur and Friends, with several settings in which to learn and play; let loose that youthful creativity in the museum’s small-scale art studio or construction site; peek into other cultures in the Japanese House; and try out the fabulous interactive displays embedded in the Science Playground. If you need a break from keeping the kids on-side through various walks, historic sites and sit-down restaurants, then there’s nowhere better in New England than this museum.
Baseball dominates the sporting world in New England, and in Boston in particular, where the Red Sox inhabit their home in Fenway Park. Built in 1912, this is the oldest and most iconic baseball stadium in America. It has hosted eleven World Series, seven of which were won by the Red Sox, including the inaugural 1912 event. The season lasts from April to September but getting tickets sure ain’t cheap or easy – despite their expense, the passionate Red Sox fans snap up the 37,499 available tickets at a rate that confounds most outsiders. If you’re determined to have the full Fenway experience, try joining the hordes battling for tickets to a New York Yankees game, with whom the Red Sox conduct a fierce rivalry.