Hidden Gems in New England: 15 Secret Places to Visit


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What are the best places to visit in New England? While there are many popular and well-known destinations for a New England vacation, some of the finest spots are those that are lesser-known. These are the hidden gems in New England. Today, the secret’s out: these off-the-beaten-path destinations are little known vacation spots you’ll want to visit ASAP. 

We asked several fellow travel lovers to share their favorite New England hidden gems, and they delivered! We’ve added our own picks for unique things to do in New England, too. Have you been to any of these spots?

Hidden Gems in New England

Wilmington, Vermont

Several sailboats sail across a deep blue lake with green forest behind it and blue sky overhead
Photo courtesy Tara Schatz
 
Wilmington is a small village in Southern Vermont with just over 2,000 residents, but it’s got a lot going on for a town of its size. Wilmington’s prime location may have something do to with this — the town sits at the southern terminus of the Green Mountains and on both the Deerfield River and Lake Whitingham. The combination of mountains and water makes Wilmington, Vermont a four-season destination, especially for visitors who love being outdoors. 
 
Visitors to Wilmington will find a bustling Main Street with a nice variety of quirky shops, more than a dozen eclectic restaurants, and a variety of lodging choices, from campgrounds and small motels to luxurious inns. 
 
If you visit in the summer, you will without a doubt find yourself on the shores of Lake Whitingham to swim, boat, sail, paddle, or fish. This is the largest lake entirely contained within Vermont’s borders, and the mountain backdrop makes for breathtaking views. 
 
If winter sports are more your thing, you’ll be excited to learn that Wilmington is just a few short miles from Mount Snow, which is one of the most visited ski resorts in all of New England.
 
-Contributed by Tara Schatz, Back Road Ramblers
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Bristol, Rhode Island

A lighthouse and lightkeepers house sit on a rocky shore under blue skies

Bristol, Rhode Island is a historic town located on the bay in the smallest state in the nation.  While not near as popular as Providence or Newport, Bristol has a wide array of things to do for people with varying interests.

Most notably, Bristol is the location of the oldest Fourth of July parade in the entire country!  The first celebration took place in Bristol in 1777!  That being said, July is a wonderful time to go to Bristol to truly appreciate both nature and the town’s extravagant festivities.

There are a number of mansions, similar to those in Newport (but without the crowds!) to tour and indulge in the local history. 

If you’re a nature buff, there are also parks to explore – try Colt State Park for the town beach, playgrounds for the kids, as well as yoga classes and walking paths.

Being a port town, be sure to check out Herreshoff Maritime Museum for exhibits on sailing and America’s Cup tournament.

If you happen to find yourself in the smallest state in the U.S., be sure to include Bristol in your itinerary for an off-the-beaten path experience.

-Contributed by Jade Laurenza, The Migrant Yogi

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Camden, Maine

A busy port scene has many sailboats in a crowded port with a coastal town in the background under light blue skies
Photo courtesy Hillary Newman
 
One of Maine’s best-kept secrets is the small, coastal town of Camden. This town is built around Camden Harbor, an area that is popular among the sailing community. As such, it is incredibly picturesque! 
 
If you are looking to get out on the ocean in a sailboat yourself, I have personally had fantastic experiences with Schooner Olad and Cutter Owl. Sailing is a great way to get a little relaxation, but also to meet new friends! Wear lots of sunscreen and feel free to pack snacks! Most companies are more than accommodating and encourage you make yourself feel comfortable.
 
The town itself has some very hip and trendy hangout spots, including Sea Dog Brewing Company, where you can spend the afternoon laughing over drinks with friends. I would also recommend the incredibly popular Long Grain, a Thai restaurant that is legendary in Maine, loved by visitors and local alike. The restaurant with the best view of the harbor is hands down, Rhumb Line, and there casual dining and pub food is second to none. 
 
Camden is ideally located for a weekend visit or for adding it to a tour of coastal Maine. If you are interested in further adventuring along Maine’s coast, check out my post “A Long Weekend on the Coast.
 
-Contributed by Hillary Newman
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Concord, Massachusetts

A historic two story wooden home is surrounded by green vegetation and trees

A thirty-minute drive outside of Boston could bring you to Concord, MA, a town that is home to American history, arts, and multiple nature retreats.

To begin your journey, head to Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau lived for 2 years. The 61-acre pond is an oasis surrounded by trees and serves as a cooling respite in summer months. Thoreau and his buddy Ralph Waldo Emerson often walked on a nearby footpath that leads to the pond, now known as Emerson-Thoreau Amble. Another literary giant, Louisa May Alcott grew up in this town and her home, Orchard House, is also open to visitors.

It may be a coincidence, but right next to the abodes of these writers are two natural sights that are worth half a day’s time. Minute Man Historical National Park and the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge are both great options for those who enjoy history, nature, and birdwatching.

Only ten minutes away, in the nearby town of Lincoln is the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, a one of its kind park displaying contemporary art and sculptures. All of these attractions make spending a day or two in Concord, MA more than worth the while. 

-Contributed by Bharat and Supriya, Fun Travelog

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Middletown, Rhode Island

A rocky ocean shore and deep blue ocean on a sunny day under a clear blue sky
Photo courtesy Crystal Young

You might think of Middletown as a tourist location and you would be right for the most part. The summer has an influx of people filling up its two beaches, Second and Third.

Being so close to world-renowned Newport, there definitely is a lot of traffic in the summer. There are however some pretty amazing spots that aren’t as bustling and especially wonderful during the off-season. Sachuest Wildlife Refuge is one. I’ve lived in Rhode Island most of my life and never knew it was there until this year!

It’s a great family area to see the coastline, learn about local marine life or enjoy an easy, beautiful hike. Even though the grounds aren’t so large, you feel far removed from the action when you are here.

For the bird watchers and nature enthusiasts, the Normand Bird Sanctuary is another great hiking location close by to Sachuest not to be missed.

You should visit Sweet Berry Farm while in town. It offers fresh produce, a market place with prepared foods and made to order goods to dine in or take home. You can’t beat the freshness and quality of the food here. It is top-notch. If you like Middle Eastern food, grab a bite at International Pocket Cafe, it never lets my tastebuds down. While in Middletown, you can go to Newport Vineyards to relax at the winery or watch a polo match outside. 

-Contributed by Crystal Young, Kid Friendly New England

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Bennington, Vermont

A dense green forest extends out to a mountain range in the distance on a sunny day with blue skies
Photo Courtesy Krystianna Pietrzak

Bennington is a true hidden gem in Vermont. Located in the southwestern region of the state, Bennington is nestled in a beautiful valley and is filled with lots of important history.

For adventure lovers, I highly recommend taking a hike up to either the white rocks or Bald Mountain. This hike is almost 11 miles round trip, but it is so worth it because the views are incredibly rewarding.

The downtown area is also very unique. There are a lot of local shops and no name-brand businesses are allowed in Bennington’s downtown. Be sure to stop at the Village Chocolate Shoppe and the Bennington Bookshop, two of my favorites.

Lastly, if you love history, go up to the Bennington Battle Monument, which was put in place to commemorate the Battle of Bennington which was fought during the Revolutionary War. It only costs $5 for adults to climb/take an elevator to the top and $1 for children!

-Contributed by Krystianna Pietrzak, Volumes & Voyages

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Jackson, New Hampshire

Jackson New Hampshire is a small town tucked in the center of the White Mountains. If you are looking for a getaway, this is the place for you to go. Especially if you love the outdoors, then Jackson has something for you no matter the season you visit in. In the winter, you can ski at Attitash Mountain, snowshoe or even head over to Nestlenook Farms to ice skate. In the warmer seasons, you can go hiking, chase waterfalls and wander the surrounding towns.
 
One of my all-time favorite things to do in Jackson is go to the best restaurant called Thompson House Eatery. The owners have put so much love into this location and it is one of the reasons I continue to go back.

-Contributed by Kelsey Converse

PS: Check out nearby towns of Conway and Lincoln
 
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Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

People ride on a boat in deep blue waters on a sunny day
Photo courtesy Shobha George
 
Menemsha is a charming fishing village on the Vineyard Sound side of Martha’s Vineyard. Many people will have seen Menemsha but not known they have seen it because the town was the backdrop for the fictional Amity Island in Stephen Spielberg’s 1979 summer blockbuster, Jaws. 
 
There’s a pretty public beach at Menemsha which is a popular place to watch the sunset and one of the most beautiful beaches on the Vineyard. Couples and families bring a picnic and blankets from which to watch the sunset. You can grab food from the Menemsha Fish Market or Larsen’s Fish market which will have fresh seafood straight from the boats. They have everything from boiled lobster to lobster rolls and clam chowder. 
 
Menemsha is a working fishing village with families that have taken boats from here for generations. Commercial craft take priority over pleasure craft. The one and only Texaco sells an eclectic assortment of fuel, convenience food, fishing bait and souvenirs. For tourists, there are a handful of stores and casual restaurants which blend into the low key vibe of this village. As a family of cyclists, we love taking the Menemsha bicycle ferry across Menemsha to Lobsterville Beach which is a much more scenic ride than the alternative. 
 
-Contributed by Shobha George, Martha’s Vineyard Tourist
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Castine, Maine

Castine, Maine is a beautiful seaside village located on a peninsula in Penobscot Bay. It is also one of the oldest communities in Maine with a history dating back to the 1600s. It is very off-the-beaten-path but you should absolutely add this quaint little town to your New England Itinerary. You will love the mid-19th-century homes in the city center that will bring you back in time.

Castine is the perfect place to unwind as it is extremely quiet. This doesn’t mean there is nothing to do and you will enjoy all the activities it has to offer. Spend a beach day on Backshore Beach or Wadsworth Cove, you can also kayak in the peninsula, rent a boat or just go hiking in Witherle Woods.

There are also a lot of things to do in Castine city center, from visiting historical landmarks such as Fort George and Fort Madisson to enjoying the main street or one of the restaurants, especially Pentagoet Inn, located in a 19th-century Inn.

-Contributed by Lucile Hernandez Rodriguez

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Greenville, Maine

Several houses are tucked in between autumn foliage on a waterway on a foggy day

Sitting at the edge of Moosehead, the largest lake in Maine, Greenville is a charming small town and a paradise for those who love the outdoors. While it’s famous for the spring event Moosemania, and moose safaris, it has a lot more to offer than just seeing moose all around. 

You can explore the Lily Bay State Park, bike to the top of Mount Kineo, do whitewater rafting, and ride around the lake in a 1914 steamboat. For fishing enthusiasts, fly fishing and lake fishing are always an option. And if you go in winter, you can do cross-country skiing and ice fishing. You can even see a dog sledding race. You can take advantage of sightseeing flights on seaplanes offered by several companies. They take off and land on Moosehead Lake. You can visit the Moosehead Marine Museum to learn the history of steamboating on Maine’s biggest lake.

-Contributed by Deb Pati, The Visa Project

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Deer Isle, Maine

People are kayaking down a blue river with large boulders and evergreen forest on the bank
Photo courtesy Derek Hartman

Deer Isle, Maine is one the best Maine hidden gems when it comes to coastal towns. It’s both a small town and the name of a charming island in Penobscot Bay is laid back. Deer Isle is full of unspoiled nature reserves and is a paradise for all outdoor travellers. Even in peak-season, the island is low-key and quaint with a friendly, rustic, small-town feel.

One of the best attractions are Deer Isle’s calm waters which are perfect for even an inexperienced kayaker. There are several options for renting equipment if you don’t have your own and even guided kayaking excursions can be booked on the island. Driftwood Kayak is an excellent resource for either and they have a range of itineraries for different skill levels.

Once you’re back in town from hiking the nature reserves or kayaking around the island, there’s plenty to entertain you. Popular Stonington Opera House Arts is a historic community venue for performances, art shows and even trivia nights. The town also has local vendors selling homemade products like Nelly’s Jams and Jellies. In Deer Isle, you can’t help but fall in love with the simple downeast Maine way of life.

-Contributed by Derek and Mike, Robe Trotting

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Editor’s Picks for Hidden Gems of New England

Woodstock, Connecticut

Tucked away in Connecticut’s Quiet Corner, Woodstock CT seems to fly under the radar of beautiful New England destinations. This tiny town is home to some neat attractions like historic Roseland Cottage and Loos Center for the Arts, and there’s even a winery and brewery there, too!

If you’re looking for New England vacation spots where you can get away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life and take things nice and slow, Woodstock CT is it. It’s also home to the gorgeous Inn at Woodstock Hill, so if you’re looking for the perfect place for your next romantic getaway, definitely consider this beautiful spot!

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Littleton, New Hampshire

Somehow this little (couldn’t resist!) town in New Hampshire remains one of the best kept secret vacation spots! Littleton is sometimes referred to as the Glad Town because it was home to the author of the Pollyanna books. A statue of Pollyanna welcomes tourists downtown, its arms flung wide and a welcoming smile emblazoned on her face; if you’re looking for small town charm off the beaten path, Littleton has it!

There are beautiful hiking trails, a classic New England covered bridge, the quintessential Main Street USA experience, and more, including a historic hotel that is the perfect place to rest your head after a day spent exploring the little hidden gem of Littleton!

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Off the Beaten Path New England Things to Do

Stay (and work!) at a Vermont Farm

Sheep on a Vermont farm on a clear summer day

Fat Sheep Farm in Hartland Vermont offers an incredible real-life New England farm experience by renting out their lovely cabins to those looking to have a unique experience in Vermont! You can help feed the animals, milk the sheep, collect eggs from the chickens, and more during  your sampling of life at a New England farm. You can read more about our experience here, Fat Sheep Farm: The Perfect Vermont Farm Stay. This is definitely one of the top hidden family vacation spots and experiences, too, so if you’re looking for unique things to do in New England with kids, add this to the list!

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Stay in a Historic Gingerbread House Tower in the Berkshires

There are so many unique places to stay in New England, with vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, cozy cabins, and luxury hotels that offer just about every kind of experience a person could want, but sometimes you come across a place that is so intriguing that it gets added to the Must Visit in New England list right off the bat! That’s the historic Gingerbread House Tower in Lee, offering a true fairy tale stay in one of the most beautiful hidden places in Massachusetts!

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