Portsmouth has grown into a cosmopolitan city, with boutique shopping, outdoor events and a vibrant food scene. Credit: Getty Images
As summer approaches, sleepy towns across New England begin to wake up from winter hibernation. With flowers in bloom and leafy trees covering the mountains, summer is the best season to visit New England (and the only time to enjoy its pristine beaches). The region has plenty to offer, especially on the coast, where locals flock to relax on the beach, go biking and sailing, and enjoy the delicious seafood New England is known for. Starting in Connecticut and heading north to Maine, here are five of the most scenic small cities and towns to visit for summer fun, food, history and culture.
Newport, Rhode Island
Gilded Age tycoons flocked to the charming seaside city of Newport to build their summer “cottages” at the turn of the century. Early examples of these homes — such as Isaac Bell’s shingled house — actually resemble cottages. With the arrival of the Vanderbilts came opulent mansions modeled on European palaces. The Breakers, designed by Richard Morris Hunt in the Italian Renaissance style, is the grandest, though Marble House, modeled on Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, set the tone for the rest. Though the mansions are Newport’s claim to fame, there’s plenty to do in this historic city.
Halfway between New York City and Boston, Mystic has plenty of coastal attractions. The historic town is home to Mystic Seaport, the world’s largest maritime museum with over 500 vessels, including the last remaining whale ship in the world. At the Mystic Aquarium, you can see New England’s only beluga whales, plus penguins, seals, sea lions and plenty of other aquatic animals. Embrace the kitschy side of town at the Olde Mistick Village, where you’ll find souvenirs and homemade fudge at Franklin’s General Store.
Home to the Tanglewood music festival, Lenox exudes mountain charm unique to the Berkshires. Winding roads twist and turn, enveloped by verdant canopies that open onto spectacular views of the rolling valleys dotted by farmhouses. The main attraction in Lenox is The Mount, Edith Wharton’s country estate. Built in 1902, Wharton designed the home based on the precepts outlined in her 1897 book, "The Decoration of Houses," which emphasized simplicity and harmony. Three acres of formal gardens complement the home, providing a beautiful backdrop for a stroll.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The charming coastal city of Portsmouth was originally settled in 1623 as Strawbery Banke, and its colonial legacy lives on at the Strawbery Banke Museum. This 10-acre living history exhibit proudly displays houses, gardens, shops and taverns from the 1600s and 1700s. In fact, the whole town is full of colonial, Federal, Georgian, and Victorian house museums. There are plenty of modern-day amusements too, from laid-back pubs serving local craft beer to a lively local music scene.
With a population of about 8,000, Montpelier is the nation's smallest state capital, but it makes up for its diminutive size with its independent spirit and rustic charm. The downtown area is concentrated around Main Street, which is full of quaint restaurants and shops, and State Street, where the state house is located. Montpelier is a great place to sample New England specialties. Try the maple syrup at Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, cheese at Cabot Creamery, and whatever’s on the menu at the New England Culinary Institute.