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7 Most Vibrant Towns In New Hampshire

by Staff

New Hampshire may be one of the smaller states, but it has a big heart – one that pumps a healthy dose of vibrant energy into the core of New England. Surrounded by Maine (to the east), Vermont (west), and Massachusetts (south) and connected to a stimulating strip of the Gulf of Maine known as the Seacoast (to the southeast), this slim state is dense with natural beauty and early American history. If you feel drawn to the beaches of the Atlantic, the offshoot ranges of the Appalachian Mountains, and quaint yet spritely river towns, then the Granite State (so called because of the local quarries that fuelled the stately architecture) is worth a gander this year. These are seven of the most vibrant towns that New Hampshire has to offer. 

Exeter

Odd Fellows Hall at 115 Water Street in historic town center of Exeter, New Hampshire. Editorial credit: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock.com

Southern New Hampshire’s Exeter hangs out on the Squamscott River, only about 10 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast. This Rockingham County is filled with red-brick colonial buildings and elegant, tree-lined streets and draws energy from its vibrant waterway and rich history. Boot along the aptly named Water Street to absorb the best of downtown Exeter. Check out the American Independence Museum – housed in a 1775 home that is also a National Historic Landmark. If you happen to be there in July, you will be able to partake in the American Independence Festival, where costumed actors reenact important battles while food vendors and musical acts round out the action. But at any time of the year, this stretch also offers the Water Street Bookstore (the largest independent bookstore on the Seacoast), the scrumptious Chocolatier, Whirlygig (one of the best toy stores around), Sea Dog Brewing Company, and lots of waterfront restaurants.

Hampton Beach

Aerial view of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. 
Aerial view of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. 

Hampton Beach is a zippy and multi-award-winning resort town on the southeast coast, pinched between the waters of Hampton Harbor and the Gulf of Maine. Its pristine sandy beaches have been consistently voted as some of the best in the nation, Coastal Living ranked Hampton Beach’s boardwalk as #1 in the country, Hampton Beach State Park always gets a nod when discussing U.S. state parks, and the town itself has received serious accolades from sources such as MSNBC and Expedia. In short, this summer getaway is beautiful, well-maintained, and full of life. In terms of annual events, don’t miss the Sand Sculpting Classic in June, the Miss Hampton Beach Pageant in July, or the Seafood Festival in September. But there are also weekly community gatherings to look forward to, such as the Wednesday night fireworks, Monday night movies on the beach, and nightly live music at the Seashell Stage. 

Portsmouth

Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Another idyllic and vibrant Seacoast community in New Hampshire (still within Rockingham County) is that of Portsmouth. This colorful port city (founded in the early 1600s) is anchored around the mouth of the Piscataqua River (which draws the border with Maine), right before it opens into the Atlantic via the Gulf of Maine. Portsmouth still boasts a working seaport, as well as a walkable historic downtown that is full of seafood restaurants and tap rooms and has robust shopping (tax-free!) and nightlife scenes. In terms of outdoor recreation, Portsmouth is big on sailing, fishing, paddling, and all other things water-related, but it is also a perfect place to get some breezy miles in on the bike. As of the writing of this article, another round of the annual Seacoast Beer Week has just wrapped up, but don’t worry, the craft breweries of both New Hampshire and Maine will be back in full force next February. Besides, the next popular seasonal event is always just around the corner in Portsmouth. Next up: the explosion of Easter & Spring brunches at harborside restaurants. 

Littleton

Littleton New Hampshire
The River Walk Covered Bridge with the Grist mill on the Ammnosuoc River in Littleton, New Hampshire.

Jumping up to northern New Hampshire, within the forested White Mountains, the Vermont border town of Littleton is fueled by the landscape. This Grafton County gem is built on either side of the Ammonoosuc River, where the revitalized River District invites visitors to come to get sufficiently caffeinated, then stroll along the River Rail Trail and across the romantic Riverwalk Covered Bridge before settling back down for an adult beverage. This part of town also lays claim to Chutters Candy Store, which holds the record for the world’s longest candy counter. The Parker Mountain trail system on the north side of town, in conjunction with the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, offers the chance for trail buffs to delve deeper into the wilderness. 

North Conway

North Conway, New Hampshire. Editorial credit: Keith J Finks / Shutterstock.com

Another happening spot within the White Mountains, some 50 miles east of Littleton (on the other side of the White Mountain National Forest), is the adventure hub of North Conway. With a whopping 13 nearby ski resorts, this Carroll County community is easily one of the best small ski towns in the country. But the outdoor recreation doesn’t stop there. North Conway sits in the shadow of Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the northeast, and along with the aforementioned White Mountain National Forest, is also sandwiched between Echo Lake State Park and the Merriman State Forest. North Conway therefore captures the attention of mountain climbers (owing to the highest concentration of routes in the state), and backcountry hikers, and thanks to the wide and welcoming Saco River, this spot is also great for kayaking, leisurely river tubing, and group rafting tours.  

Harrisville

Harrisville, New Hampshire
A scene from Harrisville, New Hampshire.

Harrisville resides in the heart of the Monadnock region of New Hampshire’s southwest corner. This mid-19th-century water-powered mill/textile town is one of the few in the area to persist in its original form. In 1971, only a year after the Cheshire Mills ceased operations, Historic Harrisville, Inc. banded together to preserve all the related properties in a way that allowed the town to reinvent itself. Soon after, in 1977, Harrisville was declared a National Historic Landmark. Today, the old mill buildings are home to small businesses (including a traditional New England general store), residents, and vital manufacturers. Along with its invigorating history, Harrisville is also surrounded by ten gorgeous lakes and ponds. Wash the day down by digging your toes into the sand at Sunset Beach on the shore of adjacent Harrisville Pond. 

Concord

Downtown Concord, New Hampshire.
Downtown Concord, New Hampshire.

Even though this is a “small-town” list, New Hampshire’s state capital, Concord, more than fits the bill. Yes, this Merrimack County city is a political hub, but with a population of just under 44,000 (as of 2020), it also has that quintessential New England charm. Plus, Concord is the cultural capital of the state – always enhancing its social, artistic, and culinary sides. Amidst the elegant granite structures of the New Hampshire Historical Society and the New Hampshire State Capitol are budding coffee shops, breweries/distilleries, farm-to-table eateries, performance venues, and dazzling public art displays up and down the pedestrian-friendly Main Street. Other fun outings include catching an indie film at the Red River Theatre, floating down the Merrimack River, or going on an adventure in nearby Bear Brook State Park or Mt. Kearsarge State Forest Park/Winslow State Park.

New Hampshire loves to ski, shop, sip, sail, scarf down freshly caught seafood, and so much more. What it lacks in girth, it makes for up in vibrancy. Not only is this New England settlement aesthetically pleasing (thanks to the restrained development of the northeastern wilderness), but it always has something fun going on. Whether you’re into four-season outdoor recreation, thriving independent establishments, or spirited, community-centric events, New Hampshire is happy to oblige. So don’t take the Granite State for granted – scoot on by some of these seven vibrant towns. 

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