15 Best Small Towns to Visit in New Hampshire

Written by Chantae Reden
Updated on
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New Hampshire was one of the original thirteen colonies that founded the United States that holds tightly to its revolutionary history. New Hampshire also has stunning natural landscapes with snowy mountain ranges, sprawling meadows, lakes, and beaches. History buffs will love visiting the sites of important decisions, touring the buildings, and learning about the area from the local museums. Meanwhile, active travelers should visit the small towns of New Hampshire to spend their days exploring the outdoors.

It’s common to find small towns with friendly locals and colonial architecture nestled among woodlands. Though many may seem similar on a superficial level because of their demographic or proximity to one another, each one is truly unique and has its own personality to discover. Many of these small towns have inspired classic artists and poets like Robert Frost and Nathaniel Hawthorne to create work that pays tribute to New Hampshire’s beauty.

No matter what time of the year you visit, you’ll find New Hampshire a welcoming state with all types of things to see and do. While the bigger towns and cities like Concord and Manchester have their charm, it’s in the small towns that you’ll truly get a taste of what it’s like to be a local in this stunning state.

Lets explore the best small towns to visit in New Hampshire:

1. Hanover

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller ParkSource: flickr
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Park

Home to Dartmouth College, Hanover is a small town in the Upper Valley on the Connecticut River. There are all types of entertainment options and activity venues like shopping, theatres, parks, ski resorts, live college sports games, and museums.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love Hanover because of it’s the perfect place to go to the Dartmouth Skiway, the Suicide Six Ski Area, Storrs Pond Recreation Area, and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Park. Meanwhile, travelers interested in history, science, and culture should see the Billings Farm and Museum, Enfield Shaker Museum, Nugget Theatres, The Old Constitution House, and the Montshire Museum of Science.

You could easily spend a few days in Hanover without getting even slightly bored.

2. Exeter

ExeterSource: flickr

Exeter is a known for being one of the friendliest and most walkable small towns in New Hampshire. The main street is lined with boutique shops, independent bookstores, galleries, and restaurants. Step back in time by staying in a historic colonial inn and enjoy dinner on the Squamscott River – an important point throughout colonial history.

In winter, the town looks picturesque with frosting-covered rooftops and trees and has recreation areas for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, and snowman making competitions. Once the weather warms up, there’s plenty of trails to explore with a mountain bike or with your two feet. Since the small town is on a river, there are also countless boating and water-type activities to enjoy.

3. Sugar Hill

Sugar HillSource: flickr
Sugar Hill

Escape the city by heading to Sugar Hill, a little oasis amidst New Hampshire’s best natural sites. Within a small radius, you can see hundreds of waterfalls, hike to the top of Mount Washington, drive along the scenic Kancamagus Highway, and be amazed at the gargantuan Flume Gorge.

There are also seasonal activities like wildflower picking in spring, ziplining, hang-gliding, hiking, cross-country skiing, and more.

Learn more about the area at the Sugar Hill Historical Museum, where everything you need to know about the region’s history is presented in a lively, organized way. There is also the Sugar Hill Sampler, a fun venue where you can browse and try all different foods, drinks, and shop for trinkets.

4. Hancock

HancockSource: discovermonadnock

Hancock is a small town in the Monadnock Region, commonly thought of as being the heart of New England. Nearly every building in the center of town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Revere & Son’s bell in the towns 1800s meeting house can be heard chiming all throughout the day. It’s a friendly town with a strong community spirit (many shops simply have an honor system for purchases) that will welcome all who visit.

When in Hancock, consider staying at The Hancock Inn built in 789, making it the oldest inn in New Hampshire. From here, you can wander through the Harris Center for Conservation Education, go hiking, or just walk around town – no car required. There are constantly summer concerts, art performances, and other events for locals and visitors alike.

5. Franconia

FranconiaSource: flickr

Set in the White Mountains, Franconia and the surrounding region is so beautiful it inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write The Old Man of the Mountains based on its charm. There are little shops and dining area to browse, all in a picturesque setting. Robert Frost, the great poet, also called Franconia home and you can pay tribute to his work at The Frost Place museum.

Travelers who love to be outside should stop by Franconia and use it as a base to explore the Franconia State Park, see the Flume Gorge, kayak and swim at Echo Lake, go horseback riding, snowshoeing, mountain biking, ziplining, and more. Ride along the Cannon Mountain aerial tramway for sky-high views.

6. Portsmouth

PortsmouthSource: flickr

Portsmouth is one of the best small towns in the country to visit if you have a penchant for U.S. history. Many buildings date back to the colonial era, and the American Independence Museum hosts artifacts from the revolution including the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution. The Strawbery Banke Museum has living history performances that take you back to the colonial era – its hands on, and perfect for travelers of all ages. You can also take a ride on the Piscataqua, a full-scale replica of a colonial sailboat.

Grab a beer at The Press Room and then go The Music Hall to listen to the tunes from the local live musicians. There are often art performances at Prescott Park and dance workshops at The Dance Hall Kittery.

7. Littleton

LittletonSource: flickr

Littleton frequently comes up as a top contender when locals are asked what small town in New Hampshire is best. Maybe it’s because the main street lined with beautiful colonial buildings has tens of unique shops or maybe it’s because those with a sweet tooth can get their fix at Chutters candy store, a shop with the longest candy counter in the country. The town is a world away from any semblance from city life and is worth the visit no matter what time of the year you choose to come by. At night, the town has a pretty skyline that highlights the local church and government buildings.

8. Gorham

GorhamSource: flickr

Gorham is a small town that is thought to have almost as many moose as it has people! There are frequent moose tours where you can see these giant and gentle creatures grazing at the Moose Brook State Park. Outdoor addicts will also enjoy doing winter activities like skiing at the Sunday River, Wildcat, Attitash and the local woodlands. When it’s warm, enjoy spending time at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center and walking along the Imp Trail Loop. There are also places to go white water rafting, hiking, and swimming all along the Sacco and Androscoggin rivers. Gorham is the best small town for adventurous travelers and those who love to play outside.

9. North Conway

North ConwaySource: flickr
North Conway

North Conway in the Mount Washington Valley is a small town any type of traveler would love. From North Conway, you can explore over 700,000 acres of pristine forest which makes the perfect playground for any outdoor enthusiast. You can ski, fish, hike, swim, snowmobile, golf, canoe, camp, admire waterfalls, and much more depending on the time of the year.

North Conway also has a variety of cozy accommodation options ranging from luxurious bed and breakfasts to manicured campgrounds. Shopaholics will love the Setters’ Green Outlet Village, the antique and craft shops, and dining at the many restaurants to choose from.

10. Meredith

MeredithSource: flickr

Meredith is in the heart of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is in the perfect place to see both the lakes and mountains of the White Mountains. Specifically, Meredith is nearby Lake Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Waukewan, Wicwas, Newfound Lake, Winona, Squam Lake, and more. Summer brings in most tourists who love to come for the arts and craft festivals, fishing derbies, concerts, nature tours, and more. On the lake, you can rent a boat and go water skiing, wakeboarding, or simply spent the day afloat. There are so many things to do and see, you could easily spend a week here without getting bored.

Tax free shopping in Meredith means you can pick out rare gifts from the antique and collectibles shops. There are also galleries and craft shops that feature the work from local artists – their work is often inspired by the beauty that surrounds this small town.

11. Lincoln

LincolnSource: flickr

Lincoln is known for being the base camp of the White Mountains, making it the perfect small town to visit if you’re interested in seeing that stunning mountain range. From Lincoln, you can hike around the Basin at Franconia Notch State Park, admire the Franconia Falls, view the Ice Castles, go ziplining, and even take a train ride on the Hobo Railroad – crafted to look like The North Pole during winter. There are many other outdoor attractions as well as wineries, colonial style architecture, and specialty shops in town.

12. Peterborough

PeterboroughSource: flickr

Artists from all over the state are attracted to Peterborough’s thriving art community. There are constantly concerts, live theater performances, exhibitions, gallery displays, and art workshops taking place no matter what time of the year – and nearly all are open to visitors. Some standout performances usually take place at the Peterborough Players, a theater inside a barn!

You’ll have a great time simply walking through town, admiring the buildings, and staying at a friendly inn or bed and breakfast. You can’t miss visiting the charming Mariposa Museum of World Cultures, shopping for antiques, or walking around Temple Mountain.

13. Jackson

JacksonSource: flickr

Jackson is one of the most underrated small towns in New Hampshire where you’re sure to find untouched wilderness and country inns to make you feel welcome. Jackson is nearby the White Mountains, where all types of travelers will have fun exploring the hills, viewing the waterfalls, and hiking through meadows. Go skiing at Wildcat Mountain, Black Mountain, or take a cross country ski tour with a local guide.

Jackson is also nearby Story Land, a children’s theme park where storybook characters come to life. It’s sure to inspire imaginations and make adults feel nostalgic. The Ellis River Art Studios are a great place to see local art displays and if you want to try your hand at creating some yourself, head to the Jackson Art Studio for hands-on workshops for everyone.

14. Northwood

NorthwoodSource: flickr

Founded in 1773, this small town has been welcoming guests for hundreds of years. Northwood takes pride in preserving its historic roots by maintaining its original architecture and natural surroundings. You can stay at places like the Meadow Farm Bed and Breakfast, a homey accommodation walking distance to a lake where guests can canoe and swim surrounded by New England paradise.

There are also plenty of you-pick farms in Northwood where guests can pick berries in the summer and apples in the fall. This town is no-frills but all comfort.

15. Hampton Beach

Hampton BeachSource: flickr
Hampton Beach

Hampton Beach is a popular vacation destination for those living in New Hampshire, which is a good indicator of why you should visit during your trip as well. This resort town attracts water lovers looking to spend warm days rotating between the sea and under their umbrella. Stroll along the boardwalk, named one of the best in the country by USA Today or participate in one of the sand sculpting competitions. Though this destination might not be the best during the colder months of the year, it’s a top town as soon as the sun starts shining.

15 Best Small Towns to Visit in New Hampshire:

  • Hanover
  • Exeter
  • Sugar Hill
  • Hancock
  • Franconia
  • Portsmouth
  • Littleton
  • Gorham
  • North Conway
  • Meredith
  • Lincoln
  • Peterborough
  • Jackson
  • Northwood
  • Hampton Beach