Picture-postcard mountain villages, quaint pastel-coloured coastal communities, nature’s annual autumnal colour spectacle and a history dating back 400 years that has earned it the soubriquet of the cradle of American civilisation, New England is a compelling and delightful region to visit. It is also very much a four-season destination that is every bit as good to visit in winter as it is at other times of the year.
The six states that comprise New England – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont – are just as inviting and charming when everything is covered by snow, if not more so. And for skiers and snowboarders, there are dozens of mountain resorts across the region, offering tremendous facilities and long winter seasons.
Most New England holidays start in Boston. History comes alive in the Massachusetts city famous for the 1773 tea party in which American colonists dumped crates of British tea in the harbour and helped spark the American Revolution. It can be explored on foot, notably along the historic Freedom Trail. Beyond Boston to the north lies Salem, famous for its witch trials, while to the south are Plymouth, where the Pilgrim Fathers first arrived and founded new colonies, the beautiful Cape Cod peninsula and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The rolling Berkshire Hills in the state’s far west are home to the famous Tanglewood Festival, theatres and art institutions.
Rhode Island is bound to the sea, and its maritime heritage is no more evident than in places such as Bristol’s harbour or the Riverwalk in Providence. Connecticut mixes its seafaring past at places such as Mystic Seaport with wineries, the traditions of Yale University and Mark Twain’s home city, Hartford. The pretty, clapboard-filled villages of New Hampshire and Vermont bustle with visitors during the fall foliage season but are a joy to discover in other seasons. Lose yourself in the 768,000 acres of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest or Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. But take time out for a trip to the summit of New England’s highest mountain, mighty Mt Washington, by car on its Auto Road, America’s oldest man-made attraction, or on the world’s oldest cog railway. Don’t forget a tour of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory, complete with free samples, in Vermont town Waterbury.
In Maine, follow the rugged coastline and visit charming fishing communities where you can feast on lobsters and other seafood fresh off the trawlers, tour stunning Acadia National Park and hike in true wilderness along the northernmost section of the celebrated Apalachian Trail to its finish on Maine’s tallest mountain, Mt Katahdin.
Things to do
Our Recommended New England Holidays
Things to do
New England’s states are so diverse; they are more like countries in their own right, offering a world of possibilities for visitors. When winter brings its cloak of snow, dust down your ski gear and jet off to one of the region’s numerous snowsport resorts to carve their tree-lined trails. If history appeals, a walking tour of America’s most historic city is a must, as is a pilgrimage to the spot where the first settlers arrived from England to create new colonies. The sea shaped not only New England’s craggy coastlines but also the communities whose lives depended on it, and both are tourist draws. But it is inland in the mountains and valleys where most visitors seek gold, in the form of its glorious fall foliage colours.
Ski New England’s slopes
Pack your skis or snowboard if you head to New England in winter. The region offers great downhill trails on its mountain ski resorts, notably in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire and including well-known names such as Stowe, Killington, Sugarloaf and Sunday River in addition to hidden gems like Okemo and Jay Peak. The season can start as early as late October and last until the beginning of May. There are also many miles of backcountry trails where you can go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling.
Stroll around Boston
With the cobbled streets and centuries-old buildings of its historic heart, Boston has a European feel. But New England’s largest city is all-American, and the key events that led to America breaking away from Britain happened here. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile-long red line in the pavement along which you can see 16 of the USA’s most iconic buildings and historic sites. Walk on your own or on a tour with a costumed guide, past sites including the Old State House, Old Meeting House, Paul Revere House, Boston Common, USS Constitution and Faneuil Hall, where the adjacent Marketplace is a fruit and veg market with shops, restaurants and stalls that was the inspiration for London’s Covent Garden.
New England’s maritime heritage is celebrated in Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport, where you can explore the 19th century seafaring village that is preserved as a living history museum. Interpretive displays bring to life the 60 historic buildings, a shipyard and boats including the world’s last surviving wooden whaling ship, the Charles W Morgan, which was launched in 1841 and is America’s oldest commercial ship still afloat. Mystic Aquarium is where you find New England’s only beluga whales.
Fall foliage tours
New England puts on one of the best displays of Mother Nature’s dazzling fall foliage phenomenon, its mountains and valleys swathed with trees crowned by yellow, gold, crimson and every hue in between. The show starts in the north and on higher elevations around mid-September, reaching its crescendo by early or mid-October as the colourfest moves ever southwards, before giving way to winter’s sombre tones. You can take guided tours or drive yourself on scenic loops but if planning to stay en route, secure it well in advance as accommodation in rural areas is limited and quickly books up. Plymouth South of Boston, Plymouth Rock is one of the region’s most iconic landmarks; it was here that the Pilgrims first arrived and stepped ashore in 1620. Almost one million visitors a year come here to retrace those steps. You can also step aboard the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the Pilgrims’ ship, step back in time at the Pilgrim Hall Museum and Jenney Museum, and immerse yourself in life in the Pilgrims’ time at living history site Plimoth Plantation, where it is perpetually 1627.
Popular New England holiday ideas
The Midtown Hotel is a classic hotel with good amenities and a great central location, close to the excellent shopping district of Back Bay.
Top tips for visiting New England
1. New England Ski Museum
• The New England Ski Museum is located at the foot of New Hampshire ski hill Cannon Mountain in Olympic ski champion Bode Miller’s home town of Franconia.
• It features a collection of equipment, art and artefacts that trace the story of skiing, local skiing history and that of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
2. Scenic byways
• Explore New England’s glorious landscape and seascapes on its scenic byways.
• The Mohawk Trail, in western Massachusetts was one of the region’s first scenic roads when it opened in 1914 and follows a Native American trading route into the Berkshires along Route 2.
• Other scenic roads include Route 169 through Connecticut’s Last Green Valley, New Hampshire’s dramatic Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountain National Forest, Maine’s Acadia National Park Loop and Route 17 in Vermont, which winds up to the top of the Appalachian Gap for stunning vistas over Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains.
3. Spot marine life
• Winter is the best time for seal-watching. Take a one-hour, 75-minute or two-hour Save the Bay boat tour to spot harbour seals resting on rocks and the shoreline from Rhode Island’s Newport, Fall River or Westerly.
• You can go whale-watching from Boston or Cape Cod to view feeding humpback, minke and finback whales and dolphins from April to October.
4. Local produce
• Follow the Vermont Cheese Trail (www.vtcheese.com), which spans more than 50 artisanal cheese makers across the state. Most are open to the public for tours and offer cheeses for sale, although some require visitors to call ahead.
• You can buy other local produce including maple syrup, honey and wines at Vermont’s 96 farmers’ markets.
• Connecticut has its own beer and wine trails while the “Maine Brew Bus” tours breweries in Portland and beyond.
5. The skiers highway
• Take the Skiers’ Highway through Vermont, following the scenic Route 100 Byway, Mad River Byway and Green Mountain Byway, as it twists and winds through 220 miles of picturesque Vermont countryside past ski resorts such as Okemo, Killington and Stowe.
• But with its pretty towns, forested mountains, covered bridges and verdant river valleys it’s great to drive it any time of year.
6. Block Island
• Block Island, 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, is one of the East Coast’s best bird-watching spots, due to its 133-acre Block Island National Wildlife Refuge being on an important migratory path.
• You can also rent a kayak to paddle its freshwater ponds and coastline, and climb to the top of 140-year-old Southeast Lighthouse for panoramic views.
7. Maine lobster
• Coastal town Rockland is Maine’s lobster capital.
• The Maine Lobster Festival is held over five days each August, during which time up to 25,000 pounds of locally-caught lobsters are prepared on the world’s largest lobster cooker.
• Enjoy them from June to September in the town’s lobster shacks and restaurants.
8. Tax free shopping
• Leave plenty of suitcase space for bargains if visiting New Hampshire, thanks to its tax-free shopping status with no sales tax on retail purchases.
• Fill your boots at outlet malls including Settlers’ Green Outlet Village, Tanger Outlets in Tilton and Merrimack Premium Outlets. Shoeniverse, in Connecticut’s Norwich, has been described as the “Godzilla of shoe stores” and is the largest in New England.
9. New England wildlife
• Look out for wildlife along forest roads, particularly in Maine and New Hampshire, where you can join moose photo safaris.
10. Cape Cod
• Get away from it all on the sand dunes and endless beaches of Cape Cod, south of Boston.
• From there you can take ferries to offshore islands Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, popular holiday boltholes for US presidents.