While the great, big, historic towns of New England may be amazing - and they are - these small towns scattered through wilderness and coastlines of the northeast are hidden gems of history, culture, and unique personalities. Moreover, they're much more affordable than their big sisters like Boston and Philadelphia so you can fit any of these small New England towns into any budget.
The largest city in Maine with a population of just over 66,000, Portland is the historic namesake of its Oregon relative and just as quirky. Like the rest of Maine, Portland is a major recreational site with plenty of outdoor activities for any group. Discover the natural beauty of Maine's coastline with an ecotour or keep to the town and tour the Victoria Mansion, the colonial era Tate House, and the Portland Museum of Art. Charm simply pours from every facet of Portland from the lighthouses to the historic homes, cobblestone streets to the street performers.
The historic site of the 17th century Salem Witch Trials, Salem retains its historical legacy with academic accuracy and a flair for the dramatic. It's also within driving distance of Boston, making for a perfect side trip destination. If you're interested in history, like theatrics and witches, then Salem is the perfect place for you with a witch museum, historic house, and landmark on every corner. Make sure you stop by the Salem Witch Museum, Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace, and Pioneer Village, a recreated Puritan town in Forest River Park.
Seafood and maritime history sets Newburyport apart and while it's quite a small coastal town, there's plenty to do and see. Take a side trip up to Plum Island and relax on the scenic, sand dune beaches, tour the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, or come back to the cobblestone streets of downtown Newburyport to see the Custom House Maritime Museum or participate in the many lively festivals that go on year round. Newburyport is also a fantastic spot for a food tour. You won't be disappointed with the mouthwatering plates of fresh seafood, freshly baked pastries, and more.
The capital of Connecticut, Hartford has all of the political, historical, and governmental trappings of an educational trip with small town community flair and New England charm. Being the capital, Hartford has more than your average number of attractions from the capitol building and its free tours to the Connecticut Science Center, tours of Trinity College, and even the historic carousel circa 1914 at Bushnell Park. The hopping nightlife, cultural festivals and events, a world class ballet, and an abundance of art museums makes Hartford a more affordable version of Boston.
Though Mystic is a tiny, tiny village town with a population of just over 4,000 souls, it has a surprising amount of charm and attractions to keep you busy. Mystic's history relies entirely on seafaring ventures including the Mystic Seaport living history park where you'll find recreated 19th century seafaring village. On the wildlife perspective, Mystic Aquarium is a recommended stop where you can see a pod of beluga whales among other beautiful animals. Shop in the Olde Mistick Village district, a wonderfully scenic and high end outdoor shopping mall perfect for a day on the town. This tiny town has recognized its beauty and potential, making it a growing tourist destination.
Postcard perfect in the fall with the church steeple peeking above red and orange trees, a Norman Rockwell painting in the winter coated in a thick blanket of snow, Stowe is like a fairy tale. In the hills and forests of Vermont lies the quaint town of Stowe at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak. 200 years of history has given Stowe plenty of time to find its niche so, depending on the season, come for skiing, hiking or biking, or golfing. Take a trip to the Ben & Jerry's Factory, wind your way through the Percy Farm Corn Maze, take a tour of Laughing Moon Chocolates, or explore the many art galleries along the scenic streets.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Walk through the streets of Portsmouth and marvel at the seafaring cottages, the colonial era mansions and the historic buildings. Situated as a hub between the larger cities of New Hampshire and close to the sea, Portsmouth is the perfect spot to sit back and relax. Portsmouth claims to be the country's third oldest city, settled in 1623 and it shows, in the best way possible. The American Independence Museum, the site of the New Hampshire Treasury during the Revolutionary War, is a wonderful educational place to visit, as is the Children's Museum of New Hampshire. If you have a group of older students, Hampton Beach is a wonderfully scenic place to relax while the Seacoast Science Center and the USS Albacore Museum make for fantastic attractions for any age.
Newport, Rhode Island
Intensely scenic, spectacularly situated on the deep blue Atlantic with rocky shores and centuries of history, Newport finds you touring the exotic and grand mansions of history's elite, exploring your seafaring side by boat, and shopping your heart out. The Breakers, "summer house" of the Vanderbilts, is the grandest mansion and the most popular touring attraction among the Newport mansions although The Elms and Marble House make for amazing tours as well. Don't miss out on the National Museum of American Illustration, also housed in a grand historic mansion, and make sure you stop by Fort Adams State Park for your dose of American history.