When you get one ‘big’ holiday a year, one chance every 12 months to quench your wanderlust, it’s no easy feat deciding where to jet off to. With the world so accessible and choices galore at our fingertips, you’d think selecting the perfect place to spend our precious seven days would be easy. But, easy it is not.
We want it all – beaches, mountains, lakes, cities, countryside, history, sunshine, culture, glamour, views, adventure, friendly locals, easy access, relaxation, rustic appeal, the ‘wow’ factor – whew, that’s quite a list. Not too much to ask, is it? Ok, it is a lot to ask, but it isn’t impossible. I’ve found just the place: New Hampshire, USA (with a side order of Boston).
Start with a few days in Boston
Where to stay in Boston: XV Beacon Hotel
Not one to fancy long transfers after long flights, we made the most of our trip and stayed in Massachusetts’ capital city for a few nights.
There are hotels of all shapes, sizes and flavours in the city, but if you’re doing Boston, do Boston right and stay at Hotel XV Beacon, a luxury boutique hotel named one of the top 15 best city hotels in the Continental United States by Travel & Leisure. Out of tens of thousands of hotels and B&Bs, this place got on this list. That’s a pretty sweet bragging point if you ask me.
Elegant and modern, this 63-room hotel is housed in a turn-of-the-century 10-storey Beaux Arts building right across from ‘the Common’, Boston’s beautiful tree-lined public park, and the oldest public park in America.
If you’re travelling with the whole family, the hotel’s Gilbert Stuart Suites are one of a kind, featuring 1,400 square feet of glorious, stylish space with two bedrooms, separate parlour room and dining room that can accommodate up to 12 people. The ultimate in luxury.
Top it off with impeccable service, a stunning roof terrace, an award-winning restaurant, and of course location, location, location, and you have the perfect hub for your stopover in ‘Beantown’.
Things to do in Boston
Where do I begin? There’s so much to do in Boston we couldn’t possibly fit it all into two days, so here are just a few of my top picks (and don’t forget to grab a bowl of famous New England clam chowdah along the way).
The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile marked route that takes you to 16 historically significant sites in Boston, from museums to meetinghouses to churches. Do the trail on your own or join a tour, either way you’ll learn the rich history of the American Revolution.
The New England Aquarium
With over 1.3 million visitors each year, the New England Aquarium is one of Boston’s must-see attractions, combining education, entertainment and action including the famous 200,000-gallon Caribbean Coral Reef exhibition.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
This city-centre marketplace is made up of Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market, all set around a cobblestone promenade, filled with an array of shops, restaurants and outdoor entertainment.
Celebrate America’s favourite pastime at a baseball game at Fenway Park, the stadium with the famous ‘Green Monster’ (the big green left field wall – remember Field of Dreams?). Grab a hot dog, a cold beer and cheer on the Red Sox.
Boasting panoramic views of Boston and beyond from 50 stories up, Skywalk Boston gives you a unique perspective of the city, including access to the Dreams of Freedom Museum and Multimedia Movie Theatre.
Now that you’ve had your short but sweet fill of the city, it’s off to explore what you’re really here for: New Hampshire. The ‘Granite State’ is a great big show-off (in a good way) in terms of diverse topography, preventing even the most seasoned outdoor enthusiasts from getting bored.
From sandy beaches to rocky coastline, rugged mountains to crystal clear lakes, New Hampshire has it all, and will keep the entire family happy. During our getaway, we were lucky enough to stay in three very beautiful and very different locations…
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Named after, you guessed it, Portsmouth, Hampshire – Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a trendy city on the state’s Seacoast, brimming with unique shops, fantastic eateries and plenty of attractions.
Where to stay in Portsmouth: The Hotel Portsmouth
Just of the beaten path, housed in an historic Victorian mansion, The Hotel Portsmouth is the city’s only locally owned, non-chain boutique hotel, so it was a no-brainer to stay here.
Described as ‘grand yet boutique’, the hotel offers the amenities you’d expect at a luxury hotel (lush toiletries, spacious rooms and huge beds, fireplaces, claw-foot bathtubs, 5-star service), with the quaintness of a local bed & breakfast, including, of course, a delightful morning bite to eat.
Only a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of downtown, but far enough away to experience some peace and quiet, The Hotel Portsmouth was a dream: plenty of parking, swift and friendly check-in, and most importantly, a truly beautiful private space to escape to after exploring this seaside vacation spot.
Things to do in Portsmouth
Shopping, delicious seafood and café culture are some of Portsmouth’s specialities, and they almost go without saying. After your fix of lobster, coffee and gift buying, I recommend…
Portsmouth Harbor Cruises
Not only is a Portsmouth Harbor Cruise a great way to see the Seacoast from another angle, it’s one of the best ways to learn about the history of Portsmouth, the Piscataqua River and early American history.
The Portsmouth Brewery
The Portsmouth Brewery is New Hampshire’s original brewpub, and serves great food and handcrafted beers in a lively atmosphere, seven days a week. If you can manage a night without the kiddos, it’s a must-go. We couldn’t decide which original beer or cider to taste, so we tried them all (I was on holiday, after all), with the Chocolate Raspberry Stout coming out on top.
Strawbery Banke Museum
The vibrant 10-acre Strawbery Banke Museum is dedicated to bringing 300+ years of American history to life through their dozens of historic buildings (on their original foundations), heirloom gardens, hands-on traditional crafts and engaging costumed roleplayers sharing the experiences of those who lived and worked in the waterfront neighbourhood of Puddle Dock.
The White Mountains, New Hampshire
The name is a bit misleading, considering The White Mountains are either green or shades of autumnal orange, yellow and red for much of the year. With more outdoorsy stuff to do than you can shake a stick at, the mountain region of New Hampshire is a sportsman’s paradise, offering everything from skiing, snowmobiling and dog sledding in the winter, to hiking, fishing, swimming, mountain biking, rock climbing, white water rafting and golfing in the summer.
Where to stay in The White Mountains: Omni Mount Washington Resort
Absolutely spectacular. That’s the best I can do to sum up this family-friendly resort in a few words. Beginning with awe-inspiring views of the Presidential Mountain Range, and ending with a divine breakfast in the exquisite dining room, our stay at the Omni Mount Washington Resort was one I promised myself I will repeat one day, and one day sooner rather than later.
Nestled in a valley in Bretton Woods, the Mount Washington Resort isn’t just magnificent to look at. It offers all of life’s pleasures under one massive red roof. Full body massage? Check. Lobster bake on the lawns? No problem. Golf? Horse riding? Tennis? Night club? Zipline canopy tour? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
Things to do in The White Mountains
The Bretton Woods Canopy Tour
Quite possibly the highlight of our whole New England trip, the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour takes nature lovers and thrillseekers across a series of nine treetop zip lines (the longest being 830 feet long), and is the longest zip line canopy tour in New England. See the entire mountain region in the best way possible, and get your adrenaline fix while you’re at it!
No trip to New Hampshire would be complete without driving the famous Kancamagus Highway, or as locals call it, “The Kanc”. The highway is a 34.5-mile scenic drive along New Hampshire’s Rt.112 that is most well known for its awe-inspiring autumn foliage viewing areas. It carves a path through the White Mountain National Forest with breathtaking views of the White Mountains, the Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge, and tourists can stop at plenty of places along the way for hikes, waterfall swims (beware, it’s cold!), or climbing. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a moose or a bear strolling by the side of the road.
Christmas? In summer? How much more magical can you get for the little ones in your family? Santa’s Village is a Christmas-themed amusement park open from springtime through December, with rides, attractions, entertainment, a waterpark, an array of family-friendly eateries and plenty of Christmas charm, including a visit to Father Christmas himself.
Mount Washington Cog Railway
Take the whole family and climb to the top of Mount Washington on the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway train. Built in 1869, the Mount Washington Cog Railway offers stunning panoramic views as it takes you up to the summit of Mount Washington, where you can get off and explore (take in the views or visit the Sherman Adams Visitor Center) before heading back down again. On a clear day, you can see five US states and even as far as Canada and the Atlantic Ocean!
The Lakes Region, New Hampshire
The Lakes Region covers an area in central New Hampshire with 273 lakes and ponds, including the majestic 45,000-acre Lake Winnipesaukee. One of the most popular destinations for New Englanders to spend their summers, the Lakes Region has a scattering of cute waterside villages to explore, warm waters to splash in, and plenty of activities and events to keep you and the kids busy.
Where to stay in The Lakes Region: A luxury Airbnb
Whether you choose the quaint town of Wolfeboro or the bustling tourist area of Weirs Beach, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury accommodation in the Lakes Region. There are plenty of hotels and luxury B&Bs around the lake, but to get the true – and most luxurious – Lake Winnipesaukee experience, Airbnb was our choice for accommodation.
For the last few days of our trip, we opted to live like the locals, and found a perfect lake house with its own dock, kayaks and huge wrap-around deck to enjoy the sunsets each evening. Check out this 6-bedroom waterfront home in Moultonborough or this 4-bedroom lake house in Tuftonboro for an idea of the beautiful family accommodation on offer.
Things to do in The Lakes Region
Castle in the Clouds
Built in 1913 as a private home, the mountaintop Castle in the Clouds is an unusual example of Arts and Crafts architecture in New England, and features a number of technological innovations of the early 20th century. And let’s not forget the views! Stunning to say the least.
Canoeing on Lake Winnipesaukee
Visit the EKAL Activity Center in Meredith and take a chartered boat tour of the lake, or rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board for a day out on the water.
Funspot is the largest arcade in the world – perfect for a rainy day! With over 600 games including classics and pinball, kiddie rides, bowling, restaurant, tavern and zip lines, there’s something for everyone at Funspot.
New Hampshire is more accessible than you think. Flights from London Gatwick to Boston take between six and seven hours, and are surprisingly cushy when flying Norwegian Premium.
On Premium, you get inclusive luggage, fast-track security and can chill out in Gatwick’s airport lounge pre-flight. While in the air, enjoy complimentary drinks, dinner, and your own in-seat entertainment system.
We enjoyed the to-and-fro in the comfortable Premium cabin of the Norwegian 787 Dreamliner, and landed in the States and felt less jetlag than I’ve ever felt after a long-haul flight. This is due to the lowered cabin pressure, intelligent interior lighting, tinted windows (think transition sunglasses) and of course the comfy seats and ample personal space (and the leg room!) in Premium.
After arriving in Boston, the easiest way to get around is by car, and you can drive from the airport to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in a quick and easy hour.