New England is blessed with perhaps more than its fair share of towns that visitors end up longing to live in. These communities benefit from being in a region filled with historical architecture and natural beauty that spans mountains, farmland, and seacoast. But some places in New England also get a little jolt of energy from the universities — including some of the finest schools in the country — that have made their home here. From cultural and sporting events to affordable eats to offbeat shopping options, college towns tend to appeal to more than just college students. Want to explore an academic enclave for your next getaway? Read on for our nominees in every state for the best college towns in New England, and let us know in the comments if we missed your favorites.
The Best College Town in Every New England State
Best College Town in New Hampshire: Hanover
Founded in 1761, this charming Connecticut River town is only a few years older than the school that helped make it famous: Dartmouth College, the smallest school in the Ivy League and alma mater of such luminaries as Robert Frost, Nelson Rockefeller, Louise Erdrich, and Mindy Kaling, among others. Visitors are drawn to the school’s graceful campus, which includes the Hood Museum of Art, one of the best college art museums in the country; the Hopkins Center for the Arts, which offers programming year-round; and the Baker-Berry Library, home to José Clementé Orozco’s Epic of American Civilization mural, which is a National Historic Landmark. Hanover’s Main Street offers numerous boutiques, bookstores, cafés, and eateries. And of course, there’s a grade-A place for Mom and Dad — or anyone else — to stay overnight: Check out the recently renovated Hanover Inn.
Best College Town in Rhode Island: Providence
Calling Rhode Island’s capital city a college town may seem like a stretch, but in fact, Providence does get a lot of youthful energy from its schools — most notably Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Johnson & Wales. Among the hot spots for this energy are the College Hill neighborhood and Wickenden Street in Fox Point, both of which bustle with shopping, dining, and street life. Love a sweet treat? Check out Yankee favorite PVDonuts, just off Wickenden. For Asian spice, look for Den Den, right down Benefit Street from Brown’s campus. Bicyclists will want to seek out the East Bay Bike Path, which runs 14.5 miles from Providence to Bristol, much of it along Narragansett Bay. Among the wealth of overnight options, you’ll find historical elegance just steps from the Rhode Island statehouse in the form of the c. 1858 Christopher Dodge House (named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best City B&B”).
Best College Town in Vermont: Middlebury
Middlebury College claims the oldest undergraduate environmental studies program in the United States. It also counts among its faculty the renowned environmental scholar and author Bill McKibben (The End of Nature). No wonder, then, that the town of Middlebury itself has a strong outdoors vibe embraced by both residents and students. The central community is circled by a 16-mile footpath, and there’s easy access nearby (via side trails) to Vermont’s famed Long Trail. A number of bike routes pass through town; plus, skiing and snowboarding facilities are right in the backyard. Of course, after you work off a lot of calories, you can afford to eat like a freshman. Check out the A&W Drive-In — one of New England’s last carhop eateries — for burgers, onion rings, and retro appeal. And before leaving town, don’t forget to pick up a Vermont-made toy, game, or gift at Maple Landmark Woodcraft, one of Yankee’s “Best Local Secrets” and, of course, very environmentally friendly.
See More:Middlebury, Vermont in Winter | Could You Live Here?
Best College Town in Connecticut: New Haven
Of the seven colleges located in or just outside the coastal city of New Haven, the best known by far is Yale, the alma mater of five U.S. presidents. It’s also the biggest, with a 200-acre-plus downtown spread dotted with three centuries of world-class buildings (a fact that earned Yale a spot on Travel + Leisure’s list of America’s most beautiful campuses). So a good portion of New Haven’s college-town appeal stems from Yale’s many public concerts and recitals, readings and performances, and sporting events. There’s also an impressive trio of museums on campus: the Center for British Art, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and the Yale University Art Gallery, which has been named one of Yankee’s “Best Bargains.” The city itself has a treasure trove of museums, galleries, theaters, and clubs for downtown diversions, plus more than 2,000 acres of green space within its limits. To get a slice of real New Haven history, check out the original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, which is located in the popular neighborhood of Wooster Square.
Best College Town in Massachusetts: Amherst
A “best college town” vote for Amherst is really a vote for its Pioneer Valley neighbors of South Hadley and Northampton too. Collectively, these three towns are home to the famed Five College Consortium of Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire College, and UMass-Amherst. Residents of the towns — not to mention students — regularly travel from one to the other depending on who’s performing, what’s on the menu, or which stores have the best sale. There’s a great bike trail linking Amherst and Northampton, the Norwottuck Rail Trail, and terrific hiking to be had in the Mount Holyoke Range and on Mount Tom. Spend an afternoon marveling at prehistoric treasures at the Amherst College Museum of Natural History or get lost in the green worlds of Smith College’s botanic garden (one of Yankee’s “Best Bargains”). When it’s time to retire for the night, treat yourself to a stay at the Allen House and Amherst Inn, a pair of sister inns near the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst.
Best College Town in Maine: Brunswick
Located on Maine’s highly photogenic Midcoast, the town of Brunswick is home to historic Bowdoin College. The school was chartered in 1794, a few decades before Maine was even a state, and today it ranks as one of the nation’s best liberal arts colleges. Bowdoin has two stellar museums, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the Peary-MacMillan Museum, which are free and open to the public. The Maine State Music Theatre is also found here, performing summers in Bowdoin’s Pickard Theater. In the pedestrian-friendly downtown, check out the venerable Gulf of Maine Books, one of Yankee’s “Best 5 New England Bookstores”. Or browse awhile at Bull Moose, a home-grown mecca for records, books, and more that now has about a dozen locations in Maine and New Hampshire. Refueling stops include Bowdoin’s own dining halls and the locally owned, from-scratch bakery/café Wild Oats.
Have you been to any favorite college towns in New England? Think we missed a worthy contender? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.