Bursting with historical landmarks, outdoor adventures, and a plethora of culture, travel in the Northeast offers many great family travel opportunities. The region is so full of kid-friendly things to do that choosing just two per state was often a very challenging task. But we’ve rounded up these absolute must do’s to add to your family bucket list when you travel in the Northeast, including renowned museums, national and state parks, historic railroads, mountain resorts, art installations and even a museum devoted entirely to play.
New England Air Museum– Windsor Locks, Connecticut
Why we Love it? This aviation museum’s collection includes more than 100 aircraft ranging from some of the earliest flying machines to modern, supersonic jets. 65 of the aircraft are on display in three large exhibit hangars and in an outdoor display area, which is open when the weather is good.
Best time of year to go? This is a great place to visit year-round.
Best thing to do with kids: Learn about the history and innovations of Russian immigrant Igor Sikorsky, who developed amphibian aircraft and eventually designed and built the world’s first real helicopter. There are nine Sikorsky aircraft in the collection to explore, including two flying boats.
You can also check out the Windsor Locks, Connecticut website.
Mystic Aquarium – Mystic, Connecticut
Why we Love it? It’s one of just three facilities in the U.S. that hold hefty Steller sea lions and has the only beluga whales in New England. There are also California Sea Lions, Northern Fur Seals, Harbor Seals, and Spotted Seals. Special exhibits include a ray and shark touch pool, an African penguin exhibit, a jelly gallery, and an “Exploration: Wild” ecosystems exhibit.
Best time of year to go? This is a great place to visit year-round.
Best thing to do with kids: Kids will love the 750,000-gallon Arctic Coast exhibit, an acre of glacial streams, northern evergreens, and crystal blue waters. There are three 20-foot-long underwater viewing windows to observe the gentle beluga whales and you can hear presentations from trainers during feeding and training sessions.
You can also check out the Mystic, Connecticut website.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Connecticut With Kids
Acadia National Park – Bar Harbor, Maine
Why we Love it? Called the ‘Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast’, Acadia is where the aged and rolling mountains of New England crash into the churning sea. There are seven peaks above 1,000 feet, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads with 16 stone bridges. Further, tiny little Bar Harbor makes a great launch (or lunch) point to start your family adventures. There are ranger-guided boat and bike tours as well as bus and carriage tours.
Best time of year to go? The ideal time is early- to mid-fall when the crowds have dissipated, and you can enjoy the stunning fall colors.
Best thing to do with kids: Acadia Quest is a series of family-friendly experiences in the park that encourage kids (and their families) to not just explore and learn about the park but also how to protect and conserve important lands for all to enjoy.
You can also check out the Bar Harbor, Maine website.
Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad – Portland, Maine
Why we Love it? A must for any train-obsessed kid (or parent), this attraction features a small museum, a unique gift shop, and some pretty serious rolling stock, both refurbished and original. There are four steam locomotives from the 1910s and 1920s, six original coaches, three cabooses, numerous box cars and unique items like a Model-T designed to ride the rails for inspections and a ‘railbus’.
Best time of year to go? Their season runs from early May to late October. As always in Maine, timing your visit to align with fall’s peak leaf season is ideal.
Best thing to do with kids: Take the 35-minute trail ride along the Eastern Promenade of lovely Casco Bay. Train crew and museum docents will provide historical information during the ride and open-air cars are used during the warmer months.
You can also check out the Portland, Maine website.
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Freedom Trail – Boston, Massachusetts
Why we Love it? Boston’s Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile long unique collection of some 16 sites, including museums, historic churches, old meeting houses, colonial cemeteries, a renowned warship, and historic markers that allow you to literally walk in the footsteps of patriots during the American Revolution. It’s also a fantastic way to explore the city itself.
Best time of year to go? Summers can be humid and busy, so later spring or early fall are recommended. As with all things New England, you can’t beat the fall experience here.
Best thing to do with kids: While the trail can be self-guided, the history will really come alive for kids (and parents too) when you sign up for one of their many guided tours, which are led by period re-enactors. The wide range of offerings includes Walk into History, Revolutionary Women, African-American Patriots, Pirates & Patriots, and more.
Boston Harbor Islands – Boston, Massachusetts
Why we Love it? It’s both a national and a state park, the largest recreational open space in eastern Massachusetts, and includes 34 islands and mainland parks. Just minutes from downtown, the islands offer amazing natural landscapes, notable history, and numerous recreation opportunities. There’s plenty of opportunities to hike, boat, fish, view wildlife, take a tour, or just relax on a beach. Be sure to check out the opportunities to actually camp out on an island, where you can tent camp or rent a yurt under the glow of the Boston skyline.
Best time of year to go? Summers are generally breezy and delightful out in the harbor.
Best thing to do with kids: Take the ferry out to Fort Warren, a Civil War-era fortress notable for its graceful granite work and alleged ghost, the Lady in Black. The fort’s grassy grounds provide easy walking, fabulous views, and ample picnic opportunities. There are ranger-guided tours and a museum chronicling the history of the fort.
You can also check out the Boston, Massachusetts website.
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Mount Washington Cog Railway – Mount Washington, New Hampshire
Why we Love it? A scenic train ride in the White Mountains to the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast, on the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway. What’s not to love? The ride is narrated and is a three-hour round trip, including one hour at the Summit. There you can explore the visitor’s center’s museum, post office, snack bar, and 360-degree views of five states, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean.
Best time of year to go? While summer is great, the White Mountains in the fall just can’t be beaten.
Best thing to do with kids: Did we mention the cog rail train that pushes up the side of the mountain for breathtaking views? Yeah, that’s the best thing to do with kids. So, hop aboard! And, for the full-on, traditional experience, consider splurging a few bucks more for the steam locomotive instead of the biodiesel one.
Visit the website for more family activities! Mount Washington, New Hampshire
Our featured image for this post is steam locomotive on Mount Washington Cog Railway and is courtesy of Dave Brossard, flickr.com.
Santa’s Village – Jefferson, New Hampshire
Why we Love it? What does Santa do in the off-season? He summers in New Hampshire, of course. This classic themed amusement park is great for younger children, especially those that still believe. It’s chock-full of great, North Pole-themed rides for little ones, including water rides, antique car rides, an aerial tramway, and a train, as well as plenty of concessions too.
Block Island – Block Island, Rhode Island
Why we Love it? The untrammeled and relatively unknown little cousin to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, this gem on the New England coast has been named by the Nature Conservancy as “One of the 12 last great places in the Western Hemisphere.” Located 12 miles from the Rhode Island coast, the island offers families slow, simple relaxation in a startlingly beautiful landscape. ‘BI’ is famed for miles of free public beaches, clear waters, dramatic bluffs, and preserved open spaces.
Best time of year to go? Summers here are gorgeous but certainly very busy indeed. If you can manage a trip in ‘shoulder season’ the only other humans there may just be the few full-time residents.
Best thing to do with kids: Just getting to Block Island is an adventure that kids will love. Most take the ferry over from the mainland, but you can fly over too, on smaller aircraft. Once there, immerse yourself in beach life by exploring Mohegan Bluffs, checking out Southeast lighthouse, collecting shells, and playing in the sand. The internal Great Salt Pond is fun for paddling or fishing and nature trails are great fun too.
You can also check out the Block Island, Rhode Island website.
WaterFire – Providence, Rhode Island
Why we Love it? A dazzling sensory cacophony, WaterFire is a mélange of festival, sculpture, and ceremony. It presents more than 80 sparkling bonfires atop the city’s three rivers and includes torch-lit vessels prowling the river, enchanting music, and an array of local artists and performers. Created in 1994, it is now one of the largest public art events in America and one of the most popular tourist attractions in southern New England. You can even take a gondola ride on the river during the event.
Best time of year to go? WaterFire only occurs on select weekend days, usually Saturdays, between May and November.
Best thing to do with kids: The Starry Starry Night field in Memorial Park is captivating for kids and their parents. Enter through an archway of blue stars into a shimmering field of glowing stars and paper lanterns adorned with wishes and touching dedications. Nearby are living sculptures, with artists dressed as The Oracle, Zeus, Gargoyles and other local statues.
You can also check out the Providence, Rhode Island website.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Rhode Island With Kids
Jay Peak Resort – Jay, Vermont
Why we Love it? A four-season family-focused resort in northern Vermont, it features a year-round indoor waterpark, ice arena, new recreation center, disc golf course, and of course skiing and snowboarding. For the skiers and riders, there are 79 trails over 385 acres and reportedly some of the best snow in the east. For everyone else, there are a plethora of activities including arcades, fat, and mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, multiple spas, climbing gym, movie theater, hiking, and the state’s only aerial tram. The waterpark includes numerous slides, a lazy river, flowrider, play area, and both indoor and outdoor hot tubs.
Best time of year to go? While winter activities are certainly a focal area, there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the summer too. This is New England so peak leaf season in the fall is literally brilliant.
Best thing to do with kids: Just getting outside in nature is where it’s at here. First of all, you’re in Vermont which nearly demands families get outside to enjoy the bucolic natural beauty. In the winter, you can ski/ride, snowshoe, snowmobile or cross-country ski. In the warmer months, hike, bike, and enjoy the waterpark, which has a retractable roof to let the summer right in.
You can also check out the Jay, Vermont website.
Vermont Teddy Bear Company – Shelburne, Vermont
Why we Love it? For nearly 40 years, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company has been producing high-quality, beloved teddy bears filled with 100% recycled stuffing. Their wide-open campus welcomes visitors with maple trees, picnic tables, and Adirondack chairs. Families enter through the Bear Shop, which offers locally-made products, plenty of bears to buy, and an area to create your own bear. You can then tour the factory to watch their craftspeople creating bears one-by-one.
Best time of year to go? Their factory is open for tours year-round, except on major holidays.
Best thing to do with kids: A visit to the Bear Hospital is a must. Here kids will meet the Bear Doctor, who repairs broken teddies. She notes that while most injuries are caused by dog bites, wear and tear, or simple ‘sibling rivalry’ she has a 99% success rate in repairing bears and getting them back to their owners as good as new.
You can also check out the Shelburne, Vermont website.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Vermont With Kids