Large cities like Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and DC are popular for good reason: There are historical sites dating back hundreds of years, tons of museums and galleries, and a seemingly endless variety of cultural events and ethnic food options. However, many of these large cities cast a bit of a “shadow” on nearby neighbors that can hold their own with visitors! We’ve spent some time over the past couple of years exploring some “smaller” cities within a short drive of well known metropolitans and we wanted to share many places to explore if you find yourself in town with an extra day or weekend.
If you’re Boston, you’re in my hometown!!!
Beantown will always be #1 in my book, but it’s also at the top of a lot of people’s lists- and for good reason. There’s the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, the USS Constitution, and the Old State House to travel back in time, and Legoland Discovery Center for your future engineer. Seeing the Red Sox play at Fenway Park is a MUST.
Try exploring Gloucester and Salem, less than one hour north of Boston.
Both cities are rich with history, are located on the oceanfront, and have some of the friendliest, and proudest, locals. At one time, Gloucester was the largest fishing port in the country, as well as a thriving art community. You can see our City Guide of top 10 spots to check out here– a whale watch tour and a visit to Cape Pond Ice for kids are a MUST. Salem is infamous for the witch trials of the 1600s and has many sites that tell the stories of that time period. There are also art museums and many national historic sites, like the Essex Peabody Museum. We’ve got a great City Guide of family friendly activities in Salem here.
Or head in the other direction and go to Providence, one hour south of Boston.
The capital of Rhode Island may not make as many headlines as it’s nearby neighbors, but it offers tons of family friendly activities like the Providence Children’s Museum and Roger Williams Park (we have a Top 10 list just for Roger Williams Park here). The Capitol building is beautiful, and the tour is great, and Federal Hill is a MUST visit for several meals of delicious Italian food. We’ve got a list of our favorite spots here.
Or go 90 minutes south and explore Newport, Rhode Island. The “City of the Sea” has plenty of nautical fun like whale watches, boat tours, and beautiful beaches (take time for the Cliff Walk). There’s also Fort Adams, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and plenty of Gilded era mansions to tour. Newport is especially magical during the holidays with family friendly celebrations- check our suggestions for the holidays in Newport here and our full city guide to Newport here.
If you’re in New York City, there are about a million places to explore with children.
If you’re in town around the holidays, make sure to check out a special celebration- our top 10 list is here. If it’s indoor fun you’re looking for on a rainy day, we’ve got a list for that here. If you’re looking for something unique, try Gulliver’s Gate, National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, or Spyscape. For historical spots, there is the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Fraunces Tavern Museum, the Intrepid, the United Nations, Federal Hall National Memorial, and the Guggenheim. For the best Italian food and cooking classes, you must go to Eataly. And our go to spot for delicious food, reasonable prices, attentive service, and lovely ambience? Lillie’s Victorian Establishment.
Try exploring the Hudson Valley or Dutchess County. Both locations are one hour north of Manhattan- Hudson Valley is west of the Hudson River and Dutchess County is east of the Hudson River. Dutchess County consists of 30 cities and towns covering Fishkill and Beacon to Rhinebeck and Red Hook villages. One of our favorite spots is the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park. Hudson Valley is also an hour north of Manhattan and Kykuit in Sleepy Hollow. For a more complete City Guide, check out our list here. And if you’re visiting during the fall, you MUST check out the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at van Cordlandt Manor.
If you’re in Philadelphia, you’re in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Philadelphians love their cheesesteaks (a must try!), their sports teams, and their history. There are tons of way to learn about America’s past, science, and the arts. Check out our Top 20 (yes, we usually have a top 10, but Philadelphia has so.much.to.see.and.do) list here. There is also plenty of FREE things to do with kids in Philadelphia- check out our list here.
Try exploring Hershey and Gettysburg.
Hershey, Pennsylvania is closer, only about 90 minutes west, and has tons of DELICIOUS fun. Stay at the Hershey Lodge and take advantage of the indoor, year-round waterpark (read about 9 other things you should do at the lodge here). There’s Hershey Park, an amusement park with over a dozen rollercoasters and a zoo, and Hershey’s Chocolate World, with every imaginable Hershey chocolate and candy available for purchase (along with a ride, bakery, massive gift shop, and a chance to make your own candy bar). Nearby are caverns, science centers, 23 acres of gardens, a Civil War museum and the Pennsylvania state Capitol building. Check out our list and travel tips here.
Gettysburg is just over two hours west from Philadelphia and an hour from Hershey. It’s most known for the Battle at Gettysburg and you should reserve a full day to explore the Battlefield and President Eisenhower’s home. You can also learn more about the time period at the Heritage Center and Shriver House. Read our full list of suggestions here.
If you’re in Washington DC, you have (almost) countless opportunities to visit free museums, lectures, performances, and special events.
We have family in town and try and visit at least once a year. Some of our favorite spots include the National Building Museum, the International Spy Museum, Mount Vernon, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Postal Museum. We devoted a full post to all the FREE things you can do in DC, most of which are part of the Smithsonian Institute.
Try exploring Fredericksburg, Virginia. It’s by far the most pedestrian friendly city we have explored in a while. On your way into town, stop at the National US Marine Corps Museum– it’s breathtaking, sobering, and informative, all at the same time. You can easily spend a full day there and not see everything. Fredericksburg is one hour south of Washington DC and has several historic sites, including the National Military Park. Purchase a Timeless Ticket from the Visitor Center (kids receive a free ticket with every adult ticket purchased) to see spots like the Mary Washington House, James Monroe Museum, and Ferry Farm. Check out our full city guide here.
We’ll be taking off for many new adventures in 2020, so stay tuned for future posts comparing other cities in America. And if you want our full list of City Guides, click here.