Feeling Right at Home in Downtown Exeter, New Hampshire
Downtown Exeter, N.H.
Article and photos by Eric Hurwitz. Article
updated on 12/1/17.
England travel article with your friends...
Have you ever felt instantly right at home in a place you
don't officially reside?
Downtown Exeter, N.H., has that effect on us, and, up until now, I had
no idea why. Putting on my better-late-than-never thinking cap on and
pondering why Exeter seems like a hometown to people like us from
another area, I first thought of the mix of tree-lined streets, the
charming hodgepodge of municipal and commercial buildings, the
quintessential New England town bandstand dating back to 1916, the
leafy, historic feel of Phillips Exeter Academy (a private
university/preparatory school), the scenic Exeter River, and the
locally-owned shops and restaurants that residents come out in large
numbers to fully utilize. How nice it is to stroll downtown and take
pride in a thriving central district where you can have a cup of coffee
(in my case, tea), say hello to people passing on the street, and know
you are in a one-of-a-kind place that has been well-preserved and
enhanced with a vision. It's one thing to be a historic town (Exeter
was settled in 1638!), but
entirely another to combine the past charm with a revitalized, relevant
21st century presence without compromising the original look. That's
Exeter, and it is simply a beautiful town to visit.
Approaching the heart of downtown Exeter.
While a wonderful warm weather destination, Exeter also feels special
in the colder seasons, too -- most notably the Ring in the Season
four-day Christmas celebration (Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2017) with a parade,
Santa Claus' arrival, pancake breakfast with Santa, bonfire, house
tours and The Festival of Trees. For more information on this fun
holiday event, log onto the Exeter Ring in the Season web site.
Exeter possesses what visitors expect in a charming, small town and
economic development offices in many other towns and cities plan for...
but 20 years later, well, it's often just the same old story. Exeter,
on the other hand, has arrived with a vibrant downtown showcasing an
excellent mix of shops, boutiques, art galleries, cafes and a growing
number of full-service restaurants, all in a walkable downtown
setting. Some highlights... the Water Street Bookstore, at 125
Water St. It's a tremendous indie bookstore and arguably the largest on
the New Hampshire seacoast. The Chocolatier, at 27 Water St., makes an
impressive variety of handcrafted chocolates in small batches.
Whirleygigs Toy Shop, at 107 Water St., is the toy shop you thought was
gone forever with its non-corporate, mom and pop shop presence and a
fabulous offering of classic and newer toys. Many of the toys are made
in the United States. Whirleygigs was once named a best toy store by
Yankee Magazine and "Best Local Toy Store" by New Hampshire Magazine.
Serendipity Boutique, at 24 Water St., offers a nice mix of "eco
friendly, sustainable USA Made clothing," as well as local,
handmade goods from artists in the New Hampshire seacoast area,
including jewelry, accessories, spa products and housewares.
Options abound to dine out. Green Bean on Water, at 33 Water St., is a
popular cafe for homemade soups, sandwiches and salads. Me and Ollie's
Cafe, at 64 Water St., specializes in homemade breads, breakfast
sandwiches, salads, sandwiches, paninis, and soups. For foodies, Otis
Restaurant, at 4 Front St., offers modern American and
vegetarian-friendly selections, sourced locally whenever possible. The
remodeled restaurant is housed in the old Sleeper Jewelry Store, built
in 1910. The Tavern at River's Edge, at 163 Water St., is more of
a gourmet-type with signature dishes like filet mignon and lobster
risotto restaurant. The Tavern also offers lighter meals, too, like
flat bread pizza, wings, nachos and burgers.
For nature lovers, The Phillips Exeter Trail offers marked trails for
walking, hiking and biking with access to the river for kayaking.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular activities during the
The American Independence Museum, at 1 Governor's Lane, features
artifacts and documents including early drafts of the United States
Constitution and a Dunlop broadside of the Declaration of Independence.
Guided tours explore the 1721 Ladd-Gilman House, and the Folsom Tavern.
The Exeter Historical Society, at 47 Front St., offers a collection of
artifacts from the 1700s to present day.
For lodging The Exeter Inn, at 90 Front St. (at Phillips
Exeter Academy), fits in well with the historic look of the downtown. The
1932 Georgian architectural style exudes charm and the overall ambiance
is pure, quintessential New England. The Exeter
Inn also offers the Epoch Restaurant & Bar -- a casual yet elegant
dining spot that also features a seasonal garden patio overlooking The
Inn’s courtyard and gazebo. There's also a bar with a good drinks list
In the New England town I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a lot
like Exeter. You could could see your neighbors right in the heart of
your own community, not in a stretched out town where you have to drive
to everything. You simply don't see too many towns like Exeter
anymore -- that is, developed but ultimately sleepy and
"small-townish". Exeter makes us glad that we can travel from our home
to arrive "home." Beautiful, authentic New England place, indeed!
For more information on Exeter, please log onto VisitExeterNH.com.
small businesses in Exeter: Would you like to have
your business featured as a sponsored post on VisitingNewEngland?
Editor Eric Hurwitz writes detailed stories about special, small New
England businesses with several articles having gone viral on social
story could be permanently featured on the homepage and this page. I
welcome you to
take a look at our permanent sponsors to become better acquainted to
the stories I passionately write about local, small businesses at
Let's talk and see if you would be a good fit for our New England
travel web site! Contact
Eric for more information
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Not too far from Exeter:
Hampton Beach, N.H.
Massachusetts travel! Read
Town Greens book -- Discover New England's first travel
town commons. Includes chapters on nearby North Andover, Rowley,
Ipswich, Bradford (Haverhill) and Lawrence!
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