Seven Free Things to Do in New England This Summer

Warmer weather and longer daylight hours mean more opportunities to get out and explore! There are many seasonal places to visit in New England, and while some of the following places are open year round, their spring and summer calendars are filled with more activities, more tours, more shows, and more fun! As an added bonus, your family can check out the following seven spots for FREE:

1. Explore a submarine: Groton Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut is located less than ten minutes from Mystic, Connecticut. Groton can sometimes be overlooked due to the popularity of many activities in Mystic, like the Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport. Both spots are certainly fun places to explore, but make sure you leave a couple of hours to visit the “Submarine Capital of the World.” The museum has several exhibits (kids will especially like the replica control room where they can steer a sub) and is home to historic ship the Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine. You can explore about half of the Nautilus with a self guided audio tour. 

2. Take a hike: Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge in Newport, Rhode Island is a great place to get some exercise and learn about area wildlife. There’s a Visitors Center with helpful staff and interactive displays about the area. You can borrow supplies like binoculars, trail maps, and encyclopedia of birds and wildflowers. The refuge offers three distinct trails, and if you’re lucky, you might spot seals splashing in the bay or deer, mink, and coyotes roaming in the distance. Check out ten other fun places to visit in Newport here

3. Learn how candles are made: Yankee Candle Village in South Deerfield, Massachusetts is one of our favorite places of 2018. The complex includes a recreated Bavarian Village (check out the “snow” showers every few minutes) and a special outpost of the North Pole where you can visit Santa- he’s there ALL year long. There’s also a candlemaking museum with live demonstrations offered throughout the day. If candlemaking isn’t your thing, there’s Man Town, equipped with televisions streaming sports games, bar tables, and plenty of sports memorabilia. Be sure to check out the courtyard, which has tons of lawn games- corn hole and life size tic-tac-toe are favorites. For a fee, you can make your own candles, fill candle jars with candy, and make wax molds of your hands. There are also thousans of candles, plenty of food options, and tons of home goods for sale. If you have a couple of days to explore nearby Springfield, Massachusetts (less than twenty minutes away) make sure to check out the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, (fees apply) and if you’re into history, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, which is free to visit.

4. See a river set on fire, on purpose!: WaterFire in Providence, Rhode Island is one of the coolest art installations. Displayed throughout the Providence River, almost 100 braziers shoot fire along Waterplace Park and Memorial/South Main Street Park, all set to music. The show begins at sunset and usually lasts until 10:30pm or 11pm. It’s very crowded, so keep an eye on little children and bring the stroller. If you walk the full length of the show, it should take about 40-45 minutes. However, make sure to stop and check out some of the street performances (they change with each show date) and other venders set up through the riverfront. Shows occur approximately ten time between April and November.

5. Learn about the start of the Revolutionary War: Minute Man National Historic Park in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts is spread throughout both towns. There are about twelve buildings in total, six of which visitors can explore.  Two Visitors Centers provide good background on the history of the war and display numerous artifacts. There’s a Junior Ranger program children can complete, as well as child friendly activities, demonstrations, and tours offered each day. The six mile Recreation Trail is a great way to explore the grounds. There are some locations you will need to drive to and there is plenty of parking lots at various spots.  Don’t forget to get your National Parks passport stamped. The only part of the park that charges a fee is The Wayside. Two other historic sites that are fun to explore (there are fees to visit) include nearby Walden Pond and Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. 

6. Eat chocolate: Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory Tour in Burlington, Vermont is a yummy way to learn all about the chocolate making process. The thirty minute, seated tour is offered on weekends and includes sampling of various types of chocolates. Self guided tours are available in the afternoons, with maps to guide you and a video of the history of the company. On the weekends, there is a free chocolate tasting with different themes and categories of chocolates. Disclosure: We haven’t been yet but it’s at the top of the list for an upcoming visit to the Burlington area.

6. Check out an Ice Age era pothole: The Basin at Franconia Notch State Park is easily accessible via hiking trails in Franconia Notch State Park. The Park also includes a river, cliffs, woods, trails, and spots for fishing. Stop for a picnic lunch, watch the waterfall pour into the 30 foot basin, and be sure to look for the “Old Man’s Foot” at the end. The White Mountains make for a picture perfect backdrop. Disclosure: We haven’t explore this exact location but it’s also on our 2018-2019 travel list.

Other Tips:

  • If you have an account with Bank of America, make sure you check out the Museums on Us program offered each month, when you can gain entrance to dozens of museum for free. Check out the full list here.
  • If you’re traveling through northern Maine during Free Entrance Days in the National Parks, stop by Acadia National Park (the only National Park in New England). Go for the day or stay for a weekend, there is so much to see and do. (Read about my family's adventures here).  And if you have a fourth grader, make sure to sign him or her up for the Every Kid in a Park program, and your family can gain access to all National Parks for the whole year for free.
  • If you belong to your local children’s museum or science museum or aquarium or zoo, check to see if your membership level gains you access to the reciprocity programs these organizations participate in as part of the National Association of Children's Museums. You may gain free or reduced rates to hundreds of other museums throughout the country. The same policy work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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