When you think about New England, chances are high that the first image that pops into your head — aside from Tom Brady tossing the football — is spectacular fall foliage. But the region, bordered to the south by Long Island Sound and to the north by Canada, with the Atlantic Ocean and New York State serving as the eastern and western boundaries, offers groups much more than autumnal delights.
Groups traveling in New England will find abundant treasures: forested mountains that are wonderful for winter as well as warm-weather outdoor activities, rocky coastlines begging to be explored, history that stretches back to before the Revolution and oodles of great cultural attractions. And with an area only slightly larger than Washington, the region is easy to see by motorcoach, particularly when tour leaders can pack the itinerary with visits to some of the most charming locales in the country. From the bright lights of Boston to the pastoral pleasures of the White Mountains, these six spots are what Yankees might call “wicked good.”
Boston is a bustling city of more than 685,000 residents, but it manages to seem much cozier, according to Stacy Thornton, senior manager, tourism sales for the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Boston has that Colonial American charm, but it also draws influences from Europe, like its geography,” she said. “The footprint of downtown is really small. We encourage groups to see some things on foot, even if you’re on a motorcoach and want to use the bus to do a city tour.”
There are some iconic Beantown experiences that groups can’t miss, such as exploring the Faneuil Hall area. It includes the Cradle of Liberty, the hall where the nation’s founders held meetings in the leadup to the Revolution, as well as Faneuil Hall Marketplace, filled with shops and restaurants. Faneuil Hall is part of the Freedom Trail, 16 sites linked to the Revolution; groups may book tours of it, as well as Fenway Park, the country’s oldest ballpark, and universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, which offer popular student-led tours.
Thornton also recommends that groups make time for visiting some of Boston’s lesser-known gems, like Time Out Market Boston, a food hall that recently debuted inside a spectacular 1929 Art Deco building. “And the Boston Public Library offers art and architecture tours for groups,” she said. “It was designed to be a place not only of learning, but of beauty. It’s stunning.”
There are probably a few people left on the planet who haven’t heard of “Mystic Pizza,” the 1988 movie that put Julia Roberts on the path to superstardom. But you might not know it from the film fans who still regularly trek to the real-life restaurant. Groups who grab a “slice of heaven” will realize that the rom-com was shot on a set, but no one will come away from a visit to Mystic disappointed.
“Mystic has a lot of history,” said Randy Fiveash, director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism. “It was founded in 1654 as a shipbuilding center because it’s close to the coast, and the Mystic River is right there. But it’s become known for its New England charm, as well as being home to two of the state’s most-visited attractions: the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Mystic Aquarium.”
Both the aquarium, where Beluga whales, African penguins and other exotic critters romp, and the museum, which covers 19 acres and features goodies like a re-created New England seaside village, specialize in hosting groups. Other great group attractions in Mystic include the 81-foot-long traditional sailing ship Argea, which operates May through October and may be privately chartered. Groups also might want to try their luck at Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, resort casinos about 25 minutes from Mystic.
Newport, Rhode Island
For a look at well-heeled glamour, few cities equal Newport, Rhode Island, where some of the country’s richest families built palatial summer “cottages” in the 19th century. Today, these homes are part of what makes Newport unique and such a great destination for groups.
“We have things that you just don’t see anywhere else,” said Discover Newport destination expert Pam Blauvelt. “We’re the sailing capital of the world, so world-famous yachts are here all of the time. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is here — you can actually play on an historic grass court — and then we have the Gilded Age mansions.”
Groups can wander spectacular dwellings such as the Breakers, which was built by the Vanderbilts, at their own pace with self-guided audio tours. Afterward, iconic Ocean Drive, with 10 miles of spectacular views, awaits. More adventurous group members might want to try the scenic Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile path that overlooks some of the mansions’ back lawns.
Or, continue an exploration of how the other half lives with the Audrain Automobile Museum, which boasts more than 200 of the world’s most exotic cars and is set within a gloriously restored Gilded Age building. Groups might also want to take a harbor cruise aboard the Rum Runner II, which Blauvelt said was “an actual rum-running boat.”
Although Stowe, which sits pretty seven miles from the base of Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, may be best known for winter adventure, there’s more to this village than incredible skiing or even leaf peeping. That includes festive fun like visiting the von Trapp Brewing Bierhall Restaurant, where groups can not only sample Austrian-style lager but also discover more about the real-life family that inspired the film “The Sound of Music.” Ice-cream-loving groups will have a taste for Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour, and thrill-seekers will want to hop aboard the Gondola SkyRide at Stowe Mountain Resort.
“At every turn you’ll be in awe of something, whether it’s a fire-red tree or a view of Mount Mansfield,” said Stowe Area Association marketing manager Sharon Harper. “The village itself is such a vibrant little center, and there are also events throughout the year that are very popular, like the Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival.”
Just be aware that groups may wish to return again and again. “Every time I left, I was planning when I would come back, to the point that I actually moved here,” Harper said. “It was really Stowe’s hospitality that did it. Everyone is so helpful and friendly. They want you to have a great time. And you will.”
According to Bob Witkowski, creative director and media relations manager at Visit Portland, what makes this city distinctive is its absolute authenticity.
“Portland is one of the largest seaports on the East Coast in terms of tonnage,” he said, “and the active and working waterfront is exactly that. So many cities have taken their waterfronts and built condos and made them sort of inaccessible. But you can still go down to the pier and literally buy fish right off the boat here.”
Lobster lovers who want to learn more about crustacean procurement can help bait and haul traps aboard Lucky Catch Lobster Cruises. Should they snare anything, the Portland Lobster Company will cook their lobster for lunch. Speaking of food, Portland was named 2018 Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appétit, and groups eager to explore its culinary treasures should book an afternoon with Maine Foodie Tours.
There are plenty of other good times for groups in Portland, from exploring the Portland Head Light, a legendary lighthouse commissioned by George Washington, to stopping by the childhood home of celebrated poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. For a different perspective on the city, groups can learn about local history aboard a vintage fire truck with a Portland Fire Engine Co. tour.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
Celebrated for its rugged mountains, including the highest peak in the northeastern United States, and idyllic settlements like Jackson, Franconia, Littleton and Sugar Hill, the White Mountains region “is a great destination for motorcoach groups,” said Kate Wetherell, operations manager for the White Mountains Attractions Association. “Visitors can experience a little bit of everything: Our National Scenic Byways create the perfect itineraries to move buses around to unique attractions, quintessential New England Villages, covered bridges, waterfalls and scenic vistas.”
The 34.5-mile-long Kancamagus Highway, which stretches along Route 112 through the White Mountains National Forest, is one of the area’s most famed attractions. Spectacular in autumn, it’s begun “seeing an increase in motorcoach traffic during the first two weeks of June as visitors come to see spring wildflowers, specifically lupine in the Sugar Hill/Franconia area,” Wetherell said. “It’s a beautiful time of the year with a different type of color and less traffic.”
For locomotive-loving groups, the region features the only cog railroad east of the Rockies. The Mount Washington Cog Railway takes passengers on a gorgeous three-hour roundtrip ride to the summit, or groups can hop aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad vintage train, which departs from a Victorian station built in 1874.