Known as the Switzerland of North America, the Granite State is famous for far more than its stone quarries. As one of the original 13 colonies, New Hampshire holds a wealth of historical landmarks from colonial times to today, from the Strawberry Benke Museum to the Robert Frost Homestead to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Zimmerman House.
Granite Staters take the state’s motto “Live free or die” pretty seriously. Revolutionary War hero General John Stark bestowed the motto as part of a toast (delivered in absentia) for an 1809 event commemorating the Battle of Bennington. But the sentiment has withstood the test of time — your New Hampshire license plate will almost certainly be emblazoned with it, and there are no individual income taxes or general sales taxes levied in the state.
Life in New Hampshire offers more economic benefits than just low taxes — its proximity to Montreal, New York and Boston draws residents here. What keeps them is the dramatically lower cost of living than most of its New England neighbors.
Another of the state’s lures (and limitations) is the weather. Outdoor activities like hiking and biking are major appeals of spring, summer and fall. But have you ever seen 100 inches of snow in one season? Not everyone loves a Granite State winter, which should be the name of the official state cocktail. Still, with the right gear, you can enjoy all four seasons in the state.
If you’re moving to New Hampshire, here are some essential things to consider. (You’ve already got a parka, right?)
Living in New Hampshire
Rated the #2 Safest State in America by U.S. News & World Report, New Hampshire is a beacon for tourists, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
The population of the Granite State is now 1,388,992 — up from 1,316,470 a decade ago. There really is something for everyone’s lifestyle here. New residents are drawn to the diverse topography in the state, and the distinct beauty these regions afford across all four seasons — from racing down ski slopes in the winter to relaxing on the shores of Hampton Beach in the summer. And while the Granite State may have only 18 miles of coastline, it still has 18 miles more coastline than neighboring Vermont…something New Hampshire touts whenever Vermont brings up maple syrup.
The cost of living in New Hampshire is higher than the national average but lower than most states in New England and New York. But at $77,923, the annual household income is also significantly above the national average, and the poverty rate is over four points lower than in the rest of the country.
Real estate will cost you in New Hampshire, but perhaps not as much as you might expect in New England. The median sales price for a single family home is $440,000 and condos go for $345,000, considerably higher than the national average. According to the U.S. News & World Report, New Hampshire is ranked the #8 wealthiest state in America.
Of course, many find New Hampshire’s approach to taxes appealing: the state has no sales tax, no personal income tax and no estate tax.
New Hampshire’s educational system is top-notch. U.S. News & World Report ranked the state’s K-12 public school system as the fourth-best in the country. The University of New Hampshire system has three locations — all within the southeastern corner of the state — including its flagship in Durham, which is just 60 minutes from the ocean, the mountains and Boston. 15,000 students are enrolled here. Halfway up the western border with Vermont is ivy league Dartmouth, which was founded in Hartford, New Hampshire, in 1769. The Appalachian Trail crosses through the campus, which has renowned schools of business, engineering, and medicine, and its own art museum and center for the arts.
Granite Staters themselves are very well educated: the high school graduation rate is 93.3% — nearly 5 points above the U.S. average — and more than one-third of residents have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, making New Hampshire one of the top 10 most educated states in the nation.
As far as New Hampshire’s job market goes, the state’s efforts to modernize its infrastructure and attract and keep new businesses have seen success, and the healthcare, insurance and wholesale/retail industry sectors are growing. In September, the state had 770,818 people with non-farm jobs. The unemployment rate, which now stands at 2.4%, is 1.3 points lower than the U.S. average.
This tiny state’s largest employers represent diverse industries. Once a dominant force in textiles, the biggest drivers of New Hampshire’s economy today are manufacturing (durable goods and computer/electronics), tourism, paper and wood — from the state’s abundant white pine forests. Some of New Hampshire’s top employers are Oracle Dyn, Autodesk, GE Aviation and Velcro in manufacturing. Looking for a job in New Hampshire? Wondering which companies could be the next step in your career? Check out New Hampshire’s Division of Economic Development website for a descriptive list of dozens top companies across industries.
New Hampshire Weather
New Hampshire residents are treated to a fairly cool climate through all four seasons — not surprising given that the state’s northern edge points into Quebec. The average annual temperature is only 44°F.
During the winter, it’s not unusual for the mercury to drop below zero and stay there for days on end. You can expect at least 50” of snow, on average. Thankfully, the White Mountain State is awash in winter diversions — downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and ice hockey, snowmobiling, dogsledding, sleigh-riding and snowman-building. And don’t forget curling! Curling up by the fire with a good book.
Early spring means the start of maple sugaring season — March is officially known as New Hampshire Maple Month, which appropriately follows National Pancake Month in February. When the temperatures consistently dip below freezing at night and rise above it during the day, the sap should be running. But early spring is also “nobody’s favorite” mud season, so watch your step!
Summer is one of the best times to be living in New Hampshire. Families enjoy hiking, kayaking, and camping all around the state, and there are water parks and seaside attractions to satisfy everyone’s craving for the outdoors. But fall is what really drives visitors to see the state. From apple-picking to leaf-peeping, the stunning fall foliage turns New Hampshire into an autumnal wonderland. Save us an apple cider donut?
Late spring to early fall is the best time to move to New Hampshire, when the ground has thawed and temperatures are mild.
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Best Places to Live in New Hampshire
New Hampshire has several distinct geographic regions, from the southeastern seaside to the central Lakes Region to the peaks of the White Mountain National Forest in the north. No matter where you go, you’re unlikely to find snarled, rush-hour traffic…unless it’s a passel of migrating scarlet tanagers, which avid birders may slow down to watch. Most residents are clustered in three metropolitan areas — Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford Counties — which claim 63% of the state population.
Manchester and Nashua in Hillsborough County
The most populous and industrialized area in New Hampshire is Hillsborough County in the southern part of the state. Over a third of New Hampshire’s population lives here — 424,079 people — a gain of over 20,000 in the last ten years. Manchester and Nashua are the county’s biggest cities. 91,124 people live in Nashua, a gain of roughly 5,000 people since 2010. Money Magazine recently named Nashua, New Hampshire one of the best places to live in America.
The area’s primary economic industries are paper, steel, and computer and electrical components.
The average household income here is $73,785, just below the national average. The median home value in Hillsborough County is $287,900 and rents average around $1,200 a month, which is on par with the rest of the county and far lower than in cities in neighboring Massachusetts. Manchester has 115,462 residents, up from 109,565 a decade ago. Housing prices here are lower than in Nashua: the median home value is $241,600 and the average rent is $1,160.
But, what’s the draw to this inland region? The forests, for one thing. White pines ring the area’s many lakes, joined by spruce, maple, and firs, creating a spectacular show of color in fall, and an evergreen haven for the long winter. Not surprisingly, state parks abound.
Concord in Merrimack County
Tucked into central New Hampshire is the capital city of Concord, part of Merrimack County, the third-most populous area in the state. Just over 44,000 call Concord home, and the state’s population has grown only slightly over the last ten years.
The median home value in Concord is $239,300 and the average rent is $1,104.
Not surprisingly, politics is the principal industry in this state capital, but it also takes tremendous pride in its burgeoning arts and food scene. The city of the area has invested millions in its downtown district and hosts the annual Capital Arts Festival in the fall.
Rochester in Strafford County
Strafford County in the southeastern part of the state is home to 132,416 residents.
It’s the flagship location of the University of New Hampshire — the area’s largest employer — followed by Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Liberty Mutual, Frisbie Memorial Hospital, and ContiTech.
32,869 of the county’s residents call Rochester home. Housing prices in the Lilac City are lower than national averages: the median home value is $186,600 and the average rent is just under $1,100. The average household income in Rochester is comparably high, at $66,831.
Known for its rolling hills and rivers, the city is full of festivals and festivities — the annual Rochester Fair has been held each fall for 120 years. The Rochester Opera House hosts plays and performances year-round. And the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts, a relative newcomer founded in 2011, is dedicated to showcasing the works of artists living in the region.
Portsmouth in Rockingham County
Rockingham County, the second-most populous in the state, has a growing population of 84,394, up from 76,314 in 2010. Located just 60 miles north of Boston, the county provides easy access to the major metropolis…with none of Beantown’s traffic.
The median home value in the county is $217,600 — just below the U.S. average — and the average rent is $1,132.
In Rockingham’s southern bootheel, just across the Piscataqua River from Maine, lies the town of Portsmouth — New Hampshire’s only seaport. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in neighboring Kittery, Maine, has been an important economic anchor in the region for over 200 years.
The population in Portsmouth has risen by about 10 percent over the last decade, and now 22,277 people reside here. The median home value in Portsmouth is steep, at $456,200, and rents top $1300, on average. The median household income here is also above the national average, coming in at $78,712.
But with 17th- and 18th-century brick buildings and clapboard homes, and a walkable downtown with wonderful museums, parks and restaurants, it’s easy to see the appeal of this New England town. If you’re exploring Portsmouth on foot (it really doesn’t make sense to use a car, here), the city has installed historic markers installed dozens of landmarks around town, marking the state’s first printing house, the South Ropewalk, and the Portsmouth Navy Yard. At the USS Albacore Museum and Park, you can climb aboard a real research submarine and hear recorded spine-tingling tales from former crew members.
Things You Can Only See and Do in New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state with year-round fun, and your family will no doubt develop its own beloved annual traditions. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.
In the spring, no child will let their parents off the hook from visiting at least one maple sugarhouse, where you can help tap trees, do syrup tastings, eat pancakes, and take sleighrides. Charmingfare Farm is a popular destination, as is Connolly’s Sugar House, which is also a working dairy farm (hello, maple ice cream!). Crescendo Acres Farm makes its own syrup and raises animals, including small horses and alpacas, so your whole crew can get matching socks, too.
If you need to burn off that sugar high, head for a hike in Madame Sherri Forest, where you can see the ruins of a century-old castle. Or, if you’re too full to walk, take a trip on the Mount Washington Cog Railroad, which will deliver you to the summit of the mountain, hike-free. The attraction has been around for 150 years, and P.T. Barnum once proclaimed the experience as “the second-greatest show on earth.”
When summertime rolls around (careful not to miss it — it goes by quickly!), you’ll definitely want to spend some time in the Lakes Region and on the 18 miles of seacoast. Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest and best-known, but there are 272 others to explore. Residents use them for swimming and watersports, and some even use them in the winter for ice-sailing. Yikes!
The vibrant region supports cultural events you won’t find elsewhere, including the Newfound Rendezvous, a wooden boat-builder’s festival in early September. Ossipee Lake is ideal for family fishing, and there’s a good chance you’ll see some of the areas favorite natives: moose, black bears, muskrat and otters.
If the seashore is what you’re looking for, it doesn’t get any better than Hampton Beach. Weekly fireworks, the Sand-Sculpting Classic, a country music festival and the annual Fire Show draw beachcombers from miles around. There’s even a casino in town.
The Seacoast Science Center — a non-profit educational institution in Odiorne Point State Park — is the perfect place to learn about the marine environment of the region. There are interactive exhibits indoors, but families can also explore in the real tidepools just outside the facility.
When fall arrives in New Hampshire, you’ll have your pick of greeting card-worthy activities. Apple-picking tops the list of top picks, and Applecrest Farm is popular with locals — it has a creamery and also offers a FarmShare C.S.A. program. Carter Hill Orchard grows more unusual varieties than some in the area, and they make their own cider, syrup and donuts. Combining those three things is highly recommended.
Of course, there are things to do in between donuts, like tackling the corn “Maize” at Sherman Farm, which has won many awards. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad is another perfect fall diversion, which offers panoramic lake views and a fall foliage ride. Here you can make a stop at the Common Man Inn & Spa for a hot buffet lunch and another stop at the Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad Station, where you’ll be treated to a tour of the historic station by guides in period costume.
White Mountaineers are more creative with their winter activities than in almost any other state. For instance, every Sunday from January through March, you can watch ice racing on Newfound Lake. If the car seems to provide a little too much protection from the elements, Newfound’s Snodeo may be more your speed. Grab the keys to your snowmobile and come on down!
If it’s skiing you’re after, Cannon Mountain is home to the New England Ski Museum, where you can see how people tackled mountain slopes from prehistoric times to today. Wildcat Mountain has some of the best scenic views, and there are accommodations in the surrounding area to suit every price range.
At Santa’s Village in Jefferson, everyone will find their inner elf. (Really — there’s a special mirror that shows you as your true, elf self). You can visit Santa’s Home, feed the reindeer, ride the dozens of Christmas-themed coasters, and see the light show. The establishment is also open year-round… reindeers got to eat!
Finally, the Ice Castles just south of the White Mountains are an enchanting winter adventure, where you can crawl through magically lit ice tunnels, ride the exhilarating ice slide, and make wishes in the Winter Fairy Forest.
All year long, New Hampshire’s cultural attractions provide exciting and educational experiences your family will be happy to have shared. The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester has a distinguished permanent collection of historical and contemporary works. It also offers tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Zimmerman House and Kalil House, which is one of his seven “Usonian Automatics,” modular homes that were designed to be built rapidly and cost-effectively.
What to Eat in New Hampshire
Like its neighbors to the south and east, New Hampshire is famous for its seafood. But because its coastline is rather wee compared to its friends in Mass and Maine, Granite Staters have honed more land-based delights, too.
Hunting is a popular activity in the state, so you’re likely to know (or be) someone who’s got a good store of wild game and venison for the winter. And everyone will have a recipe for stew or chili. Theirs is the best. Don’t argue.
Stonyfield Organic, famous for their yogurt, was founded in 1983 and still operates in New Hampshire.
Brown’s Lobster Pound is a great spot to get New England’s favorite catch. You’ll be given a lobster bib, but this fish is so fresh and juicy, you’ll wish you had a full apron for protection. You’ll also find clam chowder, haddock nuggets, clam cakes, scallop rolls — the works.
True to their northern roots (New Hampshire has a large French-Canadian community), New Hampshire residents are fond of the most stick-to-your-ribs concoction of planet earth: poutine. You can find these cheesy gravy fries in several cozy establishments. In Portsmouth, BRGR Bar’s spare but fashion-forward menu serves them with Maine cheese curds. The ones you’ll find at The Goat in Hampton are nothing to bleat at (maybe get more than one order). But the New England Tap House Grill in Hooksett takes them OTT with parmesan, rosemary, and white truffle oil. You might need that lobster bib from earlier.
If you are looking for oysters, you’ll find none better than at The Franklin in Portsmouth. This oyster house serves a large assortment of the freshest catch, and has other clever (and cheeky) concoctions, like the Dirty Frankie — a hot fried chicken sandwich with apple slaw.
Finally, if you just want some authentic family fare, just go to Grandma’s! Located near Mirror Lake in Whitefield, Grandma’s Kitchen has all your down-home favorites, from pot pie to baked manicotti. If you leave here without getting the donut sundae, you’ll regret it.
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