New Hope, PA: The Quintessential Small-Town Escape

Ah, New Hope, PA—where eclectic meets quaint in the most charming of ways. Located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, along the banks of the Delaware River, New Hope is a haven for artists, food lovers, and anyone seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle. Let’s dive into what makes this small town a must-visit.

Meander through a nature preserve. Discover important “stations” on the Underground Railroad. Indulge in a Willy Wonka road trip. Hear tales of ghosts and watch some in action. And stay over where the spurned Aaron Burr purportedly fled after his duel with Alexander Hamilton.

Looking for more weekend getaway ideas? Check out our round-up of romantic getaways in Pennsylvania.

Where Is New Hope, PA?

New Hope is a small, picturesque town situated in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, along the Delaware River. It’s approximately 40 miles north of Philadelphia and about 80 miles southwest of New York City. The town’s location near the river and its well-preserved 18th and 19th-century architecture add to its charm, making it a compelling visit for those interested in both culture and history.

Downtown New Hope PA

Things to Do In New Hope PA

TOUR/SEE A SHOW: Bucks County Playhouse – New Hope

This was the “Summer Stock” theater that launched many famous actor. Neil Simon debuted his first play, Come Blow Your Horn, here. Grace Kelly earned her chops on this stage. And so did a young Robert Redford – in Nobody Loves Me, which went on to Broadway as Barefoot in the Park.

From the time it opened in 1939, The Bucks County Playhouse was the place to be seen. And it remained that way for decades – until it wasn’t.

Bucks County Playhouse New Hope PA

Flagging and in receivership in 2010, the Playhouse went through an extensive renovation and reopened as a community-owned not-for-profit theater in 2012.

It is now back stronger than ever with new chairs, a polished floor, the removal of a dropped ceiling, state-of-the-art catwalk that replaced the old Hemp-Rope system.

Delaware Canal State Park Towpath New Hope PA

WALK: Canal Towpath, Delaware Canal State Park

The Delaware Canal was central to Bucks County commerce. And to those seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad. In the past, tourists could take a mule-drawn canal boat tour on a section of the Canal through New Hope. However, now it’s overgrown and beautiful in its own way. Join dog walkers and couples along the shaded towpath.

The Pond Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve Bucks County PA

TOUR: Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

This extensive wildflower sanctuary was established in 1934 to honor George Washington and his army, who camped out on the property before crossing the Delaware River on December 25, 1776.

An accredited museum, the 134-acre Bowman’s Hill Preserve features 700 species of plants native to the Delaware Valley region. Enter through the ten-foot tall “deer-exclusion fence” and park in the Visitor’s Center parking lot. Pick up a map and either wander by yourself or take a guided naturalist tour if available.

Right away, it’s an immersive experience. A nametag identifies each plant in the wildflower garden right outside the Visitors Center. You’ll discover that Bee Balm, Echinacea, Butterfly Weed, and the like are hardly “weeds.”

Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve Bucks County PA

These native plants, which require other species to “move genetic material around,” host ten times as many insects as non-natives. They provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. Insects generate larva, providing food for birds, which in turn are seed transporters.

Choose among several trails. A trip through “Penn’s Wood” brings you to carpets of rich moss (home to tardigrades – microscopic bear-like creatures), and then, to a small manmade pond. American Lotus plants and Water Lilies blanket the water. Check out the Buttonbush – with flowers that from afar look like its namesake, but up close bear a strong resemblance to the coronavirus.

Walk down to the Pitcock Creek Bridge. Before you get to it, look down on your right to find a rare outcropping of Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. If you think that cactus can only be found in the Southwest, think again.

The Bridge, a WPA project, spans the river along which George Washington’s men camped before heading out on the fateful, blizzardy Christmas Night over the Delaware River.

If you come here in the Spring, be prepared for crowds. “Everyone walks the Mary K. Parry Trail to see the Virginia Blue Bells,” say docents.

Yardley Mansion, Yardley Pa

VISIT: Bucks County Stops on the Underground Railroad

The earliest settlers of Bucks County PA were predominantly Quakers. So it’s no big surprise that this region on the Delaware River was a sanctuary and “station stop” for freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad. Both the Old York Road and the canal system were used to usher freed slaves north to Harriet Tubman in New York.

I’ve covered two Underground RR Stops below – the Continental Tavern in Yardley, and the Wedgewood B&B in New Hope. There are more – and you’ll find them using the link above.

TOUR: Ghost Tours of New Hope

History is spooky on the ever-popular evening tour of this riverside canal town. Hear about the mystery hitchhiker, spirits that still hang around old inns, and other unexplained Bucks County PA phenomena.

Naked Chocolate Newtown PA

SHOP: Naked Chocolate, Newtown on the Bucks County Sweet Spots Trail

*Please wear a mask when you enter each shop.

The folks at Visit Bucks County are a sweet bunch. So, they’ve established a Bucks County Sweet Spots Trail, with directions to over 30 bakeries, donut, candy, and ice-cream shops. It would be nearly impossible to visit and taste from all in a day. (Though I would have loved to, given my sweet tooth).

A huge chocolate fan, I decided to head to Naked Chocolate in an upscale shopping center in Newtown PA. It’s a “feel good” confection, in that Naked buys direct, or “fair trade,” unadulterated (“naked”) cocoa from mostly South American producers.

Bonbons Naked Chocolate Newtown PA

The finished products – some of the prettiest painted bonbons I’ve ever seen – are as pleasing to the palate as they are to the eye. Bits of Orange Rose, Smoked Maple, Crushed Toffee, Vanilla Bean Cream, and more are robed in chocolate and then hand-painted in pop art designs. There are lots of vegan options, including bars, and the hit hot chocolate. People come from Philadelphia to pick up what’s got to be one of the coolest and most appreciated hostess gifts.

Caleb at calebs American Kitchen New Hope PA

New Hope PA Restaurants

EAT: Caleb’s American Kitchen

When Chef Caleb Lentchner opened this MoMa-like, farm to table spot in October 2013, he didn’t want it to be “a tourist place.” So, embracing “Regional American Cuisine,” he kept the price-point low and in flowed the locals.

And, from the looks of it, first time patrons and visitors, too, are effusive in their praise of décor and everything that comes from the kitchen.

With walls of bright lime green festooned with contemporary art and circular lamps hanging over grey tables and white chairs, Caleb’s is surely a departure from most traditional Bucks County eateries.

Lentchner sources ingredients from the best.

EAT: Sprig & Vine

Over half of his patrons aren’t vegan or even vegetarian, says chef/owner Ross Olchvary. The all-plant based food here is that good.

Of course, the menu changes seasonally, but if available, go for Olchvary’s Grilled Oyster Mushrooms ($9), Black-Eyed Pea Sweet Potato Griddle Cakes ($10), or Green Onion Pancake Roll ($9).

The PB&J French Toast sprinkled with molecular gastronomically made peanut butter powder – turns yummy creamy in your mouth. I’m a big fan of Vegan done well, and this restaurant is among the best.

EAT: Bowman’s Tavern

Bowman’s Tavern, right on River Road, was updated in 2014 in both atmosphere and menu. Though it looks like a tumble-down roadhouse, owners James Seward and chef Mike Livelsberger “increased the quality” of both the food and décor.

Greens come from a garden out back. And Mike forages his own mushrooms in the surrounding forests. His signature – Seared Scallops with creamed corn and white truffle oil, reflects an uptick in cuisine. At night, expect crowds – there’s live music every night of the week.

Most Haunted Restaurant in Bucks County PA

Inside The Continental Tavern Bucks County PA

EAT: Continental Tavern, Yardley

Continental Tavern Yardley PA

The Continental Tavern has been “a local Cheers” since the 1860’s. National politicians making their way through Bucks County PA usually end up here at some point or another. After all, taverns have always served as ersatz town halls and meeting places, especially for rebels and dissenters, such as American patriots during the Revolutionary War era.

On a road crossing 200 feet from the Canal, and 1,000 feet from the former Delaware River ferry landing, this establishment, licensed as a hotel/tavern in 1860, burned down and was rebuilt in the mid-1870’s. It’s a treasure trove of both oral and physical history. (At less than a mile from I-95, it’s also convenient for road-trippers).

Secrets Underground

Former Air Force and United Airlines pilot, Frank Lyons, and his wife, purchased the Tavern in 2007. They restored it to its 1877 ambience and continue to dig beneath the building to learn its history and some “dirty little” secrets.

Archeological Finds beneath The Continental Tavern PA
Bottles unearthed under The Continental Tavern Yardley PA

Basement stonewalls hark back to the American Revolution, when the structure was an outbuilding of the Yardley Mansion next door. Lyon displays photos of local and national pols, and the copy of a letter that General George Washington wrote to his troops, who were bivouacked in Yardley PA in early December 1776. (Two weeks later, they would cross the Delaware River near here on Christmas night and claim victory in the Battle of Trenton NJ).

Newly discovered tunnels lend credence to rumors that this was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Construction workers found the original Yardley sidewalk 22 inches below street grade. They unearthed perfume bottles, coins, and newspaper clippings. “It’s a snapshot of the town’s social fabric,” Lyons remarked.

Amateur archeologists also dug up thousands of whiskey bottles, suggesting that this was a Prohibition-era speakeasy.

Of course, it’s haunted.

Ghost hunters discovered spirits of those who “checked into the Continental Hotel but never checked out.” Among those is a young Black boy “looking for his parents.” Ostensibly, he and his mother and father were passengers on the Underground Railroad. Additionally, paranormal investigators “saw” the specter of a  “beautiful young woman who died a violent death.”

Watch A 27-Minute Film

Tavern patrons can watch a 27-minute video while swigging beer and eating excellent burgers and salads. (The ultra-fresh Honey Toasted Almond Chicken Caesar Salad is popular for a reason. It would be my go-to dish if I lived closer). The well-made documentary illuminates the building’s history and archeological findings.

Most unsettlingly, however, the film delves deep into supernatural goings on. A bartender used his cell phone to capture something freaky while closing up. He saw frilly toothpicks standing straight up on the bar. Then they began to fly slowly around him. No one else was in the room.

Revolver Ladies Purse Clip The Continental Tavern PA

And the death of that mysterious beautiful woman? While the tavern was under restoration, a silver handbag clip, a bloody woman’s corset, and an 1800’s Smith and Weston revolver were all found in the walls. Could that have been the murder weapon? As added drama, Lyon reveals the discovered gun and purse-clip. It sent chills up my spine.

“People say, ‘If only walls could talk,’” said Lyon. “Well, ours do.”

New Hope PA Hotels

STAY: Logan Inn

After a top-to-bottom renovation and expansion, the Logan Inn is so cool and trendy (not to mention delicious), that the Getaway Mavens have proclaimed it a Maven Favorite, with its own page coverage in this Logan Inn hotel review post.

Aaron Burr House BnB New Hope PA

STAY: Aaron Burr House

The Aaron Burr House, now a luxury bed and breakfast, has an infamous draw. It’s where Burr purportedly fled after he fatally shot Alexander Hamilton.

Why here? After Burr realized Hamilton had died, and he could be arrested for murder, Burr hi-tailed it to the closest state outside of New York and New Jersey’s jurisdiction. New Hope, Pennsylvania, was just across the Delaware River – at that time – a quick few-minute ferry ride away. Should the NY State Militia cross the NJ/PA state line, in 1804, it could have been construed as an act of war.

Burr’s father, the founder of what is now Princeton University, had contact with the most prominent members of the surrounding towns. What is now the Aaron Burr House belonged to the town doctor at the time – who most assuredly would have known the Senior Burr. So, it made sense that Aaron hid out here until things cooled down in NY and NJ.

Afternoon cookies Aaron Burr House New Hope PA

And OMG – she had a huge batch of chocolate chip apricot cookies fresh out of the oven when I walked in.

Is there anything the Innkeeper, Lisa, can’t do? She’s been a corporate marketing manager, sits on a slew of local non-profit boards, and is a cool interior decorator. She’s a self-taught historian, a trained chef (at Ballymaloe in Ireland), and the owner of a successful candy company, Bond Bar “Belgian Chocolate Confections,” sold through upscale department stores and on Amazon.

All in all, Lisa is the Queen of Hospitality.

Library Aaron Burr House New Hope PA

“I want guests to have the best experience,” Lisa states. To that end, she runs cooking classes for groups of friends and has put together parties and other events.

As a trained chef, Lisa cooks a mean gourmet breakfast. It may start with baked peaches topped with honey and Greek yogurt, followed by mini stuffed French toast, sliced maple chicken sausage, and deconstructed granola.

You eat within view of bottles of adult beverages and spirits, including Lisa’s homemade Limoncello – yours to pour, at no extra cost, whenever the mood hits.

Wedgewood Inn New Hope PA

STAY: Wedgwood Inn

Carl and Nadine (Dinie) Glassman are well-schooled in the art of Bed and Breakfast management. So well schooled, they wrote the book “How to Start and Run Your Own Inn.” In addition, the couple operates the country’s oldest apprenticeship program for aspiring innkeepers.

Unsurprisingly, the Glassman’s 18-room B&B, The 1870 Wedgwood Inn, stands out in the business. Though common rooms sport all the welcoming, cozy appointments of a Victorian B&B, you need not leave your room or suite at all. Especially with your double jacuzzi tub facing a blazing fireplace.

Gourmet breakfast will be delivered right to your bed. And in the evening, Carl’s own home-brewed Almond Liqueur waits for you at the bedside, along with two shot glasses and chocolates.

Wedgwood Inn’s stone foundation dates from the 1720. The prior structure served as the headquarters of General Alexander “Lord Stirling” during the American Revolutionary War. Nearly 1,500 men from George Washington’s Continental Army bivouacked on the grounds for 3 weeks prior to the famous Christmas Eve Crossing of the Delaware River in 1776.

Wedgewood Inn Gazebo New Hope PA

In the 1840s, Quaker owners apparently dug a 90-foot underground tunnel from the house to the property’s well (the current site of the Gazebo).  Owners Carl and Dinnie discovered a secret staircase over the original outdoor kitchen that dropped into the tunnel that led inside the house. These secret underground passageways almost certainly hid escaped slaves.

STAY: Inn at Bowman’s Hill

Travelers seeking the best of the best in lodging will see their needs well met at the Inn at Bowman’s Hill. Earnest Innkeeper/owner, Mike Amery, helps his guests “Relax, Celebrate, Connect and Make Memories” at this Four Diamond property.

A Maven Favorite, you can read a complete Getaway Mavens review of the Inn and its rooms and suites here.

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  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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