There’s a bucket list of things to do in Concord NH, primarily revolving around the every-four-year Presidential Primary.
This is not the Concord of the “Shot Heard Round the World.” That Concord – the site of the first armed rebellion in the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Concord and Lexington – is in Massachusetts.
But you could say that the city of Concord, the capital of New Hampshire, generates the “Shouts Heard Round the World,” as every four years presidential candidates converge on this New England state capital to start stumping for the nation’s first Primary.
On that note, there are more State Representatives in New Hampshire – a state with a total population of 1.3 million – than in any other state in the country, including New York and Texas. Why is that?
The Mavens explore this puzzling fact on a foray to the center of government in the Granite State – a New England State where the motto remains “Live Free or Die.” Never a “tourist town,” Concord is outfitted with the goods to be one.
You’ll find an independent movie theater that doubles as a wine and beer bar, and a pub where Irish musicians jam with abandon. There’s a privately owned bookstore that grew so successfully, it forced out the chains. And of course, there’s a couple of cool boutique hotels. All of these are wrapped up in a civic-minded “pedestrian-friendly” downtown.
For those interested in the Canterbury Shaker Village (a National Historic Landmark), the Getaway Mavens have covered it in our NH Lakes post. It’s just a 20-minute drive from Concord.
And, should you wish to stay within the state and extend your trip, be sure to consult the Best Romantic Getaways in New Hampshire.
Where Is Concord NH?
Concord, New Hampshire, is the capital city of the state and is centrally located in Merrimack County. Situated along the banks of the Merrimack River in the southern part of New Hampshire, Concord is known for its rich history, charming downtown, and scenic landscapes.
It is approximately 68 miles north of Boston, Massachusetts, making it easily accessible for travelers exploring the New England region. Concord offers a blend of cultural attractions, historic sites, and outdoor activities, making it a welcoming destination for those seeking a taste of both small-town charm and the natural beauty of New Hampshire’s countryside.
Things to Do in Concord New Hampshire
TOUR: The New Hampshire State House
This is not a Capitol on a Hill. New Hampshire’s State House stands right in the center of a thriving downtown. Built in 1819, the 144 ft. tall structure is composed of grey granite cut by NH prisoners from a quarry just out of town. (This IS the Granite State, after all).
But New Hampshire’s Capitol building, the oldest state house in the nation in which the legislature meets in its original chambers, isn’t grand or elaborate.
There’s a nice gold dome. The lovely courtyard showcases a statue of Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, who served for 10 years as NH State Rep. But the interior is modest by government standards. One could say that the State of New Hampshire is frugal with its public funds.
Even if you do not plan to tour the NH Capitol, there is one startling and poignant reason to stop in here. You can see the actual tattered, faded, bloodstained Regiment Flags carried by New Hampshire soldiers in Antietam, Gettysburg, Bull Run, and other Civil War battles.
You might just get goosebumps staring at the 107 relics that have been preserved in glass cases in the State House lobby. They’ve been hanging on their original poles for over 150 years.
Touring the NH State House
Start your tour in the Statehouse Visitor’s Center, which served as the Civil War enlistment office in 1861. If she’s available, ask for the Visitor Center’s Director, Virginia Drew, whose passion about New Hampshire history and politics is infectious.
See depictions of The Battle of Bunker Hill led by New Hampshire men on June 17, 1775, and The Battle of Bennington on Aug 16, 1777. John Stark, whose words “Live Free or Die” became the NH State motto, fought in the latter.
Portraits of famous New Hampshire natives, including astronaut Alan Shepard, who was born and raised in Derry, and Civil War nursing heroine, Harriet Dame, a contemporary of Clara Barton, who served with the 2nd NH Regiment, hang in the lobby.
New Hampshire was also the birthplace of Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States. (And also home state of fictional West Wing character, President Josiah Bartlett).
Inner sanctum of the largest House of Representatives in the USA
The most fascinating part of the tour takes you into the inner sanctum of the largest House of Representatives in the USA. With 400 State Reps and 24 Senators acting as public servants in this low-population state, locals joke that if you haven’t run for a House seat, you eventually will.
Unlike in other State Houses, Democrats and Republicans from all walks of life sit together, allowing for discussion and negotiation. These politicians, currently 18-98 years old, earn $200 total for a two-year term. Most balance full-time farming, industrial or professional jobs with public service.
Serving in New Hampshire’s State House is effectively a volunteer job with no fame or fortune payoff. The sense of civic duty runs deep in this state.
Enter the State Senate chamber — “The House of the People” — and set your eyes on a desk dating back to 1819. For the “First In Nation” Presidential Primary, every single presidential candidate has traditionally signed in at this desk before getting back on the campaign trail.
Here, Virginia explains, the 24 senators conduct sessions the old fashioned way. They request the floor not just by raising their hands, but adding a hand gesture that evokes the Chicken Dance. It’s these little details that make a guided tour here so engaging.
VISIT: New Hampshire Historical Society in the Tuck Building
Before entering the New Hampshire Historical Society, note the pediment carved by Daniel Chester French (who sculpted The Lincoln Memorial in DC) over the entrance to the Beaux-Arts Tuck Building, giving you an idea of the value and praiseworthiness of this stunning structure.
It’s worth a quick few minutes to pop inside if only to see the gorgeous skylight-dome rotunda, brass work banisters, arched walls, French marble floors, and ceiling clad in magnificent rust-red Sienna Marble. The building houses more than 33,000 artifacts – “the saved history of New Hampshire”- including antique ad signs, furniture, and libraries open to all.
The Tuck Library, named for the founder of Dartmouth College Business School, has the largest collection of historical information available in northern New England.
VISIT: State Library Building
The State Library Building was erected in 1894 as home to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Funds were apparently spent on its grand Italian Renaissance exterior (grey Conway and Concord granite, natch). But inside, not so much.
Think library stacks lit by fluorescent bulbs standing on linoleum floors. Upstairs, sense how spectacular this place must have been when first built, with an arched arcade-style glass ceiling that runs the length of the top floor.
If you are researching your family ties to New Hampshire you’ll want to get down to work in the well-stocked and spacious Genealogy Room.
SEE: Red River Theater
Custom built in 2007 to be 100% Digital, this non-profit membership-based indie, Red River Theater goes beyond the usual art movie. Join Sing-Alongs, “Quote-A-Longs,” Film Discussions and other specialty programming in three comfortable cinema rooms.
A full selection of beer and wine sweetens the experience. Red River is incredibly popular with the Concord community, and visitors too, once they discover its small-town, sophisticated charms.
SEE: Capitol Center for the Arts
This 1927 Vaudeville House was rescued by members of the community after going down the tubes in 1989. First built just after the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb, the latest renovation brought the theater’s original colorful Egyptian motif back to life.
Reopened in 1995, the NH Capital Center for the Arts now hosts the likes of Elvis Costello and Jackson Browne along with live feeds from the Bolshoi Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera and the National Theater.
VISIT: McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, known for its hands on science exhibits, is named for Concord teacher Christa McAuliffe (who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986) and hometown astronaut Alan Shepard. The planetarium also offers daily shows and Friday Night events.
VISIT/SHOP: Gibson’s Bookstore/Gibson’s Cafe
When an independently owned bookstore forces out a Barnes and Noble or Borders, they are doing something right. Gibson’s, which hosts author readings and other programming, and has taken over a full city block, is doing just that.
SHOP: League of New Hampshire Craftsmen
Two outposts in Concord (on the same street!) exhibit regional mixed media and hand made crafts. The first, The League of NH Craftsmen, adjacent to the Concord Visitors Center, is more like a museum than a store. It literally sheds light on the work of the best quilters, ceramicists, painters, photographers, woodworkers and others in New Hampshire.
The store downtown offers a bigger and better selection of one-of-a-kind gifts. It’s the perfect New Hampshire souvenir shop for those loath to discover that a “local craft” has been stamped with “Made in China.” Here, you’ll find the certified real deal.
SHOP: Granite State Candy
Chocolate lovers, beware. Once you step inside these antique doors, you’re hooked.
WALK: Susan N McLane Audubon Center
When you need a break from all the historical buildings in town, and want to get out into nature, the McLane Center in Concord (formerly the Silk Farm Center) is your best bet. You can commune with rescued wild birds in the Nature Center building – with a relatively new LEED designed wing, or head out on three miles of trails.
Try the 1/2 mile “forest floor” trail – or the 1.2 mile Great Turkey Pond Trail for a longer jaunt. Either way, you may see Swallows, Bluebirds, or Kestrels, which all make their homes in the area.
Best Restaurants in Concord NH
EAT: The Barley House Restaurant and Tavern
Right on Main St. across from the State House, the Barley House is an Irish Pub known for its “killer” burgers. But the Guinness Beef Stew is nothing to scoff at either.
And neither is the grassroots entertainment here. Sign up for Trivia Night – or a game of Cribbage. On select nights, the Barley House turns into a rollicking fiddle-fest. Irish Musicians pick up fiddles, accordions, dulcimers, banjos, flutes and other instruments to delight surrounding diners.
It’s so grass-roots and authentic, you might assume that you’ve stumbled into an Ole Irish Pub in Killarney. And what of those burgers? The McBarley with Russian dressing, pickles and roasted red onions is a house favorite.
EAT: Live Juice
Get fresh juice squeezed and blended from fruit that picturesquely adorns the counter. You’ll also find custom-made chopped salads, and other raw dishes in this Concord Main Street hot-spot. When you tire of burgers and fries and yearn for higher-order rabbit food, Live Juice is more than just peachy. It’s the whole produce section.
EAT: Locals Recommend
Revival Kitchen and Bar for sipping wine,” Nonna’s Place for Italian, Smokeshow BBQ for the best Q, Nina’s Bistro for paninis, Tucker’s for brunch, and the cool little speakeasy, Chuck’s Barbershop.
Hotels in Concord NH and Environs
STAY: The Centennial
What was, in the 1870s, a nursing home for the indigent elderly is now the sleek, contemporary luxury boutique Centennial Hotel a ten-minute stroll from downtown.
It’s strange to carry your bags up the cement steps of this turreted brick building into what you imagine will be a drab institutional corridor to find – surprise, surprise – a bright 21st-century lobby.
“Not what you expected, huh?” a perky receptionist says, and most likely repeats every time a guest checks in. Suites are large, comfy, and modern in an unfussy way that doesn’t assault the senses.
They feature large flat-screen TVs and plump white duvets topped by crisp pinstriped pillows. Updated bathrooms have stone tile floors, modern fixtures, and wonderful glass and mosaic-tile showers.
And you don’t have to go far to dine in one of the best restaurants in town. Granite is just off the lobby.
STAY: Hotel Concord
Concord NH has not just one but TWO boutique hotels, upping the cool, indie vibe for this small politio town. This one, Hotel Concord, is right downtown.
Rooms are tidy and bright – many with floor-to-ceiling windows, some with views of the State Capitol building.
Two amenities increase the cool factor exponentially: each room comes equipped with an Amazon Echo Dot, and the Red River Movie Theater is right downstairs – just an elevator ride away.
STAY: Colby Hill Inn, Henniker (a 20-minute drive from Concord)
This iconic inn features traditional American four-poster beds, fluffy brocade bedding, and small fireplaces. It’s as if George Washington had just stepped out to tend to his troops and horses here at the Colby Hill Inn.