For “The Arts” (season 3, episode 4), Weekends with Yankee visited the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, that has hosted such legends as composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein and Our Town playwright Thornton Wilder. Here, Yankee assistant digital editor Cathryn McCann shares a guide to this charming New Hampshire town.
Peterborough, NH, is one of those New England towns that you may not hear about often, but should. This community (population ~6,500) in the Monadnock Region is bordered by mountains and located along the Contoocook River, providing a great view no matter where you are in town. The model for Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize–winning play, Our Town, Peterborough is today an antiques lover’s dream that also attracts outdoor enthusiasts and artists. Here are some of our favorite things to do, places to eat, and places to stay in Peterborough, NH.
Guide to Peterborough, New Hampshire
PETERBOROUGH, NEW HAMPSHIRE | THINGS TO DO
TRY CANDLEPIN BOWLING
Established in 1962, Bowling Acres on Elm Street features 10 lanes, a small arcade, and a grill that serves pizza and bar food as well as pitchers of cold beer. A unique New England sport, candlepin bowling is different from regular bowling because its balls are smaller, players roll three balls per frame as opposed to two, and the pins are thinner.
There are plenty of terrific outdoor areas to explore in Peterborough. Right off Route 101 is Miller State Park, which has several trails (and an auto road, if you prefer to drive) leading to the 2,290-foot summit of Pack Monadnock, which offers 360-degree views from its fire tower. Across the street is Temple Mountain Reservation, a great spot for easy hiking. Prefer to be by the water? Head to Edward MacDowell Lake in West Peterborough, where there are hiking trails, picnic areas, a boat ramp, and a beach for swimming or enjoying a day in the sun.
Peterborough has a number of quality antique shops, any of which might be the perfect spot for you to spend an afternoon browsing. If you’re coming into town on Route 101, check out Twin Elm Farm, an 1800s farmhouse and barn filled with unusual home items and furniture, antiques, vintage goods, and accessories. Down on Main Street, ReMarkable has a “fun and creative” inventory of antiques, decor, clothing, and more that has been beautifully grouped and arranged throughout the store. Across the street, Grove & Main Antiques has upscale antique home items and furniture. And finally, tucked back in Depot Square, the eclectic Bowerbird & Friends has everything from furniture to ephemera, and artwork to potted plants.
Looking for New Hampshire–made treats and gifts? Stop in at Ava Marie Chocolates for award-winning milk and dark chocolate pecan turtles, truffles, hand-painted artisan chocolates, and more (plus: ice cream!). Next door you’ll find entire walls filled with flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, herbs, salts, sauces, jams, and jellies at Monadnock Oil & Vinegar Co. For handmade baskets of every size and variety, head to Peterboro Basket Co. on Grove Street. Finish up amid the aisles of must-read books at Toadstool Bookshop (and make sure to grab a coffee and pastry at Aesop’s Tables while you’re there).
ENJOY THE ARTS
As the home of the MacDowell Colony, a venerable organization that provides support and residencies for artists, Peterborough is considered a regional hub for arts and culture. The Sharon Arts Centerfeatures a large gallery and shop filled with the work of local artists. Peterborough Community Theatre is the town’s 95-seat independent movie house, which first opened in 1914. And for those who love theater, the Peterborough Players (founded in 1933) puts on seven main-stage shows and two second-company children’s shows in a modernized 18th-century barn from June through September. To browse or buy period paintings and fine prints, head to the New England Art Exchange, located right in the center of Depot Square.
GRAB A SNACK
In 2018, Post & Beam Brewing transformed Peterborough’s historic G.A.R. Hall into a brewery and bar where you can see the brewing equipment downstairs, enjoy a beer and snacks at one of the large wooden tables upstairs, or get some fresh air on the outdoor patio overlooking downtown. At Vicuña Chocolate on Main Street, you can stop by for a sample of handmade chocolate as well as a coffee or hot chocolate and pastries. Over in West Peterborough, Nature’s Green Grocer is a grocery-café that caters to the healthy crowd with an array of soups, salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and other wheat-free/dairy-free/vegan food (bonus perk: the café’s outside deck overlooking rushing Nubanusit Brook). Finally, for gourmet to-go food, grocery items, beer and wine, small goods and accessories, or just a coffee while strolling Depot Square, check out Twelve Pine.
For fine dining by the Contoocook River, try the Waterhouse restaurant in Depot Square. A lengthy wine list, creative cocktails, and a menu focused on locally sourced ingredients are just a few of the reasons to make time for a meal here.
In addition to an array of beers on tap and a deep menu of hearty fare, the atmosphere at Harlow’s — where seemingly every inch is covered with some sort of quirky local artifact or memorabilia — helps make this landmark eatery a truly memorable stop. It’s also Peterborough’s go-to for live music on select nights throughout the week.
The fresh-made bagels at this Grove Street standby come in a wide variety and can be enjoyed on the go, in the café, or out on the patio. The menu also extends to coffee and pastries, soup and salad specials, and other tasty bites.
Comfort food in an old-school setting is what you’ll get at the Peterborough Diner, a 1950s Worcester Lunch Car diner in the heart of Depot Square. From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, it does breakfast, lunch, and dessert, including home-baked pie.
Despite its strip-mall location, this little restaurant and oyster bar is known as one of the best places to eat in Peterborough. A local chef and locally sourced ingredients combine for a standout menu — from oysters, soups, and salads to seafood and meat entrees and noodle and rice dishes. Reservations are strongly recommended.
For warm ambiance and good whiskey, head to Cooper’s Hill Public House. It pours 170-plus whiskeys from around the world and serves Irish-inspired food (Guinness stew, fish and chips) alongside American staples (burgers, flatbread pizzas), all made with ingredients from around the region wherever possible.
For a more intimate-feeling stay, Little River Bed & Breakfast on Union Street offers a peaceful retreat in an 1870s farmhouse situated near open fields and the Nubanusit Brook. The four guest rooms each have private baths; plus, there’s a wood-burning fireplace, a second-floor sunroom, and Adirondack chairs down by the river.
Located on the Contoocook River just a mile from downtown, the 17-room Jack Daniels Motor Inn has four pet-friendly rooms, Wi-Fi, and plenty of onsite parking. It offers continental breakfast and access to the local gym too.
Less than 15 minutes from Peterborough, in the neighboring town of Greenfield, you’ll find the historic Greenfield Inn. There are eight guest rooms (most with private baths and some with personal fireplaces); mountain views; a full breakfast buffet; and easy access to nearby Greenfield State Forest.
Another nearby option is the Hancock Inn, the oldest inn in New Hampshire, in Hancock. If you want to stay in a place that’s been accommodating travelers for more than two centuries, this is the spot. Each of the 14 rooms is individually decorated with period-appropriate furnishings, and the inn also boasts a dining room and a tavern that are popular with local foodies.
If a country getaway is what you’re after, this antique Cape situated under ancient maples and surrounded by gardens is exactly that. Located in Harrisville, less than 20 minutes from Peterborough, the five-room inn invites guests to bask on its stone patio during the summer months and lounge by the wood stove in the winter.