Few college towns are as visitor-friendly as Hanover, New Hampshire. The Dartmouth Green doubles as the town common, with a seasonally staffed information kiosk. Surrounding it are the historic and architecturally striking buildings of Dartmouth College, including a major performance center, an outstanding art museum, and a recently revamped inn that’s become a lodging and dining destination in its own right. South Main Street’s blocks are few but offer some remarkable places to eat and to linger.
The Hood Museum of Art is one of the oldest and largest college museums in the country. Many items in its 60,000-piece collection date back to 1772, three years after Dartmouth’s founding. Art lovers will also want to cross the Green to Baker Memorial Library (a 1920s version of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall) to view the powerful murals depicting The Epic of American Civilization, painted by José Clemente Orozco in 1932–34. Film, dance performances, and concerts at the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts are always worth checking out. And the new student-geared Black Family Visual Arts Center next to the Hood completes what Dartmouth calls its “Arts District.”
In summer the town’s prime people-watching seats are the rockers and tables on the terrace of the Hanover Inn, overlooking the Green. This 108-room brick hotel, owned by Dartmouth, has been recently renovated down to its 1902 studs, the décor transformed from Neocolonial to sleekly, comfortably contemporary, featuring locally made furnishings and art. PINE (named for the lone tree in the Dartmouth College logo) is the inn’s new informal restaurant, featuring an open hearth and windows overlooking the Green.
One Hanover landmark that hasn’t changed essentially since the 1940s is Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery. Lou himself has long since retired, but he’s still pictured, along with 1950s patrons, in photos ranged above the counter. Breakfast (until 3:00 p.m.) includes chipotle turkey hash and goat-cheese omelets—but don’t pass on the hand-cut home fries or buttermilk pancakes.
Rural college towns predictably offer good food, demanded by faculty and alums at prices tempered by the budgets of students. Hanover exemplifies this phenomenon, with standbys such as the Canoe Club Bistro, a must for its décor alone. The restaurant is festooned with vintage canoes and Dartmouth memorabilia, the food is delicious, and most evenings there’s live music. The atmosphere at Murphy’s on the Green is a mix of old boys’ club and pub, and the food is also outstanding. It’s worth noting that both Canoe and Murphy’s offer late-night menus, a welcome rarity in this rural region.
Hanover has its Starbucks, but we prefer to park our laptops at Umpleby’s Bakery & Café, a Vermont migrant, offering the valley’s best croissants, plus from-scratch soups and sandwiches on house-made bread. Serious coffee lovers, however, head for the Dirt Cowboy Café or, for genuine espresso, Morano Gelato. The creation of Morgan Morano, who grew up in Hanover but perfected her skills during years of working in Italian gelaterias, this is the newest taste sensation in town, recently rated by Forbes magazine as the best gelato in America. (The shop is now owned by Bill and Pam Miles and John and Jennifer Langhus; Morgan Morano remains the business’s executive chef.)
Hanover’s compact downtown continues to grow glacially down South Main Street (New Hampshire Route 10) and along side streets. Six South Street Hotel, for example—an attractive, reasonably priced, 69-room venue—opened in 2011. This town of 11,260 year-round residents extends well beyond these blocks and the adjoining 237-acre Dartmouth College campus, but it’s this walkable core that’s so inviting. In summer it’s a pleasant stroll from the Green down to the Ledyard Bridge and across into Norwich, Vermont. Or you can set out on the Connecticut River itself, renting a canoe or kayak by the bridge from the Ledyard Canoe Club. Note also that hour-long campus tours are open to all. —Christina Tree
Things to Do in Hanover, New Hampshire
Black Family Visual Arts Center
Canoe Club Bistro
Dirt Cowboy Café
Hood Museum of Art
Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts
Ledyard Canoe Club
Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery
Murphy’s on the Green
Six South Street
Umpleby’s Bakery & Café