Leaving Martha’s Vineyard: holiday destinations

Lantern Light Tours in Mystic give visitors a taste of the holidays circa 1876. — Photo courtesy of Mystic Seaport

There’s nothing like a holiday tradition. But let’s face it, doing the same routine year after year gets boring. This year, spice up your itinerary by hitting one of these holiday hotspots — no air travel required. These New England towns — all just a few hours from the ferry at Woods Hole — boast Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years events and activities that are worth a trip. You just may find your next holiday tradition.


Fall foliage isn’t the only reason folks travel to New England in the autumn. We’ve got that whole witch trial thing, and plentiful pumpkins too.

Salem. The home of the infamous Salem witch trials, this seaside town in northern Massachusetts, bustles with spooky fun all year, but especially in October. On Halloween day, the witches of Salem hold a “magic circle” in the common. There’s also witchcraft expos, performances and reenactments, haunted houses, costume parties, witch tours, historical tours, ghost tours…you get the picture.

Driving time from Woods Hole: Two hours.

Where to eat: Salem Beer Works, or the Gulu Gulu Cafe.

Where to stay: Be right in the action at Salem Waterfront Hotel and Suites.

While you’re there: The Peabody Essex Museum is one of the oldest continually operating museums in the United States. On weekends, Salem holds family fun days and an open market.

For more information: hauntedhappenings.org.

Keene, N.H. In 2003, The Keene Pumpkin Festival won the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most jack-o-lanterns lit in one place (28,952). The record has since been broken by Boston, but with its funky college town streets, Keene is still a fun place to spend a fall weekend. This year’s Pumpkin Fest falls on October 17.

Driving time from Woods Hole: Three hours.

Where to eat: Elm City Brewery, or Nicola’s.

Where to stay: The Lane Hotel, or The Bridges Inn in Swanzey.

While you’re there: See a performance at Keene State College, take a bike ride on the Cheshire Rail Trail, enjoy a picnic in the quaint Central Square, or get a taste of classic New England agriculture at Stonewall Farm.

For more information: keenechamber.com

Other towns with noteworthy events:

Providence, R.I.

Portland, Maine

Bristol, Conn.


Maybe it’s time to give someone else’s high school football game a try this Thanksgiving. After all, the Pilgrims landed in New England for a reason.

Provincetown: Strolling along the Cape Cod National Seashore will be a welcome retreat for those who wish to stay close to the Atlantic, but Provincetown’s lighting-up of the Pilgrim Monument is a worthwhile way to spend Thanksgiving. It was Provincetown, not Plymouth, where the Pilgrims first landed and signed the Mayflower Compact. This year, the lighting (complete with cookies and cider) is on November 21.

Driving time from Woods Hole: Two hours up the Cape.

Where to eat: Ceraldi, or The Mews Restaurant and Cafe.

Where to stay: Crowne Point Historic Inn and Spa.

While you’re there: People watch on Commercial Street, walk or bike along the beaches, and hit Provincetown’s legendary art stroll, including spots like the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

For more information: provincetown.com.

Mystic, Conn. This historic seaport town in Connecticut combines Thanksgiving and Christmas in one of the most fun parades you can imagine. Boats strung with lights parade down the Mystic River in a competition for creativity and team spirit. This year it’s on November 30. Lantern Light Tours, in which Mystic transforms into Christmas Eve circa 1876, also begin on November 30 and continue on weekends until December 27.

Driving time from Woods Hole: Two hours.

Where to eat: Breakfast at Kitchen Little, or The Oyster Club.

Where to stay: The Steamboat Inn, or Abbey’s Lantern Hill Inn, 15 minutes away in Ledyard.

While you’re there: Tour the historic whaling ship the Charles W. Morgan (which has lots of Vineyard ties) at the Museum of America and the Sea, see the creatures at the Mystic Aquarium, or step back into the 1700s for shopping at Olde Mistick Village.

For more information: mysticchamber.org.

Other towns with noteworthy events:

Mt. Washington, N.H.

Bath, Maine


Christmas (Or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or all three!)

Whatever you celebrate in December, cozy lodging and lights are a must.

Newport, R.I. Christmas in Newport is a two-week long event. The entire town, wharves and all, is wrapped in white lights meant to symbolize candlelight. But the main attractions are the Newport Mansions, dressed to the nines in American Gilded Age holiday finery.

Driving time from Woods Hole: One and a half hours.

Where to eat: 22 Bowen, or Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant.

Where to stay: For the height of luxury, stay at The Chanler, at the start of Newport’s famous Cliff Walk. B&Bs are also plentiful, check out the Newport County Inns & Bed & Breakfasts Association.

While you’re there: The aforementioned Cliff Walk meanders around the Newport Mansions and the stunning coastal geography on which they were built. Newport is also home to the Coastal Wine Trail, but check locations for seasonal availability. Then there’s plenty of tours, arts, nightlife, and the Newport Grand Slots.

For more information: gonewport.com

York/Ogunquit, Maine: These twin villages on Maine’s southern coast are ideal for holiday shopping, and in early December they hold old-timey Christmas celebrations. York lights up the Nubble Lighthouse the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, then holds a Festival of Lights on December 7, complete with a parade, a wreath sale, gingerbread house display, and more. Nearby Ogunquit is holding its 27th Annual Christmas by the Sea — music, bonfires, Santa — this year from the 7th to the 15th.

Driving time from Woods Hole: Two and a half hours.

Where to eat: The White Barn Inn (Kennebunkport), or Rick’s.

Where to stay: The York Harbor Inn, or Morning Glory Inn.

While you’re there: Pop over to Portsmouth, N.H. to see holiday music performances, stroll around Perkin’s Cove, sample goodies at Stonewall Kitchen, or do your holiday shopping at the Kittery Trading Post and Kittery Outlets.

For more information: visitmaine.net.

Other towns with noteworthy events:

Jackson, N.H.

Manchester, Vt.

Freeport, Maine

New Year’s

Sure – you can do New Year’s big city style in Boston (or even NYC), but there’s plenty of other options when it comes to ringing in First Night.

St. Johnsbury, Vt. The St. Johnsbury New Year’s celebration is family friendly — no alcohol or drugs, please — but with more than 70 entertainment acts, and a planetarium, there’s plenty going on. You can stroll in and out of shows all evening, picking up treats sold by various churches, then celebrate 2014 with a midnight fireworks display. This year is the 20th year of First Night St. Johnsbury, so it should be a big one.

Driving time from Woods Hole: Four hours.

Where to eat: Bailiwicks on Mill, and Kham’s Thai Cuisine are travel site favorites.

Where to stay: The Fairbanks Inn or Rabbit Hill Inn.

While you’re there: Based on its location in the heart of the Green Mountains and the Northeast Kingdom, National Geographic named St. Johnsbury the “Best Small Town For Adventure.” There’s plenty of outdoor recreation, and great nearby ski areas in Cannon and Bretton Woods. Kids will enjoy trips to Santa’s Village and Six Gun City theme parks. Or, get a little culture at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum Art Gallery, which houses Albert Bierstadt’s famous “The Domes of the Yosemite.”

For more information: firstnightstj.com or discoverstjvt.com.

Providence, R.I. Before the midnight countdown in Kennedy Plaza, Providence’s Bright Night is a day-long, city-wide collection of live music, comedy, arts, activities, and food trucks. Don’t miss the parties at venues like The Roots and AS220, a Masquerade Ball at the Convention Center, or Indoor Auto Racing at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

Driving time from Woods Hole: Under one and a half hours.

Where to eat: Gracie’s, or for affordable family dining, Fire + Ice.

Where to stay: The Christopher Dodge House, or The Providence Biltmore.

While you’re there: We already told you where to eat, but Providence is a foodie’s delight. You can take a cooking class at Johnson and Wales, explore the Culinary Arts Museum, or sample everything on Westminster Street. When you’re full, visit the animals at the Roger Williams Zoo, or burn off the calories outdoor ice skating at the Bank of America City Center.

For more information: goprovidence.com.

Other towns with noteworthy events:


Burlington, Vt.

Portsmouth, N.H.

Danbury, Conn.