15 Best Things to Do in Exeter, NH

Exeter, NH
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Once the domain of ancient Penacook peoples, the town of Exeter tells stories of American settlement and independence–immortalized by its historical landmarks and picturesque architecture styles of its houses and buildings.

If you are someone who enjoys peaceful strolls in a charming, easy-going town nestled between two rivers, and loves to listen to fascinating stories of the past, then Exeter will be a great place for you.

To fully appreciate the scenery and the beauty of this town, previous visitors have recommended that you take a tour of this historic town on foot.

Not only will you experience the fresh breeze and hear the sounds of nature yourself, but you will also have enough time to marvel at the nostalgic architecture of the houses and buildings that you will pass by.

If you are planning to visit Exeter soon, here are the 15 best things to do there:

Celebrate Those Who Fought for Freedom in the American Independence Museum

Front view of the American Independence Museum.
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Since Exeter is regarded as New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War Capital, the American Independence Museum is a place where people can learn from hardships and victories of the past, and apply them to the present.

Here, collections of artifacts and stories are preserved to educate future generations about their struggle for self-governance in the past.

An example is the Dunlap Broadside, one of the first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence ever produced.

The American Independence Festival is also celebrated here every July 16, where people dress up as American revolutionaries and relive the heroism of older times.

Photo at the back of the American Independence Museum.
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Go Fishing at Brickyard Pond Park

The Brickyard Pond Park is another recreational park where you can do outdoor activities.

Managed by Exeter Parks and Recreation Department, this 12-hectare public park is known for its open green space, fishing pond, and a multipurpose field.

You may take your loved ones here, preferably in spring, to have a fun fishing session.

During winter, residents also go here to skate on the frozen pond.

Simple and chill outdoor activities are also suitable for bonding time with your family.

Marvel at the Grand Architecture of the Phillips Exeter Academy Library

The majestic Phillips Exeter Academy Library.
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Recognized as the largest secondary school library in the world, the Phillips Exeter Academy Library is something you shouldn’t miss.

Situated within the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, this library has an architectural style that generously used bricks and involves natural light.

For book lovers out there, this library is a bucket list item considering that the library houses over 160,000 volumes of books, and many are still barely touched.

Front View of Phillips Exeter Academy Library
Gunnar Klack, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Designed to make readers feel at home, the library greets visitors upon entry with a circular double staircase that leads to a dramatic central hall.

From there, you will witness the numerous floors of book stacks, with carrels at the outer part of each floor that have sizable windows for natural light to come in as you read.

In this impressive but warm “temple of learning,” you will certainly experience the pleasure of studying and learning.

Interior View of Phillips Exeter Academy Library
Gunnar Klack, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Relax and Rejuvenate at Soleil’s Salt Cave

After a day full of activities, relax and retreat at Soleil’s Salt Caves and experience the healing magic of halotherapy.

Using Ancient Greek knowledge of self-healing, this sanctuary of wellness has improvised “salt caves” where clients relax and breathe in 600 million-year-old Himalayan salt that is ground and dispersed into the air.

Inhaling this rejuvenative aerosol helps relieve congestion, inflammation, depression, allergies, arthritis, insomnia, and many other mental and physical disorders.

While inside the salt caves, you may lie down on the salt directly or sit on one of the reclining chairs to experience the genuine tranquility of doing nothing but breathe.

Get to Know How a Family Helped Exeter’s Rise at the Gilman Garrison House

Front View of Gilman Garrison House
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The Gilman Garrison House is one marvelous monument as it is a fortified home of one of Exeter’s most prominent families.  

Located near the Squamscott River, where the Gilman family used to operate their industrial sawmills, the structure boasts majestic walls made of massive sawn logs.

Now restored, it functions as a museum to showcase the architectural evolution of the house.

The museum also imparts the fascinating stories of the Gilman family and its succeeding residents through its delicately preserved artifacts.

A house that portrays strength and elegance, you will get a glimpse of the classic and exquisite lifestyles of Americans that came before.

An artistic abode located at the Front Street Historic District, this place is proud of its broad collection of artworks made by a collective of painters, photographers, designers, adornment makers, and more.

It may look modest upfront, but the place is actually 2,400 square feet, housing seven studios, a street-side gallery, and a large back gallery.

Open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, here you will find exhibits of paintings, illustrations, photographs, assemblage, abstract art, and metal and wire industrial quilts.

You may also witness art as it is being made within their art studios, where art workshops and events are also held.

Most of their artworks are for sale, and they also sell artistic cards which you can give as gifts.

Gallivant Down the Quaint Streetscape of Downtown Exeter

View of Downtown Exeter from across the road.
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After you have finished learning about the history of Exeter, enjoy more of Exeter’s historical architecture as you visit interesting shops downtown.

You will find there one of the staple dessert shops, The Chocolatier, where you can relish their artisanal chocolate treats, such as the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Bar, Ruby Truffle, Cranberry Nut Bark, Snappin Turtle Popcorn, and the Chocolate Covered Potato Chips.

Another popular place you can drop by is the award-winning Whirlygigs Toy Shop, where you can find toys ranging from cars to plushies from local and international toy brands.

If hunger strikes from all the gallivanting, you can visit ambient restaurants that line the streets of downtown Exeter such as the Otis Restaurant, The Green Bean, the Trackside Cafe, and more, where fresh, homemade food is served.

Historic Italianate style commercial building along Downtown Exeter.
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Explore the Many Trails of the Henderson-Swasey Town Forest

If you are someone who loves to hike or bike, the Henderson-Swasey Town Forest offers about seven well-established easy to moderate trail systems you can choose to clinch.

This 220-acre conservation land is also a great place for several outdoor activities such as jogging, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, bird-watching, and more.

According to experienced hikers and bikers, the trails within this forest are quite mellow, and so children and pets are also regular visitors here.

But since the forest encompasses a part of the Fort Rock Mountain, expect to be challenged by some elevation, exposed rocks, and protruding tree roots.

Enjoy a Picnic or a Walk at Swasey Parkway

View of the historic Swasey Parkway.
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If you enjoy nature and the outdoors more, you can enjoy a picnic among the trees and the birds at Swasey Parkway.

You can also take a walk or jog along the majestic Squamscott River and enjoy the peaceful and beautiful environment around you.

This area used to be a stenchy dumpsite until the philanthropist Ambrose Swasey donated money to transform it into a beautiful gathering place.

From May to October, the Exeter Farmers’ Market also opens here, where you can buy local goods and crafts produced by hard-working and talented Exeter residents.

Admire the Mosaic and Listen to Night Bands in the Swasey Pavilion

The Swasey Pavilion, also commonly known as the Exeter Bandstand, was built in 1916 as another gift to the town from the Exeter philanthropist, Ambrose Swasey.

Originally built as a stage for orchestras and the Exeter Brass Band, this work of art has become the symbol and centerpiece of Exeter as many historical events eventually took place here.

Located just across the Exeter Town Hall where Abraham Lincoln gave a speech, this is not just a typical gazebo; its ceiling has mosaic art, and its floor has a zodiac compass embedded on it.  

During summer, people will gather here on occasional evenings to sing, dance, listen to music and have a wonderful time together.

Visit the Congregational Church in Exeter

Front View of Congregational Church in Exeter
John Phelan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another historical landmark in Exeter, the Congregational Church, which was built in 1798, is a symbol of the unification of Exeter's First Parish and Second Parish congregations.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, here you can find the pew where Abraham Lincoln sat and prayed as he waited for his son at Phillip Exeter Academy.

You may also admire a portrait of the founder of this church and the town itself, Reverend John Wheelwright.

At the side of the church, you will also find a small memorial garden where you can pay your respects to the other forefathers of this town, Gilman, and Folsom, where they are buried.

Unwind and Play Golf at the Exeter Country Club

Known for one of America’s oldest and finest small courses, the Exeter Country Club has offered a variety of challenging and beginner-friendly course layouts since 1889.

With well-groomed fairways, picturesque landscape, fresh sea breeze, and accommodating staff, your golfing experience will be a pleasure.

The club is open to non-members, and the 9-hole course fee can be as low as $15 if you book four days in advance during the weekdays.

If you are new to the sport, lessons are also offered within their practice facilities.

If you are a golf lover, book your tee schedule and enjoy a fine meal at their grille after you play.

Hike or Kayak at the Exeter River Trail at Gilman Park

Located at the edge of the Exeter River, Gilman Park is another great place to relax and appreciate the beauty of nature.

Here you can also have a picnic, a pleasant stroll or bike, or sit down and watch birds and other wildlife.

If you want a little bit of exercise, an easy 3.4-kilometer trail is also available by the Exeter River called the Exeter River Trail, where you can get multiple views of the beautiful river.

If you are an experienced kayaker, you may also begin your paddling at the Exeter River and go down to the Squamscott River as you enjoy the humble beauty of your surroundings.

Delve into the Rich History of Exeter at the Exeter Historical Society

Exeter Historical Society
John Phelan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tasked with the mission to preserve Exeter’s artifacts, documents, and history, the Exeter Historical Society is a must-visit if you want to get to know the town better.

As a repository of knowledge, here you will find historical artifacts, collections of photographs, and maps of the town that can help you in your walking tour.

On their website, you may also download the town’s map and specialized tours for visitors and kids through their Walking Tour app.

This non-profit organization also holds scheduled programs that educate people about different topics ranging from the Revolutionary War, the World Wars, Native Americans, and how industries have flourished in the town.

Finally, if you want to take home some souvenirs, you may visit their shop and get stickers, medallions, or merchandise of some landmarks that you will find in Exeter.

Skate on the Ice or Learn How to at The Rinks at Exeter

A twin ice rink facility where you can ice skate or play hockey at any season, this place is one favorite recreational activity place in Exeter.

You may skate here for $8 for an hour and 20 minutes, and if you need to rent a skate, it will cost you $4.

Just remember to bring your own helmet because the establishment is unable to provide helmets due to insurance regulations.

You may also avail of ice skating, figure skating, and hockey lessons with varying fees depending on your age.

If you miss winter activities and cannot wait for December, then this is the place for you.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a weekend escape to a peaceful town that transports you back in time, then the humble and beautiful town of Exeter is the place to go.

Nostalgic historical structures surrounded by the enthralling beauty of nature, this town will surely remind you of times of simplicity but have the strength to fight for growth, natural beauty, and independence.