Get a little culture and have a lot of fun this summer
The arts take center stage in the Merrimack Valley
New Hampshire might be best known for its majestic mountains and scenic seashore. But in the Merrimack Valley, arts and culture are at the forefront. Concord, New Hampshire’s state capital, and Manchester, the state’s largest city, are home to a variety of museums, theaters, and other destinations that are welcoming to families and kids of all ages.
If you are in need of fun on a rainy day or want to add a cultural twist to your family’s summer plans, here’s where to go to delve into history, view world-famous art and see some kid-friendly live theater.
The Many Museums of Manchester
In New Hampshire’s Queen City, arts and culture reign. If you have a day, or even just an afternoon to spend in Manchester, make time for a stop at the Currier Museum. Considered to have one of the best art collections in New England, the Currier gives visitors a peek at works by such art luminaries as Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. This summer’s featured exhibit is the works of Claude Monet. Visiting families can make their way through the museum with the help of a special Family Guide map then visit the Discovery Gallery to take part in hands-on learning about different types of art.
It’s always nice to know a little about the history of places you visit with your kids, and a stop at Manchester’s Millyard Museum operated by the Manchester Historic Association is a must. Housed in part of what was once one of the world’s largest textile mills, the museum explores the city’s history, from the region’s pre-Colonial times to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. Learn how the mills turned raw cotton into cloth and stroll along a recreated Manchester city street from more than a century ago. For hands-on fun, kids can complete the museum’s scavenger hunt and play a mystery objects game.
Elsewhere in the Millyard complex you’ll find the SEE Science Center, a science museum that offers hands-on exhibits about lights, sounds, electricity, simple machines, and more. The science center’s biggest draw may be its replica of the city’s historic red-brick millyard made completely of LEGOs and billed as the largest permanent LEGO mini-figure installation in the world. On Saturdays and Sundays, take part in special drop-in workshops for families.
Just outside Manchester’s city limits in Londonderry, let your kids’ imagination take flight at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire. The museum, located a stone’s throw from the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, offers a flight simulator and informative exhibits about New Hampshire natives who made their mark in the world of aviation. The museum hosts education programs and special events throughout the summer, including the Homebuilt Aircraft Fly-In on Saturday, July 8, where “homemade” and vintage airplanes will buzz by the museum and land for viewing.
For a poetic side trip only a few miles down the road from Manchester in Derry, visit the home and farm of poet laureate Robert Frost. Maintained now as a state historic site, families can tour the house to learn more about Frost and his family, then follow the farm’s interpretive trail for a pleasant country ramble around the property. Poem markers found along the trail help young poetry fans understand how Frost channeled his observations about nature into poems that stand the test of time.
In Concord, it’s hard to miss the golden-domed State House, found in the heart of the capital city’s downtown district. Built in 1819, New Hampshire’s Capitol building is the oldest state house in the nation in which the legislature meets in its original chambers. For a free self-guided tour (and perhaps the chance to see laws being made before your eyes), stop by Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Kids will like the diorama in the Visitors’ Center depicting the Revolutionary War battles, including the Battle of Bunker Hill, that were led by New Hampshire militiamen.
For a deeper dive into Granite State history, visit the New Hampshire Historical Society on Park Street in Concord. All ages are encouraged to check out the institution’s one-of-a-kind treasures, including a dugout Abenaki canoe and an early snowmobile, as a way to learn more about the storied past of New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley. The museum offers free admission to children and youth under age 18.
Elsewhere in Concord, make your way to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, a planetarium and science museum learning center that offers star shows, outer space learning exhibits and special family programming that will inspire everyone to reach for the stars.
For fun a little farther afield, just up Interstate 93 in Canterbury, visit Canterbury Shaker Village, the National Historic Landmark Village dedicated to preserving the legacy and tradition of the religious group that once called this place home. Explore 25 restored original Shaker buildings, take part in crafts and kids’ games and go for a nature walk on trails leading through the museum’s 600 acres of forests, fields and gardens.
Live Theater and Concerts
Manchester and Concord come alive in summer with theater productions and live concerts. Some kid-friendly picks to check out include:
The Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord has several offerings for kids and families throughout the summer, including multiple shows by IMPACT, the professional children’s performance company of Jean’s Playhouse; Disney’s The Lion King Jr. and Beauty and the Beast, and Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr.
Summer Youth Theater at Palace Theatre: Celebrate summer in the city at Manchester’s Palace Theatre with live plays and musicals just for families, including Snow White, Peter Pan, and the Wizard of Oz.
Live music on the lawn at the Concord Public Library: On select evenings in June, July and August, the Concord Public Library and Concord Library Foundation close Prince Street and host a festive all-ages block party complete with live music and tasty treats. Don’t miss out!