New Hampshire may be known in part for being small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in liveliness. Sure, the rest of the nation may not think of the Granite State as a hub of culture, excitement, and energy, but people who call it home certainly know better.
The Movoto Real Estate Blog certainly knows better, too. We’ve ranked the most boring cities as well as the best cities to retire in, but we’ve decided to kick it up a notch and do an article that’s a little more, shall we say, up to New Hampshire standards.
It seemed only natural to try to figure out where the most exciting places in the state are. So, we made a list, looked at some amazing restaurants, perused the local music scene, and came out with a ranking of the most rockin’, moving, and lively spots to call home. Led by the most exciting of them all, Portsmouth, they are:
Why didn’t Nashua rank higher? Why is Laconia in second place? Is Keene really so keen for excitement? We’ll answer all that and more in the following sections, so read on. We promise to keep it exciting.
How We Created This Ranking
We’ve looked at exciting places before, but no place quite like New Hampshire. Still, we used the same methodology for this state as we have with others in the past for our Big Deal Lists.
To start, we made a list of the most populated places in the state over 10,000 people. Given that New Hampshire is pretty small, that was only 15 places total. Then we gathered information from the 2010 U.S. Census and business listings in eight categories to get a good idea of excitement:
- Nightlife per capita (bars, clubs, comedy, etc.)
- Live music venues per capita
- Active life options per capita (parks, outdoor activities, etc.)
- Arts and Entertainment per capita (movie theaters, festivals, galleries, theaters, etc.)
- Fast Food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better)
- Percentage of restaurants that are not fast food (the higher the better)
- Percentage of young residents ages 18 to 34 (the higher the better)
- Population density (the higher the better)
We took those numbers and ranked each location in each category from 1 to 15, with one being the best possible score. Then, we averaged each place’s scores together, and the one with the highest Big Deal Score became our No. 1. That thrilling, fun locale was Portsmouth.
While we only ranked the state’s larger locales, we did note that Hudson, Hampton, Hanover, and Exeter looked like some pretty exciting places to call home. For now, though, let’s focus on the big hitters, and examine why each spot earned its place in our top 10. You can find a ranking of all 15 places at the end of this post.
This city claims it’s the third oldest in the nation, but it certainly doesn’t feel behind the times. For starters, it had the No. 1 ranking in both nightlife and active life options per capita, meaning that you can get fit or get partying, depending on which you like to spend your free time on. If you’re more into culture, this place has a ton of interesting historic sites and arts options to peruse.
About a quarter of the population here is between the ages of 18 and 34, making this the No. 5 city for young population ranking. That’s probably due to the fact that this city is home to five different college campuses, giving this place a very youthful vibe. It’s also home to a yearly music and arts festival, meant to entertain all ages throughout the day.
Partying in the evening isn’t a problem if you’re a music lover, either, considering Portsmouth scored second for music venues per capita. The non-fast food restaurant ranking here was also pretty stellar, scoring fifth overall on our list. As far as these amenities go, you can find a bit of fine dining and class at The Wellington Room, which is very highly rated by locals.
Slightly smaller than our first place location, Laconia and its 15,951 people still definitely know how to keep the adrenaline going. For starters, this place had the second best nightlife, offering dance spots like The Funky Monkey, and the third best active life ranking.
The young population here ranked No. 13, with only 19.8 percent of the population being between the ages of 18 and 34. Still, all that says to us is that this slightly more mature population really knows how to party. And even with the older crowd pretty much ruling this place, there’s still room for Funspot, where you can play tons of video games, bowl, and get some tasty pizza, too.
Once a year, there’s Bike Week here, which claims to be the oldest motorcycle rally in the world. There are other festivals too, some geared more towards children, others geared more towards adults. Basically, this city is great for the young as well as those just young at heart.
People who love music will simply adore what Dover has to offer. Home to 29,987 people, this city is also home to the No. 1 ranked music venue score, with more music venues per capita than any other place on this list. It also had the No. 8 nightlife and the No. 7 non-fast food restaurant rank, which kept it firmly in the top three. Is it any surprise that over a quarter of the population is between the ages of 18 and 34?
If you want local and indie music, you can hit Brick House for some serious beers and tunes. However, if you want something as little more refined, you can check to see who’s performing at the Rotary Arts Pavilion, depending on the time of year. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars that offer free local music, so you don’t have to look far if you’re seeking a music scene.
Once a year, there’s also the Cochecho Arts Festival, which features many different headlining bands over the course of the summer.
The largest city in the state, at 209,565 people, Manchester stood out for the unusual sports it has to offer. While it has more usual ones like ice hockey and baseball, it also offers rugby, roller derby, arena football, and even women’s tackle football. If you’re looking for a variety of teams to cheer for, you’ve definitely come to the right place.
Simply looking at its scores, however, it’s easy to understand this place’s ranking. Manchester had the fourth best young population ranking, the third best nightlife, and the second highest population density. Basically, people are everywhere, always moving, and having fun at all hours of the day or night. Can you really blame them though, with places like The Wild Rover and Billy’s around?
For the more refined folk, there’s also The Palace Theater, which has broadway shows as well as local performances. It only stands to reason that the arts rank here is No. 6.
Home to only 10,345 people, this little place still managed to pack a punch in the numbers department. For starters, this is by far the youngest town anywhere on our list. More than 80 percent of the population is between the ages of 18 to 34. That makes sense seeing as Durham is home to the University of New Hampshire, which has just about as many undergrads as the town has people.
Durham had the highest population density on our list and the ninth best arts ranking, both probably thanks to the presence of the college. It also had the sixth best non-fast food restaurant ranking with places like the highly rated Pauly’s Pocket.
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Let’s get it out of the way early: Pumpkin Fest is awesome. No, really, this place is all about the festival when it rolls around in October. Each year, the city tries to break its record for having the most lit jack-o-lanterns in one location. Last year, they did it again with a whopping 30,581 pumpkins. That’s more pumpkins than people who live in the city.
Besides this pumpkin party, Keene definitely knows how to stay exciting. It had the second youngest population, due to the presence of Keene State College and Antioch University New England, and the third best arts ranking. It also had the fifth best active life and seventh best nightlife, which we can also pretty safely credit the college vibe for.
With the seventh best music venue ranking, the Granite State Roller Derby, as well as the Concord Sports Center, this city’s residents have plenty of options to point their enthusiasm at. It also doesn’t hurt that Concord is home to the fourth best active life ranking, so if you’re tired of just cheering, you can actually get out and play all over this place.
Concord ranked 10th for young population as well as population density, and city is home to more than one college so it still has a youthful vibe. As far as foodies are concerned, the city may only be ranked No. 8 in non fast food restaurants, but you can still enjoy some great original grub at Beefside.
With only 11,037 people, Londonderry might not be the biggest place on our list, but it has a lot to offer. For one thing, it had the No. 3 music venue ranking and the No. 5 nightlife rank, highlighted by the Tupelo Music Hall. So, whether you want tunes or drinks, this town has got you covered.
Knowing that, it might be quite a surprise that this is actually has the lowest young population ranking on our list, with only 16.6 percent of the population being between the ages of 18 and 34. However, it could be that more mature age group that adds a shock of culture to this place. Londonderry had the No. 2 active life ranking as well as the No. 2 arts ranking, so people who enjoy the finer things might find this city to their liking.
Also surprisingly, this town has quite a few fast food restaurants in comparison to non-fast food restaurants. Just make sure you stop by Janie’s Uncommon Cafe if you’re looking for tasty all-American cuisine.
Lebanon is a small city and home to 13,151 people. It is also home to some pretty exciting stuff. The music venue rank was No. 5 here, with places like the Lebanon Opera house leading the way. It’s also no surprise that it has the No. 4 arts rank. Are you seeing a trend? Yes, this is definitely one cultured little city.
The number of fast food restaurants are low, the active life options are many, and the young population ranked No. 6. Really, no matter what you’re looking for, you can probably find it here.
While this place didn’t do so well for population density or non-fast food restaurant rankings, it also had a few special things to offer. Between farmers markets, a summer concert series, and a plethora of events at the Salt Hill Pub, this is an fun place to call home.
While it doesn’t consider itself a college town, Nashua is home to six college campuses, which account for the No. 8 ranking young population. That also probably has something to do with the No. 4 nightlife ranking and No. 3 population density.
While there are not a ton of music venues per capita, residents here still have options. If you want something bluesy, you can check Studio 99, and if you want local flavor you can hit Wicked Twisted Bar and Grill..
There are surprisingly few non-fast food restaurants and active life options per capita, which keeps this place so low on the top 10. But still, with eateries like El Colima Mexican Restaurant, and sports to watch like minor league baseball, you can still find those sort of thrills if you know where to look.
Excitement Set In Stone
From rockin’ music to refined art exhibits, New Hampshire has something to offer all sorts of people. Portsmouth may offer the most thrills to its residents, but The Granite State as a whole shows that it knows how to party, eat well, and stay cultured no matter where you go.
Is there an exciting venue you want to highlight? Please feel free to post about it in the comments. We’re sure what you have to say is thrilling, considering where you’re from.
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