Many people equate the Northeast with its many metropolises, imagining the region as a congested area dominated by city centers like Boston and New York. But between these urban sprawls, the Northeast unfolds, offering a diverse array of small towns and beautiful countrysides.

Connecticut

  • Capital: Hartford
  • State population: 3,576,452 (2016)
  • CT
  • Nickname: The Constitution State

For a small state (in area, it’s the third smallest in the country), Connecticut contains many major towns and cities, including Bridgeport, Stamford, Danbury, Bristol, Greenwich, New Haven, and Hartford, the capital. The southern part of the state is characterized by urban centers and coastal cities, though it borders no ocean, instead running along the northern edge of the Long Island Sound. As you travel further north away from New York City (just off the state’s southwestern tip), you’ll encounter more rolling hills and traditional rural New England villages marked by pristine white churches and green town centers.

Photo by Jason Hagani

 

Delaware

  • Capital: Dover
  • State population: 952,065
  • DE
  • Nickname: The First State

The second smallest state in the country (by area) is also known as “The First State,” having earned itself the nickname in 1787 when it became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Delaware is bordered by Pennsylvania to the north; New Jersey, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Delaware River to the east; and Maryland to the west and south. The state is rather flat and boasts the lowest mean elevation of any state in the country, its highest point not even 450 feet above sea level. Most of the state is rather agricultural, though New Castle County to the north, with cities like Wilmington and Newark, is a little more industrialized.

 

Maine

  • Capital: Augusta
  • State population: 1,331,479 (2016)
  • ME
  • Nickname: The Pine Tree State

The easternmost state in the U.S. is geographically diverse, offering a long, rocky coastline, rolling mountains, a forested interior, and over 6,000 beautiful lakes and ponds. The majority of the population resides in the southern half of the state, home to most of the major towns and cities, including Rockland, Bar Harbor, Brunswick, Augusta, Bangor, and picturesque Portland. But wilderness dominates most of the state, as 83 percent of the land is covered in forest. Maine boasts one national park — Acadia — though perhaps more well-known is Baxter State Park, home to Mount Katahdin, at the summit of which sits the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Maryland

  • Capital: Annapolis
  • State population: 6,016,447 (2016)
  • MD
  • Nickname: The Old Line State

Situated very close to the nation’s capital, Maryland has a dense population and a highly diversified economy. Bordering Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and the Atlantic, it also features a wide variety of landscapes, including low marshlands, sandy dunes, and gentle, forested hills. Popular destinations include the capital, Annapolis, which is home to the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy, and its largest city, Baltimore, which offers plenty of coastal activities and several professional sports teams.

Photo by James Mertz
Photo by Yanan Aurora

Massachusetts

  • Capital: Boston
  • State population: 6,811,779 (2016)
  • MA
  • Nickname: The Bay State

It’s hard to overestimate the influence Massachusetts has had on the founding of the United States. Its capital, Boston, served as the birthplace of the American Revolution, home to the brave Founding Fathers who decided a tiny island across the sea shouldn’t regulate the price of tea. Today, you can walk the Freedom Trail throughout the city, a red-brick path that will take you to historical sites such as Paul Revere’s house, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the site of the Boston Massacre. Boston also offers plenty of modern attractions, from the mecca of Fenway Park to the picturesque Esplanade and the Hatch Shell concert venue. On the north and south shores outside the city and along Cape Cod, you’ll find beach towns and idyllic New England villages populated by rough-edged residents proud to refer to themselves as “Massholes.” The western half of the state, however, is characterized more by sprawling farmland and the gentle hills of the Berkshires.

Photo by Yanan Aurora

New Hampshire

  • Capital: Concord
  • State population: 1,334,795 (2016)
  • NH
  • Nickname: The Granite State

With a motto of “Live Free or Die,” New Hampshire is dominated by a spirit of freedom, enacting no general sales tax or personal income tax. But visitors to the state can expect more than less expensive souvenirs — New Hampshire is a natural playground with lakes, forests, and the massive White Mountains, a range that includes Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. In the winter, the snowy summits attract skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers, while summer sees an influx of hikers and campers. The foliage in the fall is spectacular and, if camping isn’t your thing, consider a drive along the spectacular Kancamagus Highway.

Photo by Jeffrey Milstein

New Jersey

  • Capital: Trenton
  • State population: 8,944,469 (2016)
  • NJ
  • Nickname: The Garden State

Being the fourth-smallest state by area and the eleventh-most populous state, New Jersey holds the title of the most densely-populated state in the U.S. This is due in part to the state’s proximity to major cities of the northeast, including New York and Boston to the north and Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. to the southwest. New Jersey boasts plenty of its own cities as well, including Newark, Trenton, Jersey City, and Camden, and much of the rest of the state is dominated by suburban sprawl. However, to the northwest and south you’ll find regions that are more wooded and mountainous, and the Jersey Shore along the Atlantic Ocean is characterized by its beautiful residential and coastal beach communities.

New York

  • Capital: Albany
  • State population: 19,745,289 (2016)
  • NY
  • Nickname: The Empire State

Two-thirds of New York’s population lives within the New York City metropolitan area, one of the most populous urban regions in the world. Considered the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, New York City often feels like its own state, comprising five boroughs, eight million people, and its own distinct culture, defined by the fast-paced, no-nonsense residents who live there. But New York is a massive state and once you travel north of the city, there is plenty to see besides skyscrapers. From other minor cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Lake Placid, and Albany to the beautiful wilderness of the Adirondack Mountain region, New York is just waiting to be explored.

Photo by Alex Stelma

Pennsylvania

  • Capital: Harrisburg
  • State population: 12,784,227 (2016)
  • PA
  • Nickname: The Keystone State

One of the largest states in the northeast, Pennsylvania is often equated with its two major cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which lie at the western and eastern ends of the state, respectively. But in between, you’ll find a host of distinct minor-league cities, including Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Altoona, and Reading. While the opposite ends of the state are characterized by their urban and suburban mining communities, the Appalachian Mountains that cut through the state’s interior create a much wilder topography with dense forests, gentle hills, and small streams and springs. The Keystone State is a four-season outdoor destination, attracting hikers, campers, mountain bikers, and skiers.

 

Photo by Steven Schulz

 

Photo by Marc Andre

Rhode Island

  • Capital: Providence
  • State population: 1,056,426 (2016)
  • RI
  • Nickname: The Ocean State

At only 1,214 square miles, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S. in terms of area. It’s nicknamed The Ocean State, a reference to the bays, inlets, and oceanfront communities that dominate its topography. The capital, Providence, is one of the state’s only major cities, though Newport to the southeast is a popular destination as well, known for the spectacular mansions that line its scenic coast.

Photo by Tyler Blodgett 

Vermont

  • Capital: Montpelier
  • State population: 624,594 (2016)
  • VT
  • Nickname: The Green Mountain State

Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, is actually the least populous state capital in the country. The real hub of activity is Burlington, a northern city on the banks of Lake Champlain that offers a lively music scene and an active marketplace along Church Street. The rest of the state is characterized by small, rural towns, dense forests, and the Green Mountains, which include significant peaks such as Mount Mansfield, Killington, and Camel’s Hump. A popular long-distance hiking trail, The Long Trail, traces the range from the state’s southern border with Massachusetts to its northern border with Canada. Vermont is the country’s leading producer of maple syrup, so make sure to try some of the sticky confection atop a breakfast food of your choice while you’re there!

New England

Photo by Michael Block

Occupying the far northeastern corner of the country, New England comprises six states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. From the wilderness of central Maine to the busy hub of Greater Boston, the region is diverse in its topography, but its communities are connected by their distinct social customs, accents, and culture, the roots of which can be traced back to the Puritans of eastern England who settled here centuries ago. The villages of rural New England (typically in the northern half of the region) are known for their picturesque town squares and quaint vibes, while the cities and suburbs in the south are characterized by the blue-collar communities and the proud, hard-edged residents.

New England cuisine emphasizes seafood and dairy, offering salty local delicacies such as clam chowder and lobster rolls, and the region leads the U.S. in ice cream consumption per capita. Historically, New England nurtured influential literary figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Today, it is well-known for its comedy scene, having produced famous actors and comedians including Conan O’Brien, Seth Meyers, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, and Steve Carell.

Header image by Aneesh Kothari

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Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.