These classic New England destinations are favorite summer getaway spots. But how do they attract visitors when the temperatures drop and the snow flies? They throw a party. Here are four top summer destinations, and the big bashes they’ll be hosting this winter to coax you to visit.
Set along New Hampshire’s abbreviated coastline, this pretty seaside town buzzes during warm weather months. The parks are full; the streets are lively; a parade of boats plies the busy Piscataqua River, and people crowd the waterfront decks and the outdoor cafes. For a touch of that spirited vibe in the winter, mark your calendars for Feb. 12-16, when the city hosts its popular Fire + Ice Festival. The winter celebration has a slew of events for all ages, including music, bonfires, street performers, and food vendors. Bundle up for ice skating, dog sled rides, ice sculpting demonstrations, and outdoor deck parties.
The Strawbery Banke museum, typically closed for the winter, will open during the festival. “We decided to open the entire museum for the weekend,” says Lawrence J. Yerdon, Strawbery Banke president and CEO. “It’s another opportunity to ‘time travel’ through history as costumed role-players and traditional craftsmen depict a typical day in February in Portsmouth.”
Highlights include Portsmouth Music and Arts Center Jazz Night, Mike MacDonald’s popular Comedy Xxtravaganza, New Hampshire Public Television’s Winter Films, an Ed Gerhard concert, and a live Metropolitan Opera broadcast of the Tchaikovsky opera Iolanta shown at the historic Music Hall. In addition to musical and art performances, there will be a self-guided pub crawl, cocktail competition, and dog sled rides at the Strawbery Banke museum. 603-610-5510, www.portsmouthchamber.org/FireandIce.cfm
Another reason to head to Portsmouth this winter is the Winter Wine Festival held at the Wentworth by the Sea hotel. The month-long event, from Jan. 16-Feb. 15, features Grand Vintner Dinners with top wineries, sommeliers, and award-winning New England chefs. Big Tasting nights are walk-around events with wine and food stations and live jazz. There’s also Monday-Thursday flight nights in the resort’s SALT lounge, Bubbles and Jazz Sunday brunches, and the popular Shell Shocked nights, with oyster and wine pairings; last year, more than 2,000 bivalves were consumed in one evening! Special accommodation packages are available, starting at $159. 866-252-6888, www.winterwinefestival.com
Winter in Maine can be a hard sell, even for an art and culinary midcoast hot spot like Camden. But unlike other Downeast towns, this one doesn’t shutter when the mercury drops. Downtown stores, restaurants and parks are decked out in twinkly lights and winter finery, and folks pull out all the stops during their glittering Winterfest. The weeklong celebration, Jan. 31-Feb. 7, is a nearly nonstop lineup of events, beginning with the opening celebration held at the Amphitheatre. The kickoff event includes ice carvings and snow sculptures, food, music, and outdoor and indoor family activities. Next door, pretty Harbor Park, overlooking the water, is filled with mountains of snow (courtesy of the snowmakers at the Camden Snow Bowl ski area.) Families are invited to play on the mini-mountains before CamJam, a series of ski and snowboarding competitions. Special concerts, movies, and dances are scheduled throughout the week, and several restaurants have festival promotions and tie-ins. The celebration ends with the wildly popular and fun National Toboggan Championships held at the Snow Bowl on Feb. 6-8. The 400-foot wooden chute, first built in 1936, is one of the last of its kind in the United States. Teams of serious competitors zip down the course, dropping some 70 feet and reaching speeds up to 45 miles an hour. Spectators cheer the racers on and join in on sideline fun; there are bonfires, food vendors, and entertainment. Or, consider getting your own team together to compete for special prizes, including best costume, fastest children’s team, and oldest team. 207-236-4404, www.camdenmaineexperience.com/content/events/camden_winterfest.asp
Things can get pretty quiet in the capital city in winter, when folks are content to stay put. But the highly-touted Providence Children’s Film Festival, considered one of the best in the country, is luring more than 5,000 visitors to Providence during February.
“The film festival really livens up the winter here,” says Meg Wirth, local resident and frequent attendee. “And we always see truly memorable films.”
The 11-day event, held Feb. 12-22 to coincide with winter school vacation, showcases high-quality independent films for moviegoers ages 3-18. There are also filmmaker workshops for kids 8 to 14, post-screening discussions, and presentations by violin makers, beekeepers, and Kung Fu instructors to complement the film selections this year.
The movies are international in scope and cover a wide range of genres. Highlights include a music documentary featuring The Okee Dokee Brothers, “Through the Woods: An Appalachian Adventure,” featuring the Grammy award-winning artists and the music they composed while hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail; “Antboy,” about a comic book superhero who comes to life; and “Finn,” about a boy who is mourning the loss of his mother and finds solace in music. 401-209-7585, www.pcffri.org
Fashion enthusiasts also flock to Providence for StyleWeek Northeast, held Feb. 13-20 at the Providence Biltmore hotel. The annual event, showcasing 13 veteran and emerging designers, features formal fashion shows and community-wide events. We love the Accessory Showcase, where you can shop for one-of-a-kind items from local designers and small boutiques. www.styleweeknortheast.com
More than 1.5 million people flood this seaside town in peak summer months. But the folks here don’t let a little cold weather stop the fun. The 27th annual Newport Winter Festival, held Feb. 13-22, is expected to be one of the biggest and best in New England. This year’s festival is a true extravaganza, featuring more than 150 events throughout Newport and Newport County, combining food, music, art, and entertainment. Meander Long Wharf Mall to see the sparkling lights and ice sculptures, and stop by the Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel and Spa on Goat Island, where Pineapples Restaurant will be transformed into Little Rhody’s largest ice bar.
Performance highlights include shows by illusionist David Garrity and Emmy award-winning comedian Kevin Meaney, and Jimmy Buffet and Eagles tribute bands. There are a variety of cooking demonstrations and contests, including the 19th annual Samuel Adams Chili Cook Off, when area restaurants, caterers, and the local Fire Department compete for festival-goers’ votes and the coveted Best Chili in Town title. The Brewmaster’s Dinner at The Mooring and the best tropical drink, best hot drink, and best martini contests are popular adult events. Families flock to the two-day Children’s Fair for its music and arts and crafts.
Bundle up for Festival Day at Easton’s Beach with a scavenger hunt and sand sculpture contest, and then strip down for the annual Polar Bear Plunge. Easton’s Beach is also the site for Beach Polo, a Newport International Polo Series match on the sand.
“Everything about this festival is wonderful,” says David Spengler, local resident and father of two. “It really gives children and parents a fun-filled escape from winter’s cabin fever.”