Top 15 Best Things to Do in Keene New Hampshire (and Nearby!)

There are plenty of things to do in Keene NH, including wandering the downtown, taking in a show, visiting museums, climbing a mountain, and more.

downtown Keene NH
Photo credit: Mark Bonica/ Flickr

Although it’s technically a city, you would be forgiven for thinking Keene, NH, is a town.

With a population of just over 23,000, Keene has everything you would expect from a classic New England former mill community. There are the stores lining Main Street, the white steeple church, and a village green with a gazebo.

The city is also home to Keene State College, which adds a youthful vibe to the town, plus an additional 3,000 people when school is in session.

While Keene isn’t typically a tourist destination, there are still many things to do. Wandering along the city’s downtown streets, you’ll find independent stores, restaurants, a bookstore, and a few cafes.

And within a 30-minute drive are outdoor recreation activities and other quaint New England towns to explore.

12 Best Things to Do in Keene NH

So, without further ado, here are the best things to add to your itinerary when visiting Keene, NH.

Wander through downtown Keene

One of the best features of Keene is its quintessential New England downtown, with red brick buildings lining Main Street.

Here, you’ll find various retailers selling antiques, crafts, clothing, music, books, and more. There’s also a wide range of restaurants, from Thai to American to Mediterranean, as well as old-time diners, ice cream shops, and cafes.

Catch a performance at the Colonial Theater

The Colonial Theater in Keene NH
Photo credit: Kerry Flatley

A fun thing to do in Keene NH is to catch a show at its Colonial Theater.

This theater, located in the center of the downtown, hosts live music, plays, movies, and other events. It opened in 1924 as a movie house but fell on hard times in the 70s and 80s, only to be revived again in the 90s by a non-profit.

The Colonial Theater also underwent a renovation in 2020, allowing it to host large touring productions. A separate space called the Showroom was also opened behind the theater to host smaller performances. (95 Main Street)

Check out the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College

For art lovers, Keene State College provides free admission to its Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery.

Here, you’ll find several exhibits hosted by local, national, and international contemporary artists. The gallery also hosts occasional education and public programs. Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, noon – 5 PM. (229 Main Street)

Take a walk or ride along the Ashuelot or Cheshire Rail Trails

A bike trail in Keene NH

Keene has not one but two rail trails that traverse through its city, allowing anyone to ride, bike, or, in the winter, snowshoe or cross-country ski.

The Ashuelot trail begins south of the city near Hinsdale. It extends 21 miles, ending at the corner of Ralston and Emerald Streets in Keene. And it’s at this point where you can choose to pick up the Cheshire Rail Trail, which is 32 miles in total, from the Massachusetts state line in Fitzwilliam to Walpole, close to the Vermont border. Keene is approximately the halfway point of the trail.

Visit the Cheshire Children’s Museum

Visiting the Cheshire Children’s Museum is a fun thing for kids to do in Keene NH.

The museum is a one-floor space for kids to explore, run around, and engage in imaginary play. Some fun things to do include buying groceries at a pretend grocery store, milking an imaginary cow, and “driving” a school bus.

Admission is $10 per person. Hours are Wednesday – Saturday, 10 AM – 5 PM, closed 12 PM – 1 PM, and the museum opens early on Saturday at 9 AM. (149 Emerald Street)

See related: 10 New England Small Towns That Feel Like Stars Hollow

Visit the Horatio Colony House Museum and Nature Preserve

History buffs will enjoy a visit to the Horatio Colony House Museum, an old New England home filled with original furnishings and objects from around the world.

The home preserves the 1806 Federal house that was once owned by Horatio Colony II, a mill owner, poet, and playwright.

In addition to the house, Colony also left a 645-acre nature preserve on West Hill in Keene that’s open to the public and includes five miles of hiking trails. (House: 119 Main Street) (Nature preserve: Daniels Road)

Explore Keene’s food markets

stacks of produce at a market

For foodies, Keen offers a few different options for exploring local, international, and organic foods. First, the Monadnock Food Co-op (34 Cypress Street) provides various foods, a deli, and a beverage bar.

For more international fare, check out the Keene International Market (162 Emerald Street), which carries products from over 30 countries – often specialties unavailable at other grocery stores or markets.

And finally, there’s the Keene Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday from May through October from 9 AM to 1 PM in the Commercial Street parking lot off Gilbo Avenue, just across from Lindy’s Diner.

Go skiing

Just on the eastern edge of Keene is the small Granite Gorge Mountain Park. Here, you’ll find a few runs perfect for new skiers or anyone who doesn’t want to drive far for a quick ski.

The Mountain Park also features a terrain park and snow tubing. Hours vary by day and whether you’re skiing or snow tubing. Click here to see when it’s open. (341 Route 9)

Things to do near Keene NH

While the following activities are outside Keene, they’re only a short drive away.

Hike up Mount Monadnock

Mount Monadnock in the fall - among the things to do in Keene NH

Just a 30-minute drive from downtown Keene is Mount Monadnock, the shining jewel of the region. Here, you can hike, camp, picnic, and cross-country ski and snowshoe in the winter.

Hiking is the most popular activity at Monadnock. In fact, there’s a debate about whether Mount Monadnock or Japan’s Mount Fuji is the most climbed mountain in the world.

Given the park’s popularity, making reservations ahead of time is advised, especially on pleasant holidays and weekend days. Pets are not permitted in the park, and there’s a parking pass fee of $15 per car. (169 Poole Road, Jaffrey, NH)

Go Skiing at Crotched Mountain Ski Resort

About 43 minutes from Keene is Crotched Mountain Ski Resort, a popular ski destination in southern New Hampshire.

Crotched features over 100 acres of skiable terrain and is the perfect mountain for beginning and intermediate skiers with black diamond trails.

Parking is plentiful but does fill up, especially on weekends and holidays. You’ll also find plenty of storage in the lodge, a cafeteria, and a gift store.

One-day passes are around $64 – $74, and the resort is open Sunday through Monday, 9 AM – 4 PM, and Tuesday through Saturday, 9 AM to 9 PM.

Tour local covered bridges

The Carlton Covered Bridge
The Carlton Covered Bridge in Swanzey, NH

There are 54 covered bridges in New Hampshire, and a number of them are just south of Keene.

For example, driving southwest down Route 10, you’ll be close to the Denman Thompson Bridge, the Slate Bridge, and the Coombs Bridge.

A bit further east is the Sawyers Crossing Bridge and the Carlton Bridge. And if you’re really a covered bridge enthusiast, The Ashuelot Bridge near Winchester is a stunner.

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Explore Peterborough New Hampshire

Another 30-minute drive east of Keene is the quaint town of Peterborough, NH.

This is the town on which Thornton Wilder based his play “Our Town” in 1938. The main attraction in Peterborough is its walkable downtown with independent merchants, restaurants, antique stores, and two museums.

At the eastern edge of Peterborough is Pack Monadnock, a perfect alternative to grander Monadnock, especially if you prefer to drive to the top of a mountain and take in the expansive views.

To learn more see: Top 10 Best Things to Do in Peterborough New Hampshire

Explore Brattleboro Vermont

In the other direction, driving west for 20-30 minutes is the town of Brattleboro, Vermont.

Here, you’ll find a bustling downtown full of creative stores, restaurants, and an outsized number of museums and other creative spaces, given the town’s small size.

Outdoor enthusiasts will also appreciate the hiking, skiing, canoeing, and kayaking opportunities in and near the town.

To learn more see: Top 16 Best Things to Do in Brattleboro Vermont

A photo of Kerry Flatley leaning against a wall

About Kerry Flatley

Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.

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