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There’s likely nowhere else in the country that can claim New Hope’s special blend of quirkiness, history, joviality, an abundance of art galleries, sophisticated dining, eclectic shopping and a lively theater scene. This riverside town boasts a strong gay community, a concentration of artistic talent and a past as a player in the East Coast shipping trade.
Together with Lambertville, New Jersey, a more compact but equally adorable town connected by a pedestrian bridge, New Hope’s commercial district nurtures a business community with wide-ranging tastes. On Main Street alone, dozens of shops offer a variety of goods—from art and women’s fashions to leather and novelty items. It works, though, as judged by Travel + Leisure’s declaration that New Hope is one of the country’s coolest suburbs worth a visit.
A land grant from William Penn launched what became New Hope in 1710. All sorts of mills sprung up throughout the century and soon ferries and bridges helped facilitate trade between the burgeoning town and colonies north and south along the Delaware River. But because large coal ships from northwestern Pennsylvania couldn’t easily navigate this section of the river, canals were constructed and mules pulled Durham boats behind them from towpaths constructed along the shores. The boats had to navigate 23 locks along the 60-mile stretch of river that were overseen by the locktender, whose Locktender’s House still stands as an interpretive center and place to see an old restored lock in action. Landlubbers may choose to see the countryside from a later mode of transport: a 1925 steam locomotive or diesel engine that carries passengers on a 45-minute narrated ride called the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad.
Visitors should plan for a full day of sightseeing in New Hope, with eclectic shops, restaurants and curiosities lining half-a-dozen blocks of Main Street (which runs parallel to the river) and just as many side streets. The corner of Bridge and Main Streets forms the center of the retail district, and many intriguing and slightly hidden spots tuck into the river bank just beyond Main Street.
Around the turn of the 20th century, artists discovered New Hope, attracted to the endless opportunities the picturesque town inspired for painting. It’s proximity to New York and Philadelphia, the nation’s art capitals, also helped drive the town’s popularity among artists. Today, Main Street is lined with art galleries galore, including A Mano Gallery, selling contemporary crafts, jewelry, glass, furniture and kaleidoscopes; Bucks County Gallery of Fine Art, offering contemporary and traditional works in acrylic, oil, watercolors and pastel paintings; and Gallery Piquel, featuring paintings and sculptures by more than 30 contemporary artists from Bucks County and around the world.
In its 75-year lifespan, the Bucks County Playhouse has welcomed the likes of Grace Kelly, Robert Redford and Liza Minnelli to the stage. It’s not surprising in a town that nurtures local and national talent through weekly open-mics, cabarets and piano sing-alongs at Bowman’s Tavern, live blues, rock and folk concerts at Havana Restaurant and Bar, and studio collaborations and gallery openings at the New Hope Arts Center.
Modern-day travelers can see New Hope from the vantage point of the river by jogging along the 60-mile Delaware Canal Towpath or taking a 30-minute Coryell’s Ferry Historic Boat Ride on an old-time pontoon. But for an immersive garden and hiking experience, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve blooms with 800 native Pennsylvania flora species and more than 2.5 miles of trails.
Visitors are quickly treated as friends at party spots like Triumph Brewery, Logan Inn and gay favorite The Raven (which boasts the added bonus of an outdoor pool and cabanas). Many nightlife and dining destinations offer a perfect people-watching perch from sidewalk or patio seating, while some quieter establishments seat patrons on terraces that practically touch the water. Diners can enjoy Creole at Marsha Brown’s, located in a converted church and complete with stained-glass windows; sample Mediterranean fare and nearly 30 wines by the glass at Nikolas or bring a bottle of vino culled from the surrounding Bucks County Wine Trail to marvel over the original wood beams and fireplace at Hearth, which began its life as a toll house in the 1750s.
New Hope’s retail sector is as fashion-forward, elegant, kitschy and cool as they come. Dominique Daniela custom designs wedding gowns and sells her friends’ bright-patterned handbags out of an old farm-style duplex. The 1791 barn on W. Ferry Street? That would be Curious Goods of New Hope, selling feminine home and body décor that’s either vintage, repurposed, handmade within 30 miles or all of the above, and hosting make-your-own jewelry parties to boot. Heart of the Home sections two floors of a converted rowhouse into themed rooms that individually concentrate on wooden games, sturdy kids toys and apparel, bath and beauty, kitchenware and garden décor.
Foodies flock to New Hope and Lambertville in March for reduced-price prix-fixe menus during Restaurant Week, while the LGBT community and friends celebrate Pride Week in May with a parade, block party and live entertainment. 2014 marks the inaugural New Hope Liberty Canal Festival in June with Revolutionary War re-enactments, live artillery firing, rifle demos, Colonial crafts, a treasure hunt, a 5K run and a veterans parade.
Driving is a must from Philadelphia, but it’s an easy and somewhat picturesque one-hour trip up I-95 and Route 32. Metered street parking and surface lots fill up quickly on summer weekends.
New Hope features a number of places to stay, including The Golden Plough Inn, 1870 Wedgwood Inn, Inn at Bowman’s Hill and Porches on the Towpath. Alternatively, make the trip back to the city and save during your stay in Philadelphia with the two-night Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, which includes FREE hotel parking.