Many vacationers to New Hampshire  race past the southern part of the state on their way to the lakes and the mountains farther north. But the southern hills and the valleys of the Piscataqua, Merrimack, and Contoocook Rivers are where the state was first settled, where most of the population still resides, and where its cultural heart still beats.
What’s that—New Hampshire, culture? You bet. The state might have a reputation for rugged individualism, but it also has a softer side, apparent in dozens of art and cultural museums big and small that dot this part of the state.
This is where New Hampshire concentrates its population in cities that once made their fortunes on shipbuilding and mills, and at least one—Portsmouth —is on the short list of the best in New England for travelers, offering a tantalizing mix of cultural attractions and history.
Even outside the cities, this area proudly holds onto its past, with dozens of historic homes and buildings that date back to the earliest days of the country. And because New Hampshire has avoided the sprawl of states to the south, many of them are preserved in frozen-in-time villages that epitomize the best of small-town New England.