New Jersey is not exactly the nation’s top destination for tourists. If you are traveling to New Jersey, it’s likely you’re going for business, for family and/or friends, or for education. Perhaps it might be time to change this notion, especially since there’s one New Jersey area that’s worth taking a road trip detour for: Princeton. Many people think of just the university when Princeton is mentioned, but Princeton is actually an entire borough that’s full of history, charm, and fun. If you’re going to Princeton, New Jersey for the first time, here are 20 places and things that you must definitely put on your list of to-dos.
1. Princeton University
Unsurprisingly, you should visit Princeton University if you’re going to be in the area. The university is historic, after all, having been chartered in 1746. In fact, Princeton is the fourth oldest college in the US. The town of Princeton was settled in 1696, and the college was founded just 50 years into the settlement. It’s an impressive feat, especially considering how long the foundation has lasted—over 270 years. You should also make a point to visit the university art museum, the chapel, and the library. These are all great experiences within Princeton University.
2. Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park
Here’s another historic location, but the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park offers 70 miles of multi-use pathways. It’s a great place to do your morning runs or walks. It’s also an excellent place to explore if you’re just itching to spend some time outdoors. If you happen to be a biker, going through the entire 70 miles might even be a great challenge to take on.
3. Terhune Orchards and Winery
There’s nothing like the experience of picking your own fresh fruits at the local orchard. You can get that kind of experience at the Terhune Orchards and Winery, but that’s not the only thing to do here. At Terhune, you can enjoy the best homemade pies, cider doughnuts, and cobblers. Of course, you can’t leave Terhune without sampling some of their wines. You might find yourself bringing home a bottle or two after your tasting. It’s an excellent place to bring your family to or bring a date to as well.
4. Morven Museum and Garden
The Morven is an important historical feature in the Princeton borough. This happens to be the home of Richard Stockton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. If that’s not enough of a draw for you, know that the Morven Museum and Garden showcases the rich cultural and architectural heritage of New Jersey. This home used to be the Governor’s Mansion, and it’s got some interesting historical details to explore and wonderful sights to visit. The museum offers permanent and temporary collections, and the garden is a peaceful retreat in the midst of a city.
5. Carnegie Lake
When was the last time you spent an entire afternoon just sitting by the lake? Probably never. Carnegie Lake is as good a lake as any for you to sit and just let time slip by. It’s calm, serene, clean, pristine, and all other positive descriptions you could say. Carnegie Lake is actually great whether you visit it in the summer, fall, winter, or spring. It’s just got a quality to it that’s so natural; it’s breathtaking.
6. Nassau Hall
Known as the oldest building in Princeton, Nassau Hall is good enough to warrant its own listing. Nassau Hall is adjacent to the Princeton battlefield, and it’s filled with history to the brim. The hall was built in 1756 as the location for the College of New Jersey. The building has seen damaging fires and battles in its past. It’s also seen illustrious tenants given that Nassau Hall once served as the nation’s capitol.
7. Princeton Cemetery
There are a few good reasons why visiting a cemetery could be an excellent idea, especially visiting Princeton Cemetery. You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy reading the tombstones of some of the biggest names in our nation’s history. You can find graves of soldiers that died during the Revolutionary War. You’ll also find the graves of some of the greatest thinkers and many that have called Princeton their alma mater. It can be exceedingly creepy if you let it, but it can also be striking in its beauty and reminder of the shortness of life. You can also attend services at the Nassau Church located by the cemetery.
8. Princeton Battlefield State Park
Another historical site, the Princeton Battlefield State Park features many trails for exploration and activity. You could easily spend an entire day here; just make sure you pack a picnic for lunch. In the state park, you’ll find the famous Mercer Oak that once stood in the middle of the battlefield. It’s interesting enough to see a tree that’s been around longer than most establishments in the area. You’ll also find the Princeton Battle Monument here.
9. St. Paul’s Catholic Church
Surely, Catholic churches are not necessarily an appropriate tourist destination for many. However, St. Paul’s Catholic Church is another important piece of architectural history in the area. It’s something you can appreciate even if you’re not religious. On the chance that you happen to be religious, take this advice: spend some time here to attend services. As it seems, the community at St. Paul’s Catholic Church is just as great as the establishment.
10. Trinity Church
Churches were an important part of this nation’s history, as religion was. It’s not surprising to find more than one church on this list, but it doesn’t mean that you have to visit them all. If you can visit a church, however, try Trinity Church. This Gothic Revival Church is an architectural gem. Marvel at the exquisite stained glass windows or all the other various details you can find both inside and outside the church. It’s a nice stop that will get you in a great peaceful vibe.
11. MarketFair Mall
If shopping is your game, then let the MarketFair Mall be your court. This mall combines the feel of a market and mall at the same time. There are tons of shops to visit and restaurants to choose from. You can spend an entire afternoon browsing through the latest fashions or enjoy a new movie at MarketFair—something that many of us have not done since the pandemic. You’ll find that MarketFair Mall offers something for everyone to enjoy.
12. Marquand Park
It may be but a small park; but what Marquand Park lacks it makes up for tremendously in ambience and amenities. You can enjoy the nice trails that Marquand has to offer or the many exotic trees that provide shade for the park. Marquand is also an excellent spot for families with little ones. There’s a great play area and a sandbox for children under 5 years old. Marquand Park can simply serve as an midday break destination, or it can be an all-day spot for relaxation. Whichever you do, you’d be guaranteed a peaceful time here.
13. Cotsen Children’s Library
Located within the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Princeton University Library, the Cotsen Children’s Library is a unique experience for children of all ages—adults included. The library is set up perfectly; you’d feel as if you’re in a children’s story once you’ve stepped into Bookscape, one of the areas in the library that offer whimsical reading spaces. You can visit Bookscape free of charge, and you can certainly spend a lot of time reading, daydreaming, and perhaps recollecting your childhood here.
14. Cleveland Tower
The Cleveland Tower is more than just a tower. It features a remarkable story in songs and chimes. The Cleveland Tower features a carillon, a musical instrument housed in the bell tower. It was a gift bestowed to the university by the Class of 1892—in honor of their 35thclass reunion. There are a total of 35 bells in the carillon, and hearing the bells chime almost has a beautifully eerie feel to it. It’s an experience you should at least have once during your visit to the Princeton area.
15. Princeton United Methodist Church
From extraordinary Tiffany windows to the chime of carillon bells every day at noon, the Princeton United Methodist Church is one destination you should at least make an effort to see. The stained glass windows alone date back to 1910, and there should be special mention of the famous St. George and the Dragon window. The church also features pipe organs that sound glorious in the empty church. As with other churches in the area, the Princeton United Methodist Church happens to be a working church; so you can attend services here should you decide to do so.
Here’s to the building with the oddest names: Drumthwacket. Governor Charles Smith Olden built this incredible home in 1835. Olden was also the first and only governor that lived here, until it became the official governor’s mansion in 1982. A visit to Drumthwacket would be akin to going back in time. You can almost imagine the 1835 residents of the home enjoying a meal at the now antique dining table. You’ll find many things for admiration and fascination at Drumthwacket house; and if you happen to visit here during an event, you’d be all the luckier.
17. Maclean House
As one of the earliest buildings in the country, the Maclean House is definitely a point of interest. Although it’s been renovated a number of times in the past, the Maclean House still maintains the same integrity it did when it was first built. It’s designated as a Registered National Historic Landmark and for good reason too. A simple walk through the garden will make you feel as if you’ve transported back to the 1800s.
18. Quaker Meeting House
If you haven’t got your fill of historic homes yet, the Quaker Meeting House is a must-see. There’s absolutely nothing to fret about, but there is a strong historical significance to the Quaker Meeting House. This house is located on the Battlefield Park, and it’s a destination you ought to stop by at even if you’re not in the area. It’s an active meetinghouse, so make sure you visit when a meeting is taking place. You’ll have an experience you’ll soon never forget. Just make sure you observe the proper rules and behavior when attending meetings.
19. Princeton’s Farmers Market
There’s always something electrifying and exciting about visiting local farmers markets. These open-air markets are usually abuzz with eager buyers and brilliant sellers. Princeton’s Farmers Market is no different. You can find anything here from artisan bread to antique furniture, organic vegetables to other pricey finds. The Farmers Market also offers entertainment in the form of live music, so you can enjoy some good sounds and good vibes while you shop.
20. Lawrence Hopewell Trail
Whether you prefer walking on two legs or biking on two wheels, the Lawrence Hopewell Trail offer six trail segments that passes through preserved space and farmlands. The area is historic as well. You’ll find plenty of old mills, farmhouses, and the like while exploring this trail. Some of the points of interest that you can find here include the Brearly Oak—the largest black oak tree in New Jersey that also happens to be over 200 years old. You’ll also find the Mount Rose Distillery, the Lawrenceville School, the Johnson Trolley Line, and many others.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn