Of course, the famous university is obviously the crown jewel of Princeton, New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean this town doesn’t have more to offer than knock-your-socks-off college tours. Perched on the Millstone River, this college hub of about 16,000 people is ready to wow you with rich history, the arts, great eats, and top-notch shopping. Many spots are just a hop, skip, or a short drive away, making touring the area easy and fun. Find out what makes Princeton a cool getaway for a weekend or even longer.
Where It Began
Quakers settled in the area now known as Princeton in the early 1700s and brought their faith and their traditions to the region. Attend a Sunday worship service at Stony Brook Meeting House to get a feel for what it was like at a Quaker celebration. Nearby, visit the gravesites of early area residents, like Richard Stockton, who is a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Princeton also played a role in the American Revolution. Visit Princeton Battlefield State Park to walk where General Washington and his troops snagged their first win against the British Regulars. While there, stop by Thomas Clarke House, a Georgian-style building where wounded American and British soldiers were sent to recover. Ongoing events like candle making and early American cooking classes really make the Revolutionary roots of the house come to life.
On Wednesday afternoons — check the schedule ahead of time — you can tour the swanky governor’s mansion in Princeton. Built in 1835, Drumthwacket has been the official digs of the state’s official since 1981. Although you probably won’t bump into the current governor onsite, a guided peek inside the massive pillared house and around the gardens is a lot of fun.
For Art’s Sake
If art and museums are your thing, plan at least a day to check out Princeton’s gems. Begin at Morven Museum & Gardens, a National Historic Landmark built in the 1750s that has been rebuilt and even expanded over the years. Since 2004, Morven has been a museum chock-full of period furnishings and accessories. Temporary exhibits have ranged from19th-century chair making to photos of The Boss — that is, Jersey native Bruce Springsteen. Historic and modern gardens add pops of color and texture if you go at the right time of year.
Want to know what life in Princeton was like hundreds of years ago? Then book it to the Historical Society of Princeton, where more than 100,000 artifacts, manuscripts, photos, and fashions give you a look at life in Princeton from the 17th century to nowadays. You can even learn about how the society works to keep historical sites around Princeton in shape for their great grandkids to enjoy.
Can’t get enough of cool architecture and art? Then scoot over to the Princeton University campus and have a blast eyeballing the super sleek Lewis Center for the Arts, where the first Festival of the Arts took place in October 2017, and Princeton University Art Museum, where the visual arts always get top billing in a mod glass and brick building.
A Shop for Every Desire
You won’t run out of one-of-a-kind shops to explore in Princeton. Botari tempts with a cool mix of stylin’ purses and bags, while The Farmhouse Store features handcrafted furniture and pottery. JaZams thrills both kids and grownups with retro toys, classic and new books, and science experiment kits for different ages.
If you love vintage buys, then downtown Princeton is your go-to. Pick up a funky retro ottoman on consignment at Elephant in the Room, or if you’re looking for antique bling, check out H1912, where you can strap on a vintage Chanel chain watch or sparkle with a sapphire, ruby, and diamond pendant.
Time to Eat
Princeton is packed with great places to grab a bite to eat. Ask a local, and you’re sure to find a fave or two, but you can also hoof it through downtown Princeton to find restaurants serving up all kinds of tasty chow. Eats range from fast to formal and fit a range of budgets. No matter what you choose for your main meal, save room for dessert, especially ice cream from Thomas Sweet. A winner with both locals and visitors, the shop scoops up handcrafted ice cream in both classic and creative flavors.
Of course, you can’t actually go to Princeton without checking out the awesome university campus. It’s a walkable place with a cool vibe, where tree-lined walkways take you to grand buildings. Princeton University is the fourth oldest college in the United States (established in 1746). With more than 5,000 undergrads, the campus is lively, but not too crowded. Take your time and admire the buildings, the green space, and the cool and quirky sculptures that dot the landscape.
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