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.
Its Main Street:
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 riverbank just beyond Main Street.
Arts & Culture:
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 Galleries, selling contemporary lighting, jewelry, paintings, handbags, sculpture and more; Bucks County Gallery of Fine Art, offering contemporary and traditional works in acrylic, oil, watercolors and pastel paintings; and Gallery Piquel, featuring original paintings and sculptures by more than 50 contemporary artists from Bucks County and around the world.
In its 76-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 exhibitions such as the outdoor sculpture exhibit at New Hope Arts.
The Great Outdoors:
Modern-day travelers can see New Hope from the vantage point of the river by jogging along the nearly 60-mile Delaware Canal Towpath or by hopping aboard one of the New Hope Boat Rides for a scenic, narrated tour. But for an immersive garden and hiking experience, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve blooms with nearly 800 species of native plants along 2.5 miles of trails.
Food & Drink:
Visitors are quickly treated as friends at party spots like Triumph Brewing Company, 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-style cuisine at Marsha Brown’s, located in a 125-year-old church complete with 40-foot ceilings and stained-glass windows; or bring a bottle of vino from one of the wineries that makes up the 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.
Shops, Shops, Shops:
New Hope’s retail sector is as fashion-forward, elegant and cool as they come. The 1791 barn on West Ferry Street? That would be Curious Goods of New Hope, selling vintage, repurposed and handmade jewelry and furniture. Heart of the Home sections two floors of an historic building into themed rooms filled with handmade American items such as pottery, jewelry and garden décor. And at The Soap Opera Company, shoppers load up on bath and body products galore.
Events & Festivals:
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.
Driving is a must from Philadelphia, with about a one-hour trip up I-95 and Route 32. Once there, metered street parking and surface lots fill up quickly on summer weekends.
Where To Stay:
- 1870 Wedgwood Inn, 111 W. Bridge Street, New Hope, (215) 862-2570, wedgwoodinn.com
- The Inn at Bowman’s Hill, 518 Lurgan Road, New Hope, (215) 862-8090, theinnatbowmanshill.com
- Logan Inn, 10 W. Ferry Street, New Hope, (215) 862-2300, loganinn.com
- Porches on the Towpath, 20 Fishers Alley, New Hope, (215) 862-3277, porchesnewhope.com