With its world-class arts scene, revamped seaside towns and unbeatable outdoor adventures, New Jersey is finally coming into its own alongside its famous neighbours, New York and Philadelphia. The diversity of this small but mighty state means there’s much to explore and there’s no better way to explore it than by hitting the road.
Choose from two deep-dive itineraries: the first soaking up the 130-mile coastline’s sandy beaches and characterful towns; or take the road less travelled inland for perfectly preserved Victorian architecture, campus culture and stunning nature reserves.
Route one highlights
Overview: Start in Jersey City and wind down the Atlantic Coast, stopping in Asbury Park and Atlantic City before ending at Cape May.
Best for: bikeable boardwalks and museum-hopping on the Jersey Shore
Number of days: 14
Known as the ‘historic gateway to America’, Jersey City remains one of the most culturally diverse destinations in the US, resulting in a rich culinary and artistic scene. You’ll have to wait until 2024 for the grand opening of the Centre Pompidou × Jersey City, the first North American outpost from the celebrated French art institute, but in the meantime, browse Mana Contemporary, a vast cultural complex housed in a former warehouse. At the leafy Liberty State Park, throw down a blanket for ringside views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline twinkling on the horizon.
Surf’s up in Asbury Park, a quaint waterfront city where the waves and beach have attracted surfers, swimmers and sunseekers for centuries. Stroll the mural-clad walkway at Asbury Park Boardwalk, where in the summer months, musicians perform al fresco sets, or book a surf lesson at Ocean Grove Surf Life Saving Club on Ocean Grove Beach, also a popular spot for skateboarding. As evening falls, head to The Stone Pony, a renowned music venue where legendary New Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi have graced the storied stage.
Visitors have long flocked to Atlantic City to promenade along the postcard-perfect, 150-year-old boardwalk. But a recent crop of new eateries, plus the opening of Spinway Bike Rentals at the Ocean Resort and Casino, has seen things shift up a gear for this coastal retreat. Pedal along the wooden path lined with buzzy restaurants and casinos and make a pit-stop at Bally’s Carousel Bar for a sip of their nostalgic candy cocktail. Then, birds circling overhead, cycle to the iconic Steel Pier, which brings all the fun of the fair with a Ferris wheel and vintage rides.
Cape May, America’s oldest seaside resort, is a charming oceanfront hub at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. Here, you’ll find streets lined with colourful Victorian clapperboard houses and American flags fluttering from their porches. Start by exploring the golden sandy beaches, which range from the remote wild dunes of Higbee to the family-friendly surf spot of The Cove. Afterwards, climb the 199 spiralling steps to the top of Cape May Point for rewarding panoramic views, or take to the high seas with a boat cruise to spot dolphins and whales.
Route two highlights
Overview: Weave through northern and central New Jersey, stopping at New Brunswick, Princeton, Trenton, Lambertville and the Skylands Region.
Best for: epic hikes and Ivy League halls of knowledge
Number of days: 10
History meets culture in New Brunswick, situated on the scenic banks of the Raritan River. Download the city’s historic downtown walking map, which makes a great jumping off point by connecting the dots between poet Joyce Kilmer’s mansion, commanding Gothic Revival churches and a former printing press, now home to the renowned Frog and Peach Restaurant. On the campus of Rutgers University, head to the Zimmerli Art Museum to admire its 60,000-strong collection which leans into French and Russian 19th-century artworks. Don’t be surprised if you hear chants about scarlet knights — college sports are taken seriously around here, as Rutgers is famed for being the ‘Birthplace of College Football’.
Princeton and Trenton
Hit the books at Princeton University, with a student-led Orange Key Tour, swotting up on the Ivy League campus’ fabled 250-year-old traditions. From here, it’s a short walk to the atmospheric bookstores, quirky cafes and taverns of Princeton’s downtown. In nearby Trenton, New Jersey’s capital, brush up on revolutionary history at the Old Barracks Museum, where enthusiasts in period costume bring history to life with live demonstrations. Round the day off in style by settling into a reclining seat to watch a screening projected onto the arched dome of the awe-inspiring New Jersey State Museum’s Planetarium.
Vintage fans will find much to love in the charismatic city of Lambertville, known as a treasure-trove for antiques. Head to the Golden Nugget Antique Flea Market, a sprawling 50-year-old local institution, open year-round with an onsite diner. Meanwhile at The People’s Store — a quirky outlet where 40 dealers occupy its three floors — keep an eye out for antique parlour lamps and Staffordshire ceramic sets. Along Bridge, Main and Union streets you’ll find retro stores nestled beside galleries, boutiques and independent coffeeshops. Lambertville Station, a restored 19th-century train depot transformed into a hip waterside eatery, makes a great dining spot.
Find out why New Jersey is called the Garden State, with a visit to its lush Skylands Region. Those who fancy a soaring 1,803ft hiking challenge should strap on their walking boots as New Jersey’s highest point, the aptly named High Point State Park, is situated in the heart of this region. Closer to the ground, you’ll find rivers rippling with trout, breezy summertime campsites and cross-country skiing in the winter months. Year-round, the local crafts scene can be found in the glassblowing studios and pottery schools that dot the spectacular landscape.
For more information and inspiration — including accommodation, restaurants and activities — go to visitnj.org/UK
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