Are you ready to visit the best historical sites in the state of New Jersey? Read this comprehensive guide!
The best things to do in North Jersey are closer than you think!
New Jersey, known as the Garden State, is a destination with an incredibly diverse history. Situated in the northeastern part of the United States, New Jersey’s coastline is about 130 miles long, bordering New York, Pennsylvania, the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware and the Delaware Bay.
In the early days of this state’s history, New Jersey was one of the 13 original colonies and played a major role in the Revolutionary War. This state was heavily involved in the industrial revolution and was simultaneously known for its sprawling farmlands, especially in the southern part of the state.
Today, New Jersey is a truly unique place to visit, as it’s the most densely populated state in the USA, and the landscape ranges from urban and fast-paced – to rustic, peaceful and relaxing.
The state of New Jersey is diverse and really interesting — there are so many things to do in North Jersey! It’s a cool place to visit because there’s so much to choose from!
Do you want to see the most incredible view of the New York City skyline? Go to Weehawken and walk along the famous Kennedy Boulevard East! Do you wish to see the second-largest waterfall in North America? Head to Great Falls National Park in Paterson, NJ. Are you interested in a Victorian seaside getaway? Drive south to Cape May, at the southernmost tip of the state. Do you want to visit the most stunning views of the Delaware River? Go west — to the Delaware Water Gap where there’s an abundance of great hiking trails with scenic views.
Where is North Jersey?
Where is Northern NJ? Geographically, it’s the northern part of the state, which borders New York. Some areas of Northern NJ are considered the “New York metropolitan area” and it’s bustling — but other areas in north Jersey are home to hills and valleys with dramatic scenery. This area is vastly different from the shoreline, which is a popular vacation destination in the summer — and the pine barrens in the south which are completely different — heavily wooded, sandy, flat marshlands.
There are no definitive borders between north, central and southern NJ. In fact, New Jersey residents often disagree about the exact locations of North, Central and Southern New Jersey, as all these areas are home to a variety of small and large towns with their own vibe and personalities.
This post features some of the best historical places to visit in North Jersey. And if you’re looking for some of the best things to do in South Jersey (near Philadelphia), check out my post here that focuses on Southern NJ!
Here are the best (and most fun) historic destinations in Northern New Jersey
1. Tour Liberty Hall
This exquisite 50-room historic mansion in the town of Union, New Jersey was originally the home of William Livingston, who served as New Jersey’s first governor and was one of the “founding fathers” who signed the United States Constitution. It’s a fascinating place to visit, as there’s so much history here, including some of New Jersey’s oldest trees.
When visiting, you’ll have the opportunity to tour this grand house and see original artifacts from the Livingston family, as well as learn about life in 18th-century New Jersey. In addition to touring the mansion, you can visit (and tour) the gardens, arboretum and firehouse museum. You can certainly spend a few hours here, especially during the warmer months. Liberty Hall is part of Your Passport to National Parks program. Check out the Liberty Hall website for tickets, tours and info about visiting.
2. Visit Weehawken: the site of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr
Years ago, I lived in this wonderful Weekhawken neighborhood, so I would walk by this spot every day — for years! Hamilton Park is situated on the most picturesque cliff overlooking the Hudson River, with the majestic Manhattan skyline beyond. This small green space high above the river is the site of the fatal duel where Alexander Hamilton was shot by Aaron Burr in 1804.
There’s a bronze bust of Hamilton in the center of this area, along with several memorial plaques nearby, including the rock where he supposedly rested his head after being wounded. There are benches and pathways through the park where you can relax and take in all the history that happened here, and a long paved sidewalk where you can stroll north or south while admiring the skyline and the views. You’ll see a lot of activity here — locals exercising, tourists strolling and even bridal parties getting photographed against the Manhattan skyline on weekends! You can walk for quite a while along the paved pathway where you’ll see some mansions, large homes and apartment buildings facing the Manhattan skyline.
Visit the Hudson county website for more info if you want to visit.
What is Weehawken near? This location is close to Hoboken (and several nearby restaurants), so can definitely find a place to eat or grab a coffee after visiting.
3. Explore Morristown National Historical Park
The Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, New Jersey preserves several sites associated with the Revolutionary War, including the Ford Mansion, where George Washington and his officers stayed during the famously harsh winter of 1779-1780. It’s also home to the Jockey Hollow Encampment, where soldiers lived during that winter.
At Morristown National Historic Park, you can visit the museum, take a guided tour, explore the library, and see reenactments (visit the website for details). Also at this park is Jockey Hollow, which features some great hiking trails, ranging from easy to more difficult.
Visit the Morristown National Historic Park website for more information.
4. Visit the town of Red Bank, NJ (and JBJ Soul Kitchen)
Red Bank is a cute, historic town is home to many great independently-owned shops, cafes and restaurants — and more! You can easily spend an afternoon here, as there are several blocks filled with things to see and do. (Plus, you are right by the water and a quick drive to the beaches)!
If you want to see a historic hotel in Red Bank, NJ, the Molly Pitcher Hotel is the place to visit. It’s situated on the Navesink River and is the site of many special events throughout the year. Named after the famous woman who played a role in assisting George Washington’s troops in the Revolutionary War, this landmark property is a favorite among locals and visitors. Generally speaking, this hotel’s heyday was in the late 1960s through the 1980s, when many celebrities would stay here — usually when they performed at the nearby Garden State Arts Center, a few miles away.
If you visit the Molly Pitcher, be sure to stay for dinner, as there’s a lovely restaurant here, with waterfront views. Or if you’re up for a quick walk, just take a leisurly stroll to the center of Red Bank for more restaurants serving up an array of cusine. Summertime is the best season to enjoy this property, as there’s a pool (and a pool bar) overlooking the river. The Molly Pitcher is also within walking distance of the center of Red Bank, home to many independently-owned shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes. The (former) Count Basie Theater is just a few blocks away, so the Molly Pitcher is an ideal place to stay if you’re seeing a show. And don’t miss the famous JBJ Soul Kitchen, a community-centered “pay what you can afford” non-profit restaurant / non-profit that was started by the legendary rocker, Jon Bon Jovi, nearby!
5. Visit Great Falls National Park in Paterson
Did you know that New Jersey has the second-largest waterfall in North America (after Niagara Falls)? It’s true, and you can easily see this beautiful natural sight at the Paterson Great Falls National Park in Paterson, NJ.
The town of Paterson, NJ was established in 1792 around this gorgeous waterfall, and it was the first planned industrial city in the United States.
It’s fun to experience this amazing waterfall and park, as it’s tucked away in an urban area of northern New Jersey, yet it’s close to everything. There’s a fairly large parking lot, and plenty of places to take in some inspiring views and take some superb photographs. Visitors can walk around the park and cross the river to the other side. This area features some relatively flat walking trails, lovely cherry and dogwood trees that bloom in the springtime.
When we visited, a very helpful park ranger was there to answer questions and offer some intriguing facts about the waterfall. He was also there to offer some safety tips about viewing the waterfall safely. This park is a work in progress and expansion plans are in the works for 2024.
6. Pick flowers at Holland Ridge Farms
Springtime is the ideal season to visit the stunningly colorful tulip fields at Holland Ridge Farms in Cream Ridge, New Jersey. Although this may be considered “central” Jersey, this rural destination is a great road trip from anywhere in the state. This family-friendly farm features spots for selfies amidst the blooms, a small farm museum, and food trucks (on weekends and certain dates) so you can take a break from wandering and have a snack!
It’s hard to resist picking every tulip you see, but that’s okay. You can purchase whatever you pick, and the farm provides buckets to hold your flowers as you wander through the fields.
Advance tickets are (usually) required and to avoid crowds, it’s best if you visit during the week. However, I visited on a weekend in the spring — and we had a fantastic visit and purchased several bouquets of brightly-colored tulips. Find more info at Holland Ridge Farms.
7. Learn about history at Princeton Battlefield State Park
This tranquil park in Princeton, NJ preserves the site of a Revolutionary War battle that took place here in 1777. As you walk through this sprawling leafy destination, visitors can see monuments and markers that commemorate the battle, and learn about the events that led up to it — as well as the impact it had on the war. Princeton Battlefield State Park is a place where you can spend an entire day if the weather if nice, so check out their official website with details about how to visit.
You’re also close to Princeton University, so there’s plenty to see and do nearby!
8. Explore Thomas Edison National Historical Park
The Thomas Edison National Historic park in West Orange is dedicated to the life and work of Thomas Edison, one of America’s most famous inventors. Visitors can tour the laboratory where he developed many of his inventions, including the light bulb, photograph player camera equipment and many others.
Thomas Edison’s laboratory is a must-visit destination for those visiting Northern New Jersey. It’s filled with fascinating exhibits and displays, and you can spend several hours here walking through several buildings that were formerly used as his office, photo lab, workshop and other entrepreneurial purposes.
This is also a great rainy day experience because most of this attraction is indoors and it’s easy to visit in the rain. However, there is no air conditioning in most of these buildings so be careful about visiting during the hot summer months. Visit the park’s website for more information about planning your visit.
9. Tour Glenmont, Thomas Edison’s stunning estate
Nearby, Thomas Edison’s exquisite, stunning home is a must-visit destination for those visiting Northern New Jersey. It’s a very quick drive from the Thomas Edison National Historic Park (laboratory) entrance and situated in a beautiful, expansive park. You must arrange tours of this estate in advance, and tickets are released and purchased via the website only. The tours are small groups, and you may need to book a month or so in advance.
Note: You must get a pass from the National Park down the street before you are allowed to enter the park, which has a gate in the front. Be sure to visit this website in advance for instructions.
10. Visit Ocean Grove, NJ and see the famous “tent community”
The lovely town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey is certainly one of the unique beachfront destinations on the Jersey shore. From May through Labor Day every year, over a hundred bungalow-style tents are erected and occupied by families and people of all ages who love the shore. These tented cottages are about 600 square feet, have a canvas roof and are connected to a small wooden structure. The tent community is adjacent to the “Camp Meeting Association,” which rents out the tents for $8,000 per year for the season, and there’s a very long waiting list (for decades) and not surprisingly, a multi-step application process.
The tents are located just a few blocks from the center of town and a few blocks from the beach as well.
If you choose to walk through this area, be respectful of the residents, as pets are not allowed and they have strict “no noise” policy in the evenings.
11. Stroll around the historic town of Rutherford, NJ
Just outside of New York City (and a quick drive from the former “Meadowlands”), this cute and lively town is walkable — and home to many great independently-owned shops, including clothing boutiques, a vinyl record store and a music store, breakfast cafes and a multitude of great restaurants, fun bars — and more! Don’t miss the wonderfully delicious bagels at the Bagel Exchange in the center of town. You can easily spend an afternoon here, as there are several blocks filled with local businesses of all kinds.
It’s a great home base if you’re planning to see a game at MetLife Stadium or a concert at the nearby arena.
12. Go back in time at the Old Barracks museum in Trenton, NJ
The Old Barracks museum, located in Trenton, New Jersey, stands as a remarkable testament to America’s rich history and its struggle for independence. Built in 1758 during the French and Indian War, the Barracks served as a military garrison and later played a pivotal role in the American Revolution.
A visit to the Old Barracks is a journey through time, an opportunity to honor the past and gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s history. This location witnessed significant events, including the Battle of Trenton in 1776, when General George Washington and his troops famously crossed the icy Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on Hessian mercenaries. The Barracks served as a temporary hospital for wounded soldiers and housed British prisoners of war during this critical time.
Today, the Old Barracks has been transformed into a captivating museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the past. Step inside and be transported to the 18th century through immersive exhibits, artifacts, and period rooms. The knowledgeable staff and engaging displays bring to life the stories of soldiers, civilians, and the struggles they faced during the American Revolution.
The Barracks’ architecture itself is a marvel, showcasing the Georgian-style design of the era. Visitors here will see the white-washed walls, sturdy timbers, and symmetrical layout that evokes a true sense of history. The surrounding grounds feature a beautiful courtyard and a recreated soldier’s garden, offering visitors a tranquil space to reflect on the past.
The Old Barracks in Trenton serves as a living monument, preserving the legacy of America’s fight for freedom. It stands as a reminder of the sacrifices made by brave men and women and the enduring spirit of the American people.
13. Tour the Wick House in Jockey Hollow
The Wick House, located in Morristown Historic Park’s Jockey Hollow, is a historic gem that offers visitors a glimpse into the past and stands as a testament to the region’s significance during the American Revolutionary War.
Built in the mid-18th century, the Wick House served as the headquarters for General Arthur St. Clair during the winter encampment of the Continental Army from 1779 to 1780. The house played a crucial role in the American Revolution, as it provided shelter and strategic planning space for General George Washington and his officers.
Today, the Wick House is a well-preserved example of colonial architecture. Its exterior showcases the distinctive characteristics of the era, with its symmetrical design, simple lines, and classic Georgian style. Visitors can explore the interior and its period furnishings, which recreate the atmosphere of the Revolutionary War era.
Beyond its architectural charm, the Wick House offers a deeper understanding of the sacrifices made by the soldiers and civilians during the harsh winter months. It serves as a reminder of the perseverance and determination that propelled the Continental Army forward, even in the face of immense challenges.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply curious about the American Revolution, a visit to the Wick House in Jockey Hollow is a captivating experience, offering guests the chance to connect with the past.
13. Admire the Hermitage in Ho-Ho-Kus
Visiting the Hermitage in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey is a captivating journey into the past. This historic landmark is a grand mansion that’s nestled amidst lush greenery and serene surroundings. It offers a unique glimpse into the life and legacy of Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a remarkable woman of the 18th century.
Visitors can tour the house and see original artifacts from the family, as well as learn about life in the 19 th century New Jersey. The Hermitage, constructed in the mid-1700s, boasts a stunning Georgian-style mansion that showcases the architectural elegance of the era. As visitors approach the property, they are greeted by the majestic façade, characterized by its symmetrical design, graceful columns, and meticulous attention to detail.
Stepping inside the Hermitage, visitors are transported to a bygone era. The meticulously restored rooms are adorned with period furnishings and decor, giving a vivid portrayal of the daily lives and customs of the Prevost family. The house itself is steeped in history, serving as a haven for Theodosia Bartow Prevost during the Revolutionary War and hosting illustrious guests like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
In addition to the main house, the Hermitage offers sprawling gardens and picturesque grounds, perfect for a leisurely stroll or a peaceful picnic. The serene ambiance and beautiful landscapes provide an idyllic escape from the bustle of modern life.
Guided tours at the Hermitage provide a wealth of information and fascinating anecdotes, bringing the history of the site to life. Visitors can explore the various rooms, including the grand ballroom, the charming bedrooms, and the meticulously preserved kitchen.
14. Visit Fort Lee Historic Park at the Palisades
Fort Lee Historic Park in Fort Lee, NJ preserves the site of a Revolutionary War fort that was used to defend the Hudson River valley from British attack. Visitors to this impressive destination can see the reconstructed fort and learn about the events that led up to the fort’s construction and the impact it had on the war.
This dramatic cliffside location is also called, “The Palisades” and offers an immersive experience in American history — as well as breathtaking views of the Hudson River and New York City skyline. Nestled on a scenic bluff, this historic site played a significant role during the American Revolution, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
The park is home to a well-preserved Revolutionary War-era fortification known as Fort Lee. There’s a visitors center and plenty of activities here — including dramatic reenactments. As visitors explore the grounds, they can imagine the strategic positioning of the fort and envision the events that unfolded during the war. Interpretive signage provides historical context, offering insights into the fort’s role as a vital defensive outpost and its significance in safeguarding the Hudson River from British control.
Beyond its historical significance, Fort Lee Historic Park offers stunning panoramic views. From the park’s vantage point, visitors can soak in the awe-inspiring sights of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan. The park’s picturesque trails provide opportunities for leisurely walks or peaceful picnics, creating a serene escape from the bustling city nearby.
Guided tours and educational programs are available to deepen visitors’ understanding of the fort’s history and the events of the American Revolution. From reenactments to interactive exhibits, these offerings bring the past to life and engage visitors of all ages. Visit the website for more details about the tours.
Whether you come for the history, the natural beauty, or both, a visit to Fort Lee Historic Park offers a captivating blend of educational exploration and scenic wonder. It’s an ideal destination to connect with America’s revolutionary past while enjoying the serene beauty of the present-day landscape.
15. See the Cooper Gristmill in Chester, NJ
The Cooper Gristmill in Chester, New Jersey is a National Historic Landmark and one of the oldest operating gristmills in the United States. Visitors can tour the mill and learn about the history of milling in New Jersey.
The Cooper Gristmill in Chester, New Jersey, is a captivating historical site that provides visitors with a glimpse into the region’s early industrial past. Located on the banks of the Black River, this beautifully preserved mill offers a unique and immersive experience.
Dating back to the 1820s, the Cooper Gristmill stands as a testament to the crucial role mills played in the growth and development of rural communities during the 19th century. Once the center of a bustling milling operation, the mill showcases the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the era. Its sturdy stone structure, iconic waterwheel, and intricate machinery are a testament to the hard work and innovation of those who operated it.
Visitors to the Cooper Gristmill can embark on guided tours to gain insight into the milling process, witnessing the impressive machinery in action. The mill’s knowledgeable guides provide engaging explanations of the equipment and its historical significance, offering a deeper understanding of the technological advancements of the time.
Additionally, the Cooper Gristmill hosts interactive demonstrations and educational programs, allowing visitors to experience firsthand how grain was transformed into flour or cornmeal. From grinding demonstrations to hands-on activities, these experiences offer a fun and educational opportunity for visitors of all ages.
Surrounded by picturesque landscapes and scenic trails, the Cooper Gristmill also provides a peaceful setting for nature enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy leisurely walks, picnics by the river, or explore the nearby hiking trails, adding an extra dimension to their visit.
A trip to the Cooper Gristmill in Chester, New Jersey, combines history, education, and natural beauty. It is a destination that celebrates the industrious spirit of the past while offering a serene escape into nature
16. Visit the Proprietary House
History buffs — especially those who are interested in Benjamin Franklin — will enjoy visiting The Proprietary House, a grand mansion in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. It was the home of the last colonial governor of New Jersey, William Franklin, who was Ben Franklin’s son. Visitors who tour the house will see original artifacts from the Franklin family, as well as learn about life in 18th-century New Jersey.
The Proprietary House, located in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, is a historic treasure that offers a captivating glimpse into the state’s colonial history. This stately mansion, constructed in the mid-18th century, holds the distinction of being New Jersey’s last remaining royal governor’s residence.
Originally built as a residence for William Franklin, the son of Benjamin Franklin and the last Royal Governor of New Jersey, the Proprietary House stands as a symbol of colonial authority and power. Its grand architecture, characterized by its Georgian style and commanding presence, speaks to the mansion’s historical significance.
Visitors to the Proprietary House can explore its beautifully restored rooms and learn about the colonial period through guided tours. The mansion’s interior is adorned with period furnishings, providing a vivid depiction of the elegant lifestyle of the colonial elite.
Beyond its architectural beauty, the Proprietary House also hosts various events and exhibitions that celebrate New Jersey’s rich history. From historical reenactments to educational programs, the house offers engaging experiences that bring the past to life.
The surrounding gardens and grounds of the Proprietary House provide a tranquil setting where visitors can relax and appreciate the picturesque scenery. The house’s proximity to the Raritan Bay also offers the opportunity for leisurely walks along the waterfront, adding to the charm of the site.
Visit the website for the Proprietary House for details about how to visit.
Ready for some fun in Southern New Jersey?
Looking for some activities in Southern New Jersey? These are some of the best things to do in Southern New Jersey
Spending some time in South Jersey (near Philadelphia)? Check out my post about Best Things to do in South Jersey (Cherry Hill, Haddonfield and Collingswood) — Just outside of Philly!