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Be like George Washington and cross the Delaware River, to Lambertville, N.J.

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New Hope, Pa., is quaint, historic and crowded with tourists

Nestled in a pocket of eastern Pennsylvania’s Bucks County, the riverside town of New Hope is as quaint as they come.

And come people do: in December, to watch George Washington’s 1776 crossing of the Delaware River (captured in the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze), staged by reenactors who cross the river nearby in Durham flat-bottomed boats. Or in summer, to see a show at the Bucks County Playhouse, located on the banks of the Delaware in a former 18th-century grist mill. Opened in 1939, the playhouse earned the reputation as “America’s Most Famous Summer Theater” and over the years has attracted (both onstage and off) the likes of Helen Hayes, Shirley Booth, Grace Kelly, Dick Van Dyke and Robert Redford.

With just 1.27 square miles of land area, New Hope’s primary industry is tourism. Year-round and especially on weekends, visitors clog the narrow sidewalks on Main Street, window-shopping or queuing up for ice cream cones. Many also take a brisk climb up the 125-foot Bowman’s Hill Tower for panoramic views of the Delaware Valley.

Location: New Hope is about a one-hour drive northeast from Philadelphia.

Lambertville, N.J., is also quaint and historic, and it has a small-town feel

A far less congested view of the Delaware lies a mere 1,053 feet away, via the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge, a six-span steel-truss bridge that connects New Hope with its New Jersey riverside counterpart, Lambertville. The contrast between the touristy atmosphere back in Pennsylvania and the insider, small-town feel of Lambertville is evident immediately.

 George Washington slept here, too. Lambertville’s first resident, John Holcombe, built the stone house on North Main Street in 1707 that became Washington’s headquarters. Later, Holcombe would purchase more property, now known as the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead, which quartered Washington and his troops before the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. The farmstead is now a museum dedicated to depicting farm life in the 18th century and into the 20th century.

To see the Delaware River from a New Jerseyan perspective, walk some of the approximately 60-mile Delaware Canal Towpath Trail, which follows the Delaware River through Lambertville and other historic New Jersey areas such as Stockton and Frenchtown (where author Elizabeth Gilbert once lived and operated a store selling “Eat, Pray, Love” tchotchkes galore).

With its wooden bridges and 19th-century bridge-tender houses, remnants of locks, cobblestone spillways and hand-built, stone-arched culverts, the canal is not only a tremendous attraction for history buffs, but it’s also prime real estate for birders. A recent survey clocked 160 species of birds, almost 90 of which nest in the nearby fields and forests.

If walking isn’t your speed, pedal the trails on an electric bike. Pedego Lambertville offers half- and full-day rentals. On your way out of town, stop by antique shops such as the People’s Store, a multistory co-op with dealers offering a wide range of items, including mid-century furniture, vintage clothing and high-end estate jewelry. Or pick up fortification at Lambertville Trading Company. Its iced coffee with coffee ice cubes is a favorite among regulars.

 Consider spending a night or two at Lambertville House, which opened in 1812 as a tavern and inn, and grabbing an early breakfast at Union Coffee, known for its friendly staff. Should you visit Lambertville on a Wednesday or on the weekend, compete with the locals for your own piece of history at the decades-old Golden Nugget Antique Flea Market, which is open year-round.

If you listen closely, you can still hear the rush of the Delaware, the perfect soundtrack for treasure hunting.

Location: Lambertville is about a 25-minute drive northwest from Trenton.

Alter is a writer based in Washington. Her website is cathyalter.com.

Please Note

Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC's travel health notice webpage.

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