by Rachel Juarez-Carr | October 01, 2016

“Be a traveler, not a tourist.” As any attendee knows, that’seasier said than done when you’re flying into a city, surrendering your time to a hectic convention schedule, then flying straight back out. It may be difficult to experience all of the various details and nuances that make a particular place unique.

But some meeting destinations are able to provide a real sense of place, and a host of them are found throughout the New England states.

Massachusetts: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

What’s still America’s most iconic “local” bar? Cheers, the fictional Boston drinking den based on the genuine Bull & Finch Pub in the city’s Beacon Hills neighborhood. The bar has been renamed in honor of its TV twin, though only the exterior was shot for the show. A replica of the interior set can be found at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace if you’re looking to pull up to a familiar barstool.

Beyond the plentiful local favorites, Boston has all kinds of places dedicated to business. The 2.1 million-square-foot Boston Convention & Exhibition Center has 516,000 square feet of contiguous space that can be arranged in 10 different configurations, 160,000 square feet of meeting space and a 41,000-square-foot ballroom. Large meetings that have taken place at the BCEC recently include Yankee Dental Congress 2016, the biggest dental meeting in New England, which drew almost 27,000 dental professionals from around the country.

Another option is the 68,000-square-foot Edward M. Kennedy Institute on the University of Massachusetts–Boston campus, which opened last year. The new facility boasts three classrooms, a lobby for up to 800 people and, its centerpiece, a full-scale representation of the U.S. Senate chamber in Washington, D.C. Next door, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum offers event space for up to 1,000 people. The nearby Commonwealth Museum, home to one of the original copies of both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, welcomes special events of up to 1,100 people. Other spacious venues for meetings include the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in the Back Bay neighborhood and the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center.

Boston’s new gathering options include the 242-room Godfrey Hotel, which offers a small meeting room and an enviable location just off Boston Common, and a dual-branded Boston Seaport hotel development across from the convention center, home to a 180-room Element and a 330-room Aloft, with 858 and 15,000 square feet of meeting space, respectively. In Kenmore Square, the luxury Hotel Commonwealth recently completed a $55 million expansion project that added a new wing with 96 guest rooms and 6,000 square feet of new meeting space. The Loews/Boston, in the former police headquarters building, has finished renovations of its 5,000 square feet of meeting space; the historic hotel, which will be celebrating its 90th birthday in December, has named each of its meeting rooms after a former Boston Police officer.

Seeking a historic setting? Boston Public Library’s McKim Building in Copley Square can host cocktail receptions of up to 2,100. Got sports fans? Head out to see Major League Baseball’s Red Sox play in Fenway Park or the NFL’s Patriots play at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Both venues have event space and offer group tours. Attendees traveling with family? Direct them to the Legoland Discovery Center in Somerville.

In Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston, the 65-room Porter Square Hotel is scheduled to open in October. It plans to open a courtyard space in the spring. The 150-room AC/Boston-Cambridge opened at the end of September with meeting space for up to 100, and both the Sheraton Commander Hotel and the Hyatt Regency were recently remodeled.

In Hull, south of Boston on the Nantasket Peninsula, the Nantasket Beach Resort has newly renovated guest rooms and a conference center with two oceanfront ballrooms. Farther down the coast, groups of up to 500 can gather at the Hotel 1620 (formerly the Radisson) in the harbor at Plymouth, one of the area’s largest venues. It is undergoing a renovation scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year. About 15 miles away, in Wareham, the year-old TownePlace Suites by Marriott/Wareham-Buzzards Bay has 4,705 square feet of event space.

It’s not much farther to the vacation hub of Cape Cod, where notable venues include the Wequassett Resort & Golf Club in Harwich, which offers educational experiences such as a 90-minute barge expedition across Chatham’s Oyster Pond to an oyster farm. On a 700-foot stretch of white-sand beach in North Falmouth is the Sea Crest Beach Hotel, and to the east, in Hyannis, the Cape Codder Resort & Spa features a new water park. Nearby, a new option for small groups is the 125-room Fairfield Inn & Suites/Cape Cod-Hyannis, which has opened with event space for up to 60. The Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Brewster recently hosted the New England Produce Council’s produce and floral expo.

Over on Martha’s Vineyard, the historic Harbor View Hotel has indoor meeting space as well as outdoor space overlooking the ocean. Also local is the Winnetu Oceanside Resort, whose Dunes restaurant can host groups of up to 145. It also arranges seasonal ferry service to and from its sister resort on Nantucket, the Nantucket Hotel & Resort.

Back on the mainland, in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester, the DCU Center can accommodate up to 15,000 people, or up to 1,600 can gather at the historic Mechanics Hall.

Fifty miles west, in Springfield, the 100,000-square-foot MassMutual Center has benefited from a $3.2 million technology upgrade and new LED signage. Just down the block is the updated Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place, and a mile away is the year-old Hampton Inn & Suites/Downtown, with a conference room for up to 20 people. Also downtown is the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which has more than 80,000 square feet of flexible function space, including a regulation-sized center court that can be used for sit-down dinners and other social gatherings.

Last year, construction began on the MGM/Springfield entertainment complex, scheduled for completion in 2018; plans include a 250-room hotel, gaming space and 15 restaurants and shops. And in West Springfield, the 175-acre Eastern States Exposition offers 355,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 5,000-seat arena.

Using cultural attractions as gathering grounds is a great way to get to know a city like a local—and Springfield has plenty. The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, a landscaped park at the center of the Springfield Museums campus, is a wonderfully whimsical place to get your group together between receptions at the Springfield Science Museum, the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum or the Museum of Springfield History. Additionally, construction is underway to create a new Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum on campus. It is scheduled to open in 2017.

Rhode Island: Details That Deliver

In May, the Warehousing Education & Research Council held its 40th annual conference in Providence with nearly 1,000 participants, and the state capital proved to be just the right fit, said Angie Silberhorn, the conference director. “Providence is a great destination for our conference because the size is right—the group doesn’t get lost in the city when they leave the primary venue—and the costs allow us to drive value for our participants, which is of critical importance to them,” she said. “Also, being accessible to both T.F. Green Airport and Boston’s Logan International Airport makes the destination easy to get to for all of our participants. We’re re-booking the destination for 2020!”

The bulk of the council’s conference was organized at the Rhode Island Convention Center, which is surrounded by ample dining and entertainment options within walking distance, Silberborn said. The group also enjoyed a closing reception at a favorite downtown hangout: the Trinity Brewhouse. It was a “fabulous venue for our attendees,” she said. “We were able to have a full buyout, including closing and tenting a small adjacent street, which gave us an intimate environment for networking yet made the group feel special—something that is challenging in larger destinations.”

The Northeastern Retail Lumber Association (NRLA) also recently came to town for business and Scott Temple, its director of conventions and meetings, was full of praise for the destination. “We look for a city and facility that is central to our member base, and Providence fits that requirement. The Rhode Island Convention Center is a state-of-the-art facility, and the major hotels are within a two-block radius, which offers easy access for our exhibitors and attendees,” he said. “And there’s a true wealth of great restaurants within a five-minute walk. We had a ‘Discover Providence’ night where we featured six different restaurants so our attendees could sample some of Rhode Island’s culinary delights and enjoy the downtown area.”

Temple also said that the expertise and assistance of the city’s convention and visitors bureau were exemplary. “As a 30-year-plus veteran of the convention and meeting industry, I have produced events across the U.S. and globally, and the Providence-Warwick CVB, along with their partners, are in a class of their own,” he said. “We were treated like family, not just a short-term booking; to that end, the NRLA has signed an agreement making Providence the home of the Lumber & Building Materials Expo through 2018.”

The aforementioned Rhode Island Convention Center—with its 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, 23 meeting rooms and a ballroom—is part of the Rhode Island Convention & Entertainment Complex, which also includes the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and the 1,900-seat Veterans Memorial Auditorium, which completed a $16 million renovation in late 2014. Additional local options include the Rhode Island School of Design Museum and the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center.

More than 5,500 hotel rooms can be found in the vicinity of Providence, the largest of which is the Omni downtown, which has recently been renovated.

Rhode Island’s second-largest city, Warwick, is where you might touch down if you’re flying to the area as it’s home to T.F. Green Airport. Conveniently, the city’s largest meeting hotel is just two miles away: the Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Crossings. Also nearby is the Sheraton/Providence Airport.

Down in Rhode Island’s South County, the Ocean House in Westerly has indoor meeting space, a private beach for events of up to 800 and an all-suite villa, the Watch Hill Inn. In addition, its sister property, the Weekapaug Inn, has indoor and outdoor event space.

Connecticut: Connecting With the Past and the Future

Exploring local history and cultural heritage is an ideal start to getting to know a state. In Connecticut, one place to start is in Mashantucket at the Mashantucket-Pequot Museum & Research Center. Groups of up to 2,000 can gather at the museum and enjoy, traditional and locally inspired seasonal food. Or from Norwalk, attendees can take a 45-minute ferry to Sheffield Island for a tour of the 1868 Sheffield Lighthouse and then a clambake. Another great experience is the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, next door to the former home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Also in Hartford is the 540,000-square-foot Connecticut Convention Center, which recently completed a $2.5 million renovation project, and played host to the American Public Works Association’s North American Snow Conference earlier this year. Another option is the 16,000-seat XL Center (formerly the Hartford Civic Center). Planners can also look to the Connecticut Science Center and Marquee Events.

The new 81-room Candlewood Suites/Downtown is expected to open in March, while the 96-room Red Roof Inn Plus (formerly a Holiday Inn Express) opened early this year following a property renovation. The Hilton/Hartford was recently renovated, and the former Bond Hotel is now a Homewood Suites. On the horizon, a 170-room Hard Rock Hotel is scheduled to open in fall 2018 in the Downtown North (“DoNo”) neighborhood.

About 15 miles south, in Cromwell, a Radisson Hotel (formerly a Crowne Plaza) opened late last year, and in nearby Portland, groups might enjoy a visit to the historic St. Clements Castle & Marina with 13,000 square feet of space. Another 20 miles west, in Bristol, the amusement park Lake Compounce has event space for up to 10,000.

Farther west, in Washington, there is ample space for business and leisure at the Mayflower Grace, set on 58 acres.

In Southbury, the Southbury Plaza is being transformed into a Wyndham property and nearby, the Heritage Hotel & Conference Center was recently renovated and offers 28,000 square feet of event space. Less than 20 miles west, in Danbury, Hotel Zero Degrees is expected to open this fall with 114 guest rooms, a 2,600-square-foot ballroom and lawn space. In the coastal destination of New Haven, there are numerous event venues on the campus of Yale University. Also in town, the former Premier Hotel & Suites is now the New Haven Village Suites.

In Old Saybrook, the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa can host events of up to 280. Or it’s just 30 miles east to Mystic, which awaits groups with a maritime museum that has event space as well as a steamboat that heads down to Fishers Island Sound. Mystic Aquarium also welcomes special gatherings and across the street is the Mystic Hilton, with guest rooms that were renovated this summer.

Two gaming properties are located just inland and are 10 miles from each other. The Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket is connected to the Tanger Outlets mall. And near Uncasville, the Mohegan Sun casino resort is continuing its vast expansion project, with the new 400-room, $130 million Earth Tower scheduled to debut in November and a two-year, $50 million renovation project to begin in the existing 1,200-room Sky Tower. The hotel’s existing spa will also be entirely renovated and rebranded, and a new Mandara spa will also be added to the Earth Tower.

The expansion project hasn’t stopped the property from holding events, though; the annual training seminar of the American Association of Police Polygraphists brought 600 attendees to Mohegan Sun in June. “There are many options for off-site activities,” said Jennifer Herring, the group’s event planner. “We include a spouse program in our event, and the spouses were able to go shopping, to Mystic Seaport and to vineyards in the surrounding area. But if one chooses not to leave, the resort really appeals to everyone. Traditionally we do hold an off-site event; however, there were so many options to keep the group on-site we decided not to leave the property. We had our off-site day at Margaritaville, inside Mohegan Sun.”

Herring said her group chose to hold its event at the property for number of reasons. “The meeting space and room product is why we chose the property—it offers enough space to keep the group under one roof. The size of guest rooms and the amenities the resort offers are exceptional—there are plenty of restaurants that appeal to every taste—and, overall, the service was excellent,” she said. “And the hotel offered a special rate and shuttle service from Bradley International and T.F. Green International airports, which was a nice benefit. The drive is beautiful and doesn’t feel like an hour from airport!”

Vermont: Meet & Be Merry

It’s easy to make yourself at home in Vermont, where welcoming locals are eager to host visitors. For example, at Burlington’s Hotel Vermont, the beer concierge on staff is the perfect guide to the state’s burgeoning brew scene and he runs craft-beer tours of the town; alternately, attendees can sample the local flavors at the property’s bar, Juniper. For meetings, Hotel Vermont has two small rooms with views of Lake Champlain.

For large events, Burlington lives up to its status as the state’s biggest city with an array of gathering spots, such as the LEED-certified ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center, which can host groups as large as 1,000. Nearby, the Hilton/Burlington has event space for up to 680. East of downtown, the Sonesta ES Suites completed a multimillion-dollar renovation this spring and offers 96 newly designed studio and two-bedroom suites.

If your group would rather meet in the mountains, several resort areas fit the bill. In Cambridge, about 25 miles northeast of Burlington International Airport, the Smugglers’ Notch Resort has event spaces for up to 400. Or 30 miles southeast of the airport, in Stowe, popular options include the Stowe Mountain Resort, the Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa and the Topnotch Resort.

About 25 miles south of Stowe, Lareau Farm in the Mad River Valley is an agritourism hub with a barn pavilion for up to 200, a smaller meeting room for up to 40 and a 13-bedroom inn. It’s an ideal retreat spot for foodies, with its farm-to-table restaurant, access to its garden trails and local farmers’ markets nearby.

From there, keep heading south to Killington, home to the state’s second-highest mountain. Over the last year, the Killington Adventure Center has added 10 new attractions. In the winter, groups of up to 34 can visit Ledgewood Yurt. At the base of the resort, the Killington Grand Resort Hotel is steps from the Killington Golf Course. Twenty miles southeast, in Woodstock, the Woodstock Inn & Resort just completed a $3.5 million renovation this summer.

In the southwestern city of Manchester, tucked into the Green Mountains, the boutique Taconic Hotel opened late last year with 87 guest rooms. It is Kimpton Hotels’ first foray into Vermont. The hotel’s design is inspired by New England’s grand inns of the late 19th century and it offers groups almost 10,000 square feet of meeting space. Thoughtful local amenities include handcrafted walking sticks from Manchester Woodcraft, reading materials curated by the staff of the Northshire Bookstore and photography expeditions.

New Hampshire: Free From Forest to Sea

New Hampshire is packed with places attendees will love to discover, starting with the Granite Restaurant at the Centennial Hotel in Concord, the state’s capital. The Victorian-style property was updated with modern touches, such as a Tesla charging station, and now offers meeting space for up to 85. Larger groups might look to the Holiday Inn/Downtown, which completed a guest-room renovation this summer.

The state’s larger event spaces are mostly found in Manchester, to the south. They include the Radisson/Downtown, the adjacent SNHU Arena (formerly known as the Verizon Wireless Arena) and the SEE Science Center. Also in town is the Hanover Street Chophouse with three private dining rooms.

In Bretton Woods, 100 miles to the north, the Omni Mount Washington Resort is a popular getaway. Fifteen miles northwest, in Whitefield, is the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, while 20 miles south of Bretton Woods, the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel in Bartlett sits at the base of Bear Peak. In nearby North Conway, the White Mountain Hotel & Resort can host events of up to 130 and the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort features an indoor water park.

In Portsmouth, on the Atlantic Coast, the Sheraton/Portsmouth Harborside offers 16 meeting rooms and views of the Piscataqua River. In the central Lakes Region, the Margate Resort in Laconia sits on Lake Winnipesaukee and features meeting space as well as a plethora of leisure facilities. Ten miles north, in Meredith, Mill Falls at the Lake also caters to groups. Sixty miles west, Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, which offers the Hanover Inn on campus.

Maine: It’s All About ME

How would your attendees like a trip that includes windjammer sailing, guided stargazing trips, blueberry-picking contests and beach lobster bakes? Welcome to Maine. All of those are offered at the 144-year-old, 70-acre Cliff House Maine, built on the coast in Cape Neddick. The property was reopened in September following extensive renovations with 132 guest rooms and more than 25,000 square feet of event space. However, additions are still in the works: A lobster shack and a spa and wellness center are expected to debut this fall, and by next summer, the resort is expected to offer a total of 232 guest rooms.

About 45 miles north is Portland, the state’s largest city, where new hotels with meeting space include the 110-room Press Hotel, the 132-room Courtyard/Downtown-Waterfront and the 130-room Hyatt Place/Old Port. The Cross Insurance Arena and the nearby Westin/Portland Harborview are more sizable options. For a local experience, head to Thompson’s Point, a $126 million development with views of the Fore River, wine and beer tastings, arts and crafts, food trucks, as well as covered event space for groups of up to 5,000.

The historic Chebeague Island Inn on—you guessed it—Chebeague Island can host events of up to 20. Less than an hour from Portland is Lewiston, where the Franco Center for Heritage & the Performing Arts also has event space.

Farther north, in Bangor, the Cross Insurance Center has 18 meeting rooms, an 8,000-seat arena and 4,500 square feet of pre-function space. Forty miles south, the Point Lookout Resort & Conference Center in Northport has 50,000 square feet of event space.

Near Acadia National Park, a top Bar Harbor meeting spot is the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel & Conference Center, with facilities for up to 400. Over at Winter Harbor, the Schoodic Institute can host special events of up to 300 and has overnight accommodations for up to 100.

The Hometown Touch

From city to sea and from mountain peak to island inlet, New England’s varied destinations all have something in common: a lengthy heritage of hosting travelers. The welcoming communities in each one of these states are eager to share the best their hometowns have to offer. So when it’s time to break out of the boardroom, attendees can hit the town living like locals do.