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A tank away | Nashua, N.H.

From mill town to shopper’s heaven

Enjoy the city’s vast history — and its modern amenities

Some of the city’s architecture and the canal that cuts through downtown are reminders of Nashua’s history as a mill town and its role in the state’s economy. Some of the city’s architecture and the canal that cuts through downtown are reminders of Nashua’s history as a mill town and its role in the state’s economy. (David Abel/Globe Staff)
By David Abel
Globe Staff / December 15, 2010

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About an hour north of Boston is the Granite State’s second largest city, known more for its profusion of strip malls than its splendor. Indeed, it was New Hampshire’s permanent sales tax holiday and all the big box stores that first drew us to what we imagined would be a charmless patch of urban sprawl. But in between errands to the local Costco and Best Buy, we found much to see and do — from historical landmarks to simulated skydiving — in this city of nearly 90,000 people that predates the founding of the United States by more than a century.

STAY

Despite its long history, this is a city dominated by the large chains. The Radisson Hotel Nashua (11 Tara Blvd., www.radisson.com/nashuanh, 603-888-9970, $105 with breakfast) recently underwent an $8 million renovation and features a spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a medieval-inspired facade. The Crowne Plaza (2 Somerset Parkway, www.cpnashua.com, 603-886-1200, $115 with breakfast) has similar amenities, with a full-service restaurant and health club. The Courtyard by Marriott Nashua (2200 Southwood Drive, www.courtyardnashua.com, 603-880-9100, $119 with breakfast) has similar offerings along with a cocktail lounge.

DINE

Not surprisingly, every chain restaurant seems to be here, as well as fast food galore, but Main Street and elsewhere around town have an increasing number of eclectic offerings. The stalwart Martha’s Exchange (185 Main St., 603-883-8781, www.marthas-exchange.com, entrees $15-$19) has offered different permutations of bar food since the 1980s, and now has a wide variety of bistro-oriented plats du jour, including a pineapple curried vegetable stack and ginger wasabi steak. There are also 25 freshly brewed beers on tap, from whites to stouts.

The Saffron Bistro (80 Main St., 603-883-2100, www.thesaffronbistro.com, entrees $19-$31) changes its menu every month or so and adds organic ingredients to signature dishes such as the pecan-encrusted chicken and cider-soaked pork tenderloin.

In addition to its live music and trivia nights, the Peddler’s Daughter (48 Main St., 603-821-7535, www.thepeddlersdaughter.com, entrees $6.95-$8.95) is known for its beer-battered fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, and it recently introduced a brunch menu that includes Belgian waffles and steak and eggs.

DURING THE DAY

When the shopping’s done, there are diversions available that might appeal to history buffs, adventure enthusiasts, exercise mavens, and others. The Nashua Historical Society (5 Abbott St., 603-883-0015, www.nashuahistoricalsociety.org, membership for families $40, adult $25, student $5) maintains a rich collection of artifacts from the city’s four centuries and chronicles the evolution of the mill town in two museums on its property, the Florence H. Speare Memorial Museum and the Abbot-Spalding House.

For those of a more futuristic inclination, there’s an indoor wind tunnel that offers a simulated skydiving experience at SkyVenture (3 Poisson Ave., 603-897-6002, www.skyventurenh.com, $55 for two minutes in the flight chamber for adults, $95 for four minutes; children under age 11 $50/$90). The only such vertical wind tunnel in New England, it offers an experience similar to flying without the feeling of freefalling.

Mine Falls Park (8 Riverside St., 603-883-6702, www.gonashua.com/CityGovernment/Departments/Parksandlh/Recreation/MineFallsPark/tabid/344/Default.aspx) cuts through the city and has miles of biking and jogging trails along the old canal and the Nashua River, stretching 325 acres from the west side of Route 3 to the old mills near downtown. The waterfall surges in the spring and lots of beavers, otters, and waterfowl putter around the canal.

AFTER DARK

There are wine bars and Irish pubs along a revitalized Main Street, and everything from Indian to Brazilian food. After dinner, there are nightclubs, lounges, and bowling. The alleys at Leda’s Light House (338 Amherst St., 603-889-4884, www.ledaslighthouse.com, evening games $4 per person) offer glow-in-the-dark candlepin bowling.

The Nashua Symphony Association (6 Church St., 603-595-9156, www.nashuasymphony.org, prices depend on performance) features the Nashua Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and offers a range of concerts throughout the year at varying venues.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.