Take the Kids: Miss the carefree summer days of country fairs and carnivals? A trip to Nashua will cure your winter blues
Do you ever find yourself, while caught deep in winter’s darkness, longing for the sunny, sweaty fun of country fairs and summer carnivals? We’ve got just the solution – a place where, even on the frostiest of December days, you and your kids can enjoy the thrill of a carousel, pinball and carnival games of chance – as well as a three-story corkscrew slide.
For this burst of off-season summer, head to Nashua. The city, about a 45-minute drive south of Concord, offers a quirky day trip of indoor and outdoor activity – just pure, goofy fun to beat the winter blues.
Start the day at Mine Falls Park, a 300-acre expanse of woods, fields and walking trails along a bend in the Nashua River. The former site of a massive mining and manufacturing enterprise, the park is now a popular and inviting place for outdoor recreation just a few minutes from downtown Nashua.
The weather will likely dictate how you and your companions enjoy this parkland. The trails are flat and paved or packed dirt in most spots – great for strollers and wheelchairs. Bikes are welcome, and the wide trails would provide fine snowshoeing terrain, as well.
There are several entrances to the park. The small parking area at the end of Whipple Street puts you right at the park’s heart, with trails stretching in every direction and a footbridge that provides views up and down the riverfront. You can follow the trails to the west, towards the 19th-century gatehouse and old mill pond. Or continue east through the woods for occasional views of downtown Nashua along the riverbanks. The trails are well marked and mostly form loops leading you back to wherever you start from, so it’s hard to get too lost.
When you’ve finished exploring Mine Falls, drive back down Whipple Street and follow Ledge Street toward downtown.
You’ll pass Nashua’s old millyard, now rebranded as a 21st-century “technology park.” The still-mighty brick buildings and towers make a grand passage to Main Street.
Nashua’s downtown is home to many upscale dining options, but fewer family-friendly places, especially on weekends. We settled at Portland Pie Co., located near the north end of the bridge crossing the Nashua River. This is one of two New Hampshire locations of the Maine-based chain of sit-down pizza places. The atmosphere is relaxed and cozy, with a big fireplace at the center of the dining room. The menu offers an array of pizzas, all with Maine-specific names: the Moosehead comes with sausage, pepperoni and mushroom, for instance, while the Aroostook is covered with chicken, bacon and onions. Mini pizzas are available for young ones – as are crayons and sketch paper, to keep small hands occupied until the food arrives. In warmer weather, an outdoor patio provides views of downtown and the riverfront.
When lunch is over, head a few miles south on the Daniel Webster Highway to Fun World. You won’t miss it, as it’s the only three-story building in the area designed to look like a medieval castle with giant cartoonish characters waving from the mural-covered walls.
Inside, breathe in the unmistakable blend of bowling alley and popcorn; take a moment to get used to the cacophony of arcade games and voices; and let the kids run wild. Or as wild as you’re comfortable with – Fun World, with its flashing lights and constant stream of children tumbling past, hearkens back to the slightly more anarchic days of our own childhoods.
It’s clean and brightly lit, but you’re bound to come across something (a squirming pile of kids gleefully jumping on each other in a ball tank inaccessible except by two small openings, for example, or a very large, dubiously held together children’s roller coaster in a dimly lit room) that gives you pause. A definite Lord-of-the-Flies vibe courses through Fun World – and that’s part of what makes it such a thrill.
Before buying tickets or tokens, take a few minutes to stroll around the different levels and decide what’s age-appropriate for your children.
We purchased admission to the multi-level indoor playground for our 3-year-old and 1-year-old, only to realize upon inspection that it’s a much better fit for older kids, who leave their parents sitting in a waiting area while they climb, slide, and explore what looks like the world’s largest and most colorful hamster maze.
On the first floor, preschoolers will find their own arcade area, complete with tiny rides, a miniature air hockey table, and carnival staples, such as skeeball and whack-a-mole. Just past the food counter and ticket area, a separate arcade area caters to a slightly more sophisticated crowd: elementary school-aged kids. And on the upper two floors, teenagers will find all the shooting, racing, and pinball games they could desire.
On the second floor, you’ll find a lovely double-decker carousel. It’s tucked into a corner of the building and faces a wall full of windows, with the headlights along Daniel Webster Highway twinkling just outside the glass.
But close your eyes and enjoy the ride, because it’s here, more than any of Fun World’s other noisy, shiny attractions, that you’ll best imagine yourself back at the fairgrounds on a sultry summer afternoon.
If you go
Mine Falls Park – open 6 a.m.-10 p.m.; 589-3400, ext. 5005.
Portland Pie Co. – 14 Canal St., Nashua.
Fun World – 200 Daniel Webster Highway, Nashua; 888-1940 or funworldnh.com.