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It’s known for being home to one of America’s most prestigious Ivy League schools, but the idyllic community of Princeton is more than just a college town. Barely 90 minutes from Manhattan (and just as accessible without a car), this Jersey charmer has all the makings of a dreamy autumn weekend, with fall foliage, good eats, interesting architecture and more—no tuition required.

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princeton university campus
Terryfic3D/Getty Images

What to do

An architecture tour of Princeton University’s Gothic, Georgian and contemporary-style campus is a must. You can sign up for an organized one or pretty much do it self-guided by wandering the streets south of Nassau between Bank and Harrison. Along the way, you’ll see lots of other architectural gems, like picture-perfect side streets full of Victorian-era homes and even a Tudor-style building that houses Hamilton Jewelers at the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon streets.

In the center of town is Palmer Square, the beating heart of this special place that’s home to roughly 30,000 residents. Here and around the adjacent blocks you’ll find tons of shopping and dining options. There are plenty of upscale chains—Origins, Club Monaco, Lululemon, Lindt Chocolate and more—but the real gems are Princeton’s independent businesses, like Homestead, a well–curated home decor and gift store, and Dandelion, a boutique jewelry store filled with chic handmade baubles.  

Seeing a show is recommended if you’re in town on a night that McCarter Theatre has one of its many musical, improv, concert or dance performances. If not, you can still take in a flick at the adorable and old-timey Princeton Garden Theatre.

One of our favorite things to do in “Tiger territory” during the fall is get nostalgic (to our college years, at least) and see Princeton’s orange-and-black jerseys in action at a home football game or take advantage of the town’s proximity to autumnal activities. There’s pumpkin picking and apple cider at Terhune Orchards and lots of fresh vegetable foraging to be done at Honey Brook Organic Farm, along with all of the town’s gorgeous surrounding countryside landscapes (we recommend a drive to nearby Hopewell Township).

agricola eatery princeton1
Courtesy of Agricola Eatery

Where to eat

For a small town, Princeton is concentrated with quality eats (at every price point). Follow the flocks of students to PJ’s Pancake House and Hoagie Haven—two local institutions in their own right—as well as Triumph Brewing Company, which draws locals and visitors alike with live music and yummy bar bites.

Check out Agricola Eatery for farm-to-table fare and a lively scene, Nomad for creative wood-fired pizzas, or, if you’re looking to do it up, The Peacock InnMediterra or Blue Point Grill for fine dining. Just a ten-minute drive from Princeton is another adorable—albeit much smaller—town called Kingston, where Eno Terra serves Mediterranean-influenced cuisine (get the ricotta gnocchi).

No trip to Princeton is complete—no matter the time of year—without a stop at one of its local ice–cream haunts. The Bent Spoon whips up some of the most curious and delicious flavors you’ll ever eat (think Thai peanut butter or lavender mascarpone), while the more traditional Halo Pub serves a rich hot chocolate that makes a great accompaniment to its decadent scoops.

nassau inn princeton
Courtesy of the Nassau Inn

Where to stay

While Princeton is totally doable for a day trip, we wouldn’t blame you for wanting to extend the quaint collegiate vibes. The Nassau Inn serves as the centerpiece of Palmer Square. It’s big on quaint charm, and even if you’re not technically in residence you can enjoy the ambiance with a cocktail by the large hearth-style fireplace on the second floor or at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, which, like Winberie’s down the street, is always hopping. The Peacock Inn is popular among locals for its food and handsome bar, but the property—with history dating back all the way to the 1700s—doubles as a small B&B with comfortable guest rooms upstairs.

Visitors can also opt for this garden pied-à-terre, available on Airbnb, right in the center of town, or stay at Forrestal Village, a walkable shopping village located outside of town on Princeton’s busy Route 1 commercial corridor, at the Princeton Marriott at Forrestal.

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