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New Hampshire's capital is a compact city of 40,000 and growing, anchored by the brightly shining gold dome of the State House. Within a few blocks' radius from this dome, you can find a wide range of architectural styles -- commercial brick architecture with elaborate cornices, grand Richardsonian state office buildings, and buildings that draw heavily on classical tradition. All three northern New England state capitals do everything on a small scale, and small-town friendliness is the rule here, too. Think Montpelier, but minus the Birkenstocks and organic fruit; here, your state representative probably drives an SUV rather than a Volvo.

Unfortunately, the city has more or less turned its back on the Merrimack River that once served as its lifeblood. Downtown is blocked off from the riverside by I-93, parking lots, and commercial plazas. Adventurers must strike north or south to access the river's shores. One good spot for a riverside stroll is the preserve and conservation center that's also headquarters of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (tel. 603/224-9945; www.spnhf.org). The grounds, which total 100 acres, are open daily from dawn to dusk at 54 Portsmouth St. in East Concord, just across the river; from I-93, take exit 16 and follow signs to the conservation center.