Manchester: 51 miles W of Portsmouth; 53 miles NW of Boston; 19 miles S of Concord

Tourists tend to overlook the two Merrimack Valley cities of Manchester and Concord, making tracks instead for the big lakes and White Mountains to the north, or the beaches and lobsters to the east. Frankly, neither city deserves billing as a top-of-the-ticket tourist destination, but to their credit both have made an effort -- and both are highly representative of a certain chapter in New Hampshire' s history, the industrial era when the state's rivers powered huge, prosperous mills.

The two places are also different from each other, however. Manchester is a small city, Concord a big town. The industries in Manchester once all centered on the mills along the river; today, the city tries to make the most of its industrial heritage, and has converted and updated some of its grandly monolithic riverside mills. It's impressive to see these brick mastodons; they still graze at river's edge, though many have been converted to more contemporary uses such as shops and condos. There are still traces of Manchester's rough history as a mill town in the working-class bars and shotgun houses, and many traces of Franco-American heritage -- thousands of French-Canadians flocked here to work the mills in the 19th century, and many of their descendants live and work in the city, giving it a multicultural flavor.

Smaller Concord is lorded over by the oh-so-golden dome of the State House and the business of state government, and thus it feels more "proper." It's also slowly becoming a more arty enclave. Come for its modern, engaging history museum and a very fine planetarium, which commemorates local schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who perished in the space shuttle Challenger disaster in January 1986.