US state No 2
It would have made sense to stop off in NJ, when I was travelling from NYC to Philadelphia, back in 2007, but for some reason I didn’t. Whilst volunteering in Montana though I became friends with a women who was from New Jersey and so she invited me back to her home town of Trenton, NJ the following year.
New Jersey and its capitol Trenton aren’t really popular places to visit for extended US city breaks, at least for us Europeans, anyway. Sandwiched by its more famous neighbours New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey is probably more well known for Newark airport, which offers low cost flights to the East coast from the U.K. Most people I know, land in NJ and hop on a train or plane onward to somewhere else. Although I personally wouldn’t be able to justify the cost of a flight to New Jersey solely to visit the 4th smallest US state on its own, there is definitely enough here to justify adding it to your itinerary if you’re in New York or Pennsylvania.
Arrivals. You can fly direct to Newark airport from many U.K. cities, it takes just under 8hrs, add a few more if you have to change along the way. If you’re travelling in from New York, you can get the Long Island Rail Road from JFK Airport to Penn Station and then the New Jersey Transit across the border, this is pretty extensive network and gives you plenty of options of places to visit. If you fancied a visit as an add on from Philadelphia perhaps, then that’s easy too, as the Amtrak train goes from 30th Street Station in Philly and gets you to Trenton in just under 30 minutes, or catch the SEPTA from Philadelphia 30th St or Jefferson Station which takes you to Trenton, from the Transit Centre there, you can hop on the NJ Transit and get pretty much where you want.
So as it’s not too complicated to get there, what should you do once you have made the effort? Well I originally visited because I had an invitation, and so my gracious hosts took me around thier home state and to some of their favourite places and I’m really glad I made the trip, and oh yeah, and the accents were amazing!
Sights. The capital is Trenton, and it is here where I was based for my stay. I was lucky enough to be staying with friends in their apartment and they had a car, so I was chauffeured around, which was a novelty for me. But as I mentioned earlier, the New Jersey Transit is really extensive, so I don’t think a car is essential here if you just fancy doing a few tourist spots. There is a lot of history in this small state, and if Revolutionary War history or US history in general is your thing, then a visit to The Old Barracks is a must, as it’s the last remaining British army barracks in North America. I always like to get a good history lesson if I’m new to a place and so a stop at the N J State Museum is the perfect way to learn about both the cultural and natural history of the region. There are loads more museums in Trenton, so depending on time and your interests, you could easily fill a day here, along with a visit to one of the many parks, shops and restaurants.
One of the stand outs from my trip to New Jersey was the food, maybe it was because I was staying with locals, so they knew exactly where to eat and drink, but I do remember it all being ginormous in portion size and delicious. The first night we got pizza, I was jet lagged and hungry, and I remember standing in line to pick up our pizza feeling like an extra in the Sopranos, as I was overwhelmed by the amazing accents and the smells of the freshly cooked pizza dough. Italians migrated to the US, mainly between 1880 & 1920 due to poverty back in Italy. Although many did return home, it is said that there are about 1.5 million Italian Americans living in New Jersey and they make up about 18% of the population, so sampling some Italian food has to be on your itinerary when visiting.
New Jersey is also home to a large but dwindling population of Irish Americans and as I visited over St Patrick’s day weekend, it was imperative that we attended a Parade in the capital. Wearing all the green I could find in my suitcase, we headed to downtown Trenton and stood along the ‘sidewalk’ watching the marching bands and the decorated floats, whilst catching sweets and beads thrown from the proud Irish Americans celebrating their heritage, before we found a pub for a pint of Guinness.
“I am very happy in my new home in this friendly country and the liberal atmosphere of Princeton.” – Albert Einstein 1935
One of the most popular places to visit and very close to Trenton is the town of Princeton, home of the well known private Ivy League University. Only a short 12 mile drive from the capital, or if your relying on public transport, you can get the N J Transit which, depending on the day and schedule, takes between 20 & 55 minutes from Trenton.
As well as being famous for the University, Princeton has other historic bragging rights. Originally settled by the Native Americans of course, the Quakers then moved in around 1690 and set up along the Millstone River. With its location being so close to Philadelphia, it’s no surprise that two of the inhabitants of Princeton signed the Declaration of Independance, and the National Historic Monument Maybury Hill in Princeton is the home to Joseph Hewes a 3rd resident who moved to N Carolina before signing the document too.
It is the university and the wealth of talent that it’s prestige brings, which makes for the most interesting and eclectic mix of history and provides a fascinating day out. Four US presidents have lived here including JFK, but also noted theologians, architects & writers have lived and studied here too, not forgetting probably the most famous resident – Albert Einstein, who moved here after fleeing Germany.
There are many ways to explore Princeton University, you can just head off and wander, being mindful that some parts are restricted to students and staff, or you can book on a guided tour, the Official Website has all the details you need including a downloadable self guided walking tour map, and come October there are weekly ghosts tours too.
Other things on your Princeton hit list should include Albert Einsteins house which is a national historic monument and all the many independent shops, bars and restaurants along Nassau Street and Palmers Square. These include a Princeton official Merch Shop, one dedicated to Mr Einstein, as well as high end clothing stores and some great small independent coffee shops and cafes.
We finished our day out in Princeton sharing some delicious small plates and some beer tasting at Triumph Brewery right on Nassau Street, after I had purchased my official Princeton t-shirt of course.
- Old Barracks – $8
- New Jersey State Museum $5
- Historical Society of Princeton guided walking tour, every Sunday $7
- Triumph Brewery Happy Hour is Sun-Thur 10pm-Midnight
Other Garden State Spots – Liberty State Park, Cape May, Six Flags, Atlantic City, Sandy Hook.