Home Culture A Guide to Exploring Princeton

A Guide to Exploring Princeton

by Ainsley Layland
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North Jersey is home to so many wonderful towns packed with great restaurants, stores for shopping, and other things to do. Though we are spoiled for choices up north, there are so many other great places to visit throughout New Jersey — and Princeton is one of our favorites. The town of Princeton is best known for being home to the ivy league, Princeton University. Surrounding the historic campus, however, is a town that has a lot to offer by way of history, architecture, and walking trails with beautiful vistas. Plus, we’ve rounded up some fun things to do in the general area — like visiting wineries and going to the one-of-a-kind Grounds for Sculpture. Read on for a detailed guide on exploring Princeton, New Jersey.

things to do princeton new jersey

(Photo credit: @morvenmuseum)

How to Get There

Princeton is an easy drive down I-95 and should take just over 1 hour. Once in Princeton, there is street parking throughout town or you can check out available visitor parking in close proximity to your first adventure in Princeton. On-street, metered parking is available throughout Princeton, but there are also multiple parking lots for visitors making it an easy place to visit (check here for parking details).

Historical Locales

Princeton University Art Museum | McCormick Hall

Princeton Museum

(Photo credit: @princetonu_artmuseum)

The resident art museum on Princeton University campus was founded in 1882 and has no shortage of artwork. With more than 92,000 pieces of art, visitors should plan ample time to take it all in. The time periods featured in the museum range from antiquity to the contemporary period. The museum actively supports the goals of the University to encourage teaching, research, and service in fields of art and culture. The main museum is currently closed for construction but is set to reopen in late 2024. In the meantime, there are still live performances, other local galleries, and digital experiences to explore. You can click here to learn more. 

Morven Museum + Garden | 55 Stockton Street

morven museum

(Photo credit: @morvenmuseum)

This beautiful, historic 18th-century home belonged to Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, it sits on five landscaped acres and once served as the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion for almost 40 years. Visitors can enjoy exhibitions, educational programs, and special events showcasing the history and culture of New Jersey. 

Nassau Hall at Princeton University | 125 Faculty Road

nassau hall

(Photo credit: @apply.princeton)

Nassau Hall was completed in 1756 and served for a short time as the United States Capitol building. It is the oldest building on campus and upon completion was the largest academic building in the American colonies. The building originally housed a library, classrooms, a library, and a residential space. During the American Revolutionary War, the hall was used by both British and American troops and was damaged during the Battle of Princeton in 1777. The building would later be the victim of more damage in 1802 and 1855 when the building caught fire. It was remodeled both times, resulting in the present-day building. The listed address will take you to the south entrance of the campus. Parking is available on Stockton Street just south of campus.

Read More: Fall Weekend Getaway Guide to New Paltz, NY

Albert Einstein House | 112 Mercer Street

Albert Einstein House

Albert Einstein lived in this home from 1935 until his death in 1955. His wife, Elsa, shared the house with him for a short time until her passing in 1936. The house is not original to the Einstein family, however, as Elsa purchased it from the previous owner, Mary Clark Marden. When it was originally built, sometime before 1876, it stood where Stuart Hall on Princeton University currently stands. It was relocated, along with what is now 108 Mercer Street, when the University expanded. Following Elsa’s death, Albert Einstein lived in the house with his sister, step-daughter, and secretary.

Princeton University Chapel | 125 Faculty Road

Princeton University Chapel

The current chapel was built to replace the original which burned down in 1920. Designed in the Collegiate Gothic style, Ralph Adams Cram drew up plans in 1921 and the chapel was eventually completed in 1928. The building was restored in 2002 and rededicated in an interfaith ceremony. There are four beautifully designed stained glass “great windows” and four “Christian epic” windows nestled in the walls surrounding the elevated choir seats. The listed address will take you to the south entrance of campus and from there simply follow the signs for parking at Lot 23.

Drumthwacket Foundation | 354 Stockton Street

Drumthwacket Foundation

{Photo credit: The Drumthwacket Foundation}

After the Morven Estate was no longer used as the Governor’s Mansion, Drumthwacket became the official residence of the governor of New Jersey in 1982. The house and grounds are preserved and curated by the non-profit organization, Drumthwacket Foundation. The house was added to the National Register of Historic PLace in 1975. You can click here to learn more about how to visit + schedule a tour.

Outdoor Activities

Carnegie Lake | Route 27 Princeton-Kingston Road

The construction of the reservoir that makes up Carnegie Lake was paid for by Andrew Carnegie, who donated the lake to Princeton University in 1906. The lake is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is primarily used by the US Olympic rowing team. While the lake is privately-owned, it is open to the public for picnicking, swimming, and canoeing in the warmer months and designated areas are open for ice skating in the winter. Those who want to try their hand at fishing, have a chance at catching pickerel, channel catfish, largemouth bass, and crappie.

Delaware + Raritan Canal State Park Trail | 10-58 Old Lincoln Highway

The Delaware and Raritan Canal was built to connect the Delaware and Raritan Rivers in the 1830s. It was used for efficient freight transportation between New York City and Philadelphia. Visitors can now bike or walk the 70-mile canal trail and explore nature along the Delaware and Raritan rivers. The path can be accessed at multiple locations but the listed address brings visitors to an area with parking, trails, designated picnicking areas, an arboretum, restrooms, and playgrounds.

Grounds for Sculpture | 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton Township

grounds for sculpture hamilton

Okay, you caught us — this is technically in Hamilton, but it’s a short drive from Princeton and an absolute must-visit in the area. The property itself is picturesque, and everywhere you turn features another incredible sculpture — some worked right into the natural terrain. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether something is a sculpture or a real person. Many of the pieces are interactive and allow visitors to climb and engage with the art as well. Plus, from Thanksgiving to April, there will be a Night Forms: Infinite Wave light and sound exhibit in the evenings — and it looks like it’s going to be absolutely captivating.

Mercer County Park | 334 South Post Road

Boasting more than 2,500 acres, Mercer County Park encompasses Mercer Lake which is home to the US Olympic Rowing Team’s training center. The park was renamed in 2009 for New Jersey State Senator Richard J. Coffee but is still commonly known as Mercer Park. Guests can enjoy playgrounds, walking trails, access to picnic pavilions, and rent boats at the boathouse at Mercer Lake.

Princeton Battlefield State Park | 500 Mercer Street

Princeton Battlefield State Park

(Photo credit: @pbs1777)

American and British troops fought on the Princeton Battlefield in January of 1777 during the American Revolutionary War. The British soldiers eventually surrendered in Nassau Hall. This success improved the morale of American troops and sustained them through the war. Believe it or not, only a portion of the battlefield has been designated as a historical landmark. The Princeton Battlefield Society has been protesting construction on the land known as Maxwell’s field for years and finally, The American Battlefield Trust has agreed to buy the 15 acres for $4.5 million so it can remain preserved. The land features a monument that guests can experience while taking in the surrounding fields and history.

Terhune Orchards | 330 Cold Soil Road

terhune orchards princeton nj

Terhune Orchards is an incredible local spot to visit — particularly in the fall. It’s home to a winery, a farm store, an ice cream shop, and often fun events like live music on the weekends. When it comes to the winery, the team offers tasting flights (pictured above), bottles to purchase, and even wine slushies. There’s also a pick-your-own experience for in-season fruits and plants — like berries, flowers, apples, and pumpkins. We highly recommend ordering the apple cider doughnuts (with cinnamon sugar) — they’re truly exceptional.

Places To Eat

Agricola Eatery | 11 Witherspoon Street

princeton agricola eatery

Self-proclaimed fresh, down to earth, and full of flavor, Agricola Eatery considers food to be a universal language. “Agricola” means farmer in Latin which embodies the farm-to-table spirit of this community staple. Everything on the menu here is full of local ingredients and often has seasonal twists — like the apple cider sangria above or the brown butter sage cavatelli with salmon. Whatever you pick, this is sure to be a delicious meal. 

Blue Point Grill | 258 Nassau Street

Blue Point Grill

At this local spot, you’ll find seafood galore on the menu. Sushi Mondays include a variety of roles including the three amigos roll, flaming salmon roll, yummy yummy roll with shrimp tempura, and the unique Princeton tiger roll with crab + avocado topped with smoked salmon, BBQ eel, and kabayaki sauce. Entree items include crab cakes, Florida yellowfin tuna, and Icelandic arctic char. 

See More: Where to Go Hiking in the Montclair Area

Jammin’ Crepes | 20 Nassau Street

Jammin’ Crepes

(Photo credit: @jammincrepes)

Serving its full line of savory and sweet crepes, Jammin’ Crepes specializes in made-to-order crepes filled with locally-sourced ingredients alongside small world coffee and freshly-baked pastries. Savory combinations include jammin’ turkey club, smoked turkey Reuben, and hammin’ cheese melty. Dessert crepes are just as delicious, with fruit and chocolate combinations like feelin’ peachy, brownies in a blanket, and lemon + lavender. 

Mediterra Restaurant + Bar | 29 Hulfish Street

Mediterra is a tavern-style restaurant with a warm ambiance. The concept behind the menu at Mediterra is a combination of nearly two dozen cultures surrounding the Mediterranean with an added Italian and Spanish flair. Ingredients are largely locally sourced, too.

Olives Caterers | 22 Witherspoon Street

Located conveniently in downtown Princeton, Olives offers up some of the best eats in town, from sandwiches to salads and homemade baked goods. Olives is a family-owned and operated catering and takeout food market with a focus on homemade recipes and imported specialties from Greece. 

Witherspoon Grill | 57 Witherspoon Street

Witherspoon Grill

(Photo credit: @witherspoongrill)

Combining exceptional food, drinks, and service in a refined setting, Witherspoon Grill is one of New Jersey’s premier steakhouse destinations. It features all-natural prime Angus beef, local-sourced poultry, and fresh seafood from Nassau street seafood company. Witherspoon Grill also offers classic American fare such as braised short ribs, lobster bisque, raw bar favorites, and one of the best burgers in Princeton.

Winberie’s Restaurant + Bar | 1 Palmer Street

Located across from Princeton University in Palmer Square, Winberie’s Restaurant & Bar has served the community, college students, and visitors since 1984. Offering a menu that blends modern craft with pub classics, Winberie’s also serves up craft brews, cocktails, and wine. Dressed up or dressed down, Winberie’s is where you’ll feel right at home when visiting Princeton.

Where To Shop/Bonus Recommendation

MarketFair | 3535 US Highway 1

Located just outside downtown Princeton, MarketFair is a classy retail venue with upscale specialty shops and casual restaurants. The shops at MarketFair include GAP, Francesca’s, Corner Bakery Cafe, West Elm, Pottery Barn, The Waxing City, Starbucks, TGI Fridays, Sunglass Hut, and more. 

Palmer Square | 3 Palmer Square

Palmer Square

{Photo credit: @palmersquare}

This quaint, open-air plaza features brand-name retailers, indie boutiques, restaurants, and taverns. At the corner of modern and timeless, guests can enjoy ice skating, shopping, dinner, drinks, and more at Palmer Square. This shopping area offers an excellent selection of apparel, gifts, and home goods that can be found in these boutiques. Whether you’re shopping in person or ordering an item online, you are sure to find a treasure to take with you.

Shop The World | 4 Spring Street

Shop The World opened in 1992 a few blocks from campus. The team promotes fair trade by buying from cooperatives and artisans around the world in countries including Thailand, Bali, Nepal, and Guatemala. You’ll find unique items like handmade earrings, clothing, Indian tapestries, and statues. 

The Spa at Forrestal | 100 College Road E

This relaxing and lovely spa is located in the Princeton Marriott at Forrestal (which is a really cozy, lodge-like environment where lots of events are held). The staff couldn’t be nicer — and the team offers a range of services like massages, pedicures, facials, and more. Plus, you can shop for products and incense at the front of the spa. It’s about a 15 minute drive from downtown Princeton and right next to the Princeton Forrestal Village, a fun local mall.

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