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The Best Outlets in New England

Wrentham Outlets, Wrentham, MassachusettsWrentham Outlets, Wrentham, Mass.

Article, photo by Eric Hurwitz -- created for on 11/1/2022. @newenglandinfo

Who better to review the best outlets in New England than someone who doesn't like outlet shopping?

It takes a lot for me to enjoy outlet shopping. I don't like the entrances with bottle neck traffic jams and the free-for-all to see who gets the best parking spot. The generic look of these places pales in comparison to a good old fashioned downtown mom and pop store. Although still great places for a bargain, some outlet stores don't even offer the good deals they used to -- so many brand names have gone upscale and come with hefty price tags.

Often, people seem desensitized to their surroundings, playing on their cell phones while walking and cutting people off in isles and at the checkout counter -- you know, the "me first" thing. Don't even get me started on the trendy music, bereft of any melody and strong structure that plays in bombast over the speakers at some stores.

That all does not sound like a good premise to write an article on the best outlets in New England, right? Well like life itself, sometimes we have to take the good with the bad. Outlet shopping definitely has its strong points, as well, and can be beneficial in small doses. In another words, outlet shopping is fine only when you have to buy something of necessity, the occasional splurge or gift buying during the Christmas season as opposed to on a regular basis that can ruin the budget and credit rating. I remember the days when the people that seemed to spend the most drove around in Chevy Cavaliers and Ford Escorts that were bought on "bad credit, no problem!" auto dealership financing programs.

On that plus side, outlet shopping does bring together many of the best brand names in one location. Unlike enclosed malls, most outlet destinations are open-air thus allowing for pleasant strolling on a nice weather day. Even on a crummy New England weather day, there's a certain appeal to walking the outlet surroundings -- that fall chill in the air, Christmas holiday lights on display juxtaposed with a blanket of white snow, the laundry fresh air of spring, etc.

Additionally, outlet shopping center stores often are well-stocked since they specialize in a certain brand or brands. Often, when going to a standalone discount store, it's a bit of a crap shoot knowing exactly what you are going to get there. I remember picking up a shirt with one arm sleeve at the former Decelle's. That outlet stores have a certain standardization of available merchandise (and in one piece!) is a real benefit. In another words, predictability is a virtue.

So without further pontification, let's get into some of the best outlet stores in New England. Let me preface that by stating that I will not include outlet shopping centers from every New England state -- just the ones I truly like and have aactually been to. It's always better to be honest and speak from personal experience than researching and writing a list. I also take into account the surrounding areas as part of a whole day in a nice town, city or region that makes the experience that much better. Yes, some time at the beach followed by dining out at a restaurant with huge lobster rolls and a good outlet shopping center experience is much better than just going to an outlet shopping center.

Please check in often to this page. I will be including a few more outlet destinations. One that comes to mind is the Manchester Designer Outlets in Manchester, Vt. I haven't been in a while and they have greatly expanded through the years -- so expect something on that somewhere down the road. For now, however, these three outlet shopping centers come to the forefront of my mind...

Best Outlets in New England | Massachusetts Outlet

Wrentham Village Premium Outlets | Wrentham, Mass.
This is New England's largest outdoor outlet shopping destination with more than 170 stores. Just 35 miles southwest of Boston, Mass. and 20 miles northwest from Providence, R.I., the Wrentham Outlets might just be the prototype or gold standard for outlet shopping centers. The architects have somehow come up with a look that deviates from the cutter-cutter style from this genre and comes closer to a community feel -- that is, with flourishes of a quaint New England town. Keep in mind that no outlet stop will ever compete with a real town (like, ironically, downtown Wrentham that looks like something out of Currier and Ives or a Norman Rockwell painting) but it's nice to see those elements -- especially, the festive looks around the Christmas season.

Like other outlet places, I have seen stores come and go at the Wrentham Outlets but they always seem to showcase a great mix of shops and, currently, a much-improved selection of places to eat. Some of the core stores include Tory Burch, Lululemon, Vineyard Vines, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, the Adidas Outlet Store, Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Nine West, Saks OFF 5TH and West Elm Outlet. Restaurant options: Tavern in the Square (my first choice), Aroma Joe's, Ruby Tuesday (surprisingly good chain!), UNO Pizzeria & Grill (Thank goodness there's still one in the area!), and Cracker Barrel.

Route 1A, Wrentham. Tel. 508-384-0600.

Best Outlets in New England | Maine Outlet

Kittery Outlets | Kittery, Maine

While not as spectacular as the Wrentham Outlets, the Kittery Outlets, nevertheless, shines as one of the best outlets in New England. This mile-plus long, spread-out outlet center features more than 120 stores including   Ann Taylor, Yankee Candle, Skechers, Brooks Brothers, Orvis, Lindt Chocolate, Calvin Klein, J. Crew, Nike, Sunglass Hut, Banana Republic and Aeropostale. That's all well and fine but the Kittery Outlets also has two aces in the hole that can't be found at any other outlet in New England or the rest of the world, for that matter: the Kittery Trading Post and the Weathervane Seafood Restaurant.

The Kittery Trading Post is somewhat similar to LL Bean and Bass Pro Shops but has its own personality that many prefer (myself included) to its bigger competitors. There's a pleasant, rustic qalmost folksy charm to the Kittery Trading Post with a really impressive selection of outdoor recreational equipment, apparel, footwear and gifts. Like LL Bean and Bass Pro Shops, the Kittery Trading Post is large in size so be prepared to do some extensive shopping!

The Weathervane is not my favorite local seafood restaurant (that's not a slight at all, it's just that the competition is high by the coast!) but they do a fine job serving up some locally-sourced seafood -- plus, it's very convenient having a restaurant like this so close to all the outlets.

The Kittery Outlets also has the distinct advantage of being located by the New Hampshire seacoast -- one of the most beautiful regions of New England. If you haven't already, be sure to check out such nearby destinations such as Portsmouth, N.H. (a lively, thriving quaint small city), Hampton Beach, N.H. (a honky-tonk seaside summer destination), Newburyport, Mass. and in Maine, nearby coastal towns like York Beach (including Nubble Lighthouse), Wells, Ogunquit and Kennebunkport.

Best Outlets in New England | New Hampshire Outlets

Settlers Green Outdoor Village | North Conway

What do I love about Settlers Green? New Hampshire tax free shopping, a good selection of stores, and a location in one of New England's most likable towns with the greatest mountain views!

This tried-and-true, established outlet shopping center has been around 30 years. The store selection is impressive and so are the green spaces, public art on display, gardens and views of the hills and gardens. This is not your basic, garden-variety shopping destination located in cookie-cutter Anytown USA!

Stores include Chico's, Kate Spade, REI, Stonewall Kitchen, Vera Bradley, White Mountain Cupcakery (Yay!), the Kitchen Store Outlet, Francesca's and the Columbia Factory Store. Settlers Green also features locally-owned restaurants like the Black Cap Grille and the Barley & Salt Tap House & Kitchen. There's also a Market Basket supermarket, Starbuck's and Walgreen's.

It's a nice shopping outlet destination located close to one of the greatest small-town downtown districts in New England. Downtown North Conway looks like something out of a Hallmark Movie and features a wonderful variety of locally-owned shops (check out Zeb's General Store) and places to stay and eat. The views of Mt. Washington from the main drag are spectacular!

It's nice to see such a well laid-out shopping outlet as part of the fabric that makes North Conway such a highly likable travel destination for people of all ages.

Route 16, North Conway. 888-667-9636.

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Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont | Cliff House Resort and Spa, Cape Neddick, Maine | Omni Mt. Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, N.H. | The Chanler at Cliff Walk, Newport, R.I. | Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham, Massachusetts (Cape Cod)

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