Waves crashing against rocky coastlines. Lighthouses standing brave against the night sky. These images come to mind when thinking of America’s historic New England, a picturesque stretch of coast with a distinct port city culture and a long tradition of seafarers and ocean admirers. From colonial sailors to millionaires with a penchant for salty sea air and remarkable views, this region has harbored water lovers for hundreds of years.

Marked by colonial architecture, sturdy docks, quirky shops and restaurants serving fresh seafood, guests arriving in any of these character-filled East Coast towns will immediately be engulfed in the Atlantic-centric culture around them.

Activities in the picturesque towns and cities along the coast of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York (many cruise ships also make stops in Canada) often focus on beaches, boats and other outdoor pursuits, as well as learning the stories of the past through historic structures and picking up uncommon souvenirs.

For instance, on a stop to America’s oldest seaport, Gloucester, visitors can tour the galleries of the oldest working art colony in the country -- these shores have inspired artists in this collective for more than 150 years -- or learn about the fishing history of the region at the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center. In Bar Harbor, cruise passengers might view the gorgeous 19th century estates built for powerful American families like Rockefeller, Ford, Vanderbilt and Carnegie. Or hike Mount Cadillac in Acadia National Park -- its summit is the first spot in the United States where the sunrise can be seen.

Treasure hunting for unconventional gifts in antique shops and small boutiques is a well-loved pastime. Check out the tax-free shopping haven of Portsmouth, New Hampshire for some great steals.

And don’t miss a chance to sample New England’s trademark cuisine. Lobster bake and oysters are delectable favorites and you’ll find a wide selection of upscale and cozy restaurants along the waterfront in each destination.  

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