Aug 02, 2017


By Joanne Colella


Princeton. Just the thought of it, for many people, conjures up an array of images and impressions – most of them involving intellect and ivy-covered buildings. Home to the renowned Ivy League college, Princeton University, it is one of the most famous college towns in the world. It is also an easy day trip away, offering not only the opportunity to stroll the picturesque, hallowed grounds of an historic educational institution, but a myriad of other entertaining options, as well. History and culture, recreation and athletics, arts and music, shopping and dining; a visit to Princeton provides all this and more for visitors of all ages with a wide range of interests. It’s back-to-school time, after all – so why not take a day trip back to school, too?

Princeton has a rich and colorful history that dates back to 1675, when the first English settlers came as Quaker missionaries. Many of the Princeton’s historical sites have been preserved and restored for everyone to appreciate, and many are open for public tours. Some of the most notable include Bainbridge House (home of the Princeton Historical Society), the Morven Museum and Garden, the Princeton Cemetery, the Quaker Meeting House, Rockingham (the wartime headquarters of General George Washington), and the Updike Farmstead. Also on the list would be Drumthwacket, the official residence of the governor, which is a Greek Revival mansion built during the Civil War. It’s open on Wednesday afternoons and for special events.

The centerpiece of Princeton is, of course, the university. Chartered in 1746 and originally known as the College of New Jersey, it is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. In 1896, the college achieved university status and was officially renamed Princeton University. Its student population hails from all over the globe, and the international faculty includes multiple Nobel Prize recipients in a number of disciplines, all of which enhance the diversity of experiences that are available both on and off campus.

The Princeton University campus is beautiful and a treat to tour, either on your own or with a guide. The campus is filled with lovely historic structures, including the beautiful Gothic architecture of the nondenominational University Chapel. Built between 1925 and 1928 with alumni donations to replace another chapel that was destroyed by fire, it seats almost 2,000 people and is the third largest university chapel in the world, boasting a collection stained glass by American artists.

Another must-see building is Nassau Hall, which became the largest stone building in America when it was constructed and was named in memory of King William III of England, House of Nassau and Prince of Orange. It withstood two years of occupation during the American Revolution by both British and American troops, plus two devastating fires during the 1800s. After the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, this was where the British surrendered to General George Washington. The first legislature of New Jersey met in Nassau Hall in 1776 to approve the State Constitution and adopt a State Seal, and it was the first National Capitol from June to November in 1783, when Congress fled from Philadelphia to Princeton in fear of a mutiny by some soldiers. On September 3 of that year, General Washington rode to Nassau Hall to receive news that the Treaty of Paris had been signed, ending the war and officially recognizing America’s independence. In front of Nassau Hall is another landmark campus location – the wrought iron main gates of the Fitz Randolph Gateway, which were erected in 1905. They were opened only for commencement exercises until 1969, and have remained open since, although Princeton superstition suggests that students not pass through them until they have successfully graduated. To educate yourself more about Princeton University, go to The campus remains vibrant year-round, and guests are invited to join an Orange Key Tour to fully explore the sites.

Arts abound at Princeton, where the Princeton University Art Museum (, founded in 1882, owns over 72,000 works of ancient through contemporary art, much of it focused on the Mediterranean, Western Europe, China, the United States, and Latin America. Museum admission is free and it is open six days a week, closed only on Mondays and major holidays. The university also hosts dance, theater, and performance art at the Lewis Center for the Arts and other assorted venues. The McCarter Theatre Center ( is one of the most active cultural centers in the nation, offering over 200 of the finest professional theater, dance, music, comedy, magic, play readings, special events, holiday programs, and family performances throughout the year to rave reviews and audience accolades, all in an elegant, world-class facility.

Seeking a shopping spree? Although there are plenty of the more familiar suburban New Jersey shopping centers and outlets in the surrounding area, the center of Princeton known as Palmer Square offers an idyllic village atmosphere, with an assortment of quaint and elegant shops, boutiques, bookstores, eateries, galleries, and other unique establishments. For a tasty local treat, there is even a farmers’ market, where shoppers will find quality fresh produce. The Princeton Farmers’ Market is open (seasonally) on Thursdays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and is located on Hinds Plaza, next to the Princeton Public Library. For a listing of Palmer Square shops, annual events and entertainment, special offers, and hours of operation, visit

The Princeton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau (PRCVB) provides a wealth of information on its website at So, for a really smart day trip idea…head to Princeton!