7 Affordable Places to Live in New England If You Don’t Want to Pay for Boston

updated Nov 9, 2022
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Portland, Maine

As a charmingly compact, culture-rich college town with a heaping supply of good-paying jobs and easy access to both ocean and mountains, you might think Boston is a great place to live. And it is! The problem is that everyone else seems to think so, too.  But don’t worry; there are plenty of New England cities that have all the charm of Boston with a cheaper pricetag.

Housing prices in Boston have risen 73 percent in the past decade. The median home price in the city of Boston now tops $653,000, according to Zillow, and the year-to-date median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,895, according to Zumper. Surrounding cities and suburbs like Cambridge, Somerville, and Newton are just as pricey. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of other great places to live in New England, from bustling satellite cities with train service to Boston to quaint small towns that resemble a postcard come to life. Here are seven of the best affordable alternatives to Boston within a two-hour drive. 

Northampton, Mass. 

Home to Smith College and the site of a utopian abolitionist community in the 1840s, Northampton is an artist’s or intellectual’s daydream. Its walkable downtown is dense with shops, galleries, music venues, and restaurants, making it feel like someone took a Boston neighborhood and plunked it down in the countryside. There’s hiking in every direction, and a network of rail trails makes it easy to cycle to surrounding communities—including Amherst, home to the University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus, just across the Connecticut River.

Portland, Maine

Portland’s appeal is hardly a secret: This coastal culinary capital has been luring priced-out Bostonians and New Yorkers for years, and home prices have leaped 8 percent in the past year alone. But it’s still a relative bargain, boasting a thriving downtown and working waterfront, some of New England’s best breweries, and rows of brick brownstones that evoke Boston’s beautiful Back Bay at about half the price. You can get your fill of salty air and rocky shorelines just a few minutes in any direction, while Amtrak’s Downeaster train can get you to Boston in just over two hours. 

Providence, R.I. 

The Ocean State’s capital isn’t just cheaper than Boston, it’s also smaller and more manageable—but similarly vibrant. The resurgent downtown hosts a trendy restaurant and arts scene, while the city’s east side, home to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, offers an enticing mix of coffee shops and beautiful 19th-century homes. Providence is an hour to Boston by commuter rail, but Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train can get you there in 35 minutes—or to New York City in under three hours. 

Exeter, N.H. 

This picturesque riverfront town near the New Hampshire seacoast has a quintessentially New England aesthetic. Between the historic architecture, colorful fall foliage, and prestigious prep school, you might feel as if you’ve stepped onto the set of “Dead Poets Society”. But you’ll also find boutique shops, top-notch restaurants, and small craft breweries in the red-brick downtown district, and it’s only 25 minutes to fun and funky downtown Portsmouth or an hour to Boston.  

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Worcester, Mass.

Worcester, Mass. 

People underestimate Worcester almost as often as they mispronounce it (say woosta, wooster, or wista). Just a commuter-rail ride away from Boston, New England’s second-largest city has an up-and-coming restaurant scene, a strong healthcare economy, and many suburban-feeling neighborhoods of leafy streets and early 20th-century homes.

If you have kids, Worcester’s Ecotarium gives Boston’s Museum of Science a real run for its money, and there are even more on the events horizon: The city recently wooed the Triple-A Red Sox affiliate from Pawtucket, R.I., and is building a new minor league stadium as part of a larger redevelopment project that will also transform Kelley Square—a dizzying intersection long considered the most dangerous traffic junction in the state

Brattleboro, Vt. 

Far cheaper and nearer to Boston than its admittedly awesome big brother, Burlington, Vt., little Brattleboro rises from the banks of the Connecticut River just over the New Hampshire and Massachusetts state lines. An active downtown full of restaurants, breweries, and shops slowly gives way to Victorians and old farmhouses before bleeding into a more suburban landscape. This being Vermont, skiing and hiking opportunities are abundant: Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain are among the big resorts nearby, while the Wantastiquet Trail winds its way through over 500 acres of forest to the haunting ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle

Salem, Mass. 

If you (or your career) can’t bear to be that far from Boston, set your sights on spooky Salem. Steeped in history, Witch City boasts some gorgeous antique homes in its McIntire Historic District, plus waterfront parks, a pretty town common, and a diversity of downtown businesses ranging from salty taverns to bohemian cafes to occult gift shops. The Peabody Essex Museum is a cultural treasure, and candy-and-costume lovers of all ages will appreciate the city’s epic slate of Halloween celebrations each October. Salem is the most expensive place on this list, but also the nearest to Boston: it’s about a half-hour train ride to North Station.