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Resort Areas a Hit on 2018’s List of Top Northeastern Retirement Towns

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

October 9, 2018 — This is our 2018 list of the 20 most popular places to retire in the Northeast, the fourth in this year’s “Best Places” series. In case you missed them, here are the links to the first three: “The Top 20 Places to Retire in the Southwest“, 20 Most Popular Places to Retire in the West (California to Colorado and points north), and the Southeast’s very popular top 20.

Resorts and college towns
We weren’t too surprised Pittsburgh ended up #1 on this list, Since the Steel City is frequently named as a great place to retire because of its relatively low costs and livability. But we were surprised by the two tourist-oriented regions that ended up so high on the list: Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains (#2), and NY’s Finger Lakes Region (#6). Evidently there are a lot of baby boomers who are evaluating leisure oriented areas for their retirement. In fact, all twenty towns on this list have at least one of these traits: seacoast location, mountain area, being on a lake, or college town.

The battle of the states
Pennsylvania came out top dog when it comes to retirement in the Northeast, with 7 of the top 20 coming from the Keystone State. The Granite State, New Hampshire, came in second with 4 towns on the list. Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont each had 2, and Massachusetts had 1. Connecticut and Rhode Island struck out on this year’s list.

How we choose the winners has published lists of the most popular retirement towns annually since 2007. While most “Best Places” lists are either the subjective opinions of the authors or a ranking from various criteria, this list is different. Pittsburgh made the top spot on this list because more people read its review on during the first nine months of 2018 than any other city/town in the Northeast. We view that count as a gauge of interest in that destination. For example, the Pittsburgh review was viewed over 1,500 times. You can debate whether “most popular” is the same as “best”; another way to say it is that these towns certainly spark the most interest among our retirement oriented audience. Note that by comparison with interest in Southwestern or Southeastern towns for retirement, interest in the Northeast is quite tepid. For example Green Valley (AZ) and Greenville (AZ) had over 10,000 page visits each.

We do not include active adult communities in our compilation, although a few of them, notably Penn National in Chambersburg (PA), would have made the Top 20. See our various state by state lists of the most popular active communities, starting with “15 Most Popular Active Communities in South Carolina“. To make sure you don’t miss new lists like this, sign up for our free weekly “Best Places to Retire” newsletter. See also “The Worst States for Retirement – 2018“.

Here are the Top 20 Places to Retire in the Northeast
Based on popularity at Topretirements, here are the 20 best places to retire this year:
Using the Census Bureau’s definition of the northeast, the region includes nine states: they are Maine, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.

1. Pittsburgh (PA) 1510 Pittsburgh consistently makes the “Best Places to Live” lists, and attracts a community of retirees who want to reside in a livable city with many colleges and cultural opportunities. It has a beautiful setting where two major rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, combine against a backdrop of steep hills to form the Ohio River. Pittsburgh has a solid economy, low cost of living, and growing educational, cultural and medical infrastructures.

Pittsburgh, PA

2. Pocono Mountains (PA) 1348 The Pocono Mountains, commonly called “The Poconos”, encompasses a large geographical area in Northeastern Pennsylvania, covering over 2,400 square miles of the natural scenic beauty offered by the mountains, lakes and rivers. The population is growing at a rapid pace as more vacationers and retirees are deciding to live here. There are several small towns in the Poconos, each offering their own history, arts, festivals and all types of outdoor recreation.

3. Portland (ME) 974 Maine’s largest city is an ideal retirement community – in fact it is often mentioned as one of America’s most livable small cities. It combines New England history (founded in 1632) with a vital downtown centered on the Old Port District, pristine beaches, and a friendly, small town feel. Portland has many attractions for active adults, and is bursting with good restaurants and interesting stores.

4. Cape May (NJ) 837 Cape May is a popular retirement community for people who enjoy the beach, fishing, and a Victorian setting. This beach community, (4,000 year round residents, 40,000 seasonal population), at the bottom of New Jersey, has long been famous for its stock of Victorian homes.
Its nickname is “The Nation’s Oldest Seashore Resort”.

Cape May, NJ

5. Lancaster (PA) 663 Lancaster, located in south-central Pennsylvania with a rich history, is also a college town in a pretty part of Pennsylvania Dutch country. The Central Market is the oldest farmers market in the country and a big tourist attraction because of the Amish goods offered for sale. Lancaster is also home to Franklin and Marshall College, several museums, and many cultural institutions.

6. Finger Lakes Region (NY) 584 The Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York, is one of the state’s top tourist destinations with its patchwork of rolling hills, beautiful lakes, and hundreds of vineyards. The area is comprised of eleven freshwater lakes that resemble the fingers of a hand, situated between the cities of Syracuse and Rochester, and offers many recreational opportunities including kayaking, fishing, and hiking. Wine enthusiasts would enjoy retiring here as it is New York State’s top wine producing area with over 100 wineries and vineyards.

7. Ithaca (NY) 558 Ithaca is a town of 30,000 located on the shores of Cayuga Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes. Home of the Ivy League’s Cornell University and Ithaca College, It makes an ideal retirement community for active adults 55 plus who would enjoy living in a bustling and charming college town with walkable neighborhoods, and a great deal going on culturally.

Ithaca, NY

8. Burlington (VT) 506 Burlington is a lovely, small college town on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. It is home to the vibrant University of Vermont, and is very popular with outdoor loving retirees who also want the youth and enthusiasm provided by a major university. The city has a strong arts and cultural component with frequent festivals and shows.

9. State College (PA) 482 State College is located near the center of Pennsylvania in a rural and beautiful area. Home to Penn State University, this lively college town offers plenty of excitement and nice places to live, along with recreational and cultural opportunities. The town itself has about 40,000 residents, with the 55+ population the fastest growing segment.

10. Durham (NH) 426 Durham is a thriving college town in a pretty location situated beside Great Bay at the mouth of the Oyster River, and features waterfront parks, hiking trails and preserves. With a population just over 14,000, it is home to the University of New Hampshire, which adds to the community by offering many cultural and sporting events. Through many successful conservation projects, over 25% of Durham’s land is under some form of permanent conservation.

11. Ocean City (NJ) 416 Ocean City, (population 15,000 in the winter, over 115,000 during the summer months), is a popular retirement community for active adults who enjoy the beach, fishing, and boating. It has long been a popular family resort and attracts a community of retirees who want to live in a small, family-oriented beach town.

12. Exeter (NH) 404 Home to the elite prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy, the town of Exeter in eastern New Hampshire, is a small town New England classic. The presence of the prep school and its interesting faculty makes it a good choice for retirees looking for a strong cultural environment. The town is very old, going back to 1638, and has a population of about 15,000 residents.

Exeter, NH

13. Boston (MA) 381 Baby Boomers looking for a retirement community in an urban environment should put Boston at the the top of their short lists. Considered by many to be the historic capital of the U.S., Boston has just about anything that anyone could want. Its downtown is walkable, safe, and interesting. There are many parks and every kind of urban amenity-museums, shopping, restaurants, mass transit and theatre.

14. Camden (ME) 353 This little, colonial classic New England seaport is a popular summer town for New Yorkers and Bostonians, and still retains much of its 19th century charm.  It’s setting midway along Maine’s coast is postcard perfect. It has a lovely but small downtown, and residential streets with beautiful houses. Boaters find Camden particularly appealing.

15. Middlebury (VT) 347 Located in western Vermont near the New York border, Middlebury is home to one of America’s top liberal arts colleges, Middlebury College. It has to be one of the top settings for a college town anywhere, and has attracted many baby boomers who are making it their retirement community due to its vibrant downtown, its recreational, intellectual and cultural amenities, and its many non-profit volunteer opportunities.

Middlebury, VT

16. Philadelphia (PA) 340 Philadelphia is one of America’s most historic cities as well as the largest city in Pennsylvania, and home to numerous colleges and universities. Living so close to the center of American history has to be a thrill. The urban lifestyle in Philadelphia, where owning a car is not necessary, is quite appealing. There are lots of great restaurants, museums, and shopping, and Philadelphia has some of the top cultural institutions in the world, including art and music.

17. Peterborough (NH) 336 Peterborough is a beautiful and pastoral town set along the hills in the mountains of New Hampshire. It is an interesting retirement community for those who enjoy small town living with a dose of culture and the outdoors. The population is just over 3,000.

18. Bethlehem (PA) 293 Bethlehem is a city of about 75,000 people in eastern Pennsylvania. It is home to Lehigh University, a highly rated school with over 5,000 students, as well as Moravian College and Northhampton Community College. Bethlehem Steel was formerly here, whose departure the city is struggling to overcome. The Sands Casino Resort and The Sands Bethlehem Event Center was built on its site and has revitalized the steel property, which now brings in substantial revenue for the city.

19. Hershey (PA) 270 The popular tourist town of Hershey (Chocolate Town USA), is also a great place to retire. It is located in the center of the state, and for a town of just 13,000 people, it has a lot going for it due to the generous legacies of Milton Hershey, founder of the famous chocolate company headquartered here. It has a big amusement park, Hershey Gardens, and the Penn State Medical School is also located here.

Portsmouth, NH

20. Portsmouth (NH) 268 Portsmouth is a small and very old town of just over 20,000 in eastern New Hampshire, right on the Maine border, and has a tremendous amount going for it as a retirement town. There is a charming old downtown with lots of great shops and restaurants, cobblestone streets, and historic seaport. It was named as one of the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

For Additional reading:
100 Most Popular Places to Retire: 2019
15 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities in South Carolina
15 Best AAs in North Carolina
15 Most Popular AAs in Florida
Dueling Retirement States Series (Starts with Arizona vs. Florida)
10 Worst States for Retirement – 2018
Dueling Retirement States: North vs. South Carolina
Top 20 Places to Retire in the Southeast – 2018

What do You Think?
How do you like the idea of dividing up our list of the most popular places to retire by region? Are you considering a Southeastern retirement? Where are you thinking about retiring – do you have a preference east or Southeast? Is it a town on this list, or someplace else? Please add your Comments and reactions about what makes for a great place to retire in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on October 8th, 2018


  1. I find it ironically “funny” ( true word “strange”) that characteristics like, “offers cultural areas”, or “rolling hills” and all such things are presented as pull-points for a given area…..when for 90+% of retirement folks, the real question needed to be asked is—> “where can I settle into for a nice life, and still AFFORD to live?”. I am only a few years shy of total retirement, have been working as an independent consultant in a business that has roller-coaster income…..and have moved from NYS (where home taxes are $10,000 /yr), to a small town in SC near Myrtle Beach, where the weather is fine, and the home taxation is $400-$600/yr….less than what I paid per month ($850). This one element alone, totally overshadows all these other nebulous aspects (“serene rolling hills”, a “vital downtown scene”, etc)……. when you simply can’t even think of living there without going broke. A lot of these reviews are simply unrealistic. Retire in Finger Lakes Region of NY?…..yes, a beautiful Fall, but 6 months of brutal winters and taxation that won’t allow you to eat. Get real.

    by Wil Ferch — October 10, 2018

  2. We live 15 minutes from Bethlehem & my husband teaches at Lehigh.

    While your comment “Bethlehem Steel was formerly here, whose departure the city is struggling to overcome. ” may be true regarding employment, you failed to mention that the city has revitalized the site and it is now home to STEEL STACKS, a venue for concerts , craft shows, Octoberfest, 1 of the nations biggest music festivals, Musikfest and many other events. The site of those steel stacks bathed in rainbow light as a backdrop to a Steely Dan or Chicago outdoor concert is priceless. Downtown Bethlehem also has a thriving downtown & is known as the Christmas City, drawing thousands of holiday visitors for tours.

    Editor’s note: Thanks Pat for this input. We added it to our review of Bethlehem. Always great to get input from people who know the area!

    by Pat — October 10, 2018

  3. I found the blogs – “I find it ironically “funny” by Wil Ferch.It seems Governments, people caught up in the “but it has a million dollar view”, and anyone else excited on how beautiful the wrapping is will probably be disappointed once the present is opened. How many views can you enjoy, how many days at the beach $$, traffic) can you have, how many times can you eat out $$, etc., etc. Do you really feel like hiking again? (black flies, snakes, rain, sore muscles, etc. Is it still fun? Life is first the basics; Affordability, security, good diner now and then (out or in), doctors and hospitals and a dollar left each month.

    by Kevin — October 11, 2018

  4. One advantage of being retired in a place with a cold and snowy winter is that you don’t have to go out into it if you don’t want to. Many aspects of snow are positive, such as watching it silently fall, the beauty of a blanket of it, and the skiing it makes possible. If you don’t like it, or have grown tired of it, then much of the northeast wouldn’t be an appropriate permanent retirement place. If you’re into snowbirding, you can possibly achieve the best of both worlds by having a warmer winter place down south. Or renting one for a few months. Another town worth considering is Keene, NH. It has a very nice downtown adjacent to a state college campus of about 5,000 students. It’s a popular regional center, but without tourist crowds. As northeastern towns go, it’s somewhat less costly, too.

    by Clyde — October 11, 2018

  5. I noticed many of these are college towns and in very pretty spots, both are important to me. I have no desire to leave the Northeast as I do better in the cold than in the heat and love four seasons. I like that this list of the popular spots include both cities and small towns. We me I could adjust to either and any season, but it has to be a college town.

    by Susan — October 11, 2018

  6. I am not surprised Pittsburgh is #1 I went to college here 50 years ago and have never wanted to be anywhere else – winters really are not bad and the community college is where I spend a good deal of my time (taking classes not teaching) this city does have it all !

    by Fran — October 11, 2018

  7. Absolutely loved living in Pittsburgh, and would have liked to return upon retirement. Unfortunately, housing prices have really been climbing over the last few years. I don’t think the increase in housing prices has been captured by the sites that keep track of median prices. Yes, there are cheaper homes in the Pittsburgh area, but they are older homes in rough neighborhoods that are unlikely to have amenties sought by retirees such as one level living. Real estate taxes are also very high compared to many other states, so the increase in housing prices also means a corresponding increase in taxes. By the way — am I the only one who has stopped receiving a daily email from TopRetirements? I’ve sent the Administrator an inquiry, but I miss it!

    by Kate — October 12, 2018

  8. I agree with Will F. above. I was really surprised by the list. Sure, who wouldn’t love to retire in Boston, but the cost is truly astronomical. A small condo in the city will cost about 1 cool million, not to meantion sky high real estate taxes and no parking. Not a realistic list at all. Pittsburgh? No, thanks. Middlebury, Vt. Is lovely in the fall, but it is impossible to get in and out of in the winter, with icy mountain roads leading in and out of the town, and very little to do. I have lived in the northeast most of my life, and virtually nobody I lnow would come up with this list at all.

    by Maimi — October 12, 2018

  9. My wife and I are interested in the idea of retiring to a town with a college or that is a resort . Our friends who have done it really like it, and one good bonus is that family members and grandchildren love to visit

    by Ken — October 13, 2018

  10. I was interested to see State College on the list, as just last winter in Hilton Head I met a couple who told me they retired to State College and neither one was even from the area. The explained one of their children went to school there and they visited often during those four years and loved it-even in the winter. They were spending a couple fo weeks south for a break, but spoke highly of State College and even though this was in February, they were sounding like they were excited to get back.

    by Dan — October 13, 2018

  11. I lived in New York my entire life enjoying the beautiful leaves in the fall and the first snowflakes of winter. Loved the “rolling hills” of the Hudson Valley and the easy access to NYC by Metro North. What wasn’t so pleasant was the taxes on a modest house ($17,000 per year) and the miserable winters with freezing rain snow and black ice. Utility costs through the roof with promises of continued rate hikes as Entergy closes the Indian Point plant in the next few years.

    After much searching I landed in the hill country of central Texas. Cost of living is about half of what we spent in NY. Health care is great, a University right in town, an active play house great restaurants, wineries and so much more.

    My advice for those still searching, keep an open mind. Never had Texas on my radar but now I hope to stay for a long while!

    by Pat — October 13, 2018

  12. Last Dec. we retired and moved (from Tennessee) to just outside of Portland ME. We LOVE it!! Not only is Portland a vital spot but ALL of southern Maine has TONS of things to do! There are groups for every craft and hobby and a festival in some town every weekend. Our town has a college campus and bus service to downtown. We have everything we need within 2 miles and can walk to most of that. Expenses are a little higher but we are careful. We have also met a lot of people willing to share and/or trade.

    Yes, there is snow. We moved in 2 Dec. 2017. The next week it snowed and kept snowing – we loved it. Clyde (above) was right about “down time.” We lived in Las Vegas for 9-1/2 yrs – where it rarely even rains. There was never “down time” where things are closed and you have an excuse to just stay home to nap, read, cook, do things YOU want to do for yourself. That said, Mainers know how to plow and we never felt trapped in the house. It was easy to get out and about any time. I DO recommend working with a good Realtor. One woman I met said she was selling her house (of 3 yrs) because she couldn’t get the interior temp. up past 62 degrees. We were toasty and have oil, propane and electric heat to chose from.

    by HEF — October 14, 2018

  13. We moved from outside of Atlanta, GA to a small town in southern Maine 3 years ago. Love that we’re close enough to the ocean to walk the beach or the Eastern Trail. We’re enjoying the small town feel.

    by Anne — October 17, 2018

  14. We moved Fionna’s and Maimi comments about Pittsburgh to a different blog where Pittsburgh is also being discussed:
    10 Best of the Best Places to Retire-2019

    by Jane at Topretirements — January 20, 2019

  15. The last few comments concerning living in Texas were moved to a different blog for more discussion:

    20 Most Popular Places to Retire: Arizona Rules the Southwest:

    by Jane at Topretirements — January 21, 2019

  16. Would love to hear comments on living in any of these locations for the single adult. I am a widow that lives in Florida because of cost in NY – Long Island to be exact – was insane. I downsized twice but still had trouble affording the 1 bedroom condo (660 square feet) I finally wound up with. The maintenance not including heat, electric, TV, etc was $450/month and the taxes were $9000/yr!!! This was in a middle class neighborhood.. would love to be closer to my kids in NJ or PA but on a single retirement income it’s difficult. Please know being a widow/widower can happen to anyone at a moments notice….my husband died in six week of pancreatic cancer at 62 leaving me a widow at 54. When I was forced to retire it was very hard on one income…

    by Charlene — January 30, 2019

  17. I’m from Ct but been living in La tge last 20 yrs . I would love to retire to the northeast but I just don’t understand how some of these towns make the list . Property taxes are outrageous !!!!! I would love to go to Ithaca or Vermont or NH or even Maine I don’t understand ???? I look at real estate and house taxes are easily $4000 a yr

    by Brian Vecellio — December 10, 2019

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