In New England, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of the summer travel season. In the United States, Labor Day is always observed on the first Monday in September. Originally a tribute to labor unions and their members, Labor Day has evolved to become a low-key day off for most American workers to soak up the final days of summer over a long weekend.
Whether you'll be joining the throngs of motorists headed to New England's beaches or exploring one of the region's many festivals, make sure to plan ahead since highways are often extra-congested with travelers moving about.
Best Beaches for Labor Day in New England
By Labor Day, New England's lake waters and Atlantic surf have typically reached their maximum warmth and you'll find crowds at seashore hot spots like Maine's Old Orchard Beach and New Hampshire's Hampton Beach. Rhode Island has such a variety of beaches that you can choose from various options, ranging from family-friendly Misquamicut Beach to camping at East Beach. Connecticut's largest beach, Hammonasset Beach State Park, is a popular Labor Day weekend destination for sunbathers, swimmers, and overnight campers (make reservations early), but there are quiet alternatives on the Long Island Sound shore, too, such as DuBois Beach in Stonington, Connecticut.
Labor Day Events in New England
There are many fun annual events that take place in New England over the Labor Day holiday weekend including:
- The Garlic & Herb Festival—known simply as Garlic Fest—in Bennington, Vermont, is a two-day (Saturday and Sunday) garlic extravaganza featuring food (even garlic ice cream!), music, demonstrations, children's activities, and more. While you're in Bennington, be sure to take the elevator to the top of Vermont's tallest structure, the Bennington Battle Monument, for panoramic views. Garlic Fest is canceled in 2020 but plans to return for its silver anniversary September 4–5, 2021.
- Throughout Labor Day weekend, the Rhythm & Roots Festival in Charlestown, Rhode Island, offers three full days of live music and dancing, with genres including swing, blues, klezmer, and zydeco. This family-friendly festival is unique because you don't just visit during the day but also camp out on-site, so you can party into the night and crash in your nearby tent or RV. The festival is canceled in 2020 but returns full force for Labor Day weekend 2021.
- The final show of the season in L.L. Bean's summer concert series at its flagship store in Freeport, Maine, is typically held the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Past years have included headliners such as multi-platinum singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw. There is no summer concert series in 2020.
- The Marlborough Labor Day Parade in Marlborough, Massachusetts, has been a New England tradition since 1952 and is the largest end-of-summer parade in the area. Held on the Monday of Labor Day weekend, this massive festival is largely put together through community participation and volunteers. The Malborough Labor Day Parade is canceled in 2020.
- Gloucester, Massachusetts, hosts the annual Schooner Festival, which celebrates the role that these sailboats have played in the history of America's oldest seaport. Don't miss a series of events beginning with the ships' arrival on Friday and continuing through their departure on Monday. One of the yearly highlights is the Boat Parade of Lights and accompanying fireworks on Saturday night. However, the Schooner Festival is canceled in 2020.
- The Labor Day Weekend Celebration in Northfield, Vermont, is a decades-old tradition and Vermont's largest Labor Day celebration. Each year has a theme to celebrate something local, for example, 2019's theme was Celebrating Norwich 200, honoring the bicentennial of Norwich University. The Northfield Labor Day festival is canceled in 2020.
- The Historic Festival at Lime Rock Park, a historic auto racing venue in Lakeville, Connecticut, is your chance to see classic race cars on parade and in action on the track. The 2020 Historic Festival will only allow a limited number of spectators and advance registration is required, so be sure to purchase your tickets if you'll be in Connecticut and want to see these vintage vehicles on the racetrack.
- The Woodstock Fair in Woodstock, Connecticut, keeps agricultural traditions alive and thrills kids of all ages with midway rides, carnival games, and local foods. The Woodstock Fair is canceled in 2020.