Princeton, halfway between New York and Philadelphia, is more than the home of an Ivy League university. George Washington’s victory at the Battle of Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777 kept the American Revolution alive. Alexander Hamilton was alongside him, and Aaron Burr is buried in town.
Start: Princeton train station. Take New Jersey Transit or Amtrak to Princeton Junction, then transfer to the “Dinky” train for Princeton. (Note: Amtrak doesn’t offer bike service at either Princeton Junction or Trenton, one stop south). For those driving, park at Turning Basin Park at Alexander Road and the D&R Canal.
Day 1: Head downhill on Alexander Road (take the trail next to the road) to the unpaved D&R Canal towpath, part of the East Coast Greenway. Turn right (south) toward Trenton. After about 10 miles, at Broad Street, look right for Battle Monument, which marks the first Battle of Trenton (Dec. 26, 1776), part of the 10 crucial days that saved the Revolution. Learn more about what happened there at the Old Barracks Museum a few blocks away (closed Sundays).
You can get a tour of the New Jersey State Capitol (weekdays and some Saturdays) and see the “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” bridge before retracing your ride to Princeton. (If you don’t want to bike back, take a New Jersey Transit train two stops to Princeton Junction and transfer to the Dinky.)
As you approach Princeton, look for the marker just after Quaker Road that commemorates George Washington’s march from Trenton to Princeton in January 1777. To reach the Princeton Battlefield, take the lane on Quaker Road (no trail option).
Back in Princeton, walk past Nassau Hall, the oldest building on the university campus. Legend claims that Hamilton shot the cannonball into the building that destroyed a painting of King George II. True: That painting’s frame now frames a painting depicting George Washington at the Battle of Princeton. It hangs minutes away in the Princeton University Art Museum (free admission).
Just a 10-minute walk away is the Princeton Cemetery, where Aaron Burr is buried.
Day 2: Canoe or kayak on the D&R Canal (rentals at Princeton Canoe Rental on Alexander Road) for an hour or two, then bike ride north on the canal towpath, also part of the East Coast Greenway. While you can ride as far as New Brunswick (40 miles; trains run from New Brunswick to Princeton Junction), consider turning around after 9 miles at the Griggstown Causeway. (Canoe and kayak rentals here too.) Dismount at the lock just south of the causeway, walk across and look across the road to your left to spot another George Washington marker.
Griggstown is where John Honeyman lived. Was he Washington’s spy? You’ll have to make up your own mind.
Rockingham, between Griggstown and Kingston and accessible from the other side of the canal, served as Washington’s final wartime headquarters.
Where to eat: Two Princeton institutions are Conte’s Pizza, a short bike ride to the other end of Witherspoon Street, and, for breakfast, PJ’s Pancake House on Nassau Street. Yankee Doodle Tap Room, in the Nassau Inn, dates back to before the Revolution. For ice cream, try either the Bent Spoon or Thomas Sweet, both downtown.
On the way back from Griggstown, try Osteria Procaccini in Kingston.
Bike-accessible hotels: Nassau Inn in downtown Princeton, Hyatt Place Princeton (south of Princeton and accessible from the D&R Canal; shopping center, restaurants, cinema nearby and both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are a short bike ride away), or Courtyard by Marriott and Homewood Suites (north of Princeton and accessible from the D&R Canal, one restaurant within walking distance). There are many more options for those willing to drive.
More to see and do: There’s more to Princeton than Washington, Hamilton and Burr. A two-hour walking tour with the Historical Society of Princeton on Sundays takes you past the homes of Albert Einstein and Woodrow Wilson. Princeton Tour Company offers its own walking tours on both Saturdays and Sundays as well as other tours.
At least bike or drive through the mansions of Princeton (Cleveland Lane and Library Place is a good epicenter, and Grover Cleveland lived nearby at Westland Mansion, 15 Hodge Road, after his presidency.)
Two signers of the Declaration of Independence — Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon — lived here. Stockton’s home is now Morven Museum and Garden. Witherspoon was president of Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) and is buried not far from Burr. You’ll find Cleveland’s grave in the same cemetery.
Princeton has its share of quirky stores, even if they seem to be shrinking in number. Princeton Record Exchange is one of the largest new and used music CD stores, DVD stores and independent music stores on the East Coast. Kopp’s Cycle is America’s oldest bicycle shop. Both are downtown.
For evening entertainment, see what’s on at the Tony-award-winning McCarter Theater, plus Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts and the cinema on Nassau Street, Princeton Garden Theater. All are downtown.
Extra biking options: The Lawrence Hopewell Trail is an almost-completed 22-mile loop of off-road trails and quiet streets (take the road to close the gaps) that is reachable from the D&R Canal towpath. Head toward Trenton and watch for a semi-circle on the right about a mile after going under two roads – that is the turnoff to Brearley House and the LHT.
Road riders who like hills should head to Hopewell and the Sourland Mountain. You’ll likely find plenty of cyclists refueling at the Boro Bean in Hopewell. John Hart, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, is buried there; look for the marker for the cave he hid in for a few weeks in late 1776 a few miles away. And if you want a really long hill loop, here’s one suggestion.
The one-way option: Start at the Trenton train station (reachable on New Jersey Transit from New York and Septa from Philadelphia as well as Amtrak from both cities) and bike to New Brunswick (New Jersey Transit train station), spending the night in Princeton.
This Adventure Cycling blog post offers more options for biking in the area.
And should you want to continue north, try my Portugal-to-India ride in reverse.