What to see in Princeton, New Jersey: tour and tips to visit the town hosting the famous university with the same name and the places tied to Albert Einstein. All this in one day, leaving from New York, too. Practical info and historical background.
Princeton is a nice and ancient town in New Jersey, headquarters of the prestigious university with the same name, member of the Ivy league.
The classic American “College Town”, with a picturesque downtown on the background, with restaurants, stores, museums and several tourist attractions. It is perfect for a one-day tour, whether arriving by car – maybe during an on the road trip along the east coast – or by train from New York City.
Princeton has a rich, traditional, social and cultural heritage, playing an extremely important historic role in the birth of the United States of America.
It is famous for being the place where Princeton University was definitively established and built in 1756.
Firstly, it was founded in Elisabeth, New Jersey, ten years prior.
But it is also the town where in 1777 George Washington led the American patriots against the British army of General Cornwallis in the famous Battle of Princeton. Here later in 1783 the continental Congress gathered at the Nassau Hall to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War – consequently, 13 American colonies were recognized as a sovereign and independent state, The United States of America. There the first meetings of the members of the newborn government were organized, making Princeton the “pro tempore” capital of the USA for almost 5 months.
A town keeping, preserving and showing proudly still today the symbols, deeds and places of its rich past.
A day is enough to visit both the town and Princeton University.
If you are going to plan a trip in New York, my tip is to consider the possibility of having the trip in one day totally alone, since now there are no group tours from NYC to this destination.
It will be enough to buy a train round-trip ticket at the NJ Transit Northeast Corridor ticket office in Penn Station – or directly on the app you can download here – for Princeton Junction and another one for the shuttle from Princeton Junction to Princeton Railroad Station. For a total amount of $35 about each.
The trains leave from Penn Station every hour and the same number arrive to Penn Station – find here the daily schedule. It takes about 70 minutes: the shuttle for Princeton Railroad Station leaves 7 minutes later the arrival at Princeton Junction and it reaches the downtown in 5 minutes.
Once arrived you simply must walk straight along Pyne Dr. to begin exploring the several campuses – starting from the Whitman College – and then reaching the main street full of shops and venues, Nassau Street.
Find down here a short walking tour – here you can watch the video about the experience – divided into stages.
It will allow you to enjoy the atmosphere of one among the oldest and most fascinating University campuses in the USA for a few hours. Besides the chance to experience a proper journey back in time into the American history surrounded by the really beautiful and suggestive landscapes and architectural background neighboring it.
Princeton University is the fourth-oldest University of the United States, after Harvard University in Cambridge (Boston), the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg (Virginia) and Yale University in New Haven (Connecticut). Undoubtedly it is listed among the most prestigious and coveted ones.
It was founded in Elisabeth in 1746 and it was known as the College of New Jersey by Rev. William Tennent. 10 years later it was moved definitively to Princeton, and several decades after it was named Princeton University officially.
The University extends over a really boundless area, there are several institutes, colleges and campuses.
My tip: download here – on your smartphone – a useful and free virtual tour (in English or Spanish) in 29 stages, that will lead you discovering the most peculiar places of the university with stories and anecdotes.
To optimize the tour at its best I recommend to you the Fitz Randolph Gate, the ancient Nassau Hall, the Firestone Library (inside temporary museums exhibitions of high historic-artistic value can be found), the Alexander Hall, the University Chapel, the wonderful Rockefeller College (walking through its gothic style arcades is one of the added values of the university tour without any doubt) and the Princeton University Art Museum, rightly considered a miniature Metropolitan Museum.
Princeton is a little, suggestive, and precious treasure of New Jersey.
The best periods to visit it are Fall and Spring for sure, when its tree-lined avenues, the well cared yards, the flowers, the hedges, the gardens of the wonderful historic houses are in complete harmony with the neighboring nature.
Find down here the must-see stages to discover Princeton at its best – among history, architecture, museums, and shopping.
The real downtown Princeton, elegant shops, bookstores, venues, pubs, and the Princeton University Store, where to buy university gadgets, expanding along Nassau Street. Then from here you access Palmer Square, planned at the beginning of 1900s, with colonial style buildings made up of bricks, stones, woods, and stucco inspired by the university architecture.
My tip: keep walking along Vanderventer Ave as far as the old and suggestive Princeton cemetery (where famous characters and academic Deans rest) to admire the numerous historic houses located along the path.
A piece of advice for the lunch: the PJ’s Pancake House in Nassau Street, a typical diner very popular by students and locals.
Princeton Battle Museum is the monument located between Stockton Street and Monument Drive celebrating the victory of the troops led by George Washington against the British Army of General Cornwallis in the battle of January 1777.
The battle took place at the near Battlefield State Park, that can be reached on foot, walking for about 10 minutes. At the park it is also possible to visit a historic house – the Clarke House – where relics tied to the American Revolution are gathered.
A historic national museum and monument, home of one among the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and of five governors of New Jersey.
The Morven Museum & Garden has played a remarkable role in the history of New Jersey and of the nation for over 200 years.
The tour includes the insides – strictly original – the theme temporary exhibitions and the wonderful colonial style Garden.
“Princeton is a wonderful little spot.
A quaint and ceremonious village of puny demigods on stilts.”
Princeton was Albert Einstein’s home from 1935 – after obtaining the American citizenship and taking the chair at the Institute for Advanced Study, a sub-office of Princeton University – until 1955, when he died.
It is possible to have a short tour to the south-west of the town to discover and go through the places where he lived and worked.
Starting just from the Institute for Advanced Study, a research center of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences, founded in 1930 to host the Jewish Scientists fled from Nazi Germany, located at the Fuld Hall.
Then, the Albert Einstein House at 112, Mercer Street, a cottage dating back to 1876 where Albert Einstein lived from 1935 until his death on April 18, 1955 – the property remained his stepdaughter’s home – the female sculptor Margot Einstein – who lived there until 1986.
The physicist clearly asked for not turning this house into a museum and – despite the fulfilment of his last will from the part of his stepdaughter Margot – the house was listed anyway in the National Register of Historic Places. It was also designed as historic-national point of reference of the United States from 1976 on.
Nowadays, the house – after being inhabited by another Nobel Prize for Physics, Frank Wilczek, and successively by the economist Albert O. Hirschman – is part of the private house of the Institute for Advanced Study. It remains uninhabited by the will of the institute and – carrying out Einstein’s last will – closed to the public. However, it is possible to see it and take photographs from outside.
The final stage of this short tour is the EMC Square – from the popular formula E= mc2 – a small square, with a stele and a sculpture at the center, remembering the figure of the Nobel Prize for Physics. It is in the park at the crossroad between Bayard Ln and Stockon Street, little far from the Princeton Battle Monument.