In terms of transportation infrastructure, New England is either the height of efficiency or mired in the past, depending on your point of view. In the last century, the area developed an unparalleled network of major highways and rail lines that makes almost any corner of the region accessible within a few hours. In the past few decades, however, the network has stagnated from lack of investment, making highways frequently crowded at rush hour around major cities. Many of the old rail lines, meanwhile, have simply been ripped up (though fortuitously, some old railway right-of-ways have been transformed into attractive bike paths). While it’s possible to visit most areas by public transportation, the region’s bus routes are often slow and cumbersome, with connections in towns out of the way of your final destination. The added expense of renting a car is often worth it for the convenience and freedom of cruising the back roads, especially in foliage season. A 4x4 vehicle, however, is only necessary on the logging roads of far northern Maine .
Puddle-jumpers between Boston  and many of the area’s regional airports offer a quick and easy way to shoot around the region. Be forewarned, however, that relying on air travel for inter-city travel isn’t cheap. It’s just as expensive to fly to Burlington  from Boston, for example, as it is to fly there from Atlanta or Detroit. And flying to Burlington from Manchester  or Providence  can be even more expensive. In most cases you’ll save money by flying direct from your home to a regional airport, rather than stopping in Boston first. Better yet, it’s often more economical to rent a car or travel by bus between cities.
The exceptions to the rule are flights to the islands, where high demand keeps costs in check, and the added expense can more than make up for the hassle of driving to the ferry and spending time at sea (to say nothing of the exorbitant rates ferries charge for automobile transit). Contact Cape Air (800/352-0714, www.capeair.com ) for flights to Nantucket  or Martha’s Vineyard , or New England Airlines (800/243-2460, www.block-island.com/nea ) for Block Island .
In addition to the routes coming in from outside New England, Amtrak (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ) offers the regional Downeaster service from Boston  to Portland  (2.5 hours). The train stops in several smaller towns along the way, including Dover, New Hampshire ; and Wells  and Old Orchard Beach, Maine . Note, however, that it’s not possible to buy a one-ticket ride from New York City  to Portland , since the southern train runs to South Station, and the Downeaster embarks from North Station. (Legend has it that inconvenience was by design, the scheme of enterprising Boston businessmen to lure travelers into the city.) Travelers from the South Shore  to Maine  must take a short subway trip between the two Boston stations to continue their trip.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (617/222-5000, www.mbta.com ) runs commuter rail service around Boston, with trains venturing to Worcester , Providence , and throughout the North and South Shores. The regional railways and commuter rails that once crisscrossed all six New England states, however, have all but disappeared. Despite attempts by some state governments and private companies to revive them for transportation, the fragments that remain (such as the scenic railway in Conway, New Hampshire , and the narrow-gauge railroad in Portland, Maine ) are more tourist attractions than actual options for transportation.
It may not be the fastest way to tour New England, but Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com ) maintains a comprehensive web of routes that touches most cities, colleges, and tourist attractions in the region. Until recently, the Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines (800/343-9999, www.peterpanbus.com ) was an independent company that competed with the national behemoth. Now the two companies share routes and schedules, however, making travel on either interchangeable. Peter Pan also runs Bonanza Bus Lines (800/556-3815, www.bonanzabus.com ), which serves Connecticut , Rhode Island , and Cape Cod . Other smaller, regional carriers serve out-of-the-way parts of northern New England—the largest being Concord Coach Lines (800/639-3317 or 603/228-3300, www.concordtrailways.com ). Other carriers have slowly been disappearing in recent years, snatched up by the Greyhound behemoth—often at a loss of regional routes with low ridership.
Getting around New England by car is a fairly painless exercise. Highways are efficient and in general well maintained, and traffic moves briskly outside of rush hour around major cities. The region is bisected north to south by I-91, which runs along the Connecticut River Valley  along the border of New Hampshire  and Vermont  and down through central Massachusetts  and Connecticut . In Vermont it connects with I-89 and in New Hampshire with I-93, which runs all the way to Boston . An alternative to I-93 is U.S. 3, which parallels the interstate in New Hampshire, and then runs through Boston along the South Shore  to Cape Cod . Skirting around the city, I-95 is the main coastal thoroughfare from the Connecticut–New York border all the way to northeast Maine . For inland Maine, travelers are relegated to slower undivided highways, including U.S. 201 to the Moosehead Lake  region, and Route 11 to the Allagash .
East to west, the region is bisected by I-90, otherwise known as the Massachusetts Turnpike or Mass Pike, which runs the length of Massachusetts . To the south, the Pike connects near Worcester  to I-84, which then runs east–west through Connecticut . North of the Pike, the highway is paralleled by Route 2, which is slower but can be a more efficient way to get to the northern Berkshires and southern Vermont . Traveling east or west in northern New England, meanwhile, can be a frustrating exercise, since all major roads lead north–south to Boston . Several federal highways, including U.S. 2 and U.S. 4, aid to accomplish the task, but if you use them be sure to leave more time for small-town stoplights and mountain switchbacks.
Ferries run from the mainland to many offshore islands, including Block Island , Nantucket , Martha’s Vineyard , Monhegan , and various islands in Penobscot Bay . Additionally, other ferries run from Boston  to the South Shore , Marblehead , and Provincetown .