Portsmouth NH Travel Guide
Portsmouth, New Hampshire has personality. Born as a colonial era seaport, this forward-thinking city is rightly renowned for its dynamic food, brew, music, and arts scene. Read our Portsmouth, NH travel guide to learn all about this charming New England city.
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IS IT WORTH IT TO VISIT PORTSMOUTH, NH?
Portsmouth does not have any world-famous landmarks, and doesn’t need it! This small New England city is interesting and fun to visit at any time of year. Portsmouth is celebrated for its lively:
Restaurants – Foodies love the high concentration of award-winning Portsmouth NH restaurants. Bakeries, breweries, and chef-owned bistros serve everything from New England regional fare to cutting edge cuisine. No one goes home hungry.
Breweries – Portsmouth is home to six craft breweries each with its own slate of lagers, IPAs, and ales. The craft beer industry has thrived here since the 1800s, and shows no signs of stopping. Pub hopping Portsmouth’s biergartens and tap rooms is a serious pastime here.
Music and Arts – The city has a dedicated music, art, and theater community. The Music Hall keeps a full slate of musical and theater performances. In the summer, the city hosts many events such as the Prescott Park arts festival. Talented jazz, Celtic, and indie musicians play about town year-round.
History – In downtown Portsmouth visitors will find the Strawbery Banke living history museum and many well-preserved historical homes. The Black Heritage Trail and Portsmouth Harbour Trail are walking routes that inform visitors about the city’s architecture, history, and culture.
Shopping – Portsmouth boasts a pleasing array of unique, locally-owned shops. There are specialty food, craft, textile, glass, jewelry, and antique shops scattered throughout downtown. And, NH tax-free shopping ensures you will go home with more money in your pocket (or more gifts).
Waterfront – Portsmouth is a seaport. Visitors will enjoy lovely views of the waterfront from the gardens of Prescott Park, by the city’s famous Moran Tugboats, or from one of its many waterfront restaurants and deck bars. Or, get out on the water on a kayak, paddleboard, or schooner.
Settled in the early 1600’s, Portsmouth NH is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The city sits at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Protected from the stormy Atlantic Ocean, it developed into a major ship building port. Today, the city remains a major commercial fishing, cargo, and leisure marina hub. On any given day, visitors can watch the Moran tugboats escorting ships up and down the river.
When visiting Portsmouth, downtown is the place to be. Inviting brick sidewalks zigzag through city blocks full of Colonial, Federal, and Georgian style buildings. In a walkable area, visitors will find the cafes and galleries of Market Square, gardens of Prescott Park, waterfront watering-holes, and the historic village of Strawbery Banke.
WHEN TO VISIT / WEATHER
Portsmouth, NH is a four-season New England travel destination. Summers are warm and great for outdoor activities. Fall brings festivals and glorious color. Snow, skating, and white twinkling lights appear in the winter. Mud season (March and April) is the least charming season. With the exception of seasonal food stands and attractions, most businesses remain open throughout the year.
Temperatures fluctuate throughout the year from an average high of 79’ F in July, to 31’ F in January. It is a maritime climate with frequent clouds and light winds.
WHERE TO STAY / PORTMOUTH NH HOTELS
If possible, book your hotel in the downtown area (use Market Square as a central point when searching for hotels). In the downtown area you will find a good variety of local inns and national chains in the $150-200.00 price range. In this part of the city, you can park your car and walk to most destinations.
For less expensive lodgings, move away from the downtown area. If you are in the mood to spoil yourself, book into the Wentworth By the Sea Marriott Resort and Spa in nearby New Castle (3 miles outside of the downtown area).
HOW TO GET THERE / HOW TO GET AROUND
Portsmouth is on the Atlantic Seacoast about 1.5 hours north of Boston on the I-95 corridor. The city is serviced by regional bus services, and about 20 minutes from the Dover, NH Amtrak Station.
Once you reach the downtown area, it is best to rely on your feet. If you want to go to the beach or explore other areas along the seacoast, there are a number of tour operators offering bike, boat and bus tours. However, like most of New England, a personal vehicle is the most efficient way to travel. There are several large commercial parking lots in downtown.
PORTSMOUTH NH RESTAURANTS
There are many options. Here is a partial list of long-time, much-loved area favorites:
The Library Restaurant (State St): Traditional New England fare in a landmark location.
The Friendly Toast (Congress St) All day brunch and bar in a funky, fun atmosphere. Vegan options.
The Oar House (Cere St): Maritime décor and menu. Close to the tugboats.
Ristorante Massimo (Penhallow St) Brick and stone setting. Italian food with an outdoor terrace.
The Portsmouth Brewery (Market St): Serving handcrafted beer and traditional pub fare.
Moxy Restaurant (Penhallow St): Modern American Tapas restaurant.
Black Trumpet (Ceres St): Bistro with rustic, romantic setting and wine bar.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN PORTSMOUTH NH
Here is a short list of some of the area’s highlights:
Just wander. Explore the city’s brick streets, alleys, gardens, waterfront, galleries, and eclectic shops at your own pace. Eat, drink, and shop with no plan. Delightful.
Visit Strawbery Banke. The 10-acre museum highlighting 3 centuries of living history is a must-see.
Get active on the water with a kayak, paddleboard, or harbor cruise. Take a sail to Star Island for a walkabout.
Or, stretch your legs with a bike tour around town.
Walk the Portsmouth Harbour Trail and visit historic buildings and landmarks in the South End, downtown, and North End neighborhoods.
Shop the boutiques and artisan craft shops of Market Square and downtown (tax free). Or, cross the Piscataqua River into Maine, and shop the Kittery Outlet Malls.
Visit the Portsmouth Lighthouse and Fort Constitution for a picnic and pictures.
Enjoy a pub crawl through one or two (or three) of Portsmouth’s six breweries. Or, spend an afternoon on the decks and patios of Portsmouth’s outdoor bars and eateries (there are many).
Take a self-guided walking tour of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail and African Burying Ground.
Spend an afternoon at picturesque Wallis-Sands Beach (Rye), or the lively Hampton Beach (Hampton).
See a musical or theatrical show at the Music Hall, or in Prescott Park.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN PORTSMOUTH NH WITH KIDS
If you are traveling with kids consider visiting:
The Portsmouth Children’s Museum
Water Country theme park
Seacoast Science Museum at Odiorne State Park (Rye)
Tour the control room and bunkrooms of the USS Albacore, a research submarine turned museum.
Visit Peirce Island and explore 27 acres of walk paths, playgrounds, and an outdoor pool.
That’s all for now, Laura and Randy
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