Portsmouth, New Hampshire is located about 50 miles from Boston. It is purportedly the third oldest city in the nation. The city celebrates its past which is evident in the number of historic buildings and attractions that give it its unique character. It is a four-season destination with plenty of activities, events, and places to see. You’ll always find something new to discover every time you visit.
A Brief History of Portsmouth
Europeans first settled the town in 1630. Before that time, American Indians occupied the area as they had for thousands of years prior to the arrival of settlers. Then as now, it remained an important seaport and strategic location. In fact, it is one of the oldest working ports in the country. The colonists quickly developed the industries that would define the city including shipbuilding, fishing, and lumber trade.
Portsmouth has played a role in shaping American history from its very beginnings. One of its early brushes with the past was its role as the place where Paul Revere cried out his famous warning that the British were coming. It was also the site where John Paul Jones’ ship, The Ranger was built.
The lumber trade fueled its rise in the fine architecture and woodworking industries. The development of the railroad and the settlement of mill towns took its toll on the flourishing seaport. Yet, Portsmouth prevailed and held fast to its storied past. Today, you’ll find tours taking you through centuries-old historic homes and museums with exhibits of the area’s history and shipbuilding past.
Attractions in Portsmouth
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is more than a collection of historical attractions. You’ll find a delightful mix of old and new which the National Trust for Historic Preservation called, “one of the most culturally rich destinations in the country.” There are plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities along with cultural sites and even places to treat yourself to a welcome spa day.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get to know the town is with a guided walking tours of the historic Portsmouth Harbour Trail. You’ll see the many historic homes that preserve the city’s past. You’ll experience the hustle and bustle of its working port with its iconic tugboats. And you’ll hear the stories of the people who have made it the thriving town that it is today.
The Portsmouth Historic Sites Associates manages eleven sites including the Jackson House, the oldest wood-frame house in the state. You can visit the home of naval hero, John Paul Jones. While living there, he supervised the construction of the America, largest warship of the day. Looking for something a bit different? Take a self-guided tour on the USS Albacore, a Navy research vessel for testing experimental features.
For a real Portsmouth experience, you need to get to sea level with its myriad of sea-themed attractions. A must-see is the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. You can tour the site but be aware that it is an active US Coast Guard station. It is one of 11 pre-Revolutionary War examples built in the United States.
To learn more about the ocean, be sure to visit the Seacoast Science Museum. It features several exhibits on marine wildlife and touch tanks to get up close and personal. You’ll explore how the sea affects our everyday lives and how scientist conduct research.
If you want to take to the water yourself, book a passage on one of the cruise ships in Portsmouth. At Gundalow Company, you can learn about the area’s maritime history with its selection of programs. For a real adventure, sail on a traditional reproduction of a flat-bottom gundalow barge to step back in time to the days of yore.
Or take a narrated trip in the harbor with Portsmouth Harbor Cruises or Isles of Shoals Steamship Co. along with some incredible sightseeing. The boats are available for both public and private charters. It’s one of many things to do in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that make the experience so special.
Arts and Culture
Take in a show at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre. They offer performances three seasons out of the year with the best in local talent. Or visit Music Hall to take in a concert or attend an author talk/reading. Learn why it was named “Best All-Around Entertainment” by Yankee Magazine.
For something completely different, put the Strawbery Banke Museum on your itinerary. The site features hands-on activities to experience the past firsthand. You can tour historic buildings and its six heritage gardens. The museum has over 1 million artifacts that tell the stories of the Portsmouth area and its people.
Costumed role players present demonstration of crafts along with interactive site interpretations.
The name, Strawberry Banke, references the oldest neighborhood settled by Europeans. It also is a shout-out to the obvious connection with the fruit, wild strawberries.
Portsmouth has several unique offerings to add that special touch to a trip. Whether you’re looking for the excitement of deep sea fishing or the enchantment of whale watches, you’ll find it here. You can take to the water with Portsmouth Kayak Adventures. Looking to work on your golf swing? There are several golf courses in the city and surrounding area to challenge you such as the Pease Golf Course or Links at Outlook.
You’ll find many locally owned boutiques to find that perfect treasure to remember your visit to Portsmouth in Market Square. It is pedestrian-friendly with plenty of shops and places to eat as you explore the quaint downtown area. It’s also a chance to step into history in a commercial district that has been active since the 1700s.
You’ll find many unique items such as products from recycled sail material at Sea Bags. Looking for a gift for your favorite foodie? Stop by the Stonewall Kitchen Company Store to sample specialty food items. The Pickwick’s Mercantile is another must-see. Where else can you have three time-traveling shopping experiences? Go from 1890 Portsmouth to a colonial pantry to a Parisian boutique.
Restaurants in Portsmouth
The seafood doesn’t get any fresher than it does here in Portsmouth. You can enjoy a fine dining experience at any of its outstanding restaurants including the Martingale Wharf, The Surf Room, The Pointe, or Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe. If you’re looking for something more casual, visit The District or The Goat which features 50 types of whiskey. Or for something really unique, how about dinner at a 1649 Mansion and Carriage house at the Three Chimneys Inn?
Portsmouth and the surrounding area are home to several craft breweries. Try a local offering at the Beara Irish Brewing Co, Tributary Brewing Company, or Liar’s Bench Beer Co. Your trip won’t be complete with a sampling of the local oysters at Franklin Oyster House. It’s not going to be trying to find a place but deciding where to eat in Portsmouth, New Hampshire with all of your choices.
Need help finding which brewery to visit? Book a reservation with the Granite State Growler Tours to try the best that New Hampshire has to offer. Learn more about the history of brewing and beer.
Accommodations in Portsmouth
There is no limit to the number of places when it comes to deciding where to stay in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You’ll find a wide range of price points for hotels and motels in the area from national chains to local establishments. And you can enjoy a stay in a smaller venue with pet-friendly rooms like the York Harbor Inn or immerse yourself in the luxury of the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa.
For a true New England experience, book a stay at one of the bed and breakfast inns. Take in the sights with a waterside view at the Stage Neck Inn. Or how about a stay in an 1890 Princess Anne Victorian home complete with a gourmet breakfast and gorgeous antique furnishings? And you can’t go wrong with a stay at the Three Chimneys Inn, recipient of TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence.
Planning a Stay in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Mild with few extremes is the best way to describe the Portsmouth, New Hampshire weather. Its location as a seaport plays a moderating effect on its climate. That includes both its summers and winters where highs can approach 80 degrees Fahrenheit or more and lows dipping down into the teens. The sea comes into play again when it comes to precipitation.
The mild winters and higher relative humidity set the stage for heavier snowfalls with amounts exceeding the national average. The same applies to summers where rainfall amounts following a similar course. Storms and flooding are always a concern especially considering its location. While tornadoes have occurred, Portsmouth experiences less extreme weather events than other parts of the country.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire offers an opportunity to step into the past and experience the wonder of a seaport town. You won’t run out of things to do or see either. Let the romance of the sea capture your imagination. It’s a visit that you won’t soon forget.