Things To Do in Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is near the top of almost everyone’s list of favorite New England towns – a very walkable deep water port fed by five rivers that comprise the second largest estuary on the east coast of North America. Bridging New Hampshire and Maine, it offers a rewarding combination of colonial history and contemporary culture.
You’ll often see Tall Ships tucked into Portsmouth Harbor during the warmer months when they strut their stuff along the Atlantic coast. Picturesque tugboats ply their trade in the working harbor along with fishing and lobster boats and our very own gundalows, a traditional sailing barge designed in colonial times to navigate our clay bottomed rivers even when the wide-ranging local tides are low.
There’s nothing in the world like being out on the New England coastal waters, and Portsmouth offers many opportunities:
- It’s possible to take a little sail on the Piscataqua, a reproduction of a historic gundalow, just off of Prescott Park.
- Other boating possibilities include cruises on the Thomas Leighton, operated by the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company, whether they be day trips out to Star Island, harbor cruises or foliage cruises up the rivers.
- Whale watching can provide a stirring experience, or you can try your hand at fishing for local species like striped bass and haddock. Or go out on a working lobster boat and see how the trap-hauling process works.
- Marine buffs may be interested in touring the innovative research submarine USS Albacore – her revolutionary hull design set the standard for modern subs.
Although we locals never boast about it, Portsmouth is one of the oldest cities in the country, established in 1623, just three years after the Mayflower landed and before the founding of better-known historical sites such as Salem, Massachusetts. Beautiful Prescott Park has the flagpole where the historical flag “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny” was run up to help incite our country’s fight for independence from the British. The first insurrection of the colonies was at the old Fort William and Mary, now called Fort Constitution, in the charming town of New Castle, an island attached to the mainland by causeway. Another famous landmark on the island is the grand old hotel Wentworth By The Sea, with gorgeous views overlooking the water, the harbor entrance and the Wentworth Marina. Across the street from the glorious gardens of Prescott Park is the Strawberry Banke Museum, a do-not-miss in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth, NH. It is an authentic marvelous complex of old colonial homes and buildings in a 10-acre outdoor history museum dedicated to bringing to life over 300 years of American history in this waterfront neighborhood. The museum has eight heritage gardens, 32 historic buildings, and traditional crafts, preservation programs, and hands-on activities; the stories told by costumed role-players and changing exhibits offer hours of fun and discovery. There are also many small homes in the area that can be viewed for a small fee.
View Video – a 15 minute quick history of Portsmouth, NH
More of Portsmouth’s history is found on Chestnut Street. The Portsmouth African Burying Ground, one of the oldest black American burying grounds in the country, was just recently renovated and honored.
Discover Portsmouth is home to the Portsmouth Historical Society. They host:
- interesting walking tours of the city.
- Or try seeing the city by bicycle. Biking on New Castle is also especially enjoyable!
- Historic Portsmouth Legends and Ghost Walks
- New Castle Beach is a small picturesque sandy beach just 10 minutes from downtown Portsmouth.
- Another beautiful sandy curving close beach, about a 15-minute drive from Portsmouth, is Wallis Sands Beach.
- If you’re in the mood for a day trip, opportunities abound – Ogunquit, Maine; the Plum Island Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts; and many others.
- The Prescott Park Arts Festival happens every year in the beautiful gardens at Prescott Park, which overlooks the water. Outdoor concerts and theatre are a mainstay in the summer.
- The Music Hall in Portsmouth, an 1878 Victorian-era historic theater, is a community-supported nonprofit performing arts center featuring entertainment from around the corner to around the world. It’s home to many great events with its gracious old theatre and cool Art Nouveau lounge and lavatories. Its offspring,
- The Loft, is down the street and pleases with its more intimate shows.
Other theatres in the downtown area include:
- The Seacoast Repertory Theatre at 125 Bow St
- The Players’ Ring at 105 Marcy St.
- West End Theatre at 959 Islington
Portsmouth is home to many galleries in the downtown area. They are:
- Art with a Splash
- Banks Gallery
- Don Gorvett’s Piscataqua Fine Arts Gallery & Studio
- Dovekie Gallery, Jay Schadler Studio and Gallery
- Kennedy Studios
- NJM Gallery
- Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery
More information on downtown Portsmouth galleries can be found here. Also, check out the:
- Portsmouth Museum of Art, at One Harbor Place.
- Discover Portsmouth hosts artwork as well.
- 3S Artspace is a non-profit alternative arts organization that combines a midsize, flexible performance space, a large, non-commercial gallery, and an affordable and approachable restaurant.
Portsmouth is home to many great ones. Many are farm to table, locally sourcing seafood, land animals, vegetables, mushrooms, wines and beers.
Some of my favorites are:
Other favorites are:
All the restaurants on Bow St. have great views of the harbor. Lise’s favorite for groups with mixed budgets is the Riverhouse.
Vegetarian Options (Good)
- The Green Elephant
- Portsmouth Health Food Store, at 151 Congress St. has some prepared food to go
- Nepalese Restaurant – Dunbar Square
- Dos Amigos Burritos, on 107 State St.
- Flatbread Company – 138 Congress St. - wood fired Pizza,
- 5 Thai Bistro, 40 Pleasant St.
- Book and Bar – 40 Pleasant St. is a great meeting place to have coffee, beer or wine while reading any of the interesting books
- Ceres Bakery at 51 Penhallow Street a favorite for pastries or lunch.
- Roxanne’s at 105 Daniel St and
- The Friendly Toast at 113 Congress St.
- My favorite coffee is at Caffe Kilim. Just down the street is our well-known local tea company, White Heron Tea.
Breweries (Sam’s recommendations)
- Beara Irish Brewing Company – 2800 Lafayette Road. Serving up tasty Irish styled brews. Located in Portsmouth’s south end.
- Portsmouth Brewery – 56 Market Street. A lively spot, located in downtown.
- Earth Eagle Brewings – 165 High Street. Creative brews with unique styles.
- Tributary Brewing Company – 10 Shapleigh Road, Kittery, ME. Fine brews created by seacoast brewing legend Todd Mott.
Market Street / Market Square
Many boutiques featuring the Seacoast’s finest artists are on Market Street, which leads right onto Market Square, considered to be Portsmouth ground zero by many. Street musicians often brighten the square, dotted with a few cafes. (We all bypass Starbucks for the local hang outs like:
- Breaking New Grounds
- Caffe Kilim
- Portsmouth hosts a happenin’ Farmer’s Market, rain or shine, Saturdays, 8:00 am- 1:00 pm, May 6th - November 4th at 1 Junkins Ave.
Badger Island, MEis just over the sweet little Memorial Bridge from Portsmouth, a nice walk or bike ride.
- Kate’s Bakery and Café - Nice little coffeeshop (or lunch place),
- The Blind Pig has outdoor seating (with great sunset views for cocktails over the water)
- Morrison’s for outdoor dining overlooking Portsmouth and Lobsters!
Kittery, MEIs just after the next bridge. In addition to having the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,
- its cool little Foreside area is home to more great restaurants,
- The Kittery Dance Hall hosts all sorts of fun events and galleries.
- More great beaches!
- The Kittery Outlets – for all Shopaholics– all along Route 1, exit 3 for MANY outlets
- The famous Kittery Trading Post for outdoor gear, hunting, fishing and clothing of all sorts as well as carved sculptures and real stuffed wildlife
Not Far From Portsmouth
Enjoy! View Video – a 15 minute quick history of Portsmouth, NH
— Gundalow sailing in Portsmouth Harbor by David J. Murray
--- Welcome to Portsmouth granite sign by Billy Hathorn from Wikipedia Commons
— Rainy night in Portsmouth by Greg Kretschmar Photography
— Portsmouth from the South End by Greg Kretschmar Photography
About the Author:
Holly O. Harris, Latin America Business Development
Holly heads EarthShift Global’s Latin American Business Development. She has represented EarthShift Global at conferences including CILCA 2015 and 2017, the International Conferences on Life Cycle Assessment in Latin America, where she has co-authored papers, unveiled the Spanish-language version of EarthSmart, and helped conduct training sessions. She is a key participant in EarthShift Global’s Latin American Pathways Challenge Network, which is developing Sustainability ROI data for a support program for small and medium-sized businesses, with funding from the U.S. Department of State and the World Environment Center.
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