Settled in 1623, as Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth is a historic seaport that boasts an intriguing mix of the old and the new. As one of the oldest cities in the US, it was founded just three years after the settlement at Plymouth MA, the city has a walkable scale that is more often seen in European villages than in US cities.
The city sits 2 miles inland from the sea, on the safe deep harbor waters of the Piscataqua river. Its history as a seaport is an integral part of understanding Portsmouth today and yesterday. The city once was home to the founder of the US Navy, John Paul Jones, whose historic house still stands and is open to the public. It continues to be home to the Portsmouth Shipyard, where the HMS Falkland was built in 1690 for the British Navy and continues today, more than three centuries later, as a Navy shipyard that repairs and upgrades Los Angeles class nuclear submarines.
Today, the city's economy is a mix of the traditional with tugboats pulling in large ships to haul scrap material, fishman still plying the waters from Pierce Island, and new economy jobs in software and biotech at Lonza Biologics which is now one of the area's largest employers.
It is also the center of a growing metropolitan region, often called, "The Seacoast," that is home to 125,000 and includes the coastal towns of Rye, Hampton, and Newcastle in New Hampshire and Kittery and York in Maine, as well as the inland cities of Rochester and Dover, NH. This region is known for its high quality of life and ranks as the 16th safest region in the United States according to Morgan Quitno's 2003 report.
Although the city has attracted an influx of newer residents who have come for the small town with big city amenities in the midst of an area of great natural beauty, the city still retains a good measure of stubborn independent spirit. If you doubt this, pick up a copy of the local weekly newspaper, the New Hampshire Gazette, which is free around town and take in the local view.
Today, you will still find an old styled barbershop as well as upscale coffee shops, a shop selling handmade gourmet chocolates across from a cooperative art gallery, and a slick seafood restaurant that could be in LA (the owners were from LA) next to place called the Friendly Toast that is decorated with 70s kitsch purchased on eBay.
In this friendly small town you will also find an easily digestible mix of small town vibe combined with cultural, dining, shopping, and nightlife variety that is usually only found in more urban settings. The downtown contains Strawberry Banke, a living history museum, Prescott Park a beautiful urban park, and a number of riverside bars and restaurants to while away the day. If you want to get away from downtown, within a few miles are several ocean side parks that have facilities and beaches, often built around a historic fort, usually including a charming view of a lighthouse and sailboats.
To take maximum advantage, slow down and explore the city on foot. Take the time to linger a bit and talk to the locals walking their dog or the visitor relaxing at a sidewalk cafe. This is the best way to get a feel for the strong sense of place that has made Portsmouth a vibrant community both in the past and today.
- 1 Portsmouth International Airport at Pease (PSM IATA). The local airport has flights from Florida on Allegiant Air, ☏ .
Portsmouth is primarily accessible by flights into Manchester and Portland, both an hour by car, or Boston, roughly an hour car ride in good traffic, or an hour and a half by train. Frequent buses on C&J travel between Boston's Logan Airport and South Station to the Portsmouth Transportation Center.
- Manchester Airport (MHT IATA)
- Portland International Jetport (PWM IATA)
- Logan International Airport (BOS IATA)
Buses to Portsmouth are also available from Boston's South Station train depot, which is serviced by Amtrak and the MBTA.
- Amtrak Downeaster, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. M-F 5:45AM-1:45AM, Sa-Su 6AM-1:45AM. Services nearby Dover with service from Boston, MA to Portland, ME. The COAST bus service operates between the Dover Transportation Center and downtown Portsmouth Monday through Saturday. $6-25.
Portsmouth is primarily accessible via Interstate 95 from the north and south. Coming from anywhere outside of New England requires travel on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 90, a toll interstate, east towards Worcester and Boston. Exit the pike onto I-290N through Worcester and onto I-495N, which connects to I-95. I-95 is a toll road through New Hampshire, charging $2.00 both ways at Hampton, NH. Interstate 95 runs through Portsmouth and into Kittery, Maine.
Note: The 2 Portsmouth Transportation Center (185 Grafton Rd, off I-95 northbound exit 3 or southbound exit 3A) is 3 miles outside town, with no obvious signed walking route, and infrequent bus service (no buses on Sunday). If you don't have a car, the staff in the bus station can call a taxi for you, expect to pay $15-20 to downtown. Don't forget to get the taxi number so that you can get back!
- C&J, toll-free: , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Provides hourly bus service to Portsmouth Transportation Center from Boston's South Station and Logan Airport. Also a few daily trips from New York City.
- Wildcat Transit, 295 Mast Rd, Durham, NH, ☏ , fax: . Provides bus service from the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, NH to Portsmouth, Dover and Newmarket. Vastly reduced services in summer. $1.50.
- Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation (COAST), 42 Summer Dr., Dover, NH, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Services the Portsmouth region with a number of economical bus routes between Portsmouth, Dover, and Rochester.
Cars work best for navigating the New Hampshire seacoast region. Highways are well maintained and convenient, though the summer months see a major influx of tourists and congestion on I-95 occurs frequently. The cities in the region experience moderate traffic, except for the beaches during prime times such as early afternoon, which get very crowded.
Portsmouth and surrounding areas are serviced by a free COAST trolley during the summer and fall. The trolleys are convenient and make many stops in the area.
Bicycles are also a very effective means to see the area, see the Seacoast Area Bicycle Routes.
The city of Portsmouth is small and the major historical points of interest are easily visited on foot. Most downtown establishment will have one of the free local maps available that make touring the downtown on foot easy. You could also walk along the Portsmouth Harbor Trail.
- 1 The Strawbery Banke Museum, 420 Court St (I-95, exit 7), ☏ . May-late Oct 10AM-5PM, late Oct-Dec on some weekends 10AM-2PM and for candlelight strolls in Dec. Strawbery Banke is an historic neighborhood of 42 buildings that have been preserved intact as they were in the 17th and 18th century. This unique outdoor museum affords a rare opportunity to just walk back in time. It features houses that have been restored to a particular point in time, buildings that are used for special exhibits, gardens, and artisans practicing traditional trades. Adults $15, ages 5-17 $10, under 5 free, Family Rate (2 adults & youths 5-17) $40.
- Albacore Museum and Park, 600 Market St, ☏ . Unusual opportunity to tour a U.S. Navy submarine, that was in service from 1953 to 1972, and now is dry docked in a small park just outside of downtown Portsmouth. The USS Albacore was built in Portsmouth, had a crew of 55, and served as the test bed for today's modern submarine fleet. Open until 5PM in the summer and until 4PM in the winter. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children with a $10 deal for a family of four.
- Children's Museum of Portsmouth, 280 Marcy St, ☏ .
- 2 John Paul Jones House, 43 Middle St (at State St), ☏ . Memorial Day-Columbus Day: 11AM-5PM daily. His historic house still stands and is open to the public. $6 adults, $5 seniors/veterans/AAA members, free for children 12 and under.
- Red Hook Ale Brewery, 35 Corporate Dr, ☏ . The east coast brewery for Redhook located in the former Pease Air Force Base which is now an industrial park. The Brewery has an on site pub which often has special beer that is only available at the brewery. Tours of this large brewery are available every day.
- Portsmouth Brewery, 56 Market St, ☏ . Located in downtown, with an onsite pub that doubles as a full-service restaurant. Perhaps best known for their Russian Imperial Stout, "Kate the Great", which has won numerous awards and was named Beer Advocate's number one beer in America. Great food, great beer.
- Smuttynose Brewery, 255 Heritage Ave, ☏ . The sister brewery to the Portsmouth Brewery brewpub, successful enough to now be listed as a regional craft Brewery from a microbrewery, there is no onsite pub but it does offer tours Friday at 5:30PM and Saturday at 11AM and 1PM. The name of the brewery is taken from one of the Islands in the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth. Their Smuttynose IPA, Old Brown Dog, and Shoals Pale Ale have won numerous awards.
- The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St, ☏ . The seacoast's premier performing arts center puts on daily events in its 900-seat theatre built in 1878 located downtown on what is now a pedestrian only street. They have a weekly independent film series and have a diverse roster of opera, music performances in all genres (Bright Eyes to Kronos Quartet), comedy, theatre, and dance. There is always something going on that is worthwhile to check out.
- The Seacoast Repertory Theatre, 125 Bow St, ☏ . This theatre puts on many shows per season that are perfect for individuals in any age bracket (from 9 year olds to 99 year olds). It is small in size and does not hold as many people compared to the Music Hall. They put on a wide array of shows ranging from musicals, dramas to comedies.
- Seacoast Science Center, 570 Ocean Blvd, ☏ . Rye.
- Great Bay Discovery Center, Depot Rd (Exit 3B off I-95, 5 mi. on rte. 33), ☏ . May-Sep: W-Su 10AM-4PM; Oct: Sa-Su 10AM-4PM. Grounds open dawn-dusk year-round.
- Portsmouth Community Radio, WSCA-LP 106.1FM, 909 Islington St, ☏ .
- Water Country Water Park (Just south of town on Route 1), ☏ . The water park has calm attractions where you wander around a lazy path in a tube, dramatic water slides, and wave tidal pools. Summer fun.
- Pierce Island Pool, 99 Pierce Island Rd, ☏ . Open from mid June to late August. Located on Pierce Island, one of the largest public swimming pools in New England. Features changing rooms and a snack bar. One end of the pool has 7 lap lanes, while the other end has a 5 years and under swim area. $2 ($1 for Portsmouth residents).
- Thomas Laighton Cruises, 315 Market St, ☏ . Located on climb aboard to venture to the historical Isles of Shoals and Portsmouth Harbor tours. They are perfect for any age group and are a great thing to do on a hot summer day. The steamboat goes all the way out to the Isles of Shoals which is located roughly about 45 minutes from shore. Once you are there you'll be able to venture around the small island and visit the few gift shops, delis and the famous haunted hotel. On the weekends the steamboat is converted into a "booze cruise" and will take you around Portsmouth Harbor for the night. The drinks are mediocre and small in size, but there are many microbrews on tap, so grab a few friends and enjoy a fun night on the water. Make sure you book your tickets in advance (a week ahead of time) because the cruise fills up fast.
- Prescott Park Arts Festival, ☏ . June-Oct. The arts festival offers nightly performances throughout the summer in Prescott Park on the banks of the Piscataqua river. Theatre, music and other events. The annual Tommy Gallant Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, Rhythm and Roots festival, and Country festival are all part of the Prescott Park Arts festival.
- Market Square Day. June. Usually held on the second Saturday in June. Market square day is an outdoor fair with shopping and food booths lining the major streets downtown along with local bands playing on 2-4 stages. Worth wandering around but can get crowded.
- Portsmouth Blues Fest. August. A one day event to celebrate the blues. Sponsored by the blues bank collective, founded in 1985, by African American History scholar Valerie Cunningham and Blues musician T.J. Wheeler.
- NH Film Festival. October. A week long event with up to 60 films, it is one of the largest in New England.
- Halloween. October. The local residents take this day seriously. Enjoy the parade Ghosts on the Banke, and other events fun for adults and children alike.
- First Night. December. A new Years eve celebration of multiple artistic events coordinated throughout the town and provided for the price of a single button. A Boston tradition that is now widely replicated. It can be a fun night but plan to spend time indoors.
- [dead link] Shopaholics Boutique, 110 State St (near Rosa's), ☏ . 11-7. Shopaholics is a very upscale shop that's fun and trendy but not expensive. They carry new and resale designer women's clothing at the best prices! They also take items on consignment. Don't forget the accessories, Shopaholics Boutique has the finest selection of accessories as well including - Bags, shoes, jewelry and more!
- Helene M., 24 Congress St, ☏ . Monday-Saturday 10AM-5:30PM (closed on Sundays). This chic store was inspired by the fashion sense of Audrey Hepburn. The upscale boutique is perfect for young adult females who are willing to spend money on their wardrobe. The boutique is small in size but offers a lot of very nice pieces of clothing. The store has many well known designer brands such as, Tory Burch, Diane Von Furstenburg, and Ellen Tracy. The type of clothing ranges from casual t-shirts and jeans, to upscale cocktail dresses and stiletto heels. The store also has a wide array of accessories and purses.
- Serendipity, 41 Pleasant St, ☏ . vary from season to season. This small and unique women's boutique has clothing ranging from ultra casual, to ultra dress. They carry a wide array of accessories, jewelry, sunglasses, and even a few Portsmouth souvenirs. The store carries famous designers such as, BB Dakota, Free People, Language and Last Tango.
- Making Faces, 65 Bow St, ☏ . vary from season to season. This make-up store is known for their quality make-up, skin products and perfumes. Making Faces carries a wide array of lines such as, Nars, Bare Minerals, Two Faced, and Stila. The women that work there are very friendly and have a lot of product knowledge. If you love make-up and skin products then this store is definitely worth checking out. The workers will also provide you with some expert tips on how to apply make-up, which are always helpful.
- Dos Amigos Burritos, 107 State St, ☏ . Mostly a take-out place, but also has five or six tables. This is an inexpensive, fast, and healthy option for a tasty made to order burrito or perhaps a bowl of chili. Great quick service. Although it is right downtown, its take out focus, and location on lower State Street means it serves mostly locals. No alcohol license but they do have a nice selection of small batch sodas. M-W until 10PM, Thursday until 11PM, Friday & Saturday until 1:30AM.
- The Friendly Toast, 121 Congress St, ☏ . Great for breakfast at any time of the day. The decor at this Portsmouth institution is a funky selection of 70s kitsch eBay finds. Large portions, funky environment, and great simple food combinations. Recommended for all age groups but teenagers are espically energized by the attitude and vibe. It is open until 10PM during the week and on the weekend it is open continuously from Friday at 7AM until Sunday at 9PM. This schedule makes it your best bet for a late night meal on a Friday or Saturday night, but it is best to get there just before 1AM if you want to beat the rush.
- Portsmouth Gas Light - Downtown Brick Oven Pizza, 64 Market St, ☏ . The Downtown Brick Oven Pizza is in the Portsmouth Gas Light complex that consists of an street level bar, upstairs nightclub, outdoor deck, and a downstairs pub and brick oven pizza restaurant. It is the downstairs pizza that is recommended, although the street level bar is pleasant the food served is unremarkable. Go in to the Gaslight at the street level and quickly turn right and take the stairs down one floor and you will found a cozy brick walled space with a fish tank where you can order almost anything you want on a pizza and watch it be assembled and cooked in a brick oven. Open most nights until 10PM and on weekends until 11PM.
- Popovers On The Square, 8 Congress St, ☏ . Located at the heart of Market Square, right beside the steeple, this café, catering company, bakery and restaurant literally has everything you can imagine. They offer a wide array of cookies, cakes, pies and sweets. Their catering company offers many different cakes, but will also make many appetizers for your special occasion. Their menu has a lot of different sandwiches, salads, soups and chowders, and paninis. If you're looking for a light meal or lunch food, then this is the place to check out. Everything is homemade and has organic ingredients. The café also offers a small bar that offers beers, wines, liquor coffees, and light cocktails such as mimosas and bloody mary's. In the spring, summer and early fall Popovers will open up a little terrace on the sidewalk so you can bask in the sun and enjoy your coffee and lunch. The seating inside is all first-come-first-served. The location of the restaurant causes it to be very busy, both day and night Open Monday-Friday 7AM-10PM, Saturday 8AM-10PM and Sunday 8AM-8PM.
- Flatbread, 138 Congress St, ☏ . Wonderful pizzas cooked in a wood fired clay oven. Very pleasant surroundings in a large open space. Good selection of beers on tap and a nice bar area. Great for families and groups and also good for eating solo at the bar. They feature all organic and locally sourced ingredients. Open until 10PM every night.
- Café Mediterraneo, 119 Congress St, ☏ . Italian Bistro serving classic Italian staples in a casual but elegant setting. They have been around for almost 15 years, are usually packed, so they must be doing something right. Open until 9:30PM during the week and until 10PM on Fridays and Saturdays. $14-25
- Poco's Bow Street Cantina, 37 Bow St, ☏ . All the restaurants on Bow Street get a great deal of business from visitors due to their location on the river. If you are going to try one, then make it Poco's. They specilize in Mexican cuisine and have two main spaces and a seasonal outdoor deck (April–October). The downstairs bar is very intimate with a fireplace and a set of scattered tables while the upstairs dining room is a bit more formal with large windows facing the river. This place can get busy so food and service is occasionally uneven but it is a good bet for some Mexican food and a mojito in a appealing space. Open until 10PM on weeknights and to 10:30PM on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Agave, 111 Market St, ☏ . A Mexican bistro ambiance, with a funky flair. This isn't a place just to grab a quick burrito and split, it's rather fine dining. The entrees range from $15-25, but you get a bang for your buck because the portion sizes are large. The menu offers many interesting Mexican cuisine, but also offers a great share of Latino food. It's a rather popular restaurant because Prescott Park is just a few blocks away. The restaurant gets busy on the weekends so making a reservation a few days in advance is highly advised. Open Monday-Thursday 11:30AM-9PM, Friday&Saturday 11:30AM-10:30PM, Sunday 11:30AM-8:30PM. On Saturdays and Sundays they open at 9AM for breakfast burritos.
- Jumpin Jays, 150 Congress St, ☏ . Jays is often ranked in local surveys as the best place for dinner and their reputation is well deserved. It is all about the freshest fish available that day served with your choice of sauces. They also have great mussels and breaded Haddock dinners and more always on the menu. Everything is good. For a more casual dinner, grab a stool at the bar, $20-40.
- [dead link] Dunaways, 66 Marcy St, ☏ . The latest venture of Jay McSharry, this rustic dining room, on the grounds of the Strawberry Bank museum has a menu described as American influenced French. Meals are delicious and the service is top notch. The experience of eating here matches the price tag, but it is a clearly a splurge. This is the perfect restaurant to take that special someone in your life for a romantic evening out. $30-50.
- The Black Trumpet Bistro, 29 Ceres St, ☏ . This family owned bistro and wine bar is located right in the heart of the port and is directly across from the pristine Piscatiqua River. The bistro has two levels. The first floor has a cozy romantic setting, whereas the second floor is where the rustic wine bar is located. You can make a reservation for the dining room area, but the wine bar is a first-come-first-served basis. The menu changes every six weeks and offers cuisine from North Africa, Turkey, Mexico and Spain. The food is very rich and the menu is very limited, but their nightly specials are generally delicious. Entrees range from $25-$35.
- Cava, 10 Commercial Alley, ☏ . An upscale tapas restaurant and wine bar nestled in a cozy alley with outdoor seating (available only in the summer months). Additional seating and another bar are located downstairs, though even with three seating areas the space is small and will be packed on a busy Friday or Saturday night. Sit at the chefs table or try a tasting menu for the full experience. The menu changes frequently, and is extremely rich and eclectic. Although the tapas themselves are pretty reasonably priced, be prepared to spend $40 or more per person for a full meal. Alternatively, stop in for a dessert (churros?) and a glass of wine after dinner.
- Portsmouth Brewery, 56 Market St, ☏ . A brewpub right in the center of downtown, that serves better than average typical pub food. Tod Mott is the head brewer and is considered one of the best brewers in New England so check out some of their 8-10 beers that are always on tap. There is a large upstairs dining area as well as a sizable bar area. Don't overlook the built in coaches up front with views of the street. There is also a downstairs space, called the Jimmy LaPanza lounge, that has a pool table and attracts a younger crowd.
- Green Monkey Martini Bar, 86 Pleasant St, ☏ . Monday thru Saturday doors open at 5PM (closed on Sundays). Voted one of the best "fine dining experiences" on the seacoast, this restaurant has a wide array of delicacies. The food ranges from Italian, to Oriental cuisine to fresh seafood straight from the coast of Maine. The restaurant is rather small in size, so booking a reservation ahead of time is highly advised. They are known for their exceptional martinis, so taking a look at their 3 page selection would be a good idea. The cozy, intimate environment is the perfect place to go on a date with that special someone in your life.
- Rudis on Market Square, 3 Market Square. A wine bar located in the heart of Market Square, Rudi's offers a good selection of wines and cocktails. The main restaurant, located behind it, offers a full service menu which can be moderate to expensive in price. The wine bar is newer than the main restaurant, and attracts both locals and tourists.
A few Hotels and several B&Bs are right downtown -
- Hilton Garden Inn, 100 High St, ☏ , fax: . Part of a focus of Hilton on downtown hotels with modern and sleek decor. It has a small pool and a comfortable lounge. $100-150.
- Sheraton Harborside Hotel, 250 Market St (take exit 7 on Route 95 and drive towards downtown and you can not miss the Sheraton), ☏ , fax: . A large hotel overlooking the river with onsite parking, a pool, lounge, fitness center and onsite restaurant. A little pricey for what you get but is location is hard to beat. $150-250.
The best value hotels are slightly farther out, a mile or two, and require a short ride to get downtown -
- Courtyard Portsmouth, 1000 Market St, ☏ , fax: . The Courtyard is right off of Route 95 and is nicely set in a grove of trees. Like many Courtyards, it has a nice indoor pool (better then the Sheraton or Hilton downtown) and hot tub and decent rooms. It is well managed and friendly and a good choice in the area. $100 - 150.
- Holiday Inn, 300 Woodbury Ave, ☏ . Located at the route 1 traffic circle this is very typical of the Holiday Inn chain. Has a decent pool and an onsite restaurant that tends to be open late. $75 - 150.
- Residence Inn Portsmouth, 1 International Dr, ☏ , fax: . Located in the Pease Industrial park this larger room hotel geared to extended business stays are often also good for families. $100 - 150.
- America's Best Inn, 383 Woodbury Ave., ☏ , fax: . An inexpensive option out on the route 1 traffic circle near the Holiday Inn. Friendly staff and good value. $111 - 150.
- Quality Inn Portsmouth, 1190 Lafayette Rd. (just south of town on route 1), ☏ . A decent choice with a nice pool. The location is not quaint but it is a quick ride to downtown. Breakfast included. From $104.
- Wentworth By The Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, ☏ . One of the nicest places to stay in the area. Secluded in Newcastle, an small island community connected to Portsmouth by several small bridges, this is a special place to stay. Marriott did a solid job restoring the original 1874 hotel (what was left of it) from the days when this hotel was a train destination for the wealthy in the summer. In 1905, President Roosevelt mediated the end of the Russo-Japanese War here. You are close to downtown (a couple of miles) but it will feel like you are in a remote location. The hotel has a nice pool, a decent bar that serves late for the area, and is connected to a marina with a riverside restaurant and floating bar (search for it). $150 - 300.
Kittery is a few minutes' drive from Market Square, across Memorial Bridge/US1.
|Routes through Portsmouth|
|Portland ← Kittery ←||N S||→ Hampton → Boston|
|Portland ← Kittery ←||N S||→ Hampton → Boston|
|Concord ← Dover ←||W E||→ END|
|Berlin ← Dover ←||N E||→ END|