Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has many different identities. There’s Market Square, of course, and buzz of shops and restaurants that rivals Boston’s Newbury Street, minus the parking nightmares. Its compact size and sheer number locally owned stores, however, gives it a small town feel. It’s a working waterfront city, too, with tugboats and bigger ships on the Piscataqua River serving as a fitting backdrop. Woven through all of this is the city’s history, from its downtown architecture to the charms of Strawbery Banke.
For all the beauty Portsmouth offers during the summer, the holiday season just may be its finest time of year. The Christmas spirit you find here isn’t garish or overblown. It’s tasteful and subtle, more vintage than big-box store. So, two weeks ago, with much of our Christmas shopping still not done, my family and I spent two nights in Portsmouth, walking, shopping, eating, and walking some more.
For lodging we camped out at the Ale House Inn, a modern downtown hotel right on the water.
Among the amenities offered at the Ale House are free iPads in every room and wonderful, sunlight reading room with free snacks.
A simple stroll around Portsmouth offers up some impressive water views.
Portsmouth features a wide array of shops. In one quarter-block stretch we counted a high-end paper store, a jeweler, salon, an Irish and Celtic craft shop, toy store, and custom frame shop.
When it was time to get a bite to eat, we pulled up a seat at Popovers, a popular lunch spot smack-dab in the heart of Market Square.
We also found time for some good tea and muffins at Breaking New Grounds, Porstmouth’s most popular coffee shop, located in the heart of Market Square.
Portsmouth is an eminently accessible small city. Parking is a breeze, and in fact during the last three weeks of December is free throughout the downtown. During our visit we spent a good portion of one afternoon strolling through the city’s historic neighborhoods, discovering a host of favorite homes to gawk at along the way.
Of course, any visit to Portsmouth, especially during the holiday season, must include a stop at Strawbery Bank, a recreated historic village that covers some 400 years. During weekend nights in December the village is open to visitors to walk the grounds for its Candlelight Stroll.
On our last night in Porstmouth we took a late-hour walk around the city, strolling across the Memorial Bridge so we could say we’d walked to Maine and just taking in the downtown’s holiday feel.