The Strawbery Banke Museum in beautiful downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker
Combining a working seaport with a diverse arts and cultural scene, and colonial history with cutting-edge restaurants, Portsmouth, NH, packs a lot of things to see and do into its modest coastal footprint. Settled in the early 1600s, Portsmouth retains many architectural grace notes from its long history — multicolored 18th-century clapboard homes, Georgian mansions, the grand white-steepled North Church — which visitors can appreciate up close throughout the walkable downtown.
The city is also close to nature, with lovely Odiorne State Park and Wallis Sands State Beach lying just a few miles to the southeast, in Rye. With Portsmouth’s blend of sophistication and scenery, it’s no wonder that, as one travel writer put it, “When Boston needs a vacation, it loves Portsmouth!” Launch your own exploration of this classic New England destination with some of our favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH.
SEE MORE: Coastal Weekend Getaways in New England | Your Perfect Weekend
Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH
Odiorne State Park
Lace up your walking shoes and get ready for a slew of Seacoast vistas when you step onto the 1¼-mile loop walk through this 330-acre park, which represents the largest swath of undeveloped coastline in New Hampshire. From the Seacoast Science Center (which, with its fun hands-on exhibits, is worth a visit in itself), you’ll wander through pristine marshes and forests and along the ocean itself before wending your way back home. 570 Ocean Blvd., Rye. 603-436-7406; nhstateparks.org/visitSEE MORE: Walks Worth Their Salt | New England Ocean Walks
Strawbery Banke Museum
Spanning four centuries in its 10 acres, Strawbery Banke is one of the best living history villages in New England and a must for any Portsmouth newcomer. Against a backdrop of more than three dozen historic buildings and several vintage gardens, costumed interpreters and artisans lead visitors back in time, while formal exhibits on things like archaeology, architecture, and woodworking tools and skills help further educate and entertain. Look for signature events here, too, like a spring celebration of baby farm animals from heritage breeds, and candlelight strolls during the holiday season. 14 Hancock St., Portsmouth. 603-433-1100; strawberybanke.orgSEE MORE: Strawbery Banke Museum | Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Isles of Shoals
Take in the beauty of Portsmouth from the water with a cruise to the Isles of Shoals, a scenic cluster of nine rocky islands just 6 miles offshore. The Isles of Shoals Steamboat Company, which has been ferrying folks for more than 30 years, offers fun and informative narrated tours — including some with the option of disembarking on Star Island, one of the larger isles, for a little on-land exploration. 315 Market St., Portsmouth. 603-431-5500; islesofshoals.comSEE MORE: Isles of Shoals Murders | Horror on Smuttynose Island
Portsmouth, NH | Restaurants
One of the newest and bright lights on the Portsmouth dining scene in recent years was the rustic Italian Louie’s, which opened in mid-2015 on Pleasant Street featuring rising chef Brett Cavanna, who trained in the kitchens at FIG in South Carolina and Café Boulud in Palm Beach. The menu featured soul-satisfying — but not stodgy — renditions of Italian comfort food, including handmade pasta, mixed with more eclectic dishes such as roasted cod with spaghetti squash, shiitake mushrooms, and tarragon. An April 2017 fire destroyed two adjacent buildings and flooded Louie’s, forcing it to temporarily close, but while reconstruction is underway, you can visit The Carriage House, their new restaurant in nearby Rye. 86 Pleasant St., Portsmouth. 603-294-0989; louiesportsmouth.com
The Friendly Toast
Want a breakfast that hits it out of the park? This is the place for you. Though the quirky diner/lounge gets crowded on weekends, the addictive pancakes, crepes, Benedicts, and other a.m. staples are worth the wait. We love the PB & Fluff crepe (a fluffernutter by way of France) and the Kiss My Grits breakfast plate (fried chicken tenders atop a homemade biscuit with over-easy eggs and cheddar grits), but you’ll quickly find your own favorite. Plus, the good food keeps rolling throughout the day and into the evening, as the Friendly Toast also serves up burgers, sandwiches, mac and cheese (four ways!), and more. The Friendly Toast has been such a smash that it’s opened two locations in Boston — but Portsmouth had it first. 113 Congress St., Portsmouth. 603-430-2154; thefriendlytoast.com
Franklin Oyster House
Opened by Moxy chef-owner Matt Louis — who’s been nominated three times in a row for a James Beard Award — this inviting seafood-centric joint puts the emphasis on local sourcing. Its raw bar often showcases oysters from nearby Great Bay, among other New England locales, and even it has its own exclusive oyster, the Franklin, farmed by the Bay Point Oyster Co. The house-made charcuterie, creative appetizers, and expertly done entrées (buttermilk-fried Maine chicken; bistro steak with shallot brown butter) are further reasons to pull up a chair here. 148 Fleet St., Portsmouth. 603-373-8500; franklinoysterhouse.com
Portsmouth, NH | Hotels & Inns
One of two polished boutique properties operated by Lark Hotels in the heart of Portsmouth (the other is Ale House Inn, another solid bet), this c. 1881 Queen Anne mansion mixes historic details like clawfoot tubs and restored molding with modern décor. In addition to the recently renovated 32 rooms — which keep you connected with free Wi-Fi, docking stations, and in-room iPads — there are delightful common areas such as a well-appointed parlor and a cheerful sun room where you can tuck into a gourmet small-plates breakfast. 40 Court St., Portsmouth. 603-433-1200; thehotelportsmouth.com
Wentworth by the Sea
One of New Hampshire’s last grand resort hotels, Wentworth by the Sea was teetering on the brink of demolition after closing in 1982. But with community support, a new buyer was found and the grand dame came roaring back to life in 2003, buoyed by a $30 million reconstruction. Today the Wentworth is the splurge of the Seacoast, a AAA four-diamond winner that pampers guests amid reclaimed gilded-age grandeur. Many of the luxury rooms and suites come with views of the harbor, the Piscataqua River, or the ocean — or in the case of the Center Turret Suite, which boasts 360-degree views, all of them at once. 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, NH 03854. 603-422-7322; wentworth.comSEE MORE: Where Winter Is Grand | New Hampshire’s Grand Hotels
Martin Hill Inn
For those who would like to stay near, but not in, the hubbub of Market Square, this 19th-century B&B is an ideal retreat on Islington Street, near Goodwin Park. Much of the inn’s property has been given over to perennial gardens, and guests are invited to wander and relax amid the peonies, day lilies, hostas, and 20-plus other varieties of flora. A freshly homemade two-course breakfast is included, and the inn’s rotating recipes are a cut above: lemon-ricotta pancakes, artichoke-spinach quiche, tomato-pesto strata, and (for Valentine’s Day) red velvet pancakes. 404 Islington St., Portsmouth. 603-436-2287; martinhillinn.com
What are your favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH? Let us know in the comments!