New Hampshire

Winter Daytrip to Portsmouth, NH

Looking for things to do in Portsmouth, NH? Check out a day trip to the dog-friendly town with ideas on what to do and where to eat.

By Mel Allen

Jan 04 2019


Bustling Congress Street on a sunny Sunday in Portsmouth. | Things To Do In Portsmouth, NH

Photo Credit : Annie Graves

Yankee editor Mel Allen recounts a winter daytrip to the New Hampshire seacoast, including some of his favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH.

On a blue sky Sunday we drove south to one of the most walkable, inviting small cities in America: Portsmouth, NH. It was Presidents’ Day weekend, sunny, soft breeze, mid 40s, and it seemed most of Portsmouth’s 21,000 souls wanted to join us outside.

Bustling Congress Street on a sunny Sunday in Portsmouth. | Things To Do In Portsmouth, NH
Photo Credit : Annie Graves

We had no agenda: just poke about, soak up sunshine, inhale the sea, and stroll streets packed with attractive shops, restaurants, and historic homes. At times I didn’t know if we were following the clouds drifting across the blue sky, or if the clouds were following us.

For the proper amount of strolling sustenance, our first stop was at one of the most famous breakfast eateries in the land: The Friendly Toast right smack on Congress Street. Good Morning America dubbed it one of the four best breakfast stops in America, and here at Yankee, we named their New Hampshire’s Finest Scramble (pictured below) one of “New England’s Best Breakfasts.”

The décor features neon walls, adorned with a kitschy collection of 2oth century memorabilia, or what would result if a restaurant mated with a flea market. Our waiter, Tony, like nearly all the wait staff, was efficient, friendly, wool capped, and adorned with tattoos. It’s all part of the experience, and why people say there’s no place like it.

Fall Visit to Downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Hungry? A visit to The Friendly Toast is sure to become one of your favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH.
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker

We downed slabs of exotic flavored toast  as thick as a hand, and hearty delicious dishes like Omar’s Homefries: red potatoes, broccoli, corn, onions, parmesan, artichoke hearts, a dash of soy sauce. Need I say more?  My son, who has never met a platter he couldn’t finish, vanquished a heaping amount of eggs, cheddar, avocado, black beans and salsa.

For dessert we had the beguiling city beneath our feet. I know of few places where moving about is more rewarding. We were carried along by a steady stream of walkers and window shoppers, (and one fine horse and buggy) as we ambled up and down the myriad of side streets that were too inviting not to explore. It is as though the city has passed an ordinance that no street, no house could be boring or undistinguished.

For a few minutes we stroked our inner child at G.Willikers! right off Market Square. Just as all bookstores sell books, but only special ones stir the desire to plunk right down with a book, so too GWillikers! makes you want to be seven again. And if so, if the urge rises to play, you can. They want to see kids (and parents) play.

Then we headed to Strawbery Banke Museum and the waterfront. Seagulls circled over the stillness of the famously restored historical site.

Strawbery Banke Museum | Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Strawbery Banke Museum (pictured here in summer) is tops the list of things to do in Portsmouth, NH, for history and architecture buffs.
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker

This, of course, was off-season, so nothing was open, except our imaginations, as we walked past buildings and gardens filled with the echoes of centuries past. And to think that only 50 years ago, the impulse to raze so much of historic New England, to make way for “urban development”, shopping centers, apartment buildings and the like, nearly claimed the structures that today are the heart of Portsmouth’s seafaring legacy.

Prescott Park | Photographs of Portsmouth, NH
The view from Prescott Park, looking north over the river toward Portsmouth’s next-door neighbor, Maine.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

Across a few lanes, Prescott Park, which in summer is alive with events nearly every day, stood witness to strollers, sitters and either people walking dogs, or dogs walking people. It was never clear.  If Portsmouth is not the most dog friendly small city in New England  I’d like to know what is. Seeing so many dogs outside put a bounce in our steps. And people all around us were smiling.

The day itself seemed to breathe slowly, just taking its ease.  Inexorably our feet were tugged down Ceres Street, where they were forced to stop at the entrance to Annabelle’s Ice Cream, a fixture since 1982.

New Englanders enjoy more ice cream per capita than any other region. Apparently our dogs do as well.

For the Portsmouth pup, a dish of Annabelle’s ice cream is worth the wait. | Things To Do In Portsmouth, NH
Photo Credit : Annie Graves

The day ended perfectly six miles south at Wallis Sands State Park. Low tide, easy walking, the Isle of Shoals visible to the east as the sun slid behind the homes that lined the breakwater.  Posted signs warned no dogs on the beach. But this was a soft winter’s Sunday.. And to the dogs that scampered about as buoyant as kites, it was a birthday and Christmas, and the last day of school all rolled into one.

What are your favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH? Let us know!

This post was first published in 2013 and has been updated. 

Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH | Coastal Weekend Getaways
Favorite Portsmouth, NH, Hotels & Inns
Guide to the New Hampshire Seacoast | Where to Play, Eat, Shop & Stay