Portsmouth is the artsy black sheep of New Hampshire. A tiny seaside enclave dotted with galleries and cafes, it doesn’t really fit the rugged alpine character of the rest of the Granite State. Both hip and historic, it’s an ideal getaway spot for anyone in search of a low-key weekend to indulge his or her cultured side.
A nice way to start the day is on the banks of the Piscataqua River at Prescott Park, which always seems to have an outdoor play or music festival planned for later. It’s easy to spend an hour or two camped out on a bench with a good book, watching the ships go by. When it’s finally time to move on, the Strawbery Banke Museum is a good place for a stroll. This cluster of renovated buildings offers a glimpse into Portsmouth’s early history.
You don’t need to confine yourself to the museum to see great old architecture, though. Portsmouth has a wealth of historic buildings, many of which now harbor a host of eclectic businesses just waiting to be discovered. If you search long enough, you may come across The Antiquarium, a small hidden-away antiques shop that specializes in Early American items. The old maps, pipes, and spectacles lining the walls are a perfect fit for the city’s historic vibe. You may also stumble upon Gulliver’s, a small specialty bookstore entirely devoted to travel. Even if you’re not planning a trip, it’s sure to capture your imagination.
Portsmouth has no shortage of restaurants, so when you tire of walking, you won’t have to go far for a pick-me-up. If you’re in the mood for something high-end, try Pesce Blue, The Green Monkey, or The Library, where the staff combines fine steaks with a decor dominated by leatherbound volumes. If you want something a little mellower, the Portsmouth Brewing Company offers lighter fare, a relaxed setting, and an impressive list of locally brewed beers.
The real fun in Portsmouth starts when the sun sets. For such a small city, it has a surprising number of venues offering all sorts of shows. The Seacoast Repertory Theater produces plays throughout the year. If you’re more in the mood for music, try The Press Room. It’s the only bar in town that offers music every night and once a month hosts a beat poetry reading that you have to see to believe. Finally, The Music Hall is the crown jewel of Portsmouth’s cultural scene, staging concerts, plays, movies, and even book readings. This meticulously restored theater holds its own with the best venues in Boston, attracting some of the nation’s most interesting entertainers.
If you decide to make a weekend of your trip (and you really should), there are plenty of quaint B&Bs to choose from. But if you’re going all-out, try Wentworth by the Sea. This grand Victorian-era hotel was abandoned and faced with demolition during the 1990s, but has recently been restored to its former glory as one of the most lavish resorts on the East Coast.
Yankee picks for your weekend in Portsmouth, NH. Click on any destination below for a map and more information.