A visit to Kittery Maine feels like you’re getting a three-for-one deal because of nearby York Maine and Portsmouth just across the Piscataqua River in New Hampshire. The best things to do in Kittery Maine come throughout all seasons with a common thread of New England coastal charm.
Whether you want to be in the center of it all or secluded on a rocky shoreline, Kittery offers it all. Ships, shopping, and shoreline are its trifecta of tourist attractions. And, it has nearly 400 years of history, making it Maine’s oldest town.
An Overview of Kittery Maine
Kittery is the southernmost city in Vacationland, as Maine is nicknamed. The regional tourism group calls it the Gateway To Maine, and the city lives up to that moniker with a large shopping center along the Golden Mile. But if you just stop there, you’ll miss folklore, history, and the oldest Naval shipyard in the country.
Kittery Maine History
Kittery was settled in 1647 and named after Kittery Court Manor in England. A lucrative fur trade, shipbuilding site, and fishing port were developed. The 1814 creation of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard forever sealed its synonymous relationship with military operations, which is still vital to this day.
Location of Kittery
Kittery sits on the Piscataqua River with New Hampshire to the south, offering yet another walkable place to explore. The town has 30 miles of jagged coastline, and even the islands 6 miles offshore hold more history in their choppy waters and rough terrain than in many larger cities.
TIP: Piscataqua is pronounced “Pih-SKAT-uh-kwaw.” Also, Kittery Point is part of Kittery, so they aren’t separate locations.
Apps to Help You Navigate Maine
While Maine offers many relaxing and refreshing activities, researching routes is key since some remote areas won’t have mobile phone service or tour guides. You can download these apps to help you plan and explore the region.
- National Park Service App: This app is a must-have for anyone exploring the national parks of Maine, especially the expansive Acadia National Park. Travel alerts, wildlife risks, camping reservations, and safety information are all included.
- Maine Island Trail Association: This app offers everything that a boater or coastal explorer needs to know.
- BikeMap: This app lays out bicycle routes through streets and wilderness with crowdsourcing safety tips and secret insider information.
- Audubon Bird Guide App: Novice bird lovers will become experts by identifying the vast array of birds from coastal regions to mountain adventures.
Kittery Maine Weather & Seasons
Kittery is a year-round destination, but the high season runs during the summer months of June through July. It rarely gets above 89 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, with an average high of 79 degrees in July.
September through November brings wonderful fall temperatures, with highs and lows dropping about 10 degrees each month, starting with 69-degree September highs and 55-degree lows. Between December and March, low temperatures don’t get above freezing, and highs rarely break the 40-degree mark.
Expect mud on trails and back roads from March through mid-April, a nicknamed Season of Mud across New England fueled by snowmelt on top of a frozen sub-layer of earth.
Fast Weather Facts
- Kittery gets an average of more than 4 feet of snow, with the most accumulation in December, January, and February.
- Rainfall totals an average of 50 inches annually, with October being the rainiest month.
- Hurricane season runs from June through November, with Nor’easter risks between October and May. You can use the National Hurricane Center to track the tropics during hurricane season.
Kittery Maine Outdoor Things to Do
Kittery is an outdoor playground — from deep-sea fishing to outdoor restaurant decks with river or ocean views.
This retired fort has seen five wars since being built in 1808. Several of the original and renovated buildings still stand, and there’s a path to the water’s edge with optional fenced vista points throughout the site.
The gates are open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day with a park entrance fee, but you can walk through the park in the off-season at your own risk.
This is a local park but is just as stunning as many of the state parks. Check out the park rules before you visit to waste no time exploring this park with views of the Piscataqua River and the Atlantic Ocean. It is open year-round but with limited days and hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
- Whaleback Lighthouse Observation Point at the end of Fort Foster Park Pier
- Military battery and observation tower with locations scattered throughout the park
- The rocky shoreline that runs from the south to the western side of the park
This seasonal outdoor adventure park offers zip line and elevated ropes courses for all skill levels. Visit solo or bring a group for team-building exercises, and you’ll be burning off those lobster roll calories in no time. If you visit during October, you can zip line with zombies.
NOTE: The course is closed from November through late April.
Nine islands sit 6 miles off the coast, split between the Maine and New Hampshire state line. The Isles of Shoals were first noted in history by Captain John Smith in 1614 — yes, of the Pocahontas story fame — and originally named Smith’s Isles.
Less than two years later, Smith coined the geographical term “New England,” but later, the islands were renamed Isles of Shoals for the unprecedented number of fish in the surrounding waters.
The Appledore, Smuttynose, Star, and White Islands are the ones to visit with unique elements — from those that give you goosebumps to sights that take your breath away.
Folklore says that you might hear a bride of Blackbeard on the shores insisting, “He will come back.” (Spoiler Alert: He didn’t.)
Walking tours hosted by workers at the Shoals Marine Lab are available seasonally. Add a Celia Thaxter book to your reading list before you visit her garden, which still flourishes 130 years after her death.
“I am fully and intensely aware that plants are conscious of love and respond to it as they do to nothing else.”– Celia Thaxter, Writer & Poet (1835-1894)
Additionally, you can visit a dangerous cove named the Devil’s Dance Floor, a popular spot for divers.
Named for a sea creature that turned out to be seaweed, it’s still an ominous approach with a rocky, narrow cove leading to a secluded trail. Get a copy of “The Weight of Water” to read before you arrive, and you’ll learn about one of America’s first true-crime stories that happened at the hands of an ax killer.
NOTE: Do NOT walk the breakwater between Smuttynose and Cedar Islands.
“At the Isles of Shoals, on the 5th of March in the year 1873, occurred one of the most monstrous tragedies ever enacted on this planet. The sickening details of the double murder are well known; the newspapers teemed with them for months: but the pathos of the story is not realized; the world does not know how gentle a life these poor people led, how innocently happy were their quiet days.”– Celia Thaxter, Writer & Poet (1835-1894)
The main attraction here is the Oceanic House, which once drew literary masterminds like Nathaniel Hawthorne. The island is accessible from mid-June to mid-September.
Making the effort to visit the stone chapel at the highest island point is worth it. The Vaughn Cottage Museum and Library is a humble but historic location. Rowing, fishing, and hiking are other popular activities here on the island.
NOTE: Mobile phone service is spotty and the use of electrical devices, like blow dryers, is not allowed.
White Island Historic Site is home to the only offshore lighthouse in New Hampshire, just on the other side of Maine’s watery state line. Several tour boats include stops to the island on itineraries during high season, but during the off-season, you’ll be here at your own risk, assuming you find a charter boat to bring you.
“High above, the lighthouse rays streamed out into the humid dark, and the cottage windows were ruddy from the glow within. I felt so much a part of the Lord’s universe, I was no more afraid of the dark than the wave or the winds.”– Celia Thaxter, Writer & Poet (1835-1894)
Boat Tours Available in Kittery
Hop aboard one of the many boat tours, charter boats, or fishing charters to explore the waterways of Kittery. Uncle Oscar Boat Tours offers rides to and from Star Island, as well as whale-watching tours.
Seacoast Maritime Charters lets you choose the length and destination of a private ride. The boat holds 49 passengers and has all the necessary safety gear with a restroom and Bluetooth speaker system, so you can control the soundtrack.
Seatime Fishing Charters serves Kittery and Portsmouth with deep-sea fishing adventures with a side attraction of seals, whales, and sharks. Choose from half-day or full-day trips, with private charters available as well.
Isles of Shoals Steamship Company docks just a short drive from Kittery in Portsmouth. Narrated history tours are available along the river, harbor, coast, and Isles of Shoals.
Kittery Maine Indoor Things to Do
The action in Maine doesn’t stop just because of rain, below-freezing temperatures, and deep snowfall. In fact, that just brings out an entire list of seasonal activities.
However, there are some indoor places to visit that help you appreciate the history and outdoor spaces much more. Your first stop should be the Maine Visitor Information Center in Kittery.
The mega shopping mile is one of the biggest lures to this region, especially as the seasons change and fashion choices range from impenetrable snow boots to hunter orange.
The Kittery Outlets are a mix of indoor and outdoor because it’s an open-air mall. It isn’t laid out as a shop-and-park variety, as a creek cuts the mall in half. The good news for those visiting when it’s cold outside is that you’ll have to move your car periodically, giving you a chance to warm up.
The mall spans a stretch of Route 1. From the Maine Turnpike, you don’t want to miss the one exit for the outlets, or you’ll have to drive a few more miles before you can turn around.
While here, don’t miss the Kittery Trading Post, aka “The Post,” which has been a local Maine outdoor clothing and supplies destination since 1938. Three levels take you through different seasons and activities with local outdoor experts helping you.
- If there’s an activity to do in Maine, you can buy supplies for it here.
- The store offers top-of-the-line brands, like The North Face, Carhartt, and Columbia.
- There’s a dog friendly-store with kennels available.
- Live or cooked lobsters are available.
- Reindeer are on site during the holidays.
Kittery’s history is immense, but its spirit is housed in a modest museum. That’s just so Maine because it holds so much significance but is too humble to brag about it. Even the list of dates and hours for visitors casually states, “Might change; then again, might not.”
Start your visit with the 25-minute movie taking you through Kittery’s history, then send the kids on a specially-designed scavenger hunt while you explore the history of shipbuilding, fishing, and military prowess. You can even see if you have a relative connected to Kittery’s early days.
NOTE: Tours from November through April are available by appointment only.
Just 2 miles across the bridge into New Hampshire, the walk or drive will be well worth exploring a once-top-secret submarine that paved the way for modern versions.
Self-guided tours take you through every submarine chamber, with audio kiosks offering history lessons while former crew members tell their stories.
A memorial garden offers a moment of reflection as you see the names of ships and men who perished in World War II and the Cold War. The museum is open throughout the year, except for eight weeks from mid-December through mid-February.
This building has gallantly stood since 1888, making the Victorian-era building itself a treasure to explore. Don’t miss the Italian marble fireplace with the initials AR inscribed, making homage to Arabella Rice who made this library possible.
The library offers a vast collection of Maine authors, fiction, and historical novels. Options range from Maine-native Stephen “The King of Horror” King telling terrifying tales set among Maine’s landscape to local poet Celia Thaxter.
Additional Attractions Near Kittery Maine
Kittery is a perfect home base for visiting attractions along the Maine coastline and into the New Hampshire mountains.
York Maine | “The Yorks”
Most visitor guides will include Kittery with nearby York Maine, a town 10 minutes away with four communities that lend it the name “The Yorks” — York Village, York Harbor, Your Beach, and Cape Neddick.
Visiting The Yorks is well worth the trip with the long, sandy beaches that you can’t find in Kittery. While you’re in York Beach, don’t miss the Goldenrod Candy Shop of sweet treats that has been serving visitors since 1896. Nubble Lighthouse near Sohier Park is one of the most photographed spots in the state.
This zoo-and-amusement-park combo provides hours of entertainment for all ages. More than 50 animals are on display, with a butterfly garden, amusement park, and kid’s zone. It is closed during the off-season.
When images of Maine pop into your mind, you’re likely seeing the tourist destination of Kennebunkport. This waterfront community is active throughout the year, with fewer businesses and attractions closing up for the winter. Don’t miss the chance to visit Kennebunkport during the holidays for the Christmas Prelude.
Skiing & Snowboarding Options
New Hampshire offers the largest number of ski resorts with shorter driving distances than some Maine options, but Maine’s Lake and Mountains Region is worth exploring if you have the time. Here are some of the best places to go skiing and snowboarding near Kittery Maine.
- Powderhouse Hill in South Berwick about 12 miles north
- Lost Valley Ski Area in Auburn about 82 miles north
- Pleasant Mountain Ski Area in Bridgton about 86 miles north
- Camden Snow Bowl in Camden about 134 miles northeast along the Maine coastline
Restaurants in Kittery Maine
Kittery offers a variety of restaurants, including fine dining, lobster shacks, ice cream parlors (Maine staples), and hidden gems tucked into different coastal neighborhoods.
NOTE: Many casual restaurants here offer Bring-Your-Own-Beverage (BYOB) options.
Casual & Family Eateries
There are several casual eateries that are suitable for families dining out. Chauncy Creek Lobster Pier is a casual creek-side cafe located between Fort McClary and Seapoint Beach. At When Pigs Fly Pizzeria, you can get popular homemade wood-fired pizza and visit the store to take bread or souvenirs with you.
We haven’t covered Badger Island, which sits between Portsmouth and Kittery, so this is a great way to add it to your itinerary. Morrison’s Lobsters is a self-proclaimed “No Nonsense, BYOB Waterfront Restaurant.” Ore Nell’s Barbecue is another great choice if you’ve had enough lobster.
Upscale, Intimate, & Romantic Restaurants
“Upscale” has a different meaning in Maine than in some other cities. “Dressy Casual” would be the expectation for the nicer restaurants, but feel free to dress up more if you’d like.
With nearly 1,000 reviews and a 4.7 rating, The Black Birch is an upscale restaurant that will leave you wanting to order just one more famous deviled egg. At Robert’s Maine Grill, don’t let the location along the strip of the outlet mall fool you. This is one of the most popular upscale restaurants in town.
Then there’s Anneke Jans. This bistro serves romantic meals in the heart of Kittery, and you can dine inside or outside or enjoy the intimate lounge.
Coffee & Ice Cream Shops & Cafes
Coffee and ice cream are practically staples in Maine, whether you need a pick-me-up or something to satisfy your sweet tooth. In fact, ice cream is almost a food class of its own in coastal New England communities.
You can bet your breakfast that you’ll meet locals and tourists alike at Lil’s Cafe, a community gathering spot serving fresh baked goods and a large selection of coffee and tea options. For coffee, breakfast, or lunch on the go, visit Auto-Drip — “Maine’s Original Drive-Thru Convenience Store.”
And even though Mrs & Me Ice Cream is only open seasonally, but the handmade ice cream receives rave reviews.
Brewery Taprooms & Winery Tasting Rooms
Maine has more than 100 breweries and a couple of dozen wineries, each making distinct flavors. Tributary Brewing Company makes handcrafted beers and has indoor and outdoor seating as well as a tasting room if you can’t pick just one brew. Beer-to-go service is available too.
Woodland Farms Brewery offers traditional flavors with some standout options, like marshmallow fluff-flavored beer. The cans from “WF” are just as unique as the flavors and make great keepsakes.
For a vine-to-wine experience that you can’t get in Kittery, head to Squamscott Vineyard & Winery about 20 minutes into the New Hampshire woods.
Restaurants With the Best Waterfront Views
A safe harbor with water access to the ocean, Pepperrell Cove is a great spot to grab a bite whether you’re looking for upscale or casual.
Bistro 1828 offers Sunday brunch or lunch and dinner. It’s the ideal restaurant if you’re looking for something more laid back. Reservations are recommended.
Just outside of the bistro, Frisbee’s Wharf mixes American fare with seafood specials while soaking in the salt hour (open seasonally).
Hotels in Kittery Maine & Other Lodging Options
You’ll find more hotels or inns on the Portsmouth side of the region with more options (and higher prices) in Kennebunkport to the north. Kittery does have some unique places to stay, though.
The Water Street Inn offers eight rooms or full house rentals near the waterfront, the charm of this inn only competes with its convenient location.
Kittery Inn & Suites is a throwback to 1950s Maine adventures, with rooms and cabins available for rent. There aren’t many frills, but there’s a comfortable setting with free continental breakfast and laundry facilities on site.
Set in the shopper’s paradise near the outlet mall, The Coachman Inn is a pet-friendly hotel that offers free breakfast and a convenient location on the main highway to avoid winter’s treacherous side roads.
BONUS: For the best views of Kittery Maine, consider the Ale House Inn across the river in a historic building that also houses the Portsmouth Brewing Company. Even the Wall Street Journal touted this as a “Great Tiny Hotel.”
If you’re ready to spend a pretty penny on upscale digs, you’ll need to leave Kittery but won’t have to drive too far.
Cliff House Maine in Cape Neddick Maine
Twenty miles north of Kittery, this stately hotel sits atop rocky shores with impressive open sea views. Guest rooms, suites, and cottages are available, along with the Seaside Sanctuary spa with floor-to-ceiling windows and treatments that include the elements of Maine’s “wild and free” nature.
Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle New Hampshire
While under the Marriott umbrella, this isn’t a cookie-cutter hotel just across the river from Kittery Maine. Offerings include rooms and suites with stunning waterside views, three restaurants, and a coastal-themed spa.
Camping & RV Parks
You’ll find camping spots throughout Maine, including a handful of places on the southern coast where Kittery is located. Campsites in Maine’s State Parks and public lands can fill up quickly, so learn the rules and make your reservations as soon as possible.
FAQs About Kittery Maine
Is Kittery Maine open year-round?
Maine’s outdoor adventures beckon visitors throughout all seasons, but many museums, attractions, and restaurants are closed or have limited hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Always check the schedule of your chosen attraction. January through mid-April will offer the least staffed options. In any case, finding a hotel won’t be an issue.
Is Kittery Maine a good choice for a getaway?
Kittery offers the best parts of Maine with a hipster vibe while still offering massive lobster roll shacks and breathtaking sunrises. Also, you can walk to New Hampshire across the river on the Memorial Bridge.
What is Kittery Maine’s tax rate?
Let’s save you some money when visiting Kittery, Maine.
Maine’s sales tax is 5.5%, with a lodging tax of 9%. All taxes are automatically added to your bill. However, just across the state line in New Hampshire, there’s no sales tax on any groceries or non-food items, and the lodging tax is 8%.
That means if you shop and/or stay in Portsmouth to visit Kittery, you’ll save 6.5% right off the bat.
I’m confused. Is Portsmouth in Maine, New Hampshire, or Virginia?
Great question! The answer to all three is “Yes!” but let’s do a quick rundown of the similarly named places.
- Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is in Kittery Maine on its own island. No tourists are allowed unless they are on official business or are guests of a sailor.
- Portsmouth New Hampshire is a city just across the state line from Kittery.
- Portsmouth Virginia is a city near Norfolk (NOR-fick) Naval Shipyard, about 600 miles from the New Hampshire and Maine locations.
Does Kittery Maine have nice beaches?
Kittery has a great shoreline, but the beaches are not of the sandy variety. The rocky shoreline and pebbled beaches of Seapoint Beach are hard to access but worth the effort.
Is Kittery Maine dog friendly?
Yes! From the outlet mall to the parks to many restaurants and hotels, there’s a place for your four-legged friend, with certain restrictions. Overall, this is one of the more dog-friendly communities in the Pine Tree State.
Explore Everything in Kittery Maine & Beyond
Kittery is the first town you’ll see in Maine after crossing the state line from New Hampshire, but the last thing you should do is skip it for seemingly more popular cities, like Kennebunkport and Portland.
The town doesn’t have the same strict parking regulations as other cities and offers two towns in two states to explore, with a mega shopping center for everything that you’ll need to safely and comfortably enjoy “Vacationland.”