Planning a visit to the Seacoast? Add these things to do in Portsmouth NH to your itinerary!
Why is a website about the Southern Maine Coast talking about a New Hampshire town? Because Portsmouth New Hampshire is our closest cousin in terms of geography. It sits across the Piscataqua River from our own Kittery, with three bridges available to take you back and forth.
The Southern Maine and New Hampshire coasts are on a stretch of land known as the Seacoast, making a two-state trip pair well together. In fact, enough people are confused about Portsmouth’s location that “Portsmouth ME” and “Portsmouth NH” get equal amounts of web traffic.
There’s real traffic, too, but more on that to come.
Much is said about Portsmouth, especially as New Hampshire tourism soars. Some call it a smaller Portland Maine. Others might say it’s more upscale than Maine’s L.L. Bean laidback nature.
At the same time, this tiny city continues to blossom into a foodie destination with bigger crowds and visitors who love it so much that they move or retire here.
On that note, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Portsmouth New Hampshire.
Top Things to Do in Portsmouth NH
Portsmouth’s popularity is well-earned, with museums, restaurants, and shopping that blend perfectly with the Seacoast landscape. From indoor attractions to outdoor recreation, here’s a look at everything you can do just across the border from Kittery and South Eliot Maine.
Visit a Museum
History is preserved, celebrated, and re-told at many Portsmouth locations. Here are a handful to check out during your visit.
Jump into the age-old debate of “Is Portsmouth the oldest city in New Hampshire or not?” at the Strawbery Banke Museum (not a typo).
This living history museum takes you on a captivating journey through time. This living history museum features meticulously preserved buildings dating back to the 17th century, offering a glimpse into early settlers’ daily lives and showcasing Portsmouth’s evolution over the last four centuries.
Dive into naval history at the USS Albacore Submarine and Museum, where you can explore the USS Albacore, a groundbreaking submarine that played a pivotal role in developing modern submarines.
Step aboard this sleek vessel to learn about its technological innovations, missions, and the brave submariners who served on it. It’s a unique opportunity to gain insight into the world of undersea warfare and the advancements that shaped it.
SPEAKING OF SHIPS: The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is technically located in Kittery on the other side of the watery state line. It’s not open for tours.
Delve into the life of a Revolutionary War hero at The John Paul Jones House. This historic residence once belonged to the renowned naval commander John Paul Jones. Explore the meticulously restored interiors and learn about his daring exploits during the American Revolution.
The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion is a testament to Georgian architecture and the elegant lifestyle of New Hampshire’s colonial elite. This state historic site offers guided tours of the mansion, allowing you to marvel at its grandeur and learn about the Wentworth family’s influence on the region. The stunning waterfront location and scenic grounds make it worth the trip.
MORE HISTORY: Check out the complete list of sites under the Portsmouth Historic Sites Association.
The iconic Portsmouth landmark North Church symbolizes the city’s rich history. Its towering steeple and elegant Georgian architecture evoke a sense of timeless beauty. Beyond its architectural significance, it plays a central role in community events, reflecting Portsmouth’s enduring cultural and spiritual heritage.
A message from the pastor affirms that “Whoever you are, wherever you come from, you are welcome here.”
Take a Tour
The Portsmouth Historical Society offers walking tours, or you can explore solo. That’s just one of several tour options in Portsmouth. Here are several others
This tour is a more expansive version of the historic homes tours, covering the waterfront, industries, and religious landmarks. The local Chamber of Commerce offers these tours twice weekly from May through October.
We’ll walk you through dining options a little later, but if you want to try it all, Portsmouth Eat is perfect for you. Choose from a Best Of Portsmouth Tour that folds new restaurants with old classics, or select the Sweets And Treats tour. Private events can be scheduled too.
Boat tours are a must in any town that starts with “Port,” right? Several companies in the city offer narrated tours from inland waters to outer islands. See fall foliage from the water or enjoy a sunset dinner cruise.
Literary fans should look up the Isle of Shoals tours that take you to the home of Celia Thaxter. You can even opt to cruise on a steamship.
Walk or Drive to an Island
Hopscotch across the islands of Portsmouth for more parks and unique places to see. Here’s a peek at a few options.
Pierce Island is a serene waterfront oasis. It boasts scenic walking trails, a waterfront park, and picnic spots with views of the Piscataqua River and the city’s skyline. Cliff Overlook gives direct views of the naval shipyard.
Walk the causeway to Four Tree Island from Pierce Island for another outdoor adventure. You’ll see the skylines of Kittery and Portsmouth, along with jaw-dropping sunrise and sunset views.
Although not technically part of Portsmouth, New Castle Island is renowned for its charming village, centuries-old forts — like Fort Constitution — and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Check out each corner of the island because each one has a glimpse into why Portsmouth was such an important shipping route and the lengths people went through to protect it.
Dining in Portsmouth New Hampshire
Portsmouth has a reputation for sophisticated dining with coastal flair, but plenty of quick bites and creative drinks are on the menu as well. Foodies should note that the annual Restaurant Week in Portsmouth is in early November.
Breakfast in Portsmouth
Find a bottomless cup of coffee and huge portions of your favorite breakfast foods at Roundabout Diner. Breakfast is served all day, and there’s a big lunch and dinner menu.
You can’t come to New England without trying a popover, and Popovers on the Square makes the best in town alongside a variety of breakfast dishes — from quiches to breakfast sandwiches.
The Friendly Toast redefines quirky in this nostalgic spot. All-day brunch and “monster” menu items will start your day right.
La Maison Navarre has that certain “je ne sais quoi” you can usually only find in France. Enjoy the macrons and unique French twist on breakfast. Then, come back later to enjoy the wine bar.
Lunch in Portsmouth
STREET serves street food that somehow blends causal and contemporary flawlessly. You can splurge on the Pho cuisine, but don’t be shy about trying the curry fries, a house staple.
The beer menu will take you longer to review than the food menu at The Thirsty Moose Taphouse, which has nearly 120 beers on tap. Have a side of Poutine fries to try this classic Acadian dish. While you won’t see a real moose here, summer guests will find plenty of pets on the patio.
Genos Chowder & Sandwich Shop is the place to be when you want to eat like a local (and in New England, you definitely do).
NOTE: When you order a Lobster “Salad” Roll in New Hampshire, you’ll get what Maine calls the right way to make a lobster roll. Connecticut dares to make a lobster roll hot and plain with melted butter.
Dinner in Portsmouth
I hope you worked up an appetite because dinner is delightful in Portsmouth, and the party goes into the wee hours of the night if you’d like.
Moxy is a trendy spot for creative tapas-style dishes. The menu features a mix of innovative small plates and craft cocktails, making it perfect for a unique dining experience. Also, The Franklin oyster house serves small plates and shuckers galore.
Black Trumpet is a bistro with a seasonal menu of Mediterranean-inspired farm-to-table creations. Get your camera ready because these meals are Instagram-worthy!
From a New England harbor to the Italian countryside, Ristorante Massimo is “bellissima.” This is a nighttime delight, even if you go to the wine bar upstairs.
If you know what “casually hip” means for a restaurant atmosphere, head over to Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe. You can look at the menu now, but it will change depending on the day’s fresh catch.
Plan your dinner around sunset for stunning scenery at Martingale Wharf. While your jaw is dropped, order the fisherman’s platter to splurge on the gifts of the sea.
Breweries in Portsmouth
We can’t talk about a city with such a great beer scene without exploring a few options. Here are a few Portsmouth New Hampshire breweries to visit.
This brewery produces a diverse lineup of beers — from traditional styles to experimental brews. The taproom offers a welcoming environment to enjoy its craft beers. It’s hidden off the street, so don’t give up if you don’t find it immediately. The backyard is worth it!
Offering a variety of beer styles, Loaded Question is known for its IPAs, stouts, and sour ales. The taproom provides a comfortable space to sample the offerings, which change often.
The owners are delighted knowing that there’s no perfect beer, stating, “Our beer of choice changes with the season, the time of day, the weather, and the crew we are hanging with.”
Known for its innovative and historic beer styles, Earth Eagle has unique and flavorful brews like gruits and braggots. The beer garden in the heart of Market Square puts a bow on this perfect Portsmouth beer house. Hungry? Just wait until you see the hot dog menu.
Lodging in Portsmouth New Hampshire
Portsmouth overflows with hotel options, and many are national chains. It takes a bit of sorting through long lists to find the locally treasured and operated options or picture-perfect rentals.
This small yet sophisticated nautical-themed inn is in the heart of the historic district. That tracks because the building dates back to 1801. There are no cookie-cutter rooms here — only 10 unique designs and the same unparalleled experience for each guest.
Martin Hill Inn surrounds each room with perennial gardens and offers a nightly fire pit to relax 10 minutes from the city’s hustle. Choose from the main house, guesthouse, or a suite with eco-friendly amenities. Guests love the contactless check-in and free parking.
This historic boutique hotel is located in the heart of downtown Portsmouth, offering elegantly designed rooms and a charming atmosphere. With just 32 rooms, you still get customized service with the amenities of a big hotel. Room options include everything from pet-friendly to the penthouse.
This secluded spot is so close to downtown that you get the best of both worlds. With three bedrooms, there’s room for the whole family and a waterfront back porch with a private dock. Explore the area on walking trails or grab the bicycles out back.
This classic New England Colonial waterfront home feels like you’re the finest of local inns. Market Square is a five-block walk, but with backyard views like this, you might order food delivery and enjoy the soaking tub after a long day of exploring. With four bedrooms and three baths, there’s room for everyone, including your pet.
Learning About Portsmouth New Hampshire
Portsmouth boasts a storied history from the bottom of its salty waters to the tip of its iconic steeple. Founded in 1623, it’s one of the oldest settlements in America, initially established as a fishing and trading outpost.
As we know them today, Kittery and Portland were both part of the Piscaraqua Plantations once. The strategic location along the Piscataqua River contributed to its early prosperity.
Over time, Portsmouth evolved into a thriving seaport, welcoming immigrants and fostering a diverse cultural landscape. The historic Strawbery Banke district preserves its colonial heritage with well-preserved homes and exhibits.
Portsmouth has been revitalized in recent decades, transforming into a hub of arts, culture, and gastronomy. The downtown area brims with independent shops, restaurants, and a lively arts scene. The preservation of historic buildings has maintained its New England charm.
Portsmouth is divided into five main sections:
- Downtown: The main streets downtown are Congress, Pleasant, and Market.
- Waterfront: From downtown, you have an expansive waterfront with roads leading to about half a dozen islands.
- West End: Centered around the heart of Islington Street, this trendy new section of town keeps developing.
- North End: Budget-conscious travelers might choose this section for overnight accommodations closer to the airport and interstate.
- South End: Portsmouth’s South End is a charming district known for historic homes, waterfront views, boutique shops, and a vibrant dining scene along picturesque streets.
Notice the word “beach” is missing from those descriptions. That’s because the beaches closest to Portsmouth are in nearby Rye.
Plus, you get the bonus of Rye not having the busiest beach in New Hampshire. That honor goes to Hampton Beach. If you’re looking for a more globally-known boardwalk beach location, head north on Route 1 to Old Orchard Beach Maine.
FAQs About Portsmouth New Hampshire
Is Portsmouth NH tax-free?
One of the benefits of New Hampshire, including Portsmouth, is that anything you buy there isn’t taxed. The tax-free status doesn’t apply to lodging or restaurants, but it does cover groceries or supplies.
Is Portland or Portsmouth Better to Visit?
If you have to choose between Portland and Portsmouth, decide if you want a big-city atmosphere or a small-town experience. Portland is nearing 70,000 residents, while Portsmouth hasn’t even reached 25,000.
The drive to Portland is an hour longer, assuming traffic flows smoothly (so plan for 90 minutes because the Maine Turnkpike can be packed). But, both cities offer great seaside and culinary scenes steeped in history.
Do you need a car in Portsmouth NH?
Downtown Portsmouth is very walkable. Also, it’s not a large enough city that you’ll get too tired to enjoy walking around. Meanwhile, having a car is an excellent bonus for exploring the coastline, beaches, and nearby Kittery.
Can you walk from Portsmouth to Kittery?
Yes, you can walk to Kittery from Portsmouth! It’s a 1.2-mile walk over the Route 1 Memorial Highway bridge from downtown Portsmouth to Kittery’s Foreside District.
There’s a sidewalk but no guardrails between you and the cars, so be careful. We don’t recommend walking across the other two bridges, however.
When is the best time to see fall foliage in Portsmouth NH?
Late September through early October is the peak season for leaves changing here, but that can vary annually depending on winter and summer conditions. It’s a unique weather cocktail that brings the peak and starts mixing way before September.
Exploring All That Portsmouth NH Has to Offer
Portsmouth is up and coming, so there’s no better time than now to plan your trip. With four seasons of activities and an optional side trip to Maine, there’s so much to do in this charming New Hampshire town surrounded by maritime forces and fun.
With several other vacation destinations sharing the name Portsmouth, make sure that you see the area code “603” on any attractions or hotels. You wouldn’t want to show up in New Hampshire with a reservation on an island off of North Carolina.