Portsmouth (New Hampshire)
[Edit this travel guide] About This Destination
Settled in 1623, as Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth is a historic seaport that boasts an intriguing mix of the old and the new. As one of the oldest cities in the US, it was founded just three years after the settlement at Plymouth MA, the city has a walkable scale that is more often seen in European villages then in US cities.
The city sits 2 miles inland from the sea, on the safe deep harbor waters of the Piscataqua river. Its history as a seaport is an integral part of understanding Portsmouth today and yesterday. The city once was home to the founder of the US Navy, John Paul Jones, whose historic house still stands and is open to the public. It continues to be home to the Portsmouth Shipyard, where the the HMS Falkland was built in 1690 for the British Navy and continues today, more then three centuries later, as a Navy shipyard that repairs and upgrades Los Angeles class nuclear submarines.
Today, the city's economy is a mix of the traditonal with tugboats pulling in large ships to haul scrap material, fishman still plying the waters from Pierce Island, and new economy jobs in software and biotech at Lonza Biologics which is now one of the area's largest employers.
It is also the center of a growing metropolitian region, often called, "The Seacoast," that is home to 125,000 and includes the coastal towns of Rye, Hampton, and Newcastle in New Hampshire and Kittery and York in Maine, as well as the inland cities of of Rochester and Dover, NH. This region is known for its high quality of life and ranks as the 16th safest region in the United States according to Morgan Quitno's 2003 report.
Athough the city has attracted an influx of newer residents who have come for the small town with big city amenities in the midst of an area of great natural beauty, the city still retains a good measure of stubborn independent spirit. If you doubt this, pick up a copy of the local weekly newspaper, the New Hampshire Gazette, which is free around town and take in the local view.
Today, you will still find an old styled barbershop as well as upscale coffee shops, a shop selling handmade gourmet chocolates across from a cooperative art gallery, and a slick seafood restaurant that could be in LA (the owners were from LA) next to place called the Friendly Toast that is decorated with 70s kitsch purchased on eBay.
In this friendly small town you will also find an easily digestable mix of small town vibe combined with cultural, dining, shopping, and nightlife variety that is usually only found in more urban settings. The downtown contains Strawberry Banke, a living history museum, Prescott Park a beautiful urban park, and a number of riverside bars and restaurants to while away the day. If you want to get away from downtown, within a few miles are several ocean side parks that have facilities and beaches, often built around a historic fort, usually including a charming view of a lighthouse and sailboats.
To take maximum advantage, slow down and explore the city on foot. Take the time to linger a bit and talk to the locals walking their dog or the visitor relaxing at a sidewalk cafe. This is the best way to get a feel for the strong sense of place that has made Portsmouth a vibrant community both in the past and today.
[Edit this travel guide] Getting There
[Edit this travel guide] By plane
- Manchester Airport, Manchester, NH, , .
- Portland International Jetport, Portland, ME, .
- Logan International Airport, Boston, MA, .
The local airport to Portsmouth, Pease, no longer has commercial flights. Instead, Portsmouth is primarily accessible by flights into Manchester and Portland, both an hour by car, or Boston, roughly an hour car ride in good traffic, or an hour and a half by train. Frequent buses on C&J Trailways  travel between Boston's Logan airport and Boston's South Station Train Terminal to the Portsmouth Transportation center.
[Edit this travel guide] By train
- Amtrak's Downeaster, Phone: +1 800-USA-RAIL or Phone: +1 800-872-7245, . Services nearby Dover with service from Boston, MA to Portland, ME. The COAST  bus service operates between the Dover Transportation Center and downtown Portsmouth Monday through Saturday.
Buses to Portsmouth are also available from Boston's South Station train depot, which is serviced by Amtrak and the MBTA.
[Edit this travel guide] By car
Portsmouth is primarily accessible via Interstate 95 from the north and south. Coming from anywhere outside of New England requires travel on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 90, a toll interstate, east towards Worcester and Boston. Exit the pike onto I-290N through Worcester and onto I-495N, which connects to I-95. I-95 is a toll road through New Hampshire, charging $2.00 both ways at Hampton, NH. Interstate 95 runs through Portsmouth and into Kittery, Maine.
[Edit this travel guide] By bus
- C&J Trailways, 1-800-258-7111, . Provides commuter and tourist transportation to Portsmouth from Boston's South Station and Logan airport.
- Wildcat Transit, 295 Mast Rd, Durham, NH, 603-862-2328, . Provides bus service from the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, NH to Portsmouth, Dover and Newmarket. Reduced services in summer.
- COAST, 42 Summer Dr., Dover, NH, Phone: +1 603-743-5777,  Services the Portsmouth region with a number of economical bus routes between Portsmouth, Dover, and Rochester.
[Edit this travel guide] Getting Around
Cars work best for navigating the New Hampshire seacoast region. Highways are well maintained and convenient, though the summer months see a major influx of tourists and congestion on I-95 occurs frequently. The cities in the region experience moderate traffic, except for the beaches during prime times such as early afternoon, which get very crowded.
Portsmouth and surrounding areas are serviced by a free COAST  trolley during the summer and fall. The trolleys are convenient and make many stops in the area.
The city of Portsmouth is small and the major historical points of interest are easily visited on foot. Most downtown establishment will have one of the free local maps available that make touring the downtown on foot easy. You could also walk along the Portsmouth Harbor Trail.
Bicycles are also a very effective means to see the area, see the Seacoast Area Bicycle Routes.
[Edit this travel guide] Sightseeing
[Edit this travel guide] Museums
- The Strawbery Banke Museum, 420 Court Street (I-95, exit 7), Phone: +1 603-433-1100, . May-late Oct 10AM-5PM, late Oct-Dec on some weekends 10AM-2PM and for candlelight strolls in Dec. Strawbery Banke is an historic neighborhood of 42 buildings that have been perserved intact as they were in the 17th and 18th century. This unique outdoor museum affords a rare opportunity to just walk back in time. It features houses that have been restored to a particular point in time, buildings that are used for special exhibits, gardens, and artisans practicing traditional trades. Adults $15, ages 5-17 $10, under 5 free, Family Rate (2 adults & youths 5-17) $40.
- Albacore Museum and Park, 600 Market St., +1 603-436-3680, . Unusual opportunity to tour a U.S. Navy submarine, that was in service from 1953 to 1972, and now is dry docked in a small park just outside of downtown Portsmouth. The USS Albacore was built in Portsmouth, had a crew of 55, and served as the test bed for today's modern submarine fleet. Open until 5PM in the summer and until 4PM in the winter. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children with a $10 deal for a familly of four.
- Children's Museum of Portsmouth, 280 Marcy St., Phone: +1 603-463-3853, .
[Edit this travel guide] Breweries
- Red Hook Ale Brewery, 35 Corporate Drive, Phone: +1 603-430-8600, . The east coast brewery for Redhook located in the former Pease Air Force Base which is now an industrial park. The Brewery has an on site pub which often has special beer that is only available at the brewery. Tours of this large brewery are available every day.
- Smuttynose Brewery, 255 Heritage Ave, Phone: +1 603-436-4026, . the sister brewery to the Portsmouth Brewery brewpub, successful enough to now be listed as a regional craft Brewery from a microbrewery, there is no onsite pub but it does offer tours every Thursday and Fridays at 3PM. The name of the brewery is taken from one of the Islands in the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth. Their Smuttynose IPA, Old Brown Dog, and Shoals Pale Ale have won numerous awards.
[Edit this travel guide] Things To Do
[Edit this travel guide] Culture
- The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St, Phone: +1 603-436-2400, . The seacoast's premier performing arts center puts on daily events in its 900 seat theatre built in 1878 located downtown on what is now a pedestrian only street. They have a weekly independent film series and have a diverse roster of opera, music performances in all genres (Bright Eyes to Kronos Quartet), comedy, theatre, and dance. There is always something going on that is worthwhile to check out.
[Edit this travel guide] Discover
- Seacoast Science Center, 570 Ocean Blvd, Rye. Phone: +1 603-436-8043, .
- Sandy Point Discovery Center, Depot Rd. Exit 3B off I-95, 5 mi. on rte. 33, Phone: +1 603-778-0015, .
- Portsmouth Community Radio, WSCA-LP 106.1FM, 909 Islington Street, Portsmouth. Phone: +1 603-430-WSCA, .
[Edit this travel guide] Fun
- Water Country Water Park, Just south of town on Route 1, the water park has calm attractions where you wander around a lazy path in a tube, dramatic water slides, and wave tidal pools. Summer fun. Phone: +1 603-427-1111, .
- Pierce Island Pool, Located on Pierce Island, one of the largest public swimming pools in New England. Features changing rooms and a snack bar. One end of the pool has 7 lap lanes, while the other end has a 5 years and under swim area. Open from mid June to late August. Cost $2 ($1 for Portsmouth residents) Phone: +1 (603) 427-0717, 99 Pierce Island Road.
[Edit this travel guide] Events
- June-Oct: Prescott Park Arts Festival, Phone: +1 603-436-2848, . The arts festival offers nightly performances throughout the summer in Prescott Park on the banks of the Piscataqua river. Theatre, music and other events. The annual Tommy Gallant Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, Rhythm and Roots festival, and Country festival are all part of the Prescott Park Arts festival.
- June: Market Square Day , . Usually held on the second Saturday in June. Market square day is an outdoor fair with shopping and food booths lining the major streets downtown along with local bands playing on 2-4 stages. Worth wandering around but can get crowded.
- August: Portsmouth Blues Fest, . A one day event to celebrate the blues. Sponsored by the blues bank collective, founded in 1985, by African American History scholar Valerie Cunningham and Blues musician T.J. Wheeler.
- October: NH Film Festival . A week long event with up to 60 films, it is one of the largest in New England.
- December: First Night . A new Years eve celebration of multiple artistic events coordinated throughout the town and provided for the price of a single button. A Boston tradition that is now widely replicated. It can be a fun night but plan to spend time indoors.
[Edit this travel guide] Shopping
- Shopaholics Boutique, 110 State Street, (near Rosa's), Tel: 603-319-8139, Web: www.shopaholicsboutique.net Shopaholics is a very upscale shop that's fun and trendy but not expensive. They carry new and resale designer women's clothing at the best prices! They also take items on consignment. Don't forget the accessories, Shopaholics Boutique has the finest selection of accessories as well including - Bags, shoes, jewelry and more!
[Edit this travel guide] Where to Eat
[Edit this travel guide] Value
- Dos Amigos Burritos, 107 State St., Phone: +1 603 373-6001, . Mostly a take-out place, but also has five or six tables. This is an inexpensive, fast, and healthy option for a tasty made to order burrito or perhaps a bowl of chili. Great quick service. Although it is right downtown, its take out focus, and location on lower State Street means it serves mostly locals. No alcohol license but they do have a nice selection of small batch sodas. M-W until 10PM, Thursday until 11PM, Friday & Saturday until 1:30AM.
- The Friendly Toast, 121 Congress St., Phone: +1 603 430-2154. Great for breakfast at any time of the day. The decor at this Portsmouth institution is a funky selection of 70s kitsch eBay finds. Large portions, funky environment, and great simple food combinations. Recommended for all age groups but teenagers are espically energized by the attitude and vibe. It is open until 10PM during the week and on the weekend it is open continuously from Friday at 7 a.m. until Sunday at 9 p.m. This schedule makes it your best bet for a late night meal on a Friday or Saturday night but it is best to get there just before 1AM if you want to beat the rush.
- Portsmouth Gas Light - Downtown Brick Oven Pizza, 64 Market St., Phone (603) 430-9122, . The Downtown Brick Oven Pizza is in the Portsmouth Gas Light complex that consists of an street level bar, upstairs nightclub, outdoor deck, and a downstairs pub and brick oven pizza restaurant. It is the downstairs pizza that is recommended, althought the street level bar is pleasant the food served is unremarkable. Go in to the Gaslight at the street level and quickly turn right and take the stairs down one floor and you will found a cozy brick walled space with a fish tank where you can order almost anything you want on a pizza and watch it be assembled and cooked in a brick oven. Open most nights until 10PM and on weekends until 11PM.
[Edit this travel guide] Moderate
- Flatbread 138 Congress St., Phone: +1 603 436-7888, . Wonderful pizzas cooked in a wood fired clay oven. Very pleasant surroundings in a large open space. Good selection of beers on tap and a nice bar area. Great for families and groups and also good for eating solo at the bar. They feature all organic and locally sourced ingredients. Open until 10PM every night.
- Muddy River Smokehouse, 21 Congress St., Phone: +1 603 430-9582, . It is all about barbecue. It is casual and great for groups. It does not rate up there with great barbecue but was voted the best in New Hampshire. Try the pulled pork sandwich and you decide. Decent selection of draft beers. Open until 9:30PM during the week and until 10:30PM on Fridays and Saturdays, $9-$19.
- The Rosa, 80 State St., Phone: +1 603 436-9715, . Great place for a casual southern Italian meal. Very good value and kid friendly. An extensive menu including pizza, pasta, and classic Italian dishes. Open until 9:30PM during the week and until 10:30PM on Fridays and Saturdays, $10-$19
- Café Mediterraneo, 119 Congress St., Phone: +1 603 427-5563, . Italian Bistro serving classic Italian staples in a casual but elegant setting. They have been around for almost 15 years, are usually packed, so they must be doing something right. Open until 9:30PM during the week and until 10PM on Fridays and Saturdays. $14-$25
- Poco's Bow Street Cantina, 37 Bow St., Phone: +1 603 431-5967, . All the restaurants on Bow Street get a great deal of business from visitors due to their location on the river. If you are going to try one, then make it Poco's. They specilize in Mexican cuisine and have two main spaces and a seasonal outdoor deck (April-October). The downstairs bar is very intimate with a fireplace and a set of scattered tables while the upstairs dining room is a bit more formal with large windows facing the river. This place can get busy so food and service is occasionally uneven but it is a good bet for some Mexican food and a mojito in a appealing space. Open until 10PM on weeknights and to 10:30PM on Fridays and Saturdays.
[Edit this travel guide] Splurge
- Jumpin Jays, 150 Congress Street, Phone: +1 603 766-FISH, . Jays is often ranked in local surveys as the best place for dinner and their reputation is well deserved. It is all about the freshest fish available that day served with your choice of sauces. They also have great mussels and breaded Haddock dinners and more always on the menu. Everything is good. For a more casual dinner, grab a stool at the the bar, $20-40.
- Dunaways, 66 Marcy St., Phone: +1 603 373-6112, . The latest venture of Jay McSharry, this rustic dining room, on the grounds of the Strawberry Bank museum has a menu described as American influenced French. Meals are delcious and the service is top notch. The experience of eating here matches the price tag, but it is a clearly a splurge. $30-$50.
[Edit this travel guide] Drink
- Portsmouth Brewery, 56 Market St, Phone: +1 603-431-1115, . a brewpub right in the center of downtown, that serves better then average typical pub food. Tod Mott is the head brewer and is considered one of the best brewers in New England so check out some of their 8-10 beers that are always on tap. There is a large upstairs dining area as well as a sizable bar area. Don't overlook the built in coaches up front with views of the street. There is also a downstairs space, called the Jimmy LaPanza lounge, that has a pool table and attracts a younger crowd.
- Muddy River Smokehouse, 21 Congress St., Phone: +1 603 430-9582, . This is a combination restaurant, bar, and downstairs dance/performance space called Bourbons. You can check out the downstairs events on their web page, the local Wire weekly, or look in the front window where they are listed. The small bar area upstairs has an odd raised floor but the 20+ beers on tap provides some consolation.
- Coat of Arms, 174 Fleet Street., Phone +1 603 431-0407, . Best beer bar in town. It is on a side street, up a flight of stairs, so it tends to be just locals. The focus is on English and Irish styles with a couple of cast beers and a host of English and Irish imports (Fullers ESB, Fullers IPA, Green King IPA). They carry the British theme through with a snooker table; a couple of dartboards, and free copies of the US based English press. The crowd tends to be young and "alt" for Portsmouth. A nice pint, some decent music, and a good crowd. Their pub grub is decent as well.
[Edit this travel guide] Accommodation
[Edit this travel guide] Downtown
A few Hotels and several B&Bs are right downtown -
- Hilton Garden Inn, 100 High Street, Tel: +1 603 431-1499, Fax: +1 603 431-1477, Web: http://www.sheratonportsmouth.com/index.cfm This is Portsmouth's newest hotel right in the heart of downtown. Part of a focus of Hilton on downtown hotels with modern and sleek decor. Due to its location It has walking access to everything. It also has a small pool and a comfortable lounge. $100 - $150.
- Sheraton Harborside, 250 Market Street, (take exit 7 on Route 95 and drive towards downtown and you can not miss the Sheraton), Tel: +1 603 431-2300, Fax: +1 603 433-5649, Web: http://hiltongardeninn.hilton.com/en/gi/hotels/index.jhtml;?ctyhocn=MHTPDGI A large hotel overlooking the river, a few steps from downtown, with onsite parking, a pool, lounge, fitness center and onsite restaurant. A little pricey for what you get but is location is hard to beat. $150 - $250.
[Edit this travel guide] Around Town
The best value hotels are slightly farther out, a mile or two, and require a short ride to get downtown -
- Courtyard Portsmouth, 1000 Market Street, Tel: +1 603 436-2121, Fax: +1 603 430-7666, Web: http://marriott.com/property/propertypage/PSMCY The Courtyard is right off of Route 95 and is nicely set in a grove of trees. Like many Courtyards, it has a nice indoor pool (better then the Sheraton or Hilton downtown) and hot tub and decent rooms. It is well managed and friendly and a good choice in the area. $100 - $150.
- Holiday Inn, 300 Woodbury Ave, Tel: +1 603 431-8000, Web: http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hd/psmnh Located at the route 1 traffic circle this is very typical of the Holiday Inn chain. Has a decent pool and an onsite restaurant that tends to be open late. $75 - $150.
- Residence Inn Portsmouth, 1 International Drive, Tel: +1 603 436-8880, Fax: +1 603 422-0888, Web: http://marriott.com/property/propertypage/PSMRI Located in the Pease Industrial park this larger room hotel geared to extended business stays are often also good for families. $100 - $150.
- America's Best Inn, 383 Woodbury Ave., Tel: +1 603 431-4400, Fax: +1 603 431-4845, Web: http://www.americasbestinns.com/reservations/locationdetail.asp?facid=1263 An inexpensive option out on the route 1 traffic circle near the Holiday Inn. Friendly staff and good value. $50 - $100.
- Comfort Inn Portsmouth, 1190 Lafayette Rd., (Just south of town on route 1), Tel: +1 603 433-3338, Web: http://www.comfortinn.com/ires/en-US/html/HotelInfo?hotel=NH018 A decent choice. Located on route 1 south of the downtown core, it has a nice pool. The location, next to a open lot (former site of the recently demolished Yoken's restaurant that stood for 50 years as a route 1 travel beacon) is not quaint but it is a quick ride to downtown. $75 - $150.
[Edit this travel guide] Nearby
- Wentworth By The Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, NH 03854, (603.422.732), Tel: +1 603.422.7322, Web: http://www.wentworth.com/ One of the nicest places to stay in the area. Secluded in Newcastle, an small island community connected to Portsmouth by several small bridges, this is a special place to stay. Marriott did a solid job restoring the original 1874 hotel (what was left of it) from the days when this hotel was a train destination for the wealthy in the summer. In 1905, President Roosevelt mediated the end of the Russo-Japanese War here. You are close to downtown (a couple of miles) but it will feel like you are in a remote location. The hotel has a nice pool, a decent bar that serves late for the area, and is connected to a marina with a riverside restaurant and floating bar (search for it). $150 - $300.
[Edit this travel guide] Nearby Destinations
Kittery is a few minutes' drive from Market Square, across Memorial Bridge/US1.