Located in Southeastern New Hampshire, Portsmouth is New Hampshire’s oldest settlement and oldest seaport. National Geographic’s Traveler has named Portsmouth #26 in the world and #6 in the United States for historical places to visit. Portsmouth, NH is a beautiful place to visit, no matter what season it may be.
Portsmouth is a popular tourist attraction throughout the entire year. The city is known for its arts and culture scene, tax-free shopping, delicious dining options, music and entertainment experiences, and dozens of outdoor activities. This historical city is known for its original Colonial, Georgian, and Federal-style architecture.
Ready to learn more? Here are 25 things to do in Portsmouth NH that we know are going to make you fall in love with this amazing town.
STRAWBERY BANKE MUSEUM
The Strawbery Banke Museum is a 10-minute walk from Downtown, Portsmouth. It sits on 10 acres of land and is dedicated to preserving the 300-year-old local history of the Puddle Dock neighborhood.
It was the first settlement on the bank of the Piscataqua River, and tours incorporate original historic houses on their original foundations. You’ll also find costumed role-players, traditional crafts demonstrations, and historical gardens and landscapes.
The museum houses 1,000,000 decorative arts objects, artifacts, documents, photographs, ceramics, glass, metal, wood, bone, shell, seeds, and leather, which archaeologists have found up and down the East Coast.
A visit here is one of the best things to do in Portsmouth NH!
Prescott Park is located along the Portsmouth waterfront. What once used to be a run-down industrial area, is now a beautiful 10-acre park with multiple gardens, grassy fields, piers, and ocean views.
Gardens include a summer “trial garden,” that features more than 500 flower varieties, a “formal garden,” a rose garden, and a flower wall. The park also contains fountains, tree-lined paths, and a docking area.
During the summer months, the park hosts the Prescott Park Arts Festival, a nonprofit set up for the benefit of the community. All summer long you can enjoy music, theater, and art by sitting on the lawn with blankets or at a private table. Both are available for reservations, and while the shows and entertainment are free to the public, there is a suggested donation of $5-$10.
USS ALBACORE MUSEUM
Nicknamed the “Forerunner of the Future,” the USS Albacore hold the title of being the “first Navy-designed vessel with a true underwater hull of cylindrical shape.” This shape has become the standard for submarines today. It was the first “boat” built to be used totally underwater, and was specifically used as a prototype.
Things like propulsion systems, sonar equipment, dive brakes, escape mechanisms, and various innovative theories and equipment were being tested on the Albacore.
The submarine was in use from 1953 to 1972, when it spent many years in the Inactive Ship Facility in Philadelphia. After ten years, the submarine was transported back to Portsmouth, where it was turned into a museum for guests of all ages to learn about and enjoy.
You can tour the inside of the Albacore, as well as the outside and the memorial garden.
BLACK HERITAGE WALKING TOURS
The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail honors people and events within the local African American history of Portsmouth dating back to 1645. Self-guided walking tours are available for free all year long, and while the trail goes through all of New Hampshire, the section in Portsmouth has 26 historical points of importance.
The Geotourist App is recommended for download if you’re taking a walking tour of the Black Heritage Trail. The app provides audio commentary about the history of each site.
PORTSMOUTH HARBOR LIGHTHOUSE
The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse also goes by the names of Fort Point Lighthouse, New Castle Lighthouse, and Fort Constitution Lighthouse. Established in 1771, it was the first lighthouse north of Boston. While the lighthouse has been refurbished and rebuilt several times, it still remains a historical site with alluring views of the sea.
For now, the lighthouse is open to tours by reservation only. The lighthouse sits on an active coastguard station and to get to the tip you only have to climb 44 stairs and a 7-rung ladder.
If you’re into spooky stuff, this lighthouse has been featured on two shows about hauntings. The first show was an independent TV show called Scared! And then a couple of years later, Ghost Hunters also featured the lighthouse in one of its episodes.
The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse is cared for by The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, which also cares for Whaleback Lighthouse, which technically sits in Maine waters.
PORTSMOUTH HISTORICAL SOCIETY DISCOVER X
The Portsmouth Historical Society was founded in 1917 and is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to “the history, arts, and culture of the Portsmouth region through acquisitions, preservation, museum exhibitions, programs, and publications.”
The historical society is in charge of Discover Portsmouth, and the 1758 John Paul Jones House Museum and Garden. Discover Portsmouth is actually two buildings turned into one. Originally, the building was split, with one being a private home and the other being a private school. They were brought together by an addition, which was built in 1954, and then again the building was revamped into the building it is today.
Inside this visitors center, you’ll find seven four-color, 4-by-8-foot information panels on each of Portsmouth’s historic houses, museums, landmarks, and performance venues.
There is also a small theater on-site that features continuous showings of a free 12-minute film on Portsmouth’s 400-year history of “Welcome to Historic Portsmouth.” Guided walking tours are available from May through October and last about 1.5 hours. Private tours are also available by request.
The John Paul Jones House was built in 1758 and was one of the first 3-story homes in the city. It was originally owned by a merchant and sea captain, before switching owners a number of times and has been a museum since 1920. The museum tells the stories surrounding the Revolutionary War.
MOFFATT-LADD HOUSE & GARDEN
The Moffatt-Ladd House and Garden, sometimes called the William Whipple House, was built in 1763 by John Moffatt, the wealthiest man in New Hampshire at the time. He lived in the home with his daughter and son-in-law, William Wipple. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1968, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is now open to the public as a museum.
The home was also lived in by Alexander Hamilton Ladd, who established the home’s gardens. The house is a three-story home overlooking the older part of Portsmouth Harbor. The house also features a flat widow’s walk.
Two signers of the Declaration of Independence lived here, making it a home of historical significance. The home still contains much of its original furnishings, giving you a look at what life used to be like for the wealthy.
The gardens were created from plants taken by Alexander Hamilton Ladd from his mother’s and grandmother’s gardens. The gardens also consist of a rose planted in 1768 by Sarah Catherine Mason Moffatt, and the giant chestnut tree planted in 1776 by General William Whipple. The tree itself was designated the Millennium Landmark Tree for the State of New Hampshire, and is on the National Register of Historic Trees.
The home is open to the public from June through October, Friday to Monday, 11-4. You can also arrange for private tours, but this has to be scheduled in advance.
DOWNTOWN PORTSMOUTH SHOPPING
Because of its tax-free shopping, downtown Portsmouth is a popular shopping destination. From clothing to jewelry, home goods, gifts, and antiques, you can find a variety of retail options.
There are dozens of unique shops including Em & Elle, 20 Below Boutique, Attrezzi, Bull Moose Music, Antiques & Furnishings, Federal Cigar, Ganesh Imports, Lively Kids, Portsmouth Book & Bar, RiverRun Bookstore, Diversions Puzzles & Games, and many more.
You can also find mouth-watering food. You can find fine-dining experiences, as well as more casual outings. Some of the most popular places to eat are at Rooftop at the Envio, Cava Tapas & Wine Bar, Portsmouth Brewery, Ristorante Massimo, Portsmouth Gas Light Co, River House Restaurant, The Works Bakery Café, and The Library Restaurant.
OLD FERRY LANDING
Old Ferry Landing is a favorite seafood restaurant among locals and visitors.
Located on the Piscataqua River, the restaurant is a casual, family-owned restaurant. They are known for scallops and clams, 100% fresh lobster rolls, as well as their signature cocktails, like the legendary Jimmy Juice rum punch.
The restaurant was established in 1975, and is a great place to watch the sunset as you eat.
AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE MUSEUM
For the last 30 years, the American Independence Museum has shared the stories of the American Revolution. The museum is open May through November, Wednesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 4 pm.
The museum offers guided and self-guided tours, as well as virtual tours. There are tours of The Ladd-Gilman House, which was built in 1721. It was once a private residence and now shares its history with the public. There are two floors of exhibits where you can find hundreds of objects regarding American history.
The Folsom Tavern was built in 1775 and is a hands-on, immersive 18th-century tavern experience. You’re allowed to sit in the chairs, play the games on the tables, and on the second floor, you’ll find other artifacts.
THE MUSIC HALL
The Music Hall opened its doors in 1878, but was then known as the Vaudeville Theater. Since its opening, the music hall and theater set out to “inspire, educate, and connect audiences through the power of live performances and on-screen programming.”
Today, the theater consists of two venues, The Historic Theater and The Lounge. The Historic Theater is the oldest in New Hampshire and it seats nearly 900 people. The Lounge is more modern and intimate with seating for 120 people.
More than 130,000 people annually come to the theater for live music and other performances. Throughout its history, the hall has seen some famous people including Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show as well as Tony Bennett and Ray Lamontagne.
Market Square is a popular spot to visit for people watching, art galleries, bookstores, antique shops, and ethnic restaurants. Located in downtown Portsmouth, many people also come here to visit North Church and The Athenaeum.
If you’re visiting in June, you may be able to catch the Market Square Day Festival, which features live music and a 10k race.
ISLES OF SHOALS
Just 7 miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine are the Isles of Shoals. There are 9 islands and 4 of them sit in New Hampshire waters. The shoals don’t have any year-round residents, but taking a boat to explore the now privately owned islands is a popular experience when visiting Portsmouth.
The islands include Appledore, Cedar, Duck, Lunging, Malaga, Star, Seavey, Smuttynose, and White Islands, and were originally used as fishing camps by Native Americans during the summer months.
The islands that belong to New Hampshire are Lunging, Seavey, Star, and White Islands. If you want to dock and explore the islands you can book a trip through the Shoals Steamship Company. You can also visit the Island of Shoals Museum which is located on Star Island.
The islands have a long and mysterious island with stories of pirates, lost treasure, shipwrecks, and hauntings.
NORTH HAMPTON STATE BEACH
The North Hampton State Beach is popular with families during the summer months. There is a beach which is great for swimming and bathroom facilities are open. There are lifeguards on duty during the warmer months.
During the off-season, the park is still open to the public, but is unstaffed. Fishing, surfing, and shell collecting are popular throughout the year.
ODIORNE POINT STATE PARK
Odiorne Point State Park is a great spot to check out for anyone who loves exploring the outdoors, no matter what time of year it is.
The park is popular for fishing, picnics, camping, mountain biking, and hiking, and in the winter months, many people take to the trails on cross-country skis or snowshoes.
SEACOAST SCIENCE CENTER
Located in the Odiorne Point State Park is the Seacoast Science Center.
Here you can view animals and organisms under microscopes, learn about restoring reefs, New Hampshire beaches, or get your hands wet in the touch tank. In the touch tank, you can find a chain catshark, skates, and more.
GUNDALOW COMPANY TOURS
To get a whole different perspective on Portsmouth, you can take a sailing tour with Gundalow Company Tours. You can choose from public group sails, private charters, as well as educational tours.
You’ll sail along the Piscataqua River under the Memorial Bridge, past the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the island of New Castle to the river mouth between Whaleback and Portsmouth Lighthouses. Along the way, you’ll see the Portsmouth Naval Prison, Fort Constitution, and Fort McClary.
HOMES THAT ARE HISTORIC LANDMARKS
With Portsmouth’s past, steeped in so much history, it’s not surprising that many residential homes double as historic landmarks.
WENTWORTH COOLIDGE MANSION
The Wentworth Coolidge Mansion offers tours during the warmer months but the grounds are open to the public all year long. The first lilacs blooming during the spring months can be found on the popular Little Harbor Loop Trail, which is about 1.5 miles long.
Built in 1807 by Merchant James Rundlet and his wife Jane, the Rundlet-May House still has many of its original furnishing including original wallpaper. Even the gardens are their original layout.
GOVERNOR JOHN LANGDON HOUSE
The Langdon House offers guided tours through the Georgian mansion. It was once owned by John Langdon, who was a merchant and shipbuilder, and penned his signature on the constitution.
JOHN PAUL JONES HOUSE
Built in 1758 by a sea captain named Gregory Purcell, the John Paul Jones House is a historical landmark is open for tours from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day.
The Warner House was built in 1716 for Captain Archibald Macpheadris. This home is the oldest brick house in Portsmouth and is open to the public Thursday through Sunday, from May to October, from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The Hamilton House overlooks the Salmon Falls River and was built in 1785. The property includes a formal garden and hoses a summer concert series.
The Jackson House is known to be the oldest wood-frame house in New Hampshire. It’s open to the public from June through October, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.
VISIT AT CHRISTMAS
If Christmas is your favorite time of year, or if you are a Grinch looking to renew your Christmas spirit, Portsmouth is the town for you.
Nicknamed “Christmas Capital of North America,” the whole town joins in on decorations and community events to make Portsmouth a special place to be during the holidays.
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