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Settled in 1623, Portsmouth’s claim to fame is being the third oldest city in America. Yet while this New Hampshire coastal destination maintains its legacy as an active harbor, a trendy mix of culinary and brewing industries are being welcomed in. Its Market Square is quite lively, thanks to being surrounded with restaurants, shops and nighttime spots. Nearby, history still stands with preserved houses built before the American Revolutionary War and open to the public. Here’s what to see and do in Portsmouth.

RELATED: 5 awesome Boston getaways that are not Cape Cod


Day 1: Strawbery Banke Museum, Prescott Park and Memorial Bridge

Strawberry Banke Grounds | Photo courtesy of Strawberry Banke Museum

Strawberry Banke Grounds | Photo courtesy of Strawberry Banke Museum

Taking its name from an old English settlement, Strawbery Banke is an outdoor history museum that replicates whatlife in Portsmouth was like in different eras. This 10-acre site holds authentic homes and businesses from the 1600s through the 1950s and historic gardens which are adorned with plants popular during certain periods such as the Victorian era. Docents provide an insightful backstory. There are also hands-on children’s exhibits and family-friendly attractions like a seasonal ice skating pond. Eat at the Figtree Kitchen Café and browse through Pickwick’s at the Banke. This gift shop is one of Portsmouth’s Pickwick’s Mercantile stores and sells bed and bath goods and yummy delights.

Leave the museum and head toward Prescott Park, a more than 10-acre waterfront property along the Piscataqua River. The idea for this park came from two sisters, Josie and Mary Prescott, who decided to put their sizable inheritance toward establishing an accessible public space where area children couldplay. Be sure to spend some time in its garden areas.

World War I Memorial Bridge

World War I Memorial Bridge | Flickr CC: Cliff

Next, take a stroll along the World War I Memorial Bridge, where being in two states in one day is possible. The bridge connects Portsmouth with Kittery, Maine, with a pedestrian route that gives walkers a view of the Piscataqua River on the way down and back. For dinner, choose from the restaurants in and around Market Square such as Cava, a Mediterranean-inspired tapas bar, or Portsmouth Brewery, a pub venue with locally made beers.


Day 2: The Music Hall, Portsmouth African Burying Ground, the Rockingham

Pastries at | Photo courtesy of @janeyhatahi

Pastries at La Maison Navarre | Photo courtesy of @janeyhatahi

Begin your second morning with breakfast along Market Square. On Congress Street, grab some coffee and French pastries from La Maison Navarre, get light fare from Popovers on the Square, or have a fun sit-down meal at the Friendly Toast.

Next, walk toward Chestnut Street to The Music Hall, a fixture in Portsmouth since 1878. Opera, vaudeville, dance and theatrical productions have all been staged. Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West Show here. After hitting a serious slump in the 1980s, The Music Hall was rescued from demolition and restored to its architectural glory. There are ongoing monthly public tours of this venue, and a season featuring multi-performance. Just around the corner, The Music Hall Loft puts on stage performances and screenings, but within a more contemporary and intimate setting.

African Burying Ground | Photo courtesy of author

African Burying Ground | Photo courtesy of author

Also on Chestnut Street, the Portsmouth African Burying Ground is another historic sight with a great deal of meaning. In the early 1700s, city officials set aside this space for a burial site for Portsmouth’s black population. Over a century later, it was built over and essentially forgotten. In October 2003, construction workers rediscovered the site and a local committee carried out plans for developing a memorial to consecrate the grounds. It’s set along the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, a series of factual placards relating to the African-American population in New Hampshire.

Walk inside and look around the nearby Library Restaurant. This steakhouse is located inside the Rockingham, an elegant brick building originally home to a prominent New Hampshire politician, later a hotel and now condos. The hotel held the ceremonial signing of the Russo-Japanese Treaty, ending war between Russia and Japan. Plus, many U.S. presidents stayed there. For evening fun, hang around downtown at the Press Room, which hosts weekly music acts; the Red Door, for its plush cocktail seating; or Portsmouth Book & Bar, for a drink inside a literary venue.

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Day 3: USS Albacore, River House and historic homes

To check out more of Portsmouth’s naval ties, the USS Albacore, a research submarine, can be explored on self-guided tours. While touring the ship, audio stations play recordings of testimonies by former crew members.

Of course, while in Portsmouth, dining by the water is a must. Head to the harbor side River House, a relaxed spot with a lovely deck seating area and good seafood menu. For starters, order the house specialty: a hearty chowder.

John Paul Jones house | Photo courtesy of author

John Paul Jones house | Photo courtesy of author

Also, try to visit at least one of Portsmouth’s historic homes. Open seasonally, the John Paul Jones House was where the man now called “the Father of the U.S. Navy,” rented a room while supervising construction of the ship America in 1781. Alas, the shipman’s time in New Hampshire was fleeting as he left to sail overseas a year later.

Photo courtesy of Ale House Inn

Photo courtesy of Ale House Inn

As for your own lodging, consider the Ale House Inn, a 10-room boutique hotel within walking distance of Market Square, or The Port Inn, a quick drive and comfortable stay off of U.S. Highway 1 Bypass.

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Michele Herrmann

Michele Herrmann

Michele writes about women's travel, destinations, culinary, and cultural topics for various outlets and has ventured as far as Fiji, to date. She also muses her tales on She Is Going Places.

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