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Looking for the best things to do in Portsmouth, NH? You’ve got a fun time ahead of you! Portsmouth is one of our favorite cities in New England, and it’s indisputably the coolest city in New Hampshire.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is located on the Piscataqua River and borders the state of Maine. It’s the oldest settlement in NH, dating back to 1623, and features many 17th and 18th century houses and buildings. The architecture is a joy to behold.
But that’s not all. Portsmouth is full of some of the best boutique shopping in the Granite State (no sales tax in NH!), along with excellent restaurants, fun bars and breweries, and several top-notch museums and historic homes.
Here are some of the most fun things to do in Portsmouth NH — you’re going to love it here!
Travel to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
You could explore Portsmouth in a day, but take a few days to really get to know it and explore the surrounding Seacoast.
Portsmouth is an hour’s drive or a 90-minute bus ride from Boston. It’s right off 95 and close to Amtrak connections at Dover.
Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth is one of the safest cities in New Hampshire and it’s a great place to vacation. It’s a very walkable city with large sidewalks for pedestrians. Portsmouth is a popular tourist destination and has that New England Charm that people search for.
Downtown Portsmouth is very quaint. It’s lined with boutiques, excellent restaurants, fun bars, and cafes. It’s the perfect place to walk around aimlessly and enjoy the architecture while doing some window shopping. You won’t have a hard time finding a good place to eat either and there are many restaurants on the water, too.
Explore Market Square
The cultural heart of Portsmouth is Market Square. Located in the center of downtown and surrounded by stunning 17th-century buildings, Market Square is filled with great shops, restaurants, cafes, and boutiques where you can find the perfect New Hampshire souvenir.
So which shops on Market Square are worth visiting? We love so many of them. Gus & Ruby Letterpress is full of beautiful stationery sets. Off Piste is full of strange and quirky gifts that will make you giggle. Market Square Jewelers has vintage estate jewelry that will take your breath away.
Around the corner from the square, the Book & Bar is our favorite place to find a new read with a coffee or a beer. Macro Polo is the coolest toy store around. And Stonewall Kitchen is a great spot to sample New England’s most famous jams and sauces!
And we’ve barely scraped the tip of the iceberg. Market Square rocks!
Visit Portsmouth’s Historic Homes
If you love walking around a town and taking in colorful historic homes, you’re going to love Portsmouth! One of the best free things to do in Portsmouth, just walking around and taking photos can be great entertainment.
The Warner House, also known as the Macpheadris-Warner House, is now a museum. It was built from 1716 to 1718, making it the oldest brick house in northern New England. It was originally built for Captain Archibald Macpheadris and housed six generations of extended family.
During that time, daughter Mary Macpheadris Osborne refurnished the house into the most chic decor of the time. In 1932, the house was purchased and became a museum, just before an oil company tried to buy the house to tear it down for a gas station. It was a close call!
The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion is located right on the water of Little Harbor and was built in the 18th century. To this day, it is the only surviving residence of a Royal Governor in the United States.
The mansion has 40 different rooms that were designed to be the home, office, and farm for Royal l Governor Benning Wentworth. The mansion was later owned by J. Templeman Coolidge, who donated it to the State of New Hampshire in 1954. There is also a great 1.5-mile walk along Little Harbor Trail that offers views of Portsmouth and the ocean. Outdoor tours are free and open to the public.
The Moffatt-Ladd House, also known as the William Whipple House, is a National Historic Landmark. It was the home of Revolutionary War General William Whipple who was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It has been a museum since 1912. Both the house and garden are open for guided tours.
Portsmouth Historical Society
The Portsmouth Historical Society was founded in 1917 to preserve and share the history of Portsmouth through exhibitions, programs, and more. Here you can visit a historic home, take in exhibits, and join historic tours around the city.
The John Paul Jones House, named after the American Revolution her who rented a room here in 1777, is a national historic landmark that was built in 1758. Since 1920 it’s been a museum, sharing Portsmouth’s history with everyone.
And this isn’t dusty, old history. You can join a tour of Portsmouth’s too-often-overlooked queer history or learn about the women of Portsmouth who defied gender stereotypes and made history.
Admission is $7.50 for adults and includes admission to the John Paul Jones House. Kids under 18 are free. The first Fridays of the month are free to everyone. Tours are $20 for adults, $12 for kids 6-17, and free for kids under 6.
Prescott Park is Portsmouth’s best public park, located right on the water. There are over 10 acres of land with gardens, walkways, places to sit, and areas for recreation.
We love enjoying Prescott Park throughout the year. Spring brings the best flowers and fall brings the best foliage! Free tours of Prescott Park are offered on summer Fridays at 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM, starting at the Liberty Pole.
The Park puts on concerts throughout the year through the Prescott Park Arts Festival. When you plan your Portsmouth trip, we recommend taking a look at the schedule! And if you’re local, they have season passes.
See a Show at the Music Hall
The Music Hall is Portsmouth’s most legendary music venue, and way more than just musical performances take place here. You can find theatrical shows, comedy sets, film screenings, and literary readings in addition to music performances of all kinds.
Be sure to check the calendar during your visit to see what shows are coming up next!
Black Heritage Trail
Many travelers are surprised to learn that Portsmouth’s Black history is rich and vibrant, but historians know that Portsmouth is extensive and well-documented. The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail is one of our favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH. The tour aims to bring awareness to African American history, especially as it pertains to New Hampshire.
It honors and tells the story of African Americans in Portsmouth, beginning with the enslaved through the present day, and puts on tours, exhibits, programs, and more.
We recommend joining one of the excellent Sankofa guided tours if you can.
Otherwise, you can do it on your own. There are 24 sites around Portsmouth you can explore on your own self-guided tour. There is a PDF map you can download that will point out all of the important spots along the trail. You can find that information here.
African Burying Ground
The African Burying Ground, located on Chestnut Street in downtown Portsmouth, was once the burying ground for the enslaved and free Blacks of Portsmouth in the 1700s. Today, it’s a memorial park that honors the hundreds of people laid to rest.
Chestnut Street was once considered the outskirts of town and as the city grew, the African Burying Ground was paved and built over. In 2003, the city found skeletal remains of people in this area, which led to a project that would honor those hundreds of lives. In the end, the memorial park “We Stand in Honor of Those Forgotten” was created which is the permanent resting place for the people buried beneath it.
It’s one of the only known burying sites of Africans during this era in New England — making it all the more important to remember and acknowledge these people’s lives.
Strawbery Banke Museum
One of the most popular things to do in Portsmouth, NH is Strawbery Banke Museum — affectionately called the Banke by locals. Located in the oldest neighborhood in New Hampshire, known as Puddle Dock, the museum is an indoor/outdoor exhibit on 10 acres of land and aims to share the history of early English settlers in Portsmouth.
The guides at Strawbery Banke are excellent — it’s a living museum depicting the 1600s through the 1900s, so they’re costumed and actually in character. Ask a guide if you can take a photo and you might hear, “I don’t have time for an oil painting, but I could accommodate a quick sketch.”
When visiting the museum, you’ll have the chance to tour historic houses, chat with the role-playing guides, explore the area, and see what life in an early New England colony looked like.
Admission to the museum is $19.50 for adults and $9 for children 5 and above. The purchase of a ticket allows you to visit for two consecutive days if you’d like more time in the museum.
Strawbery Banke is closed during the winter months — but Puddle Duck Pond, on the museum’s grounds, is open for ice-skating!
Portsmouth Harbor Trail
The Portsmouth Harbor Trail winds through the city, taking you past 70 places of either historic or scenic significance. 10 of the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings and there are 10 National Historic Landmarks.
Walking along the Portsmouth Harbor Trail is a great way to get in some exercise, explore the history, and see much of the city. Along the trail, you’ll see sites like the Portsmouth Athenaeum, USS Albacore, Memorial Bridge, Warner House, and much more.
You can take a guided tour of the trail starting at the Market Square Kiosk at 1:00 PM each day. The tour costs $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 8 to 14. The total walking distance is about 1 mile.
Go on a Bike Tour of Portsmouth
If you’re up for an active way to explore Portsmouth, consider going on a bike tour. It’s also a great way to view more the city in a shorter amount of time.
There are tons of bike tours to choose from, from city tours to tours exploring the coast and islands, and they’ll all take you to different locations around Portsmouth. We ourselves are partial to tours of the coast and islands for the gorgeous views and low-traffic riding.
For an urban tour of the neighborhoods and street art of Portsmouth, this Portsmouth bike tour is perfect.
If you’re looking to bike through wooded trails in nature reserves near Portsmouth, this tour is great for you.
If you want to explore the islands, coastline, and harbor, this is an excellent local-led bike tour. Looking for something even more intense? This bike tour will take you along the entire length of the New Hampshire coastline (18 miles, that is)!
If you’re a beer aficionado in the least, you are going to love New Hampshire breweries! Portsmouth has some of our favorite breweries. Each Portsmouth brewery has its own personality and vibe — as well as many tasty beers.
Earth Eagle Brewings has an outdoor beer garden and indoor seating. You’ll find a selection of European-style beers as well as typical IPAs and APAs, in addition to cocktails and wine if you’re not a beer drinker. They sell burgers and hot dogs — also known as the “cow hampsha” menu and the “dog house” menu (with veggie versions too).
Great Rhythm Brewing Company overlooks North Mill Pond in Portsmouth and is one of our favorite breweries to visit on a nice day. Here the beer menu features lots of IPAs and some truly excellent sours; the music-loving owners always have a great playlist going.
Liars Bench Beer Co is located in an old plumbing supply warehouse with cans that look like pieces of art. The tap menu is small but features a variety of beers, including IPAs, stouts, and pilsners. There is a great snack-and-hot-dog menu and the tables are great for socializing.
Loaded Question Brewing Company has both a patio and taproom for your enjoyment, along with a frequently rotating menu of new and fun beers. You can choose from a few appetizers if you’re hungry, and the brewery allows outside food, too!
Portsmouth Brewery has been open for 30 years and is a good option if you want a restaurant that doubles as a brewery. There is a ton of seating here, including outdoors, so don’t worry about finding a spot. You’ll find ales, lagers, and IPAs among other options on the tap menu.
Read More: The Best New Hampshire Breweries
Go on a Brewery Tour in a VW Bus
If you’re a beer fan who loves a good Instagram photo, consider a brewery tour that will take you to various breweries around Portsmouth. And it’s in a bright yellow VW bus!
This top-rated brewery tour will bring you in a vintage VW bus to three breweries in and around Portsmouth. This is an excellent way to try out lots of breweries without worrying about driving!
Note that this tour includes the transportation and guiding, but you need to pay for your own tastings — $10-12 at each brewery. You can see more here.
Not much of a beer drinker? Go for wine! Southern New Hampshire has quite a few wineries today, something that was inconceivable 20 years ago. You can enjoy wine right in two or go to a vineyard outside town.
LaBelle Winery is located in the heart of Market Square and is a great wine-tasting location. The wine is made in Amherst, New Hampshire, close to Nashua, but their Portsmouth showroom is a great place to do some tasting.
Squamscott Winery, home of Blue Heron Wines, is located in Newfields, New Hampshire, about a 20-minute drive from Portsmouth. You can truly have the vine to wine experience at this winery because you’ll sip great wine just feet from the vineyard. Enjoy the beautiful property and the 12 acres of fields along the Squamscott River.
Browse books with a beverage at the Book & Bar
Who doesn’t love a good bookstore with a cafe right in it? The Book & Bar goes one step further and has several beers on tap. Enjoy a good book with your latte, chardonnay, or IPA. There are also small plates and appetizers to choose from.
Book & Bar hosts live music, poetry, and community events. It’s a great place to grab a drink, get some work done, curl up with a good book, and/or listen to some live music. You might even meet someone!
After a few tumultuous years, the Book & Bar has opened to the public again, primarily keeping evening hours. We’re glad they’re back, as sitting back with a beer and a book is one of our favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH.
USS Albacore Museum
The USS Albacore Museum is situated on a retired research submarine in Portsmouth. When it was active from 1953 to 1972, the the US Navy used it to test features that are now found on most modern submarines.
Visitors can go inside the submarine and explore the bunk rooms, control room, and all aspects of the submarine to see what life was like underwater. It was originally built at the Portsmouth Naval Yard, which makes it all the more poetic to be honored here in town.
Tickets to the museum cost $9 for adults and $4 for children ages 5 to 14. Tours are self-guided with various audio stations aboard the ship where you can learn about the submarine and hear stories from previous crew members.
Enjoy Brunch at the Friendly Toast
No matter how old we get, we love the Friendly Toast. This classic Portsmouth restaurant is like a vintage diner from the future — almost like the kind of place the Jetsons would go.
Here you’ll find creative breakfast and lunch options, along with donut sandwiches and breakfast tacos. There are also mimosas, Bloody Marys, and other brunch cocktails on the menu. They serve until 3:00 PM, so this is strictly a breakfast-and-lunch spot.
We love popping into the Friendly Toast when we need a break from shopping around Market Square.
Read More: Our Favorite Portsmouth NH Restaurants
Take a Cruise to the Isles of Shoals
Did you know New Hampshire has islands you can visit? Indeed it does! The Isles of Shoals are located just a few miles off the coast between New Hampshire and Maine. The islands have been inhabited for more than 400 years, first by small communities and now mostly private homes and a few hotels.
The Isles of Shoals Steamboat Company can take you on a cruise along the islands. You can even take a guided tour on Star Island. You’ll see 400 years’ worth of history and learn some interesting facts about the people that once inhabited this land.
The Isles of Shoals cruise with a walking tour of of Star Island costs $39 for adults and $29 for children.
Owned by the city of Portsmouth, Peirce Island is a 27-acre island full of history. It’s connected to the mainland by the Peirce Island Bridge and it’s also connected to Four Tree Island.
There is a ton to do on the scenic island. You’ll find an outdoor pool, trails, playgrounds, cliffs, tidal pools, and more. Pierce Island has a ton of history and was the former site of Fort Washington, named after George Washington, from 1775 to the early 1800s.
The outdoor pool was built in 1937 and still runs today. It costs $2 for residents and $4 for non-residents to use. The island itself is free to visit and very accessible.
Catch a show at Seacoast Repertory Theatre
The Seacoast Repertory Theatre, also known as The Rep, is a nonprofit theater in downtown Portsmouth. It regularly puts on shows with performers from all over New England.
There are tons of shows going on at The Rep and you’ll most likely find a show playing during your time in Portsmouth. Be sure to check out the calendar to view all the performances.
Tickets to a show at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre costs anywhere from $10 to $50 depending on the chosen seat. You can also choose to purchase the live stream of a show — cheaper, yes, and good for people who want to stay home, but there’s nothing like watching a show at The Rep itself for the full experience.
The Portsmouth Athenaeum is located right in Market Square and it’s a library, art gallery, and museum. There are less than 20 membership libraries left in America. Membership libraries were created in the 18th century for members to have access to education resources.
The Portsmouth Athenaeum has been open since 1816. For over two centuries, people have become a part of the membership library where they have access to books, history, lectures, readings, and more.
It’s free to visit the research library and exhibition gallery.
When the sun is blazin’ and the summer gets hot, Water Country‘s a very cool spot! (Trust us — every millennial who grew up in New England knows that jingle by heart!)
If you have kids from school-aged through teenagers, Water Country is a must. This water park has pools, rides, slides, and activity areas for the whole family to enjoy.
Water Country is definitely catered towards kids, so know that before you go. If you love waterparks, by all means go — just expect kids to be running around everywhere!
Water Country is a great option for cooling off in Portsmouth, but there are many other places you can cool off instead like the outdoor pool on Peirce Island or one of the beaches on the Seacoast.
Read More: The Best New Hampshire Water Parks
Shop the Outlets in Kittery
If you’re looking to shop on your trip to Portsmouth, don’t miss the Kittery Outlets. These shops are in Kittery, technically in southern Maine, just over the border from Portsmouth.
You can drive from Portsmouth to the Kittery Outlets in just 10 minutes. Just remember that Maine does have sales tax, whereas New Hampshire does not. Even so, your highly discounted outlet purchases could save you a lot more money overall. Though we recommend you check out the New Hampshire outlets, too!
There are tons of stores at the Kittery Outlets worth checking out for a great deal. Stores are open from 10:00 AM until 7:00 PM and there are 88 stores total. It’s perfect for school shopping, retail therapy, or killing time. You’ll definitely leave with more than you need but for a good price!
Read More: The Best Outlets in New Hampshire
While in Portsmouth if you have extra time, you should consider visiting Rye. This beautiful Seacoast town is only about a 15-minute drive from Portsmouth, featuring gorgeous views and amazing mansions.
Rye has 17 miles of coastline, and you can drive along the coast on Route 1A. We think this is one of the most scenic drives in New Hampshire! There are a ton of fun outdoor options including a state park, a state beach, and a place to whale watch. You can even surf here!
Rye is full of luxury homes and mansions and it’s a great place to explore aimlessly. You can enjoy ocean views while marveling at the stunning houses on the water. The laid-back and inviting atmosphere makes it a great place to spend a few hours.
Go on a Portsmouth Scavenger Hunt
If you’re looking for some fun and adventure while visiting Portsmouth, consider a scavenger hunt! This Portsmouth Scavenger Hunt will bring you on a walking tour to some of the best landmarks in the city, sharing hidden gems and trivia.
You buy the scavenger hunt online and you can do it alone or with a group (or even compete with your friends). Each player will also have an interactive role in the game with different challenges. It’s such a unique way to explore a city.
The Portsmouth scavenger hunt costs $12.31. Not a bad price for a fun adventure around the city. Definitely consider doing this when visiting Portsmouth!
Take a Self-Guided Haunted Walking Tour
If you’re into the spooky side of travel, consider a haunted walking tour in Portsmouth. Like the scavenger hunt, the Haunted Portsmouth Tour is something you download online and explore at your own pace.
This haunted Portsmouth tour will have you download an app and explore at your own pace. You’ll hear stories about the spooky places you visit throughout Portsmouth, and who knows, maybe you’ll even see a ghost for yourself!
The haunted tour only costs $5.99, and it’s a very inexpensive way to spend your time. You can do it with a group or solo and this is a nice thing to do if you’ve already been to Portsmouth before.
Head to the Beach
While there is no public beach in Portsmouth, there are plenty in the surrounding towns. One of our favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH during the summer months is spending a day on the beach, dipping your toes in the sand and relaxing for a while.
Just be aware that the ocean in New Hampshire doesn’t really begin to warm up until August or early September. Even though it’s very warm outside in July and even June, it’s most likely too cold to swim. You can try, but you might lose your breath for a second!
Some of our favorite NH beaches in the surrounding area include Wallis Sands State Beach (10-minute drive from Portsmouth), Hampton Beach (25-minute drive), North Hampton State Beach (20-minute drive), and Jenness Beach (15-minute drive).
Read More: The Best Beaches in New Hampshire
Take a Tea Blending Class
One of our favorite unusual things to do in Portsmouth, NH is taking a tea blending class!. The class lasts 1.5 hours and is a very enjoyable and unique experience.
The class is led by a clinical herbalist who will teach you about the benefits of different herbs. You’ll also learn what herbs are right for you and how to blend the perfect mixture for your needs.
The tea blending class costs $65 per person. It includes both coffee and tea. You’ll get to make your own custom tea blend and take it home with you.
Where to Stay in Portsmouth
The best place to stay in Portsmouth is right in the heart of downtown, preferably close to Market Square. Most of the things to do and places to see in the city are downtown so it’ll make getting around super easy. You can use Portsmouth’s North Church as a geographic landmark to target.
Below are the top spots to consider staying in Portsmouth:
Our Favorite Luxury Hotel in Portsmouth: The Sailmaker’s House — Located in the heart of downtown Portsmouth, this boutique hotel is historic yet modern and embodies the Portsmouth atmosphere SO well. We think it’s a great spot for a special occasion.
Our Favorite Mid-Range Hotel in Portsmouth: Hilton Garden Inn — Close to the center of town Market Square, this may be a big-box hotel but it has quality amenities, not to mention TWO swimming pools.
Our Favorite Budget Hotel in Portsmouth: Howard Johnson by Wyndham Portsmouth — You’ll need to drive to downtown Portsmouth (or walk for 30 minutes), but this is the best budget hotel of the bunch, clean and comfortable for a decent price.
These are just a few of the top options — we recommend checking out our Portsmouth, NH hotels guide for the full list of recommendations.
Our Full Guide: Where to Stay in Portsmouth, NH
How Much Time to Spend in Portsmouth, NH
How much time do you need for Portsmouth? Portsmouth is a popular day trip, and justifiably so, but we think Portsmouth works better as a weekend destination. Two or three days are perfect.
In that time, dive into Portsmouth’s dining scene, do a lot of shopping, explore the historic sites, and get out to explore the Seacoast as well. If you’re visiting during the summer, definitely get some beach time in, too!
How to Get to Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth is conveniently located within New England. It’s right on I-95 and only one hour’s drive from Boston and a 50-minute drive from Portland, Maine.
Portsmouth also has public transportation access. Greyhound buses stop in Portsmouth between Boston and the Maine coast. And while Amtrak does not have a stop in Portsmouth, there is a stop in Dover, about an 18-minute drive from Portsmouth.
Do you need a car in Portsmouth? Not if you’re sticking to downtown Portsmouth. Downtown is very walkable and Uber can help you out when you need an occasional longer trip. But if you plan on exploring the New Hampshire Seacoast, as well as southern Maine, you’ll be very glad to have a car.
If you bring your car to Portsmouth, there are parking garages throughout the city. We usually park in the Hanover Street Garage, which is centrally located and has especially good rates on the weekend.
Best Time to Visit Portsmouth, NH
If you’re a New Englander, you know — we get all four seasons intensely, and the weather can change on a dime. Portsmouth is no exception to this rule! While Portsmouth is a year-round city, some times are better than others.
Summer is a glorious time to visit Portsmouth. The weather is beautiful, flowers are in bloom, you don’t need a jacket, there are concerts in Prescott Park, and lots of restaurants offer outdoor dining. Summer is this busiest time of year in Portsmouth, and prices are at their highest.
Fall is another wonderful time to visit Portsmouth, with blazing blue skies and milder temperatures. One great thing to do in Portsmouth in the fall is to take a fall foliage cruise up the Piscataqua River, enjoying the same scenery with a blush of reds and oranges.
Winter in Portsmouth is cold, and there is often snow and ice. Portsmouth’s coastal location keeps snowfall to a minimum, a far cry from the rest of the Granite State. But what Portsmouth lacks in snow it more than makes up for in wind! Portsmouth’s winter winds are chilly and biting.
That said, you might enjoy a winter getaway to Portsmouth if you don’t mind that wind, more limited restaurant options and hours. Portsmouth is at its cheapest during the winter months.
Spring is more of a gamble in New Hampshire, in part because winter lasts well into April and it can feel summery in late May. In between you have a lot of gray, rainy days. A perfect spring day in Portsmouth it like paradise — but timing your trip to that perfect day can be a gamble!
Overall, we recommend visiting Portsmouth during the summer or fall months for maximum enjoyment of what the city has to offer. We especially recommend June, September, and October for a quieter, less busy atmosphere.
Is Portsmouth Worth It?
Absolutely! Portsmouth is SO worth it! It’s one of our favorite places in all of New Hampshire.
Whether you come to Portsmouth on a day trip, steal away for a weekend getaway, or even put down roots for longer, you’ll enjoy spending your time in New Hampshire’s coolest city.
More on Portsmouth NH:
- 9 Best Restaurants in Portsmouth, NH
- 13 Best Bars in Portsmouth, NH
- Where to Stay in Portsmouth, NH
- 7 Best Bakeries in Portsmouth
More on the Seacoast:
- Where to Get The Best Breakfast in Dover
- 12 Best Restaurants in Dover
- 12 Best Restaurants in Hampton NH
Best of NH:
- 50+ Things to Do in New Hampshire (the ULTIMATE List)
- New Hampshire’s Best Breweries
- 13 Best Beaches in New Hampshire
- Best New Hampshire Water Parks
- New Hampshire Fall Foliage: When and Where To Go
Have you been to Portsmouth? What did you enjoy the most?