I've called the charming coastal city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, home for many years now.
Living in this historic yet vibrant city is like being on a never-ending vacation - steeped in rich history, teeming with a lively arts scene, and blessed with breathtaking natural beauty.
Each day, I get to explore diverse layers of culture, stunning architecture, fantastic restaurants, and quaint shops that dot the cityscape.
I've become quite the unofficial tour guide to friends and family who visit.
If you're planning a trip to this gem on the Seacoast, you're in for a treat with this list of the best things to do in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.
Learn Local History at Portsmouth Athenaeum
Who would have thought that our quaint, historic city of Portsmouth would house such a gem as the Portsmouth Athenaeum!
I'm embarrassed to admit that despite being a lifelong resident, I was unaware of its existence until I read reviews by Whole Heart Homes and Abigail Epplett.
I have never been so grateful for online reviews!
Upon visiting this historic library, I joined a tour led by a volunteer who also happens to be the library photographer.
The tour took us through a building that is actually composed of two sections spanning across three floors, although the third floor wasn't open to the public.
You would find the entrance to Portsmouth Athenaeum next to the Irish and Celtic Shoppe.
Inside, I found a blend of past and present.
The bookshelves housed both old and new books, and the walls were adorned with old paintings and busts.
I was particularly fascinated by the old maps and small exhibits scattered throughout the library and reading room.
One exhibit that caught my attention was the axe used in the infamous Smuttynose Murders, displayed boldly in the reading room.
As someone deeply interested in the history of Portsmouth, I found the Athenaeum to be incredibly fascinating.
The reading room was a peaceful haven, perfect for immersing oneself in the rich history of our city.
Although a quick word of caution - the building is not wheelchair accessible unless they let you in through the exit.
Get Inspired at Ceres Gallery
Every place has its hidden gems, and in the heart of downtown Portsmouth, it's the Ceres Gallery.
This thriving art haven is always buzzing with energy.
It's like stepping into a different world with artwork that takes you from Realism to Impressionism.
You never know what you're going to stumble upon next.
What's particularly charming about this place is the opportunity to meet the creators behind the masterpieces.
I remember attending the “First Friday Art Walk” event.
It was an absolute delight to chat with the artists, their passion and knowledge about their craft were truly inspiring.
What's more, they were eager to discuss their art and answer any questions. The experience truly makes you feel a part of the artistic community.
Every time I visit, I notice a constant bustle of sales.
The prices for such stunning artwork are quite reasonable, and it's always a thrill to see fellow art enthusiasts take home a little piece of artistic brilliance.
Ceres Gallery is filled to the brim with fine, original paintings by about 25 different artists. E
Catch a Show at The Music Hall
Every once in a while, there's nothing like a night out in the city.
And when I'm looking for unforgettable entertainment, I head straight to The Music Hall in Portsmouth.
This isn't your average modern, cold theater.
It’s a step back in time - a historic 1878 building rich with Victorian details.
Trust me; it's a sight you won't forget.
The Music Hall has seen countless performances, from comedy to drama, dance to music, and even thought-provoking talks and films.
One of the many things I adore about this venue is the variety of events they host.
I've had the pleasure of laughing until tears streamed down my face at a Drew Lynch stand-up routine there.
Let me tell you, the intimate setting makes the comedic experience all the more hilarious.
On other nights, I've been moved by the beautiful dance performances, captivated by an intense drama, or swayed to the rhythm of a live music concert.
The interior of The Music Hall is as charming as it gets.
The small but perfectly formed seats, the intricate Victorian details, and the welcoming bar all create a unique atmosphere.
Now, let’s talk about the bathroom – simply amazing, it’s almost a highlight in itself.
The Music Hall isn't just about the performances either.
They offer an array of appetizers and a full bar to satisfy your pre-show or intermission cravings.
I've ended many a night there by indulging in a glass of Prosecco and sharing a slice of the most divine cheesecake with a friend.
Be Amazed by Local Talents at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre
It's hard to believe that such a gem as the Seacoast Repertory Theatre exists right here in our backyard.
The moment you step through the entrance, you're greeted by the most friendly faces.
The lobby area is sparkling clean and a great spot to mingle and wait for the doors to open.
There's something truly magical about attending a play here. I recently had the pleasure of watching Newsies, and it was nothing short of spectacular.
The cast and crew poured their hearts out on stage and left the audience spellbound.
Trust me, this theatre knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat!
The quality of the production was top-notch, easily comparable to something you’d see on Broadway.
The energy and talent of the cast were shining, and the excitement was palpable in every moment of the performance.
Parking around the theatre is ample, so you won't have to worry about that.
And you'd be hard-pressed to find a bad seat in the house.
It's a cozy, intimate space where every seat gives you a great view of the stage.
There's always something exciting happening at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, whether it's a classic play, a modern musical, or a film.
And the diverse programming for kids and seniors makes it a cherished venue for all generations.
Have Some Retail Therapy at Sea Love Portsmouth
When I thought I knew every nook and cranny of Portsmouth, I stumbled upon a little gem of a shop, Sea Love Portsmouth, which quickly became a cherished part of my local routine.
There's an air of whimsy charm that makes every visit to Sea Love Portsmouth a delightful experience.
I remember the first time I stepped in, it was Mother’s Day, and the stunning selection of whimsical children's items caught my eye.
I just couldn't resist the adorable little pieces they had on display.
But what really stood out were the Chappywrap blankets.
Believe me when I say these are the softest blankets you will ever lay your hands on.
It's not just about the children's section, though, their inventory of bath products is also something to write home about.
They carry the Shore Soap Company range, which I absolutely love and would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat.
But what really sets Sea Love Portsmouth apart is their fun candle-making activity.
It's the perfect way to spend an afternoon with friends, creating your own unique scents and candles.
I've had some of the best times of my life here, crafting bespoke candles and making memories that will last a lifetime.
Explore the Past at Portsmouth Historical Society
I can still recall the times when this building was the Portsmouth Public Library; it always had a certain charm to it.
The place has been transformed into something even more exciting - the Portsmouth Historical Society.
There's something magical about stepping into the past, and that's exactly how it felt when I walked through the doors.
The photographs and news articles gave me a vivid picture of what Portsmouth used to look like, particularly Market Square.
The exhibits at Portsmouth Historical Society offered a broad and comprehensive view of Portsmouth's vibrant history.
What piqued my interest next was the English telephone booth, or rather, the lack of it.
I was told it was out for repair and would return soon. I was also pleasantly surprised to find a gift shop filled with all sorts of local and intriguing items.
I even got to watch an enlightening video comparing old and new Portsmouth, which was a real treat.
Now, the cherry on top - the children's literature section of the museum. It was absolutely enchanting!
Packed with books from my favorite New England-born authors and filled with original sketchbooks and drawings that are simply fascinating.
Moreover, they have kids' activities, making it a great spot for families, and you can enjoy it all for free with a North American Reciprocal Museum membership.
Being an old-timer from Portsmouth, I have to say the transformation of the library into this historical center is an upgrade.
Learn about Local Black Heritage at the African Burying Ground Memorial
One of the most hushed secrets in my city is the poignant African Burying Ground Memorial, tucked away on Chestnut Street.
I've lived here all my life, and I've passed by this street countless times, always finding myself drawn to this quiet corner of Portsmouth.
This place isn't just a stop on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, it's a significant part of our local and national history.
It's hard to believe that this place we now revere was once paved over for development.
But now, standing tall and proud, the monument pays tribute to those buried beneath the pavement.
Sculptures representing the souls that rest here are a stark reminder of a time not so long ago.
Inscriptions on the sidewalk and signage on the adjacent buildings narrate stories of their lives.
If you're eager to know more about Black history in New England, this is a must-visit site.
The size of the area doesn't do justice to its importance, but every inch of it speaks volumes.
The more you explore, the more you discover – be it historical facts or subtle artwork like the mosaics made by students of Portsmouth Middle School.
One compelling piece is the statue near State Street, depicting a man and a woman nearly touching hands.
It's a powerful representation of the separation of couples during slavery.
A speech arguing for freedom is etched on the ground, leading the way toward the Burying Ground.
The markers, shaped like people, with words inscribed on them, stand in front of benches, inviting us to sit and reflect.
And when night falls, installed lights illuminate the African Burying Ground Memorial, making it a sight to behold.
Explore 18th Century Portsmouth at Wentworth-Gardner House
Every time I take a stroll down the heart of Portsmouth, I can't help but be drawn to the charming appeal of the Wentworth-Gardner House.
It's like taking a step back in time, walking around those grand 18th-century homes and the old warehouse that now serves as a museum.
Wentworth-Gardner House is open from Thursdays to Mondays, and with tours that last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, it's the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.
I often find myself heading over there around 11:00 in the morning to beat the afternoon rush.
The admission fee is pretty reasonable too, and it's always a pleasant surprise to run into fellow National Trust for Historic Preservation members and discuss our shared interests.
And once you're there, the town center is just a stone's throw away.
One thing I particularly love is the Wentworth family tree and the timeline of the house itself, displayed clearly on a signboard.
It answers most of the questions you may have and really brings the history of the place alive.
Go on a Submarine Adventure at USS Albacore Museum
Imagine stepping aboard a decommissioned submarine, immersing yourself in history, and understanding the lives of brave sailors who dared to navigate the deep seas.
That's what you get when you visit the USS Albacore Museum, a hidden gem right here in our city.
The first time I stepped into the Albacore submarine, I was blown away by the impeccable preservation of the vessel.
It's not just a walk through a piece of history; it's virtually a step back in time.
The built-in audio tour was a real treat, narrated by former crew members of the Albacore.
Listening to their first-hand accounts and anecdotes, I felt like I was part of the crew, experiencing the joys and challenges of life on board.
One of the things that truly set this experience apart was the ability to touch and interact with most of the interior of the submarine.
It's not often you can do that in a museum.
This tactile engagement was a great way to immerse myself in the experience, making history come alive in a unique way.
Another highlight of the USS Albacore Museum is the memory garden, a touching tribute filled with history.
And for those with a keen interest in engineering, there's the "Ghost," a watercraft unlike any I've seen or read about.
Its design and mechanics are truly fascinating.
After the tour, don't forget to stop by the gift shop, it's filled with unique keepsakes, and if you've worked up an appetite, the grounds are well maintained, making it the perfect place for a picnic.
Stroll through the Urban Forestry Center
As soon as you step into the Urban Forestry Center, the rush of the city fades away, and you're immediately enveloped in the serene beauty of nature.
The open fields provide ample space for a lively afternoon with the kids or a leisurely game of fetch with our family dog.
The wooded trails, dotted with a varied array of trees, offer a refreshing walk and a chance to learn about different tree species.
The Urban Forestry Center is a year-round gem in our city.
It hosts the fantastic Festival of Trees that we will never miss.
It's also a delightful site for a casual picnic or a peaceful afternoon sitting in my car, windows down, taking in the natural beauty.
And for those of us with pets, the center gets extra points for being dog-friendly.
There are clear signs advising to leash pets, and they even provide poop bags to keep the place clean.
On most days, you'll find me on the wood trails.
The flat and open areas are perfect for an easy walk, while the tree roots and rocks along the trail farther into the woods present a thrilling challenge.
You might need to watch your step, especially after a rain or snow melt when the path can get a bit wet and muddy.
But the sight of the snow slowly melting in the woods during spring is absolutely worth it.
It's also a popular spot for dog walkers, adding to the vibrant community vibe of the place.
Relax at the Tranquility of Prescott Park
There's nothing quite like a morning walk through Prescott Park to kick off your day.
Nestled in the heart of Portsmouth, the park is a treasure trove of natural beauty and serene tranquility, a perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of city life.
It's one of those places where you can't help but take a deep breath, letting the fragrance of blooming flowers wafting in the air fill your lungs.
Ah, the flowers! They are indeed a sight to behold.
The diligent groundskeepers ensure a stunning display of vibrant hues throughout the summer, making every visit a feast for the eyes.
Their dedication is evident in every carefully pruned petal and leaf.
Prescott Park is not just about the flowers, though.
The waterfront view is breathtaking, to say the least.
Gazing out at the calm waters, with the sun setting in the background, is a moment of zen I cherish every time.
And if you're lucky, you might get a glimpse of the tall ships passing by, adding a touch of historical charm to the scenic panorama.
Even the wildlife seems to enjoy the park as much as the visitors do.
On quiet mornings, you might find a friendly rabbit or two hopping about, making the experience all the more delightful.
The park also hosts summer performances, a treat for art lovers like me.
There's something magical about watching a play unfold against the backdrop of blooming gardens and the soothing sound of fountains.
Step Back in Time at the Strawbery Banke Museum
There's something unique about being able to step right into history, and that's exactly what you do when you visit the Strawbery Banke Museum.
Nestled right in the heart of our city, it's a place that breathes life into the past.
I've lived here for years, and let me tell you, it's a gem that never loses its sparkle.
The Strawbery Banke Museum is not like any other museum I've ever been to.
With its outdoor living-history format sprawled over 10 acres, it invites you to be a part of history rather than just a spectator.
You'll find yourself exploring a variety of buildings, lush gardens, and hands-on craft demonstrations in structures that stand proudly on their original land.
What makes the experience truly immersive are the folks who portray characters from the past.
Their dedication to authenticity is remarkable, and they never break character, making you feel like you've actually time-traveled.
I remember once we were so engrossed in the experience that we spent an entire day at the museum and had to return the next morning to finish our exploration, and trust me, we weren't complaining!
The museum also hosts some fantastic events that are a joy to attend. “Ghosts on the Banke” is a personal favorite.
It's pure magic, the atmosphere is electric, and it's probably the best way to get a feel for the city's history.
Another event worth mentioning is 'Heritage Breeds baby animals day.'
It's adorable and the perfect place for kids to run around, explore, learn, and burn off some energy while adults can enjoy the calm and peaceful surroundings.
Delve into a Leader's Life at Governor John Langdon House
Every time I visit the Governor John Langdon House, I'm always enthralled by the well-preserved architecture and design.
Just stepping into the elaborate, Rococo-styled rooms takes me back to the 18th century.
Yes, you got it right, this beautiful mansion was built in 1784 and belonged to Governor John Langdon, one of our nation's founding fathers.
When you walk through the mansion, you can't help but appreciate the detailed architecture.
I must say I wish the house was furnished to reflect Langdon's era, but I understand that 18th Century furniture is not easy to acquire.
The house has been kept in a way that you can imagine what life would have been like during Langdon's time.
The house tour is always an engaging and educational experience.
The grounds are just as beautiful as the house itself, so well maintained that I'm transported to England every time I stroll through them.
They've even been a part of the Black Heritage Trail of Portsmouth.
I remember an interesting occurrence during one of my visits when a wedding ceremony was taking place outside the house.
A gentle breeze was flowing that day, adding to the charm of the whole event.
Being in Governor John Langdon House and learning about John Langdon reminded me of how much history is hidden within our state.
The portraits, china, and hand-carved woodwork tell stories beyond Langdon's life.
The old grandfather clock that caught my eye and the portrait with detailed eyes that gave me the sensation of being watched were all part of this fascinating experience.
The mansion also recognizes and pays tribute to individuals like Siras Bruce and Ona Judge.
In fact, the small house where Siras Bruce and his wife resided is still standing today.
Marvel at the Grandeur of Rundlet-May House
I've had the pleasure of being a Portsmouth local for years, and one of my favorite places to take out-of-town guests is the Rundlet-May House.
The grand Colonial Revival merchant's family house, complete with original period furnishings and a meticulously designed garden, steals the show every time.
My recent visit to Rundlet-May House was no exception.
With a $15 ticket, I embarked on a journey back in time, guided by the knowledgeable and friendly staff.
During the tour, they enthusiastically share the house's rich history, including the stories of the unique pieces of furniture and the Rumford cooking system.
Don't be surprised if the tour takes a bit longer than the expected 45 minutes; there's just so much to see and learn!
The house might only be open on the first and third Saturdays from June to mid-October, but those visits are worth marking your calendar for.
Make sure to time it right, though, as the tours start on the half-hour.
Despite the odd timing, it's a minor inconvenience when you consider the wealth of knowledge and experience the house offers.
If the weather is cooperative, be sure to take a stroll through the beautiful gardens.
The flowers might be past their prime later in the year, but the lush greenery and the tranquility it provides more than makes up for it.
But do remember, Rundlet-May House is not accessible to those with limited mobility or using wheelchairs. I'd recommend it for families with children aged ten and up.
Bring Home a Masterpiece from N W Barrett Gallery
Oh, the joy I get with every N W Barrett Gallery visit!
It's my little sanctuary of art and creativity nestled in the heart of our city.
The gallery is filled with affordable, American hand-made crafts and fine art.
Every piece is curated and uniquely displayed.
The space may be limited, but they've made it work flawlessly.
It's quite a sight to see every piece showcased in a way that pulls you into its story and craftsmanship.
On my last visit, I bought a charming little snail for my collection.
The creativity and detail in that piece were something to behold. I also came across another piece that I really loved.
However, I couldn’t find the right spot for it at home.
No worries, though, there's always a next time.
One of the highlights of this gallery is that they also sell unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry.
A couple I know bought their wedding bands from N W Barrett Gallery, and they absolutely adore them.
Feel Like a Royalty at the Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden
Every time I step into the Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden, it feels like I'm stepping back in time.
This Georgian mansion, built in 1763 and now a National Historic Landmark, is open for tours only in the summer, but as it's just down my street, I pay a visit whenever I can.
The painstakingly restored woodwork and non-repeating wallpaper patterns inside always transport me to a time long past.
The house is full of fascinating artifacts that take you on a journey through the lives of the people who lived there - their paintings, furniture, utensils, and even the attic that they used.
It's a living snapshot of history, frozen in time, right here in Portsmouth.
But it's not just the house - the gardens are a sight to behold too.
They are meticulously maintained and bloom with vibrant colors during the summer months.
There's this wonderful horse chestnut tree that was planted in 1776 to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence - it's still standing tall today and gives away horse chestnuts at the entrance.
The tours run every 45 minutes, and I always find myself learning something new each time I join.
The guides are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, eager to share the rich history of the house and its former inhabitants.
And the gift shop is not to be missed, especially if you're looking for a keepsake or two.
While the house is not open during winter, it's fantastic website Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden is always available for virtual tours.
It's a must-visit for any history buffs or anyone curious about the rich past of our city.
Admire the Architecture of the Warner House
I'll never forget the day I decided to step into the world of the past at the Warner House, a grand old house museum dating back to 1716.
I had always admired its Georgian architecture, standing stately and timeless in the heart of the city.
I decided to visit Warner House one sunny afternoon, and it truly was like stepping back in time.
As soon as I entered, I was greeted by a friendly tour guide, Mason, who guided me through each room of the house, each filled with period furniture appropriate for the Georgian and Federal eras.
I was particularly taken by a stunning Queen Anne Highboy dresser with inlaid wood, standing proudly in one of the rooms.
I also enjoyed seeing the historical wall murals and a ballroom with walls covered in a unique paint made from crushed blue glass, known as "smalt".
Mason also pointed out a lightning rod installed by none other than Benjamin Franklin himself.
It's amazing to think about the historical figures who had once stood where I was standing.
This house isn't just a museum, it's a witness to centuries of history.
During my visit at the Warner Hous, there was also a special display of cookware from bygone eras, providing an intriguing glimpse into the daily lives of people who lived centuries ago.
What made this visit even more memorable was the lunch they served me!
Out of the blue, they offered me an authentic meal, adding to the overall experience.
Stepping outside, I was greeted by a lovingly maintained garden, a perfect spot to relax and reflect on my journey through time.
See the State's Oldest Surviving Wood-frame House: Jackson House
I've always been fascinated by the history that our city holds. One such treasure that we're proud of is the Jackson House.
Now, this isn't just any old house – it's a relic from way back in 1664, making it the oldest surviving wood-frame house in the state!
Even taking a stroll around its perimeter is just as rewarding.
The windows act as a transparent veil into the past, offering clear views of the historic interior.
I can't help but imagine the generations of people who called this place home – their lives, their stories, and their experiences, all within these timeworn walls.
The Jackson House isn't just about the structure itself; the surrounding homes are equally impressive.
These houses seem to narrate their own tales, standing tall and proud, bearing witness to centuries of change.
The neighborhood echoes the charm of a bygone era, making it worth a visit for any history enthusiast.
Go Boating around Peirce Island
Every opportunity I get to be out in nature, I choose to spend my time at Peirce Island.
The island's boat launch is impressive, with staff always ready to assist with docking.
It's a quick adrenaline rush against the strong tides, but nothing that an experienced boater can't handle.
For those with larger vessels, the roads can feel a little snug, but the journey is worth the challenge.
One of the greatest joys is walking around the island or, even better, having a picnic.
The tranquil aura combined with breathtaking views of Portsmouth and the shipyard, or even the local wildlife, is truly captivating.
Peirce Island is also home to Four Tree Island and the Portsmouth Outdoor Pool, which adds to the appeal.
The only downside is that it's currently restricted to residents – fingers crossed it opens up for everyone soon!
The ongoing development projects on the island give it a sense of novelty.
The trails along the river, the large parking lot, and the commercial pier all make it a popular spot.
Escape the Chaos at Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion
Every morning, I lace up my running shoes and head out the door, ready to escape the relative chaos of our little city and find peace at the historic Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion.
There's a certain groundedness that comes over me when I step onto the property, a connection to history that's as palpable as the ocean breeze.
Visit or not, the majesty of this 18th-century harborfront mansion is indisputable, and the scenic waterfront trail is an exceptional way to start your day.
When I was younger, this place was a bit run-down, but don't let past tales deter you.
It's improved greatly over the years, blossoming into a beautiful and relaxing spot that never gets old.
I've seen it transform from an unkempt property with a single trail, View Spur, into a sprawling estate with a variety of loop trails and a small beach that was once private but is now open to the public.
Depending on the tide, the scenery can change dramatically, offering a fresh and exciting experience each time.
And don't forget to bring your bug repellent – the trails, while beautiful and peaceful, aren't exactly bug-free!
The staff here are friendly, albeit a tad reluctant to do the afternoon tours, but the charm of the place and the wildlife variety make every visit worthwhile.
And if you're lucky, you might even encounter a small snake that isn't afraid to hold its ground.
Whether you want a peaceful jog, a refreshing swim, or a leisurely walk, the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion is an ideal choice.
Just remember, the trails aren't wheelchair accessible, so plan accordingly.
But if you're up for it, this mansion and its grounds offer a unique experience of tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of city life.
Have a Splash at Water Country Water Park
My family and I took a day off from our usual routine to soak in some summer fun at the Water Country Water Park, and it was a day well spent!
It's an expansive water paradise that's a hit with both kids and adults alike.
The themed pools immediately caught our attention, each unique in its own way, and the adventure river took us on a much-needed relaxing float.
The numerous slides added that extra thrill, a thrilling rush of adrenaline that left us craving for more!
The rides were generally well-maintained, with only a couple of the smaller areas closed for repairs.
It was heartening to see that they didn't leave these areas unattended and were actively working on them.
The variety of other attractions ensured that the kids were never bored, with something fun to engage them at every corner.
What struck me as particularly reasonable was the admission price - fair and worth every penny, considering the variety of water attractions at our disposal.
As for parking, it was surprisingly hassle-free, a far cry from the usual scenes of chaos at such locations.
In fact, we found that paying an extra $5 for a preferred parking spot was a smart investment.
One smart move we made was renting a Cabana.
It was our little haven amidst the bustle, perfect for resting and just chilling in between the water adventures.
If you're planning to spend a whole day here, I highly recommend getting one - it's especially helpful if you have young kids.
You also have the option to bring your own food and drinks, a great way to save some money if the food huts are not to your liking.
Though not quite on par with a Disney water park, Water Country Water Park offers an enjoyable experience for a day out with the family.
It's efficient, fun, and offers a ride or slide for everyone.
I can't help but marvel at the best things to do in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with its rich history, vibrant arts scene, and stunning natural beauty.
There's something for everyone, from the peaceful expanse of Prescott Park to the historical marvels of the Strawbery Banke Museum and the USS Albacore Museum.
Whether you're a history buff, an art enthusiast, or an adventurer, you'll leave Portsmouth with a piece of its charm.