Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a prime destination for year-round outdoor and cultural exploration. Though it’s long stood in the shadow of Portland, Maine—its northern harbor sister—Portsmouth, too, comes alive with activity and unique cultural offerings, especially in the summer and fall months.
At just 16.8 square miles and 21,000 people, Portsmouth isn’t large. But its compact borders contain an alchemical blend of scenic landscapes, beautifully preserved historic architecture, and modern destinations for dining, shopping, and culture. This makes for an easy New England getaway, without the wall-to-wall crowds of a larger city like Boston.
Getting to and around Portsmouth
Fly into either Boston Logan Airport (55 miles away) or Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (48 miles away). Rent a car and drive to Portsmouth, but plan to ditch it once you’re there. (See this guide for the best paid and free parking options.) Most of the attractions are accessible on foot, or by rented road bike or electric bikes.
While Amtrak’s Downeaster route offers affordable train service from Boston’s North Station, the closest stations are Exeter or Dover, both about 18 miles away; you’ll need a ride-share or the COAST Bus to get into Portsmouth. The C&J Bus Lines from Boston or a Greyhound from Manchester will drop you off at Portsmouth’s transportation station, where you can hail an Uber to take you downtown.
What to do in Portsmouth
Begin by exploring Portsmouth’s historic port, which has been in continuous operation for nearly 400 years on the Piscataqua River. Around the port and downtown, a number of PortCity Bike Tours and guided walking tours are available. Check out the Black Heritage Trail, an educational tour that chronicles the long and often untold history of Black and African Americans in New Hampshire.
On the eastern side of Memorial Bridge—which is colorfully lit at night—Prescott Park has pretty gardens, plus an outdoor stage for live music, theater, and movies during the Prescott Park Arts Festival. Nearby Strawbery Banke is a 10-acre museum that preserves entire colonial neighborhoods, from mansions to shops and gardens. Don’t miss the exhibit on the lives of the Abenaki, the Indigenous people who first lived on and called the land N’dakinna, at the Carter Collections Center.
Get out on the water via kayak or paddle board rental from Esther’s Marina, or join a guided tour with Seven Rivers Paddling. Hop on the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company ferry tour to the nine small islands that cluster along the maritime border between New Hampshire and Maine: The tour includes a stop on picturesque Star Island, where you’ll have about 45 minutes to explore its grassy bluffs and wildflower-strewn trails (so skip the 20-minute narration when you disembark).
Back on land, visit one of Portsmouth’s many galleries featuring local art, or the Museum of New Art for thought-provoking contemporary sculpture, paintings, and mixed media. Blow off steam at Vent, where you can (safely) smash objects with bats, hammers, and crowbars, or splatter paint with abandon in their surprisingly satisfying “expression rooms.”