Located on New Hampshire’s tiny coastline, Portsmouth punches well above its weight. This small city is home to an abundance of shops, cafés, restaurants, breweries, live music events, and museums, all while being within a few minutes of gorgeous beaches along the Atlantic Coast. With its pedestrian-only streets and laid-back, relaxed vibe, Portsmouth is a tourist’s delight, and you could easily spend a day strolling around and taking in the city's charm. But you’ll also want to carve out some time in your schedule to make the most of what Portsmouth has to offer. Look for coupons for Portsmouth’s attractions and shops in the handy tourist map that you can pick up at bookstores, many restaurants, and the city’s visitor center.
Here are some of the best ways to spend a day in Portsmouth.
Visit Strawbery Banke Museum
If you’re visiting in the spring, summer, or early autumn, the Strawberry Banke Museum is a Portsmouth must-see. This neighborhood of the city dates to the 1630s. Nearly 40 buildings dating from the 17th century to the 19th century make up the 10-acre open-air space. Archaeologists have conducted some of the most extensive urban archaeology investigations on the East Coast at Strawbery Banke. As a result, there are more than a million decorative objects, artifacts, documents, and photographs to peruse, all of which give insight into life in Portsmouth during the city’s early years. The gardens are nearly as impressive as the buildings, and the garden collection includes a colonial kitchen garden, Victorian ornamental plantings, a Colonial Revival garden and hemlock grove, a Ukrainian immigrant’s vegetable garden, a 1943 victory garden and chicken coop, and several heirloom apple orchards.
Note that a ticket here is good for two consecutive days, which is nice if you want to split up your time or need to change your plans due to weather. Plan to spend at least 2 hours here.
Head To The Coast
Portsmouth sits on the water, and the downtown shops, restaurants, and bars often have nautical themes. But if you want more than just a seaside cocktail, head directly to the rural New Hampshire seashore, just a 10-minute drive away. As you make your way along the coast, you’ll find shacks selling lobster rolls, cute craft shops, and beaches crowded with swimmers in summer and with walkers during the rest of the year. Popular spots include Wallis Sands State Beach, Jenness State Beach, and North Hampton State Beach.
Tour The Breweries
The Portsmouth Brewery is hugely popular in Portsmouth, located as it is in the heart of downtown. They offer a wide variety of beer, including special seasonal offerings. They also have a full menu of gourmet “pub grub” and are well known for their community initiatives. On Tuesdays, for instance, 25 cents from each beer sold goes to charity. When you buy your pint, you're given a wooden token to put in a box as a way to indicate which featured charity you'd like the brewery to support that month. Downstairs in the brewery’s Jimmy LaPanza Lounge, there are happy hour specials and $1 tacos.
The Portsmouth Brewery isn’t the only place in town to check out Portsmouth’s beer scene. Smuttynose Brewing Company, founded by the same people as Portsmouth Brewery, is just on the outskirts of town. The onsite restaurant is well known for its open mic nights and is super dog-friendly, welcoming pups to the restaurant patio and hosting special fundraisers for animals. Their Raspberry Lime Rickey is my beverage of choice when I'm there!
Enjoy Books, Brews, And Beats
While it would be tempting to spend all afternoon and evening at one of the breweries, Portsmouth has a different kind of place to hang out after dark. Portsmouth Book & Bar is a funky secondhand bookstore that features a great coffee bar by day and an actual bar at night. The books are of high quality and are well organized -- no jumble of aging Harlequins to be found here -- and the shop frequently offers amazing evening events, including Open Mic, Beat Night, Writers’ Night Out, and live music events. This is the perfect place to pick up some new books and gifts, enjoy a drink, and have some fun.
Eating In Portsmouth
The food scene in Portland focuses on local produce, farm-to-table fare, seafood, and a casual atmosphere. Here are some top spots.
Me & Ollie's is a great breakfast spot, with homemade bread, freshly cooked eggs, and quality cheese, all of which make for a very tasty and filling breakfast sandwich for a mere $5 or so. This cute and cheerful café has a number of different locations in the Portsmouth area.
The Friendly Toast is the most popular brunch spot in Portsmouth. Visit for everything from giant platters of bacon and eggs to wholesome avocado toast and smoothies to breakfast ramen.
Shalimar India does a solid job turning out classic Northern Indian dishes. The sauces are great, and the naan, in particular, is delicious.
Between its cozy waterfront location, locally sourced produce, and chef so committed that he purchases whole animals to butcher in-house, Black Trumpet offers some of the best food in Portsmouth. Check out its clam-and-couscous fritters, almond pesto crusted fish, and coffee-rubbed skirt steak.
If you’re traveling with friends, Moxy Modern American Tapas offers a large number of small plates and easily shared main courses made from locally grown ingredients and in-house jams, pickles, and chutneys. Keep an eye out for the hot smoked char with dill, ricotta, and sumac crackers; pork loin with fig marmalade, turnips, and mushrooms; warm bean spread with toasted garlic bread; and pork belly bites with rhubarb pickles. On second thought, don’t go with friends -- just keep it all to yourself!
Moxy’s sister restaurant, The Franklin, is the best place to go in Portsmouth for seafood. It sells 10 different kinds of oysters, harissa-rubbed shrimp with polenta, and fish tacos. If you’re not a big fish fan, rest assured that there are other options, including buttermilk-fried chicken and seared bistro steak.
Cornerstone Artisanal Pizza & Craft Beer in Ogunquit, Maine, isn’t exactly in Portsmouth. It’s a 30-minute drive away in an entirely different state. But if you’re cruising along the coast, it would be a shame not to stop here. Cornerstone makes some of the best wood-fired pizza I’ve ever tried.
Shopping In Portsmouth
Shopping in downtown Portsmouth is a dream. There are dozens of little shops, each specializing in something different. The artisan vibe is strong here, and Portsmouth is the perfect place to pick up unique Christmas and birthday gifts -- plus a little something for yourself, of course.
Stock + Spice is owned by the same team that owns Black Trumpet, which is next door. The store sells little bottles of quality pure spices and unique blends that are used at the restaurant. On the mild end of things is a great turkey-stuffing spice mix. When it comes to heat, there’s a wide variety of custom curry blends and chilis.
Flower Kiosk is a sweet shop downtown, not far from the Portsmouth Brewery. It’s so much more than a traditional florist, and the little shop is filled with charming household accessories with a strong emphasis on gardening. On my last visit, I purchased an aqua-colored planter in the shape of a rhinoceros!
Part art-supply store, part art gallery, Nahcotta is the place to go if you want a fine-tipped marker to jot down notes in your travel journal or some lovely watercolors to enhance a new hobby. The store also sells nice gift items made by local artisans, including candles, linen kitchen towels, and fine-milled soaps.
Diversions Puzzles & Games is an excellent one-stop shop for board games from around the world, jigsaw puzzles, building supplies, kites, bean bags, bocce equipment, and more.
Kids will love G. Willikers! Books & Toys for its incredible collection of toys, games, books, and all things that cater to the imagination. Parents and grandparents will love the retro charm that’s as fun as the store’s name. The store also hosts special events like author signings.
Gus & Ruby Letterpress is where you’d go to order elegant wedding invitations, but more pedestrian stationery is available as well. It also sells pretty vases, canvas bags, organic soap, journals, and bespoke children’s clothing.