Travel Log: Portsmouth, NH

Photo of me at the ocean on the NH coast

After more than two years of doing almost no travel, we had a busy summer. Multiple trips through the summer and early fall, both for vacation and family events, were tiring, but also life-giving. I had just started to include travel logs of the places I visit here on the blog when the pandemic shut down our lives. I’m really happy to be able to post one again.

One of our trips this summer was to Portsmouth, NH. I’d been through Portsmouth before on a couple of occasions…a quick visit on earlier vacations, a work excursion taking some students to a repertory theatre production…but I hadn’t really spent time there. We had a great time exploring the city and experiencing what Portsmouth has to offer.

Portsmouth, NH harbor
A view of the harbor in Portsmouth. Many boat tours launch from here, and there are a lot of restaurants just out of view.

Portsmouth isn’t a large metro area, but it’s close to a lot and has a lot going on in it’s own right. Just an hour north of Boston, and less than 20 minutes to one of the best beaches in Maine (I’ll get to that in a bit), you’re close to a lot, but there’s so much going on in Portsmouth that you may be too busy. This is the centerpiece of New Hampshire’s coastline. There are several tech companies with offices here, a great arts scene with theatres and galleries, and the seafood is fantastic. A lot of these I had experienced before when dropping by, but when spending time here, what surprised me the most was it’s history.

Portsmouth holds a lot of history from the country’s founding, as well as a lot of Naval history and history in the ship-building trade. We love seeing historical attractions on family vacations, so this trip wouldn’t have been complete without seeing Strawberry Banke, a working reproduction of an original settlement in the area, complete with authentic period homes and reenactments. You can easily spend a day there, especially with kids, and the gardens are a stunning on a summer day. I was lost in conversation with some of the staff about the history of Portsmouth a couple of times. It’s well worth the visit.

Dining is a great experience, as well. There are multiple gluten-free restaurants in the city, and we had no issues getting seated on the water even without a reservation to enjoy some of the best seafood I’ve had in some time.

I also recommend just taking a day to walk around downtown. There are some quirky little art installations that seem to pop up where you least expect them, very interesting architecture in places, and some great cafes. There are also a lot of good local shops to patronize. As you would expect in New England, Portsmouth is a very pedestrian-friendly city.

We also found ourselves only a quick 20-minute drive away from one of our favorite summer haunts, York Beach, Maine. If you’ve never been to York, that would be a post of it’s own, but it’s very much worth the drive if you’re in Portsmouth, as I’ve found York to be some of the best beach in New England, as well as being home to the Goldenrod candy shoppe. Spend the day at the beach, then leave the hustle and bustle and be back to Portsmouth in time for dinner with no problems.

We very much enjoyed Portsmouth. Even though it’s a small city, we still didn’t manage to see everything that there is to see there, and I’m sure we’ll be back. If you’re looking for a place to visit in New England, I recommend you visit, as well.

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