Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a longer vacation, there’s nothing like the New England seacoast for summer travel fun. Tucked between the thriving city of Boston and the picturesque Maine coast is Portsmouth, New Hampshire – an often overlooked destination that nevertheless offers all the history and charm of better-known stops.
Whether you’re interested in history, shopping or something in between, there’s sure to be attractions to pique your curiosity in Portsmouth.
At the south end of town, along what was the waterfront in centuries past, is the outdoor museum district known as Strawbery Banke. Comprised of over 40 historic buildings – ten of which are open to the public – the historic neighborhood is staffed by tourguides and historic interpreters in period costume. Visitors learn about colonial and early American life – including exhibits and demonstrations on cooking, archaeology, construction, trade and commerce. The unique civic project was begun over 50 years ago in the face of the threatened demolition of Portsmouth landmarks via urban renewal, and has been open to the public since 1965.
There are three different breweries operating in Portsmouth and open for tours. At the Pease International Tradeport, a converted air force base, the Redhook Ale Brewery offers tours, beer and ale samples, and the Cataqua Public House restaurant. You can even buy fresh beer by the half-barrel. Across I-95, the Smuttynose Brewing Co. has been producing beers like Shoals Pale Ale and Old Brown Dog Ale since 1994. Tours and tastings are conducted on Thursday and Friday afternoons. Downtown, the Portsmouth Brewing Co. offers a variety of seasonal brews – many available in large 64-ounce “growler” jugs. Tours are given Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons.
John Paul Jones House
This yellow Georgian-style home was built in 1758 for a sea captain – but his name was Gregory Purcell, not John Paul Jones. However, Jones – the “father of the US Navy” and hero of the Revolutionary War – rented a room in the house for a period of time in 1777, and again from 1781-2. It’s the only remaining house associated with Jones, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been operated as a museum since 1920.
Portsmouth, and the town of Kittery, Maine across the Piscataqua River, have a long tradition of shipbuilding. Jones stayed here while his ships Ranger and America were being built. Among the ships built here were the Navy’s first submarines – including the Albacore, the forerunner of today’s nuclear-powered subs, which was launched in 1953. Today, the Navy’s first underwater boat is open to visitors within sight of where it was built. Also on the site is a memorial to the nation’s submariners lost at sea.
While Kittery, Maine and its dozens of outlet stores is just a couple of miles up the road, downtown Portsmouth boasts an eclectic group of shops – especially along Market Street downtown. The brick Federalist-style buildings and narrow street are little changed from generations ago. They still serve as a quaint but vibrant retail center, with specialty shops, restaurants, and antiques.
Located about an hour from Boston and 40 minutes from Portland, Portsmouth is a destination not to be missed during your New England visit.