Things to do in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Last updated on February 5, 2024

Music Hall, Portsmouth New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was a name that came up again and again when we talked to locals about their favourite place in New England. The small city feels frozen in time to the scene of a Norman Rockwell painting. 

Cobbled streets lined with a timeline of American architecture, from the red-brick buildings of downtown to the rainbow of grand Federal-style homes. Add to that its location on the coast, and it’s easy to see why people love it. 

It was our first experience of New England outside of Boston and we were instantly charmed. I’m a massive fangirl when it comes to colourful houses, so it had me at first sight.

You could easily just wander around the city and be entertained by its beauty, but there are also plenty of activities and things to do in Portsmouth, NH. And lots of excellent restaurants and cafes too. It makes for a great weekend break. 

So here’s our guide to the best things to do in Portsmouth, NH, including fun Portsmouth activities and the best Portsmouth restaurants and cafes. 

We visited as part of the Boston to Maine section of our epic New England road trip.

Things to do in Portsmouth

Strawbery Banke Museum

The best place to learn about Portsmouth’s past is the fantastic open-air living history museum, Strawbery Banke. It showcases the city’s evolution from the 17th to the 20th century. Wander through well-preserved homes, gardens, and shops, gaining insight into the lives of the city’s past residents. 

There are even actors who you can interact with along the way. We especially loved the old shop where the kids loved seeing all the old-fashioned sweets. The interactive elements make it a great thing to do with kids in Portsmouth, NH. When we were they, they were even offering basket-weaving classes (not that our kids would do it!).

Prescott Park

Stroll the waterfront at Prescott Park, which borders the Piscataqua River. In the summer it hosts the Prescott Park Arts Festival with live music and theatre. But it’s nice to walk along any time of year with pretty landscaped gardens and river views.

Explore downtown Portsmouth

Explore Portsmouth’s lively downtown, which has lots of cute shops, restaurants and museums. The main hub is around Market Square and the impressive North Church, but we also loved State Street, which had lots of characterful shopfronts (like Fezziwigs Fountain and Pickwick’s Mercantile) in classic red-brick buildings.

Do a bike tour

Otis riding a bike around Portsmouth

Portsmouth is a lovely city for cycling. Otis rode his bike around while we were there (which is a great option if your kids aren’t fans of walking!).

And for adults and older kids, you could do this self-guided bike tour to see some of the city’s highlights. It’s a fun thing to do in Portsmouth while also seeing the sights.

Portsmouth Music Hall

The sign of Portsmouth Music Hall

One of the most picturesque buildings in Portsmouth (and that’s saying a lot considering how pretty the whole city is!) is the bright pink Victorian-era Music Hall. Check out the programme and see if you can catch a show while you’re there. They have everything from classic concerts to movies.

African Burying Ground

African Burying Ground Memorial in Portsmouth, NH

The African Burying Ground on Chesnut Street is a commemorative space and the actual burial site of formerly enslaved people who lived in Portsmouth in the eighteenth century. The burying ground was only rediscovered in 2003 during building works, having been paved over before. The Seacoast African American Cultural Center (SAACC) is a steward for the site, and they also host exhibitions and events at their venue on Middle Street.

Black History Heritage Trail

Portsmouth Black History Heritage Trail

The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire conduct guided tours that bring to life the stories of African Americans in New Hampshire throughout history up to today.  As well as guided tours, the group also offer other talks and events to educate upon and celebrate African American culture. You can join a guided tour, arrange a private one, or even use this map to do a self-guided exploration. It includes the African Burying Ground.

Do a boat tour

One of the main draws of Portsmouth is its location on the coast. Make the most of that by taking a boat trip. There are loads of options, from harbor cruises and sunset sails to hiring your own paddleboard.

USS Albacore Museum

For those with an interest in maritime history and technology, the USS Albacore Museum is a unique museum housed inside a decommissioned U.S. Navy submarine. Explore inside the submarine, learn about its history and even have a peep through the periscope!

Browse the boutique shops

Portsmouth has some lovely boutique shops to explore in the characterful downtown. Some favourites include: Pickwicks Mercantile for unique mementos; Lit Boutique for clothing; and Gus & Ruby Letterpress for gorgeous paper-based gifts.

Visit the Warner House

The Warner House is a meticulously preserved historic mansion that offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of 18th-century Portsmouth. Explore the elegant rooms adorned with period furnishings and decorative arts. The exquisite gardens and grounds provide a serene contrast to the grandeur of the house. Maybe not the best one for little kids, so we didn’t make it, but it’s one of the most popular attractions in Portsmouth, NH.

Other historic properties of interest include the Governor John Langdon House, John Paul Jones House and Maffatt Ladd House. Find out more about these and how you can visit on the Portsmouth Historical Society site.

Seacoast Science Center

Just a 10-minute drive from Portsmouth in the Odiorne Point State Park is the Seacoast Science Center. It includes aquariums, touch pools and interactive exhibits that teach about marine life and conservation. The setting in the state park is spectacular and worth the visit alone.

Haunted Portsmouth walking tour

One of the more unusual things to do in Portsmouth is this haunted walking tour, a self-guided journey through Portsmouth’s most spooky sites. It’d be a good one to do at Halloween!

Where to eat and drink in Portsmouth, NH

I heard that Portsmouth has more seats in restaurants than residents in the city, which goes to show how popular it is as a destination for visitors.

It doesn’t have the same foodie reputation as Portland up the coast, but there are lots of great places to try, from seaside fish restaurants to cute, traditional cafes. Here are some of the highlights from the Portsmouth restaurant and cafe scene. 

Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain 

Fezziwig's food and fountain Portsmouth NH

Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain is ridiculously charming, bringing to life dreams of old fashioned ice cream parlours and soda shops. You’re obviously going to need to eat a sundae there, but they also have classic comfort food meals. 

Portsmouth Book and Bar

Book and Bar Portsmouth

This is my kind of place, combining three of my favourite things: books, coffee and cocktails. Plus they also do a good small plates menu too.

The high-ceilinged bookstore sells both new and used books, and has plenty of sofas and armchairs for lounging while devouring your chosen read, glass of wine in hand. I wish every town had a place like this.

Old Ferry Landing

Old Ferry Landing Portsmouth

As a veggie, I didn’t try the seafood that Portsmouth is known for, but many people recommended The Old Ferry Landing.

The casual seafood shack has been serving seafood for generations and is especially known for its lobster rolls, fried clams and grilled shrimp. Surf Portsmouth is another popular seafood option.

Craft Breweries

Portsmouth brewery

Portsmouth has a longstanding craft beer scene, with Portsmouth Brewery being the most famous of the bunch. Known for its innovative brews and inviting atmosphere, this local brewery has a rotating selection of artisanal beers, complemented by a pub-style menu. Less touristy options include Earth Eagle Brewings and Great Rhythm Brewing Company.

The Friendly Toast

A local New England chain, The Friendly Toast, is a popular family-friendly all-day brunch option. It’s a colourful spot, known for, as the name would suggest, being super friendly.

Popovers on the Square

The main draw of Popovers on the Square is its location next to Market Square. It’s a casual place, serving a simple cafe menu. Grab a seat outside to enjoy the downtown view, and don’t forget to order a popover (which to an English-eye is basically a kind of doughy Yorkshire pudding!)

Flatbread Pizza Company

Another local chain, the Flatbread Pizza Company is a good option for families, known for its wood-fired pizzas and locally sourced ingredients. 

La Maison Navarre

La Maison Navarre is a charming French patisserie where you can find exquisite pastries, macarons, and delicate desserts.

More Portsmouth NH restaurants

Cheese Louise Artisinal

A few other highly recommended restaurants in Portsmouth NH include: 

Where to stay in Portsmouth, NH

We stayed around 45 minutes outside of Portsmouth at Huttopia but these are also some excellent options within the city itself. Here are some that come highly recommended. Also see our guides to the best family resorts in New England and just over the border in Maine.

The Hotel Portsmouth

The Hotel Portsmouth is part of the Lark Hotel group, which prides itself on unique accommodation and memorable stays. The mansion house hotel is just steps from Market Square and is a beautiful example of Queen Anne Victorian architecture.

Check availability and book here.

Hotel Thaxter

Probably the most beautiful boutique hotel in Portsmouth is the Thaxter Inn where minimalist art deco decor is the backdrop for Portsmouth native Celiz Thaxter’s art and inspirational life. The 15-room hotel is beautifully designed and centrally located.

Check availability and book here.

Sailmaker’s House

Renovated in 2017 but dating back to 1801, The Sailmaker’s House has historic charm, modern tech and stylish decor with a maritime edge.

Check availability and book here.


Around 45 minutes from Portsmouth, we stayed at Huttopia Southern Maine, a stylish glamping spot on the shores of a lake and amid a glorious pine forest. 

Originating in France, Huttopia was created as a way of enticing city folk to the great outdoors to immerse themselves in nature and reap the benefits, but with significantly more comfort than classic camping. It’s one of the originators of the glamping concept.

Huttopia is particularly perfect for families with everything you need on-site for a fun and easy stay. There’s a swimming pool, playground, games, watersport hire, and a lake with shallow shores for paddling. The on-site restaurant has kid-friendly meals, including crepes and pizza, plus all tents/cabins have indoor and outdoor cooking facilities. And there’s an onsite shop with camping essentials, including s’mores kits. They also have kids’ activities in the day and entertainment at night – we saw an acapella group while there, and had fun doing the scavenger hunt and macrame by day. 

For accommodation, you can choose between safari-style tents and cabins. We went with the former, which had two separate sleeping areas for us and the kids and was an excellent upgrade from camping. It’s about 30 minutes from the coast and an ideal place for exploring Southern Maine. 

Check availability and book here.

How to get around Portsmouth, NH

A doorstep in Portsmouth Maine

One of the joys of Portsmouth is how walkable it is, especially the downtown. It’s also good for bikes – hire one from Papa Wheelies.

For parking, try High-Hanover Parking Garage or Foundry Place Garage. Or there’s also metered parking for around $1.50 per hour. 

There’s also the Coast Bus system, which has accessible buses around Portsmouth and the Seacoast. 

Map of things to do in Portsmouth, NH

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New England travel guides

We LOVE New England and have loads of tips to help you make the most of your trip. And just let me know if you have any questions!

Itineraries: Boston to Maine road trip | New England road trip

Destination guides: Things to do in Boston with kids |Things to do in Portsmouth, NH | Best places to vacation in Maine | Things to do in Southern Maine | Things to do in Vermont with kids | Where to find the real Stars Hollow

Accommodation guides: Glamping in New England | New England family resorts | Maine family resorts | Vermont family resorts

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