Are you looking for the best things to do in Portsmouth, NH?
Portsmouth, NH is a bustling, working town right on the banks of the mighty Piscataqua River at the NH and Maine border. With a truly New England feel, Portsmouth boasts historic homes, parks, and a clear connection between the people and place. You will find excellent food and shopping and plenty of things to do in Portsmouth.
Portsmouth has the culture of a big town and the options of small city and is a wonderful place to explore any time of year. Stop by the kiosk in Market Square or Discover Portsmouth to get more local information and activities for when you’re in town.
The Best Things to Do in Portsmouth – the Perfect Day
Before I share a list of 15 of my favorite things to do in Portsmouth, I’m going to share one perfect day in Portsmouth. I’ve spent most of my life living within a few miles of this classic New England town and love every activity on this list.
Start your perfect Portsmouth day with best breakfast in Portsmouth, NH at Colby’s Breakfast and Lunch – they always have amazing specials! Once you’re full, it’s time to take a walk around town. Visit Market Square, the Old Ferry Landing, and Prescott Park. Make sure to stop in some of the shops as you wander.
Mid morning it’s time to take a stroll through Strawbery Banke Museum – you can plan on 1-2 hours to get around this historic museum. While you’re in this part of town grab lunch at Geno’s Chowder and Sandwich shop and get yourself a lobster roll. For the afternoon, it’s time to explore a little deeper – my favorite activity is to take a sail on the Gundalow, but you can also check out a nearby beach, or take a walking or biking tour of the town.
Pop back to your hotel and get ready to head out for dinner. Find a place for a drink on one of the Portsmouth Docks overlooking the river and then make your way to one of Portsmouth amazing restaurants such as the Black Trumpet, Franklin Oyster House, or Street.
This is hands down my favorite Portsmouth activity (for full disclosure I did work here for many years, but I would recommend it no matter what). You can purchase tickets and take a sail on this historic vessel to see the Portsmouth waterfront from the river. The crew will do a short talk about the local history of Gundalows and the region, and then you’ll have time to relax on the large open deck. Pack a picnic, bring the kids and enjoy your time on the water.
Check out one of the Amazing Restaurants
The Portsmouth restaurant scene is seafood based and eclectic with options for every palate. Many of the best restaurants are locally owned and source their ingredients from the sea and local farms. It’s worth exploring as many of these eateries as you can while you’re in Portsmouth. Some of our favorites include The Black Tumpet Bistro, Brazo, Cava, Street, Jumpin Jays, and Shalimar.
Don’t leave town without adding an incredible restaurant to your list of things to do in Portsmouth!
Step back in time at this living and historic museum. You will find a bustling community of historic homes from different eras in time and you can explore both the grounds and the houses. Located on the grounds of historic Puddle Dock where the large boats and warehouses used to stand, this museum is a reminder of years gone by and the tremendous maritime heritage of this seaport.
Shop and Explore Around Market Square and the Waterfront at Old Ferry Landing
Market Square is the heart of Portsmouth’s downtown and the perfect place to start your walk and shop. The open square is surrounded by shops and you can stop at several cafes (like Popovers). From Market Square, make your way down to the Old Ferry Landing for a view of the tugboats and working waterfront. You may even see the bridges go up for large ship, or catch a glimpse of the lobster and fishing vessel coming back with their catch. You will find shops with local art, collectibles and unique gifts.
Take a tour on the Black Heritage Trail
The Black Heritage Walking Trail is a wonderful way to hear the African American story of Portsmouth, NH. Your tour guide will take you on about a 1 hour tour on the town including several sites that highlight the history of African Americans in Portsmouth. I found this tour fascinating and well researched and it’s become a popular addition to the list of things to do in Portsmouth.
Take a ride out to the Isles of Shoals
The Isles of Shoals is a small group is islands located about 6 miles off the coast on NH. The islands are small with a marine lab, a small harbor, and the historical Star Island. Spend a day exploring the gardens and the Oceanic House, or even spend the night or the week at one of their programs. The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company offers trips out to these small islands. Escape the mainland and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a different world on these islands.
Take in a Show – Music Hall, Seacoast Rep, or Prescott Park
One of the best things to do in Portsmouth, NH is to take in one of the many shows. There is a strong arts community here that offers high quality plays, musicals and shows. If it’s summer, make sure to check out the Prescott Park Arts Festival that offers outdoor concerts, plays and movies in Prescott Park on the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth – no need to get tickets in advance since it is donation only. Also make sure to check out the Portsmouth Music Hall, the new Jimmy’s Jazz Club, and the Seacoast Repertoire Theatre
Visit one of the Historic Homes
In addition to a visit to Strawbery Banke Museum, there are many other historic homes to explore. Make sure you add a visit to the Moffat Ladd House and the Wentworth Coolidge Mansion to your list of things to do in Portsmouth. The Wentworth Coolidge Mansion is a bit outside the town but is a fun place to visit and you can stroll the grounds in the spring to see the lilacs. Discover Portsmouth offers information on what historic homes are open.
Visit a Nearby Beach
There are no beaches right in the town of Portsmouth, but if you love spending time near the water and your wondering what to do in Portsmouth, NH, beaches should be at the top of the list. There are several excellent sand beaches within a 15 minute drive of the town. Check out Jenness Beach and Wallis Sands in Rye, or cross over the border into Maine to visit Fort Foster, or the beaches in York, ME.
There are several options to choose from when selecting a bike tour in Portsmouth. These tours include bike and helmet rental and are limited to small groups. The tour guide will stop to talk about the local area and highlight the many cultural and historic landmarks you pass. This is an excellent way to make your time in Portsmouth active and the perfect way to see the town.
One fun thing to do in Portsmouth, NH is to take a self guided Scavenger Hunt. You can purchase this online and then see a different side of town as you move from landmark to landmark. This is a fun activity to do as a group and you can work together to answer trivia questions.
Relax in Prescott Park
Prescott Park is the perfect place to drink a cup of coffee, play frisbee, or even take a nap or yoga class, and is one of the Portsmouth, NH attractions not to be missed. The park borders the Piscataqua River and you can walk from here out to Fore Tree Island. There are both formal gardens and garden beds to explore and plenty of grass for a picnic.
Take a Tour of the USS Albacore
The USS Albacore is an on land submarine and is one of the more unique things to do in Portsmouth. Take a self guided tour through the submarine and learn about this research vessel – look through the periscope, explore the control room, engineering spaces, and even hear crew members tell stories of their time at sea.
Take it all in at an Outdoor Bar or Café
There are many wonderful outdoor bars and cafes in Portsmouth. If you’re looking for Portsmouth things to do that revolve around food, then it’s worth setting aside some time for a coffee or a cocktail while you take in the sights. The decks offer excellent views of the waterfront, and we also love sitting at Popovers, or dining outside at one of the many restaurants.
Choose a Seasonal Activity
There are many festivals and seasonal activities that happen in Portsmouth throughout the year and it’s worth making at least one of the things to do in Portsmouth seasonal. Make sure to look at a local events calendar, or try one of the seasonal activities below.
Winter – Go Ice Skating at Puddle Dock
Spring – Take a garden walking tour
Summer – Rent kayaks from 7 Rivers Kayaking
Fall – Get out of town and find a local apple orchard
Looking for more things to do in Portsmouth or other parts of New Hampshire? Check out the NH Travel Guide.