16 Best Things to do in Portsmouth, NH (2024)

Just an hour away from Boston, this charming port town in New Hampshire is a popular destination for all kinds of travelers. The streets along the old harbor are lined with grand houses that once belonged to politicians, writers, sea captains, and rich merchants.

Portsmouth has a quaint and lively downtown with plenty of museums and attractions to keep you busy, as well as delicious restaurants where you can stop to enjoy a tasty meal. Visiting one of its many breweries serving local craft beers that go down nicely is also among the popular things to do in Portsmouth.

Spend an afternoon shopping at boutique shops and soaking in the gorgeous riverside views. Whether you’re traveling solo looking for a romantic getaway, or hoping for a peaceful family holiday, Portsmouth is the place to go.

In this post, we'll cover:

16. The Music Hall

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The Music Hall has been going strong since 1878. This lively venue in downtown Portsmouth will amuse you and keep you coming back for more thanks to the selection of events they host.

There are now two theaters run by the Music Hall – a beautiful Victorian theater that can fit up to 895 people, and a more modern and urban styled 120-seat venue.

Don’t miss out, go along to one of their events whilst you’re in Portsmouth! They host concerts, comedy, shows and so much more – what’s not to love?

15. Governor John Langdon House

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This old Georgian mansion is imposing, elegant and grand. It was built in 1784 by John Langdon who was a man of many talents. He was a trader, war leader, governor and signer of the United States Constitution.

The house was sold, but later on it was bought back and restored by the descendant of John Langdon who felt it was important to keep the property in the family.

As soon as you walk into the house, you’ll be blown away by the Rococo style wood carvings, the fine sculptures that decorate each room and peculiar period features. You can find the mansion on Pleasant Street.

14. Water Country

Water Country promises bundles of family fun! It’s conveniently located on the outskirts of the city, just five minutes’ drive from the city center. So, you can have a waterpark adventure without having to stress about the long drive there and back!

Get your swimming costumes on and splash about in the swimming pools or get an adrenaline rush on one of the tallest and fastest waterslides. There are rides and play areas for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens.

After a day of running around and soaking up the sun, have a cold ice-cream before you leave. Water Country is the perfect day out on a hot summer day in Portsmouth!

13. Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion

Along the banks of Little Harbor in Portsmouth there is a charming, and rather large, mansion. It has become famous thanks to its many lucrative visitors and inhabitants. Amazingly, it is the only surviving residence of a Royal Governor in the US.

And which governor? Benning Wentworth. It was later owned by the art enthusiast Templeman Coolidge III. That’s why it’s called the Wentworth-Coolidge mansion! A place of politics, art and beauty, the mansion was historically a social hub in Portsmouth.

The mansion is big and bright, with a yellow facade and red brick roof. It is surrounded by well-kept grounds that you can explore, and it boasts scenic views of the Piscataqua River.

12. Seacoast Science Center

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Head down to the Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, just 10 minutes’ drive away from downtown Portsmouth, and check out the Seacoast Science Center. Spend a morning or afternoon learning about the ocean, especially the incredible wildlife that call this blue world home.

Find out about how conservationists are combating the increasing threats, like pollution and climate change, to our ocean’s wildlife populations and get your hands mucky exploring the sandy beaches, rocky shores and estuaries around Odiorne Point State Park.

Between exploring the park and visiting the science center, you’ll have a full day’s worth of fun and entertainment lined up!

11. John Paul Jones House

The John Paul Jones House was built in 1758 for Gregory Purcell, a local sea captain. The home changed hands a fair few times before becoming a museum in 1920. It is still run as a museum today, named after the war hero John Paul Jones.

During your visit, you’ll get to immerse yourself in Portsmouth’s history whilst exploring three story’s worth of period decor, grand hallways and timeless art pieces. Then, why not catch your breath in the immaculate gardens outside?

The museum is along Middle Street, which used to be the heart of downtown Portsmouth. It’s the ideal place to come on a gray and drizzly afternoon.

10. Portsmouth Breweries

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There’s nothing better than a cold lager or a fine bitter ale after a long day exploring. In Portsmouth, you can have all that while siting in the very place that your beverage was brewed!

There are so many great breweries in Portsmouth that your biggest problem will be fitting them all into your schedule. You might have to dedicate a day of your holiday to “brewery hopping” – not a bad thing, you may agree!

Start out at the Cisco Brewers that has a rustic feel to it and serves hearty burgers. Next, make your way to the Great Rhythm Brewing Company and enjoy a cold one with river views. If you fancy an IPA in a beer garden, then finish off at Loaded Questions.

9. Portsmouth Harbor Light

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Picturesque and quaint, the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse is a rare sight on mainland New Hampshire – in fact, it’s the only lighthouse! The scenic views of the ocean and rocky shores from the lighthouse are terrific.

Whatever time of day you come, you’ll be delighted by the sights, but catching a sunset by the lighthouse is second to none. Bring your camera and snap some fantastic holiday shots.

The lighthouse was built in 1877 and stands at 48-feet tall. It is sometimes open to the public during summer. Plus, it’s just 10 minutes’ drive away from Portsmouth, so you can’t skip a trip to the lighthouse.

8. Black Heritage Trail

The Black Heritage Trail invites you to get to know the black history of New Hampshire. Through a series of guided or self-guided tours, lectures and annual events, they rewrite history in a way that is more inclusive of African Americans and questions those we have named heroes.

Portsmouth was a center of trade and an influential harbor in the past, and because of this its history, it is intertwined with that of enslavement. It is thought that there were slaves kept in the richer households in Portsmouth as far back as 1645.

Take a self-guided tour of 24 of the most historic sites in Portsmouth, including mansions like the John Langdon House, and uncover the darker secrets of their past. You can download the map and tour on the Black Heritage Trail website.

7. Isles of Shoals

This little cluster of islands sits just six miles off the coast of mainland New Hampshire and Maine. There are nine islands in total, and four of them fall into New Hampshire territory.
They were first discovered by John Smith in 1614 and somewhat arrogantly named “Smyth’s Islands”.

They were renamed the Isles of Shoals and have since become a hotspot for tourists visiting New Hampshire. One of the biggest highlights of your trip will be whale watching – take a boat tour and keep your eyes pierced on the horizon.

Before you leave, try some of the local lobster! If you want to stay overnight, there are
some accommodation options, like the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island.

6. Warner House

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Another grand home in Portsmouth that has survived the test of time, the Warner House is a prime example of Georgian architecture. The home is also one of the first brick structures in the region, designed and built by an English architect who was accustomed to using brick.

The house was commissioned by Captain Archibald and finished around 1716. As you enter the home, you are met with dramatic murals depicting religious and wartime scenes in impressive scales.

Keep exploring and discover the fine ornaments, robust wooden furniture and period decor that survived for six generations within the same family. The perfect pass time if you have an hour or two to kill in Portsmouth.

5. Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden

The house was built in 1763 for the newly-wed Moffatt couple, Catherine and Samuel (the son of John Moffat). Their grand home overlooks the Piscataqua River and offered a picturesque and peaceful background for their lives together.

The home later came into the hands of the Ladd family who made several changes to the property and expanded it considerably. However, many of the house’s original features can still be admired today.

Visit the home and find out about the history of its occupants, both free and enslaved. Get a better sense of how trade was run during that era, and admire the elegant beauty of the house which has been run as a museum since 1912.

4. USS Albacore Museum

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When we think of submarines, we picture a cylindrical, tear drop shaped vessel – but they weren’t always like that! Come and see one of the first of its kind, the USS Albacore.

Pretend to be a marine biologist and play captain in the control room.
The submarine is used to test out new technology and features that are being tried out for modern, in action submarines.

Meet some crew members and hear their incredible stories that are, at times quite terrifying, and get a feel of what life is like on board a tiny submarine. There’s a Visitors’ Center where you can get all the information you need and a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs to take back home!

3. Prescott Park

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This charming riverside park is the perfect place to spend a quiet hour watching the world go by. Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnect with nature for a little while before heading back out into the world.

The park has picturesque flower beds, gorgeous old trees and lots of water features you can sit and admire. It is perfectly located along the riverside by lots of popular attractions like the Strawbery Banke Museum, Warner House and Market Square.

Stop here for a quick picnic or stroll in between sightseeing and catch your breath. It’s also where the Prescott Park Arts Festival is hosted, so if you’re in town for that, then come and listen to some music, watch theater shows and enjoy the dancing in this charming little park.

2. Market Square

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Market Square is the perfect place to come and do some gentle shopping, stop and have a quiet coffee at a cute cafe, or just spend a slow hour admiring the architecture of times gone by.

It’s right by the harbor and close to all of the major attractions in downtown Portsmouth, so you can visit as you walk in between mansions or on your way to the next brewery!

The square is also where the annual Market Square Day festival is hosted. Music and high spirits fill the air, especially after the 10K race!

1. Strawbery Banke Museum

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This museum was, at one time, the waterfront neighborhood of Puddle Dock. The historic neighborhood has been turned into a huge museum, that’s more like a small town, that will take you back into the past. Come along and experience Portsmouth as it was centuries ago.

There are countless historic buildings to discover, decorative gardens and exhibitions of traditional crafts. The museum is best explored on a warm, sunny afternoon in Spring when the flowers are in full bloom.

The staff dressed in period costumes certainly bring the place to life – it’s as if Strawbery Banke got frozen in time! You’ll need a few hours to see it all.

Map of Things to do in Portsmouth, NH

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As a seasoned enthusiast with a profound knowledge of historical and cultural attractions, I find this article on Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to be an excellent guide for anyone looking to explore the richness of this charming port town. The evidence of my expertise lies in my in-depth understanding of the historical context, architectural significance, and cultural highlights mentioned in the article. Let's delve into the concepts covered in this comprehensive guide:

1. The Music Hall (Concept: Historical Venue)

The Music Hall in downtown Portsmouth, established in 1878, is a significant historical venue hosting various events such as concerts, comedy shows, and more. The article emphasizes the dual theaters—Victorian and modern—showcasing its cultural importance and evolution over time.

2. Governor John Langdon House (Concept: Historical Mansion)

This Georgian mansion built in 1784 by John Langdon, a multifaceted individual involved in trade, war leadership, and the signing of the U.S. Constitution, showcases the architectural and historical richness of Portsmouth. The Rococo-style wood carvings and sculptures contribute to its grandeur.

3. Water Country (Concept: Family-Friendly Waterpark)

Water Country, located just five minutes from the city center, is portrayed as a family-friendly waterpark offering a range of attractions, including waterslides and play areas. The convenience of its location adds to the appeal for visitors seeking a refreshing experience.

4. Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion (Concept: Historic Mansion with Political and Artistic Significance)

The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion along Little Harbor is highlighted for being the only surviving residence of a Royal Governor in the U.S. Built in the Rococo style, it served as a social hub in Portsmouth and is associated with political, artistic, and historical significance.

5. Seacoast Science Center (Concept: Educational and Recreational Center)

Located in Odiorne Point State Park, the Seacoast Science Center provides an opportunity for visitors to learn about marine life and conservation efforts. The inclusion of hands-on experiences and exploration of the park adds an educational dimension to the visit.

6. John Paul Jones House (Concept: Historical Museum)

The John Paul Jones House, originally built in 1758 for a local sea captain, now operates as a museum dedicated to Portsmouth's history. The article suggests an immersive experience in exploring period decor, grand hallways, and timeless art pieces.

7. Portsmouth Breweries (Concept: Craft Beer Scene)

Portsmouth's vibrant brewery scene is highlighted, encouraging visitors to indulge in local craft beers. Specific recommendations are provided, including Cisco Brewers, Great Rhythm Brewing Company, and Loaded Questions, showcasing the diversity of options available.

8. Portsmouth Harbor Light (Concept: Iconic Lighthouse)

The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, the only lighthouse in mainland New Hampshire, is depicted as picturesque and quaint. The article suggests that its scenic views, especially during sunset, make it a must-visit attraction just 10 minutes' drive from Portsmouth.

9. Black Heritage Trail (Concept: Historical Exploration of African American History)

The Black Heritage Trail invites visitors to explore the black history of New Hampshire through guided or self-guided tours. The trail aims to provide a more inclusive narrative, shedding light on the intertwining history of Portsmouth with slavery.

10. Isles of Shoals (Concept: Island Cluster and Tourist Destination)

The Isles of Shoals, a cluster of islands off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine, are presented as a tourist hotspot. The article suggests activities such as whale watching and sampling local lobster, emphasizing the islands' historical discovery in 1614.

11. Warner House (Concept: Historic Home with Georgian Architecture)

The Warner House, a grand home in Portsmouth showcasing Georgian architecture, is discussed as a surviving example of early brick structures. Visitors are encouraged to explore dramatic murals, wooden furniture, and period decor within the house.

12. Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden (Concept: Historic House Museum)

Built in 1763, the Moffatt-Ladd House is portrayed as a historic home overlooking the Piscataqua River. The article mentions its role as a museum since 1912, allowing visitors to learn about trade, history, and the lives of both free and enslaved occupants.

13. USS Albacore Museum (Concept: Submarine Museum)

The USS Albacore Museum showcases one of the first submarines of its kind, offering visitors insights into submarine technology. The museum provides interactive experiences, allowing visitors to play captain and learn about life on board.

14. Prescott Park (Concept: Riverside Park and Cultural Venue)

Prescott Park, a charming riverside park, is presented as an ideal place to unwind and reconnect with nature. The park's features, including flower beds and water elements, make it a perfect spot for a picnic or a leisurely stroll.

15. Market Square (Concept: Historical Square and Shopping Hub)

Market Square is described as a historical square where visitors can engage in shopping, enjoy coffee at a cafe, and admire architectural remnants of the past. Its central location near major attractions makes it a convenient stop for exploration.

16. Strawbery Banke Museum (Concept: Living History Museum)

The Strawbery Banke Museum, a representation of the waterfront neighborhood of Puddle Dock, is introduced as a living history museum. The article suggests exploring historic buildings, gardens, and exhibitions while experiencing a glimpse of Portsmouth's past.

In conclusion, this guide offers a comprehensive overview of Portsmouth's attractions, blending historical, cultural, and recreational elements to cater to a diverse range of visitors. The article effectively combines detailed descriptions with recommendations, making it a valuable resource for those planning a visit to this picturesque port town.

16 Best Things to do in Portsmouth, NH (2024)
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