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The 20 Best Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH for First-Timers

Isles of Shoals

Portsmouth is a port city in New Hampshire that sits by the Piscataqua River. Founded in 1623, it is the oldest city in the state, and it has played an important role in the history of shipbuilding and trade in New Hampshire. Therefore, there are many points of historical interest to visit in the city. Even if history is not something you are interested in while on vacation, there are plenty more things to see and so as there are attractions and activities to suit all tastes. It can help to plan what you would like to do during your visit in advance to make sure you miss nothing from your vacation itinerary. To help you plan your trip, here are the 20 best things to do in Portsmouth, NH for first-timers.

Portsmouth Harbor

20. Take a Boat Tour from Portsmouth Harbor

A fantastic way of seeing the Portsmouth skyline form a different perspective is to take a boat tour. There are many boat tour options available from Portsmouth Harbor that vary in length. Some are short trips that focus on highlighting significant landmarks. Others are longer, and some include food and drinks on the trip. There are also party boats for groups wanting a nighttime trip.

Warner House

19. See Warner House

Warner House is known for being home to the oldest painted murals in the United States. This property was built in 1716, and it is the only remaining mansion from the colonial days on Daniel Street. In addition to the murals are wood paneling and carved moldings. It also has the first example of Queen Anne furniture made in the United States.

Wentworth Coolidge Museum

18. Wentworth Coolidge Museum

Benning Wentworth was the Royal Governor from 1741 to 1767. He moved his center of government to this mansion overlooking Little Harbor. This 40-room mansion is the only surviving Royal Governor’s residence in the United States. Inside the mansion, there are examples of period craftsmanship from the Colonial Era. When you visit this mansion, there is also an interesting trail to walk that stretches 1.5 miles past Creek Farm to Portsmouth Conservation Land.

John Paul Jones House

17. Go to John Paul Jones House

John Paul Jones was a revolutionary war hero who lived in Portsmouth at two different stages of his life. What is now called the John Paul Jones House was once the sea captain’s home and a boarding house. Jones rented a room there while his warship was being built. The house is an excellent example of Georgian architecture. Inside, there are some impressive collections of craftsmen furniture, decorative arts, portraits, ceramics, textiles, and glasswork.

Visit Rundlet-May House

16. Visit Rundlet-May House

Planetware recommends a trip to Rundlet-May House, which was built in 1807 by a Portsmouth merchant. Visitors can tour the house, which contains interesting furniture and wall covering collections. There are also landscaped gardens, outbuildings, and a carriage barn to see.

Water Country

15. Have Fun at Water Country

If you are visiting Portsmouth as a family, then one of the most fun activities to enjoy in this city is a day at Water Country. This is the largest waterpark in new include, and it features a 700-thousand-gallon wave pool. There is a lazy river and an assortment of slides and rides to enjoy, including Wild Canyon and Thunder Falls. You have unlimited access to everything in the water park when you buy a day ticket.

Black Trumpet Bistro

14. Dine at the Black Trumpet Bistro

There are many outstanding dining establishments in Portsmouth, and there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. A great place to try in Portsmouth is Black Trumpet Bistro in the downtown district. It is a small bistro that serves an array of dishes that is globally inspired by international cuisine. However, the menu is developed to focus on using locally-sourced and seasonally available ingredients. There are two floors at the restaurant, and each has a different atmosphere. Downstairs is small and cozy with a traditional bistro look. Upstairs, the atmosphere is livelier and there is a wine bar.

Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail

13. Walk the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail

Portsmouth was once a landing point for slaves. It is believed there were 656 African slaves in New Hampshire in 1775, according to information from the census. Walking the Black Heritage Trail will give you the chance to learn about Black culture in the Colonial and Federal periods. There are various sites along the trail with information about the places and with stories of the people. You can also get a self-guided walking tour brochure with additional information. The trail also gives you an insight into Black history during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Isles of Shoals

12. Take a Boat Ride to the Isles of Shoals

Trip Savvy suggests a boat ride to the Isle of Shoals during your visit to Portsmouth, NH. Visitors can ride on a steamship to the Isles of Shoals, which is a small cluster of six islands just off the coast of Portsmouth. Each of the islands has a unique history, including one that is allegedly the site where the pirate Blackbeard took his honeymoon. One of the most popular to visit is Star Island. If you take one of the evening trips, you can enjoy drinks and live music. This is a fantastic way to get out of the city and see the surrounding sights.

Art Galleries

11. Visit the Art Galleries

Art enthusiasts should visit art galleries in the city. You will find a small cluster of galleries in Downtown Portsmouth, and most of these focus on showcasing the work of local artists. Some also display work by internationally renowned artists. At some, you can buy the art on display, while at others the work is for display purposes only. If you are in the city on the first Friday of the month, you can take part in the ‘Art ‘Round Town’ gallery walks.

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

10. See Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

One of the iconic landmarks of Portsmouth is the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. This is a popular spot for sightseers who want to take photographs of the landmark to commemorate the visit. Entering the lighthouse is a seasonal activity. It is only open on Sunday afternoons from late May to mid-October. Visitors can pay a donation to climb the lighthouse.

Portsmouth Athenaeum

9. Go to Portsmouth Athenaeum

Located in the downtown area of Portsmouth, you will find the Portsmouth Athenaeum. This is a combination of a library, gallery, and museum, so there is something for everyone. The building was established in the early 1800s when local academics gathered their resources together. This was how many library systems were established, although the original items are now only a small fraction of what is on display. Visitors can tour the building to see artifacts relating to the history of the city.

Downtown Portsmouth, NH

8. Go Shopping in Downtown Portsmouth, NH

New England with Love recommends enjoying a little retail therapy in New Hampshire. While staying in Portsmouth, the best neighborhood for this is Downtown. There, you will find a cluster of shops that vary from large retailers selling brands to smaller boutique shops. You will also find Market Square. There are plenty of fantastic cafes and restaurants in the neighborhood where you can sit down for a drink and a bite to eat when you have finished shopping.

Earth Eagle Brewing

7. Eat and Drink at Earth Eagle Brewing

Portsmouth is known for its small breweries, and one of the best to visit during your stay is the Earth Eagle Brewing Company. The brewery element of this company produces a wide selection of microbrews. The beer selection they serve depends on availability and seasonality. There are also on tap options. In addition to the brewery element of the company, they are also a gastro pub. Although most of the menu consists of classic pub favorites, there are also some unexpected items on the menu to try. Throughout the year, the pub hosts special events and festivals, and there is often live music to enjoy while you eat your meal and enjoy a beer.

John Langdon House

6. Visit Governor John Langdon House

Once a mansion, Governor John Langdon House is now a popular tourist attraction. It is the former home of Governor John Langdon, who was a merchant, shipbuilder, governor, Revolutionary War hero, and a signer of the constitution. Before becoming a museum, the property was beautifully preserved. Visitors can see items that belonged to the Langdon family alongside various other historic artifacts. This is a chance to learn about important historical figures, notable families, and about the lives of wealthy merchants in Portsmouth.

USS Albacore

5. Climb Aboard the USS Albacore

A fun activity that people of all ages can enjoy is climbing aboard the submarine, USS Albacore. This submarine was famous for its innovative design when it was built during World War I, and it inspired the design of many other submarines. Its teardrop design was the first of its kind, and it is a design that is still used in modern submarines. Originally, it was used for important research. Now, it is open to visitors, and people can learn about the features of the submarine and its history.

The Music Hall

4. See a Performance at The Music Hall

Theater lovers who want to enjoy a performance of acting, dance, or music while visiting Portsmouth should head for The Music Hall. This is the most prestigious performing arts venue in the city, and they have a jam-packed schedule of performances throughout the year. It is advisable to check what is on and book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. It may also interest you to learn that this is the 14th oldest theater in the United States. Alternatively, you may prefer to see a performance by the community-based professional company at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre. This offers a different theatrical experience. You may even have time to enjoy performances at both venues if you are in the city for a while.

Strawbery Banke Museum

3. Visit Strawberry Banke Museum

If you want to learn about the history of Portsmouth, then one of the best attractions to visit is Strawbery Banke Museum. It is an outdoor museum in the South End neighborhood, which is the oldest remaining European settled neighborhood in Portsmouth. The museum comprises 40 buildings from various eras throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th-centuries. Each of these has been restored, although they are not all open to the public. The museum staff wears period costumes to enhance the experience. Visitors are taken on a journey through time to learn about how life changed for Portsmouth residents in different eras.

Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden

2. Go to Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden

One of the most popular attractions in Portsmouth is Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden. Located in Downtown Portsmouth, this was once a mansion that is now a museum. Most of the exhibits on display belonged to former inhabitants of the home. There are photographs, letters, documents, and other artifacts. There are also elegant gardens that you can explore during your visit. Some of those who have lived in this house include members of the early East Coast Society, figures from the Revolutionary War, and signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Prescott Park

1. Explore Prescott Park

According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do in Portsmouth, NH for first-timers is to explore Prescott Park. It is an urban green space that sits next to the Piscataqua River and covers 10-acres. There are landscaped gardens, two public boat docks with 26 public slips, two boardwalk piers, paved walkways, shelters, and picnic tables. Although it is open throughout the year, the park comes alive in the summer months as it hosts multiple events and festivals. During warm weather, there are also big-screen movies shown. Exploring the park is a free activity, so it is ideal for those who are visiting Portsmouth on a budget. It is also a good option if you need a little time away from the busy urban areas of the city.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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