Portsmouth (New Hampshire)

Portsmouth is the third oldest city in the USA and is prominent in New Hampshire's seacoast region.


Settled in 1623, as Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth is a historic seaport that boasts an intriguing mix of the old and the new. As one of the oldest cities in the US, it was founded just three years after the settlement at Plymouth MA, the city has a walkable scale that is more often seen in European villages than in US cities.

The city sits 2 miles inland from the sea, on the safe deep harbor waters of the Piscataqua river. Its history as a seaport is an integral part of understanding Portsmouth today and yesterday. The city once was home to the founder of the US Navy, John Paul Jones, whose historic house still stands and is open to the public. It continues to be home to the Portsmouth Shipyard, where the HMS Falkland was built in 1690 for the British Navy and continues today, more than three centuries later, as a Navy shipyard that repairs and upgrades Los Angeles class nuclear submarines.

Today, the city's economy is a mix of the traditional with tugboats pulling in large ships to haul scrap material, fishman still plying the waters from Pierce Island, and new economy jobs in software and biotech at Lonza Biologics which is now one of the area's largest employers.

It is also the center of a growing metropolitan region, often called, "The Seacoast," that is home to 125,000 and includes the coastal towns of Rye, Hampton, and Newcastle in New Hampshire and Kittery and York in Maine, as well as the inland cities of Rochester and Dover, NH. This region is known for its high quality of life and ranks as the 16th safest region in the United States according to Morgan Quitno's 2003 report.

Although the city has attracted an influx of newer residents who have come for the small town with big city amenities in the midst of an area of great natural beauty, the city still retains a good measure of stubborn independent spirit. If you doubt this, pick up a copy of the local weekly newspaper, the New Hampshire Gazette, which is free around town and take in the local view.

Today, you will still find an old styled barbershop as well as upscale coffee shops, a shop selling handmade gourmet chocolates across from a cooperative art gallery, and a slick seafood restaurant that could be in LA (the owners were from LA) next to place called the Friendly Toast that is decorated with 70s kitsch purchased on eBay.

In this friendly small town you will also find an easily digestible mix of small town vibe combined with cultural, dining, shopping, and nightlife variety that is usually only found in more urban settings. The downtown contains Strawberry Banke, a living history museum, Prescott Park a beautiful urban park, and a number of riverside bars and restaurants to while away the day. If you want to get away from downtown, within a few miles are several ocean side parks that have facilities and beaches, often built around a historic fort, usually including a charming view of a lighthouse and sailboats.

To take maximum advantage, slow down and explore the city on foot. Take the time to linger a bit and talk to the locals walking their dog or the visitor relaxing at a sidewalk cafe. This is the best way to get a feel for the strong sense of place that has made Portsmouth a vibrant community both in the past and today.

Get in

By plane

The local airport to Portsmouth, Pease, has flights to Florida. Portsmouth is primarily accessible by flights into Manchester and Portland, both an hour by car, or Boston, roughly an hour car ride in good traffic, or an hour and a half by train. Frequent buses on C&J Trailways travel between Boston's Logan airport and Boston's South Station Train Terminal to the Portsmouth Transportation center.

By train

Buses to Portsmouth are also available from Boston's South Station train depot, which is serviced by Amtrak and the MBTA.

By car

Portsmouth is primarily accessible via Interstate 95 from the north and south. Coming from anywhere outside of New England requires travel on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 90, a toll interstate, east towards Worcester and Boston. Exit the pike onto I-290N through Worcester and onto I-495N, which connects to I-95. I-95 is a toll road through New Hampshire, charging $2.00 both ways at Hampton, NH. Interstate 95 runs through Portsmouth and into Kittery, Maine.

By bus

Note: Portsmouth Transportation Center is 3 miles outside town, with no obvious signed walking route, and infrequent bus service (no busses on Sunday.) If you don't have a car, the staff in the bus station can call a taxi for you, expect to pay $15-$20 to downtown. Don't forget to get the taxi number so that you can get back!

Get around

Cars work best for navigating the New Hampshire seacoast region. Highways are well maintained and convenient, though the summer months see a major influx of tourists and congestion on I-95 occurs frequently. The cities in the region experience moderate traffic, except for the beaches during prime times such as early afternoon, which get very crowded.

Portsmouth and surrounding areas are serviced by a free COAST trolley during the summer and fall. The trolleys are convenient and make many stops in the area.

The city of Portsmouth is small and the major historical points of interest are easily visited on foot. Most downtown establishment will have one of the free local maps available that make touring the downtown on foot easy. You could also walk along the Portsmouth Harbor Trail.

Bicycles are also a very effective means to see the area, see the Seacoast Area Bicycle Routes.

















A few Hotels and several B&Bs are right downtown -

Around Town

The best value hotels are slightly farther out, a mile or two, and require a short ride to get downtown -


Go next

Kittery is a few minutes' drive from Market Square, across Memorial Bridge/US1.

Routes through Portsmouth

Portland Kittery  N  S  Hampton Boston
Portland Kittery  N  S  Hampton Boston
Concord Dover  W  E  END
Berlin Dover  N  E  END

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 01, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.