Portsmouth, New Hampshire is the quintessential New England coastal town, yet I knew very little about the town before visiting this past fall. My previous knowledge of Portsmouth was that the town is charming and historic, but other than that, I didn’t know what to expect during my stay in Portsmouth. Fortunately, I always strive to explore cities like a local whenever I travel somewhere new, so I made a point to chat with locals about their favorites parts of their city. By doing this, I was able to plan the perfect two days in Portsmouth.
I should first explain how I ended up in Portsmouth. I had been in Boston for a week-long business conference when it was suddenly cut short. Since my flight home was still days away, I decided to get out of Boston and explore one of the nearby cities that I had never visited, and thus I landed on Portsmouth. About an hour and a half north of Boston, Portsmouth is a quiet, idyllic town situated near the Atlantic, and I knew it was the perfect destination for my spontaneous mini-trip. To make my impromptu getaway possible, I used HotelTonight to book a great last-minute hotel in Portsmouth, and then I hopped in my rental car and headed north.
Prescott Park is a stunning 10-acre park located blocks away from downtown Portsmouth, and this unique urban park features beautiful gardens, boat docks, boardwalk piers and paved walkways. Since the cooler fall weather hadn’t arrived yet in New Hampshire, it was a perfect day for strolling along the edge of the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth. Since this park is open year-round, it’s a popular spot for locals to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, set up a picnic or even experience live music during the warmer seasons.
After wandering around Prescott Park for hours, I made my way to my hotel in downtown Portsmouth, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the location. Portsmouth’s downtown is full of historic buildings and monuments, charming brick sidewalks and quaint boutiques and restaurants. Since Portsmouth is the third oldest city in the entire country, its downtown is steeped in history. During your time in downtown Portsmouth, you definitely cannot miss Market Square, an old-fashioned New England town square that almost feels as if belongs in Europe. Meandering around Market Square will definitely make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
The town of Portsmouth still has a working port, which is why the Old Harbor embodies the soul of this historic city. There are walkways along the river that pass historic buildings and sights, and just taking an hour or so to wander alongside the beautiful waterfront is one of the best ways to get a sense of this quiet, historic town. Watching the boats sail in and out of the harbor is mesmerizing and, of course, this seaside spot has plenty of great seafood restaurants to check out.
Bow Street is one of the city’s oldest areas, and even today it still looks like something out of an old photo. Right near the waterfront, Bow Street is lined with brick warehouse buildings that are now home to cute boutiques and cafes, and this street always seems to be bustling with pedestrians. While most of the buildings were constructed in the early 1800s, the street’s history actually dates back to the 1700s. After a massive fire in 1806 burned down much of the street, however, new buildings were constructed all the way down Bow Street.
The next day, I hopped on a ferry and journeyed to the Isles of Shoals, a group of small islands about six miles off the coast. After the short ferry ride, I arrived at the Shoals, which are full of history and natural beauty. The islands are peaceful and remote, and this makes for a great day trip from Portsmouth. While I normally try to stay away from tourist activities, I couldn’t resist joining a guided tour, because I wanted to learn all about the history of these islands – and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. If you want to hear stories of pirates, murder and romance, you’ll definitely want to visit the Isles of Shoals.
After a couple of days in Portsmouth, I felt that I had explored a significant portion of the town. Even though it’s one of the oldest, most historic towns in the country, Portsmouth isn’t a sprawling metropolis. Rather, it feels as if it’s been preserved in a time capsule, and the locals are happy to enjoy its charming, old-world feel. If I ever find myself with a few days to spare in New England, I’ll be sure to book a last-minute Portsmouth hotel through HotelTonight so that I can escape to this quintessential harbor town.