Congratulations, Portsmouth! The third-oldest city in the country, once the land of the Wabanaki tribes, will celebrate its 400th anniversary this year. The waterfront city, settled in 1623, will celebrate its past, present, and future with a long list of special happenings, including three large signature events, lectures, concerts, art exhibits, shipyard tours, and more.
It’s a great time for a visit, no matter what your interests. Here’s your guide.
An indoor pool, free hot breakfast, and competitive rates make the Hampton Inn & Suites one of the most family- friendly places to stay in town. The property has connecting rooms and spacious, modern suites with pull-out couches; it’s dog-friendly, too. We’d keep the pool a secret until the end of the day, or you might not be able to coax your kids out and about. Instead, check in, park the car (extra charge), and roam the city; many attractions, restaurants, and shops are within walking distance.
The Victorian Children’s Garden at Strawbery Banke Museum is a fun place for families, with a tea garden, a butterfly and fairy garden, and a two-story Victorian treehouse. Kids also like the scavenger hunt in Mrs. Goodwin’s Gardens (download the list here).
Prescott Park is a great place for kids to burn off energy, and for adults to stroll gardens and take in the scenic water views. Also, check out Prescott Park Arts Festival, with a roster of kid-friendly outdoor concerts, movies, and theater productions held throughout the summer.
Other kid-friendly attractions include nearby Odiorne State Park, home to the Seacoast Science Center, with hands-on exhibits, touch tanks, and special programs, and the USS Albacore, where you can board a historical submarine, listen to stories from former crew members, visit the bunkroom, and peer through the periscope in search of enemy vessels.
Get the kids to stop long enough for pizza at Flatbread, burgers and hot dogs at Gilley’s or hefty sandwiches at Friendly Toast. And because there’s always room for ice cream, head to Annabelle’s for some of the richest, creamiest cones in town.
Time your visit: Grand Parade on June 3, Sail Portsmouth Tall Ships Tours on July 27-31, Thunder Over N.H. Airshow on Sept. 9, and Portsmouth Fairy House Tour on Sept. 23-24.
For history buffs
Stay at the 10-room Sailmaker’s House, a circa 1800 Greek Revival home once owned by John Holbrook, who operated a sail-making shop in town. It’s been completely updated, with glossy white woodwork, pale neutral hues, and lots of natural light, along with original pine floors, wood paneled doors, and a windy front staircase. Local artwork and contemporary furnishings add punch. It’s in a quiet South End neighborhood, but still within easy walking distance to the city’s top sights and restaurants. The backyard, with flowers and fruit trees, is a pleasant place to relax.
Start with a mile or so walk along the Portsmouth Harbour Trail, which includes 10 buildings on the National Register of Historic Buildings, and three homes maintained by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, including the Portsmouth Athenaeum, the Moffatt-Ladd House (William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence lived here), the 1716 Warner House, the John Paul Jones House, and the 1785 Governor John Langdon House (President George Washington was a guest in the home in 1789).
The Portsmouth Historical Society offers guided walking tours, including the 90-minute Walking Through 400 Years of History Tour. In celebration of the 400th anniversary, the society is hosting a variety of exhibitions showcasing how the city has changed and remained the same throughout its four centuries.
Stop by St. John’s Episcopal Church, with the oldest operating pipe organ in the United States, and the African Burying Ground Memorial Park, located on the site of a cemetery for free and enslaved Africans that was in active use in the 1700s.
Time your visit: Port City Bike Tours offers guided trips through the historic neighborhoods of Portsmouth, through Oct. 31. The “Diplomats in Portsmouth” exhibit at the John Paul Jones House explores the history of diplomacy in Portsmouth, through Oct. 9. In addition, The Athenaeum, with more than 50,000 historic images of Portsmouth, will be producing and displaying large format images of buildings throughout downtown.
For food and beer lovers
Stay at AC Hotel Portsmouth Downtown Waterfront for a modern, big hotel experience. The downtown property has a fitness center, valet parking, and restaurant and lounge. Rooms are sleek, with neutral colors, cushy beds and linens. Culinary enthusiasts will enjoy the sleek Rooftop at Envio restaurant and bar, with a buzzy vibe, great water views and an outdoor terrace. Head up for artisan cocktails with appetizers like the Maine lobster flatbread, limoncello shrimp, and beef bresaola carpaccio.
Other restaurants we’d recommend include Green Elephant for vegetarian, Surf for seafood, Cure for elevated comfort food, Cava Tapas & Wine Bar for creative small plates, Barrio for make-your-own tacos, Upstairs at Ristorante Massimo for great Italian fare, and The Library if you’re hankering for a fat, juicy steak.
For a fun overview, jump on one of Portsmouth Eats tours. The company offers a variety of guided walking tours, including the White Tablecloth tour with tastings at five fine restaurants, the Best of Portsmouth tour, featuring five award-winning dishes (including the best chowder in New England), and the Sweets & Treats tour, a kid-friendly, 1½-hour tour with cookies and confections.
The city also has a rich brewing history, dating back to the late 1800s, when the Frank Jones Brewing Company was the largest ale producer in the country. Frank Jones may no longer be around, but plenty of other brewing artisans have taken his place. Pick up the “Breweries of the Seacoast” map, highlighting 12 local breweries in and around Portsmouth, including Earth Brewings, Liars Bench Beer Co., Throwback Brewery, and Loaded Question.
Time your visit: Chowder Fest on June 3, Little Italy Carnival on Aug. 6 and street.life!400 on Aug. 15.
In celebration of its 400th anniversary, the city of Portsmouth will host three major events this summer.
The Portsmouth NH 400 Grand Parade will be held on Saturday, June 3, starting at 11 a.m. Join the crowd of merry onlookers as marching bands, floats, singers and dancers, weave through the streets of downtown. History Lights Our Way is this year’s special theme.
The Little Italy Carnival will be held on Aug. 6. It’s a daylong event honoring the culture and history of Portsmouth’s lost Italian North End Neighborhood. There will be music, circus acts, and lots of Italian food, including a Cook Off contest, hosted by owner and chef Julie Cutting of Cure Restaurant, with award-winning chefs and celebrity judges.
street.life!400, a massive al fresco dinner, will be held Aug. 15. Downtown streets will be closed to traffic for several blocks to accommodate dining tables and chairs set for 750 guests. The lucky diners will enjoy a traditional New England clambake under the stars, with music and entertainment.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org