Portsmouth’s 18th-century prosperity is evident in the Georgian-style homes that dot the city. Strawbery Banke, which occupies the core of the historic area, is well worth visiting. If you don’t have the budget, time, or inclination to spend half a day at Strawbery Banke, a walking tour takes you past many other significant homes, some of which are maintained by various historical or colonial societies and are open to the public. A map of the historic Portsmouth Harbor Trail is available free at information centers.
Tired from touring? Take a break at Prescott Park, between Strawbery Banke and the water. It’s one of the best municipal parks in New England. The water views, lemonade vendors, benches, grass, lovely gardens, and full card of festivals make it worth a visit. There’s a full calendar of events at the park festival website, www.prescottpark.org. Be amazed.
Packing a picnic in Portsmouth
Portsmouth’s Prescott Park is about as pretty a spot as you could expect to find for an alfresco bite, with a lawn that’s a great spot for splaying out and catching some rays. Get provisions nearby at the simple, aptly named Portsmouth Provisions ([tel] 603/436-5104), 2 blocks away at 148 State Street. It’s open from early in the morning until almost midnight, daily. There’s a selection of beers, an attached sandwich counter where locals eat lunch on the fly, and plenty of snacks. Or just hit the vendors in the park for a hot dog, ice cream, or a lemonade. For those with a sweet tooth, a summertime ice-cream shop has also opened its doors across the street in the Strawbery Banke complex.
Discovering The South End
Most travelers tend to visit just Strawbery Banke, do a little shopping at the downtown boutiques, grab a bite, and hustle onward to Maine. To get a fuller sense of historic Portsmouth, though, take the time to stroll a bit off the beaten track. The so-called “South End” neighborhood around the Wentworth-Gardner House and Prescott Park is a great area to snoop around in. You’ll find lanes too narrow for SUVs to fit into, twisting roads, fish and lobster shacks, and wooden-frame houses of all shapes and sizes. It’s a great taste of the early 19th century, and definitely off the beaten tourist track.
On the Water
Portsmouth is especially attractive when seen from the water. A small fleet of tour boats ties up at Portsmouth, taking scenic tours of the Piscataqua River and the historic Isle of Shoals throughout the summer and fall.
The long-established Isles of Shoals Steamship Co. (www.islesofshoals.com; [tel] 603/431-5500) sails from Barker Wharf on Market Street on a variety of tours aboard the 90-foot, three-deck MV Thomas Laighton (a modern replica of a late-19th-century steamship). Most popular are the excursions to the Isle of Shoals, where passengers can disembark and wander about Star Island, a dramatic, rocky landmass that’s part of an island cluster far out in the offshore swells. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Other popular trips include a sunset lighthouse cruise. Fares range from $18 to $35 per adult, depending on the length of the cruise; dinner cruises cost extra. Parking is an additional charge, as well.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.