Travel

Our Day Trip Guide to Portsmouth

Where you can explore antique houses and historical gardens, and get your fill of coastal charm.


We all need a break from city life sometimes, if even just for a few hours. Our day trip guides highlight all of the gems within a short drive from Boston. Here, we explore Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


Photo via iStock

Portsmouth, N.H.

Distance from Boston: 60 miles
Driving time: 1 hour

A.M.

Oh, Portsmouth. How do you squeeze so much coastal charm into just over 16 square miles? To soak up every last bit of it, start your day at Profile Coffee Bar. Put in an order for a Chemex pour over and a sausage, egg, and cheese, then pick out a vinyl record to play. (This is all best enjoyed while kicking back on one of the shop’s midcentury sofas.) Fueled for a morning of exploring, head out to Congress and Market Streets, where most of Portsmouth’s adorable independent boutiques are located.

Spend an hour or two poking around shops like Wear House, one of the town’s best consignment stores, and Pickwick’s Mercantile, an old-fashioned shop with candy, games, and other baubles lining its cedar shelves. The time-honored shop is also home to the largest collection of small-batch handcrafted perfumes in New England. Adventurous home cooks shouldn’t miss Stock + Spice, a savory-smelling store filled with much-loved and hard-to-find spices, plus chef-made blends.

A less than 10-minute walk from Stock + Spice is the Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth’s pride and joy. This outdoor history museum tells the story of the oldest neighborhood in New Hampshire settled by Europeans. The property spans 10 acres, offering historical gardens and 32 antique buildings to be explored. Portsmouth is truly a house museum lover’s paradise, so if you’d like to continue your architectural revelry after Strawbery Banke, consider stopping in Historic New England’s Governor John Langdon House, a grand Georgian mansion on Pleasant Street. 

Strawbery Banke Museum photo by Lee Wright on Flickr/Creative Commons

P.M.

Once you’ve got your fill of gables and gardens, make your way to Lexie’s for a quick lunch. The burger joint dishes up $6 patties and out-of-this-world truffle fries. Follow our lead and go for the classic Green Lantern burger, topped with avocado, tomato, cheddar, and chimichurri.

A stroll in the salty air will do you good after such a feast. First, make a stop at Prescott Park along the Piscataqua River. Its flower gardens, fountains and specimen trees are a treat for the eyes. Next, hop in the car and set sail for Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. Located at the tip of nearby New Castle, the highly Instagrammable landmark is open for tours on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5 p.m.

Following your afternoon of sea breezes, warm up at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. (You can stop in this cozy haven for book lovers Tuesdays through Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.) The membership library boasts some 40,000 books, and has a comprehensive collection of materials that tell the history of New Hampshire’s only major seaport: Portsmouth.

Time for some pre-dinner brews. Portsmouth Brewery is a popular spot, but if time permits, check out Earth Eagle Brewings. It’s known for its gruit ales, which are made with mixes of flowers, herbs, and spices, rather than hops. The place is also only a five-minute walk from Moxy, where you’ll be spending the rest of the night noshing on small plates. At the tapas bar, James Beard-nominated chef Matt Louis invents dishes that are inspired by New England’s culinary history and its local ingredients. If you need something sweet before the hour-long drive back to the city, make one last stop at Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream. Chunky homemade flavors like Mint Summer’s Night Dream and Swiss Chocolate Avalanche have been delighting Seacoast visitors since 1982.