Portsmouth, a charming New England seaport, retains its colonial heritage through careful preservation of its buildings, some of which date from the 1600s. Many of these historic structures can be viewed on a walking tour along the Portsmouth Trail, which is a collection of six buildings, including the Governor John Langdon House. Langdon served five years as governor of the state and was a signer of the U.S. Constitution. The John Paul Jones House, also on the tour, was the temporary dwelling of the naval patriot during the outfitting of the ships USS Ranger and USS America. The four other homes include Federalist and Georgian mansions of early politicians and merchants. Other Portsmouth buildings of note are the Old State House, built in 1758, and Pitt Tavern, site of Loyalist meetings prior to the Revolutionary War. The Strawbery Banke Museum, a living museum, occupies 10 acres in the city's South End in the heart of the maritime community.
Thirty-five buildings built between 1695 and the 1820s have been preserved and co-exist with restored shops where craftsmen demonstrate vanishing arts such as barrel and candle making. St. John's Church, an Episcopal church built in 1807, contains an antique Bible, baptismal font, and box pews. The nearby Point of Graves Cemetery contains tomb-stones dating back to 1682.
Other attractions in Portsmouth center around the port area. Prescott Park, on the banks of the Piscataqua River, contains the Sheafe Warehouse, where John Paul Jones outfitted the USS Ranger. The warehouse now houses an art gallery and hosts an annual arts festival. Harbor cruises and whale watches are popular further down the river in Portsmouth Harbor. A trip to the Isles of Shoals, a group of islands just off the coast, reveals the landing site of Captain John Smith around 1614. Across the Piscataqua River in Kittery, Maine, is the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a U.S. naval installation since the Revolutionary War. The base, which is actually located on Seavey's Island, has built ships ranging from frigates to submarines. Albacore Park and Memorial Garden house the USS Albacore, a prototype for modern submarines.
Odiorne Point State Park, near Portsmouth Harbor, contains a nature center with exhibits of sea life and displays on coastal issues. Narrated, cocktail, live music, and fall foliage cruises of the harbor and the Piscataqua River are available. Water Country water park, spread over 47 acres, offers 15 different water rides, other activities, and snack bars and restaurants.
It is remarkable that a city of Portsmouth's size can support several theater groups along with five theaters, a children's museum, a ballet company, a lively music scene, and a former button factory inhabited by artisans. Founded in 1977, the Pontine Movement Theatre is a professional performing and touring group specializing in mime. The group performs at the Market Square studio. A variety of classic and original productions are presented by the intimate, 75-seat Players' Ring Theater, while the award-winning Seacoast Repertory Theatre at the Bow Street Theatre building (circa 1892) offers a wide range of plays, workshops, and children's activities. Ballet New England performs contemporary and traditional dance; classical music is the forte of the Historic North Church Music Series. The Music Hall, built in 1878, presents a celebrity series of dance, music, theater, and other events from September through May.
Among the attractions at the Children's Museum of Portsmouth are a lobstering exhibit, a submarine that can be boarded, and nature and computer centers. Portsmouth's numerous galleries showcase paintings, collectibles, and sculpture exhibits that depict the sea as well as arts and crafts.
The New Year is hailed in Portsmouth by the non-alcoholic First Night celebration spotlighting live entertainment and fireworks. Warm weather brings art fairs, including the summer-long Prescott Parks Art Festival and the Ceres Street Crafts Fair held in the Old Harbor Area. The Bowstreet Artisans Fair at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre in July is the largest fine arts and crafts fair held in southern New Hampshire. The Children's Museum of Portsmouth celebrates its birthday in July with the entire community. June features the Harbor Arts Jazz Festival, which is held at the Music Hall, and the day-long Market Square Day festival with food, music, and arts and crafts booths. The Strawbery Banke Museum's "Candlelight Stroll," held the first two weekends in December, rounds out the festival year.
Its proximity to the Atlantic Coast provides Portsmouth with an abundance of sports. In summer, the city's parks offer picnicking, fishing, boating, swimming, and hiking. Albacore Park, at the Port of the Portsmouth Maritime Museum, staffs a visitor's center. The park system includes Four Tree Island Park and Pierce Island Park. Prescott Park, the site of a summer festival series, cultivates garden displays while the Urban Forestry Center maintains nature trails, an arboretum, gardens, and a historic house. Saltwater fishing is popular, with several companies offering boating services. The city maintains 16 tennis courts, two indoor and outdoor pools, and a golf course. In the winter, excellent skiing can be found in the White Mountains, a two-hour's drive to the north. Odiorne Point State Park, a 15-minute drive from downtown, offers numerous summer and fall outings, including flotsam and jetsam hikes and leaf hunts.
Portsmouth shopping is especially appealing because there is no sales tax. Its most picturesque shopping section may be the Old Harbor Area at Bow and Ceres streets. The warehouses and customs offices of the once busy colonial seaport have been transformed into boutiques, craft shops, and restaurants. Downtown shopping is available along Congress Street. Two of the better-known outlet malls in the area are Kittery Outlet Mall in Kittery, Maine and the North Hampton Outlet on U.S. Route One. Major retailers can be found in the city of Newington at the Fox Run Mall. The Portsmouth Farmers Market sells homemade foods and arts and crafts from May to early November.
Portsmouth, the self-proclaimed "restaurant capital of New England," offers mostly classic seacoast fare in its nearly 100 restaurants, about half of which are in the downtown area. Many eateries are located in refurbished warehouses, historic homes, and breweries overlooking the water. Ethnic menus include Italian, Tuscan, Chinese, Polynesian, Japanese, Mexican, and Continental cuisine. Choices can range from the trendy Portsmouth Brewery to the Parisian feel of Cafe Mirabelle to the Blue Mermaid World Grill, which features a varied menu of specialties seasoned with flavors from around the world.
Visitor Information: Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, 500 Market St., PO Box 239, Portsmouth, NH 03802-0239; telephone (603)436-3988