20 Fun Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH This Summer
We’re lucky to live in a state that not only has the breath-taking White Mountains, a gorgeous lakes region, and a thriving Seacoast that brings visitors from all over the world. As one of New Hampshire’s most well-known cities, Portsmouth frequently tops “best of” lists and has even been featured by National Geographic as one of the U.S.’s greatest small towns.
Portsmouth is definitely a unique New England city that has a little bit of everything to offer, including arts and entertainment, historic trails, delicious restaurants, and thriving culture. To introduce you to our favorite little city, we’ve compiled a list of the top 20 fun things to do this summer in Portsmouth.
1. Head to the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market
Running every Saturday until November 3rd, rain or shine, the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market sets up on 1 Junkins Ave from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. With over 60 booths manned by local farmers, artists, and more, you’re guaranteed to find something that suits your fancy. Even if you just go to browse, you can try a homebrewed cup of coffee while listening to a local band and you’ll be bound to have a good time!
2. Stroll through Market Square Day
Since 1978 on the second Saturday in June, Market Street in Portsmouth is shut down from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the annual Market Square Day Festival!
The festival was the first fundraiser put on by Pro Portsmouth, a non-profit that helps support the beautification of downtown Portsmouth. Each year the festival brings between 60,000 and 80,000 people throughout the day to enjoy the 150+ vendors, food, live music, and fun!
3. Did Someone Say, “Booze Cruise”?
There’s plenty to see in the city, but taking a cruise tour or party ship allows you to see the harbor from a different perspective, away from the hustle and bustle.
Whether you’re feeling like dancing or looking to explore the coastline, the Portsmouth Harbor Cruises and the Isle of the Shoals Steamboat Company have it all. From day trips to Star Island and narrated historical tours, to 80’s night booze cruises, climbing aboard will never be a mistake.
4. Take a Guided or Self-Guided Black Heritage Trail Tour
In 1995, the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire was founded to preserve, honor, and educate the public. Throughout the city, you’ll see bronze memorials that represent marks on the trail and places those before have walked. Learn about the history of Portsmouth from the stories of African Americans that helped shape the city we know today.
5. Visit Legendary Strawbery Banke
One of the largest tourist attractions in Portsmouth is Strawbery Banke, which transports visitors back in time. This piece of the Seacoast is encased in an old-timey bubble where the staff is always in character, dressed in 1800’s garb and asking about what your doohickey (cell phone) is.
Founded in 1958, this town within a town is home to 37 structures — 21 of which were restored and interpreted to represent life from the 1600’s up until the year it was founded. When you visit, be sure to block off a couple of hours to tour the historic buildings, churn some butter in the interactive exhibits, and breathe in the beautiful gardens. You may even see a wedding in progress!
6. See the Next Tony Award-Winning Play at The Players’ Ring
The Players’ Ring, aka “The Ring,” is nestled on the grounds of Prescott Park and owned by the City of Portsmouth to support local art at a low cost. With its “black box” style theater seating only 75 people, your show experience will be intimate and memorable.
Since its opening in 1992, this little theater has been the start for many local playwrights who have gone onto win Tony Awards with their original works, like G. Matthew Gaskell’s “Sharp Dressed Men” trilogy and Billy Butler’s “Gay Bride of Frankenstein” and “Bitter Pill.” Other shows that have graced the stage have been brought to your living room screens, like David Mauriello’s “Just Say Love” and Todd Hunter’s “Summer Blink.”
From Stranger Than Fiction comedy shows to Shakespeare and original works, The Ring has something for everyone at a price that won’t break the bank. Plus, the money is given right back to the local arts community.
7. Take Out a Paddle Board or Kayak
Tired of being cooped up in historic theatres or need to walk off some sweets from La Maison Navarre? Put on your adventure pants, rent a kayak or paddle board, and head out to the bay! You can go with a partner or sign up for a tour.
Portsmouth Kayak Adventures has summer camps for kids, classes for all ages, and tours that go around the harbor and to the beaches where you can do yoga, see the full moon, watch the sun go down, or even see fireworks.
8. Be a Pirate for a Day and Climb Aboard the Portsmouth Tall Ships
Sailing into the Portsmouth harbor on July 25th are the Oliver Hazard Perry and the Roseway ships for the Tall Ship Festival, which will kick off with the Parade of Sail open to the public.
Following the parade, the Oliver Hazard Perry tall ship will dock at Prescott pier and will be open for tours Thursday, July 26th through Sunday, July 29th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Roseway, which technically isn’t a “tall ship” despite its tall sails, will be docked in New Castle at the University of New Hampshire’s pier and will set sail for two-hour tours so you can live out your pirate dreams.
9. Check Out the Discover Portsmouth Center
If you’re ever unsure of what to do when you get to Portsmouth (and hopefully this blog will help you plan your day), dropping by the Discover Portsmouth Center is always a good start.
Founded in 1917 by the Portsmouth Historical Society, this nonprofit community center serves as basecamp for educating the public on the history of Portsmouth though events, walking tours, gallery sketches for all ages, and a number of other educational and fun public events!
10. Visit the USS Albacore Museum
Did you know that a submarine sits right in Portsmouth’s Albacore Park on Market Street? Did you also know that the submarine vessel, which was designed by the Navy, is also the first of its kind to have the cylindrical shape?
The USS Albacore served as a prototype for the first boat built to operate underwater. The vessel was used for research from 1953 to 1972, and was maintained by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Today, it serves as an educational vessel for self-guided tours where you can learn about its history directly from the people who manned it so many years ago.
11. Go Whale Watching
Before you get your dancing shoes on for the booze cruise, put on your rubber boots, grab your tackle box, and hop aboard the vessels of the Al Gauron Deep-Sea Fishing and Whale Watching tours.
Al Gauron Deep-Sea Fishing and Whale Watching, a family owned business, has been thriving on the Seacoast for 75 years. Through September, you can book a four-hour whale watching trip. Just make sure you bring a sweatshirt since it can get quite chilly!
12. See a Show, Visit a Gallery, or Grab a Drink from Barrio at 3S Artspace
Although 3S has only been a part of the Seacoast for a few years, it’s become a landmark in the growing arts culture that makes up Portsmouth. Founded in 2015, 3S Artspace, a non-profit creative space, welcomes alternative local and traveling performers. The space also supports a rotating art gallery and will soon be championing a lively restaurant with a patio. 3S is a one-stop-shop for the perfect night out.
13. Check Out a Show or Take a Class at the Seacoast Rep
You must be thinking, “Another non-profit theatre??” Well, you’re right, there are quite a few in Portsmouth. The Seacoast Repertory Theater (aka “the rep”) is a non-profit professional theater that has Broadway-quality shows year-round, classes and theater programs for all ages, comedy nights, and so much more.
14. Take a Ride with Pickwick’s Ghost & Trolley Tours
Do you believe in ghosts? Better yet, are you afraid of ghosts?
If you’re in for a spooky thrill, load up the Pickwick’s trolley with some friends and family and go on a haunted ride though Portsmouth’s ghostly hot spots. The trolleys are fully loaded with comfortable seating for 14 to 16 ghost hunting buddies and modern display screen and audio that’s personalized for each tour.
15. Tour the Harbor by Air
If you’re not afraid of heights, adventure with Seacoast Helicopters to experience the beauty of the Seacoast from the air!
From a few hundred feet up, you’ll be able to tour the beaches, lighthouses, and the Isle of the Shoals. You may even be able to fly the helicopter if you’re feeling brave. Don’t worry, you’ll have a trained professional with you at all times, so what’s there to fear?
16. How About a Beer (or Two)?
A huge part of Portsmouth is the brewing industry, so it would only make sense to go on a brewery tour while you’re here.
You can certainly take yourself on a self-guided tour through the many breweries in downtown Portsmouth, but you’d be missing a lot of breweries outside the downtown walking range. To check out some that are a short drive away, make sure you have a designated driver, like the NH Beer Bus or the Best Brew Tours. These local touring companies help you customize your beer trip to suit your tasting needs while sharing the history of the brewing companies along the way.
17. Stop by the Moffatt-Ladd House and Gardens
Built in 1763, the Moffatt-Ladd House and Gardens are a historical staple in downtown Portsmouth, representing one of the finest Georgian mansions in America. With its authentic interior design and lavish gardens to waltz through, a visit to this gem provides a piece of history at every corner.
There are many weddings and gatherings that are held at the house throughout the year, but the museum, house, and garden tours are their main event. A visit to the Moffatt-Ladd House is perfect for a date with your honey or for a family outing.
18. Visit the Art Walk Gallery
Portsmouth has historical tours, harbor tours, and helicopter tours, but there’s also art tours! You can view local art at the bimonthly Art Walk, presented by the Art Galleries of Portsmouth. Every first Friday of the month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. you can celebrate the local art displayed in downtown Portsmouth.
If you’re busy the first Friday of every month, no worries! Portsmouth’s Art-Speak is a non-profit that supports the public art of Portsmouth and also has an Art Walk with a self-guided map of downtown galleries, public art, and more.
19. See a Show or Movie at The Music Hall
The historic Music Hall is a treasure in the heart of Portsmouth. People from all over the world have come to see local entertainment and movies and celebrities like Jay Leno and Melissa Etheridge. The Music Hall also hosts Writers on a New England Stage which brings bestselling authors like Stephen King and Margaret Atwood to town.
Not only does the Music Hall host local music, headlining guests, and show productions, it’s also the main theater for film festivals like the annual New Hampshire Film Festival and the International Ocean Film Festival.
Across the street from the Music Hall is an extension of the theater called the Music Hall Loft, which hosts movies, local writers, and community events like CreativeMornings/PKX.
20. Save Your Seat for the Prescott Park Arts Festival
One of the most unique attributes of this historical city is the Prescott Park Arts Festival that runs June through September. Nearly every weeknight in the summer you can enjoy a movie, a local or traveling artist, or spoken word performances. Thursday night through Sunday there are matinee and nighttime shows of a musical production, which is changed up each year. This year it’s Dr. Seuss’s Seussical!
All of the performances and productions are put on with the support of the city and the people who travel near and far to visit. Attendance is open to anyone who can find a place in the park to set up a chair or lay down a blanket. Donations are recommended to help support the festival but the festival itself is to provide accessible family entertainment to the people of Portsmouth.
21. Come Back for the NHFF!
While you’re wining and dining this summer, we bet you’ll fall in love with Portsmouth. So why not come back October 11th through 14th for the 18th Annual New Hampshire Film Festival? If you love Portsmouth in the summer, wait until you see the gorgeous foliage and experience the refreshingly crisp air that autumn brings. We hope to see you there!