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Portsmouth, New Hampshire: New England's Best Small City?


Downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 11/16/16.
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From a distance, the majestic church steeple rising above a sleepy-looking, small New England town belies the vibrancy of this New Hampshire seacoast city. While Portsmouth does have the leanings of a small town, it also has a city feel, minus the traffic, and high crime. Market Square is of particular interest. Locally owned shops, great restaurants with a water view, narrow streets, tree-lined streets with fine old homes and an overflow of eclectic University of New Hampshire students make this section seem like a miniature version of the diverse, historic city of Boston, Mass. No disrespect to Burlington, Vt., Portland, Maine and Newport, R.I., but Portsmouth could be New England's most appealing small city. It is interesting, easy to navigate and welcoming.

For starters, check out the historical Strawbery Banke Museum, a 10-acre historic waterfront neighborhood, with homes dating back to 1650. Although modern amenities beckon around the corner in Market Square, Strawberry Banke takes you out of the modern era and into another period of time. Across the street is Prescott Park, with its scenic waterfront, spectacular flower displays and diverse music performances. It's also a great place to sit on a bench and people watch. For excellent food, we recommend trying the Oar House, which serves fine, traditional steak and seafood dishes. It's nicely located in the historic Merchant's Row Building at the edge of the old Portsmouth Harbor. Another great dining choice is the new River House Restaurant restaurant (formerly the Stockpot) at 53 Bow St. This casual, affordable restaurant features two levels of dining in a historic building, plus outdoor dining with beautiful views of the Portsmouth waterfront.

The River House menu is wide and varied, including burgers, flatbread pizza, Thai salad (delicious!), chicken pesto panini (also delicious!), seafood chowder, steamed lobster, broiled haddock, grilled haddock, steak tips and a Coca Cola BBQ pork roll. We highly recommend this family-friendly, yet hip waterfront restaurant.

More great Portsmouth news:  once the day is done and you leave the parking garage, your wallet will only be a few dollars lighter--compare that to the $20-plus parking fees in some parts of Boston. Whether single, married, young or old, Portsmouth makes for a great day, filled with fun, a sense of history and a great mix of the old and new. A day trip is great, and if you decide to stay longer, plenty of bed and breakfasts, inn and motels await you. There's even a Sheraton Hotel (you can find great prices in the "Deals" widget at the beginning of this article), just a minute's walk to Market Square and five minutes to Strawbery Banke. All in all, Portsmouth is a great representation of New England, perfect for those who are looking for a great introduction to the region.


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