Portsmouth, NH Weekend Escape
May 29, 2014

New England is renowned for its charming seaside towns but, for me anyway, Portsmouth seems to be the template that the rest emulate. In less than two hours from Boston by car, you can find yourself strolling its charming streets, contemplating what to eat for dinner at its numerous restaurants, and taking in the waterfront scenery.

My family and I spent a wonderful weekend there recently and in 48 hours managed to get out on the water three times, visit the excellent Strawbery Banke history museum, and dine at several outstanding restaurants. For those who have never been, it’s useful to learn that that the small town was settled in 1623, and today about 22,000 people live in the port town. It’s the perfect walking town. You can leave your car at your hotel and almost forget about it the entire time you stay.

For a great introduction to the history of the area, a visit to Strawbery Banke, a 10-acre waterfront neighborhood and museum, is a must. It earned its name from the first settlers in 1630 for the wild berries found on the shores of the Piscataqua River. You can easily spend a whole day exploring this area known for 400 years as Puddle Dock. Before the kids groan at the idea of a museum, assure them that it’s much more than that. You can wander in and out of houses and shops which date from the 1600s to the 1950 and kids can dress up in Colonial garb and examine games and toys from long ago. Costumed role players will talk about the time period that they represent, all while doing tasks like cooking or stocking store shelves. Outside, you can explore the gardens and play games like hoops on the wide lawns. In the end, I had to coax my daughter and her friend from the museum in order to make our harbor trip.

No visit to Portsmouth is complete without getting on the water. We went on two scenic tours, both of which took us through the picturesque waterways of Portsmouth Harbor. Both the Isles of Shoals Steamship Co. and Portsmouth Harbor Cruises offer narrated trips along the Piscataqua, where you learn about the history of life on the harbor and the landmarks along the shore. As enjoyable as it is letting someone else do the driving, as it were, nothing beats getting even closer to the action. At Portsmouth Kayak Adventures, we thoroughly loved the two-hour guided tour we took, where we paddled along the gorgeous waterways, stopped on a small island to stretch our legs, and were lucky enough to spot an eagle soaring above us. It was a picture-perfect moment and a highlight of the weekend.

If You Go
There are any number of hotels, B&Bs, inns and restaurants to choose from, surprisingly so for such a small places. We stayed at the historic and beautiful Wentworth by the Sea Hotel, which was built in 1874. The hotel offers special packages for New Englanders and among its other charms, the property has indoor and outdoor pools, which offer a nice break from sightseeing. One of our favorite spots to eat was Café Espresso, an unassuming spot in a strip mall that was nearby the kayaking outfitter and serves breakfast all day long. Locals highly recommended it and we found out why when we fortified ourselves before our water adventure.

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