Headquartered in Franconia, Garnet Hill has long enjoyed New Hampshire’s White Mountain region. Last year, we opened an additional office in the southern part of the state, and now we’re smitten with New Hampshire’s inviting shoreline — and the coastal town of Portsmouth.
Rich with European charm, Portsmouth has lots to see, sip, and savor, and plenty of places to shop. No wonder it’s on many top lists, from CNN’s Top 10 Most Romantic Cities to Cosmopolitan’s Top-100 Hot Cities.
Garnet Hill freelance writer, Kristyn Lak Miller, lives in town, and so we gave her a challenge: tell us how to spend 48 hours in Portsmouth.
Here, Kristyn shares what to do, where to eat, and where to stay when you travel to Portsmouth. We’re sure you’ve got a vacation-worthy wardrobe — now all you have to do is pack.
Grab a cup of organic coffee or custom-blend tea at White Heron Cafe. All about community, this fun eatery serves up a talk-to-your-neighbor environment alongside scrumptious baked goodies and a couple of breakfast sandwiches you can enjoy there or on-the-go.
Once caffeinated, travel back in time at Strawbery Banke. This living, breathing history museum is a community of nearly 40 homes, inhabited by actors playing the roles of real-life citizens who lived here sometime between 1695 and 1954. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the fun, stopping at an old tavern, grocery store, even a mansion or two, with lots of picture-worthy gardens dotting the 10 acres.
When hunger pangs bring you back to present day, head to Row 34 for lunch. A large, open space, with walls of tall windows, its seafood-centric menu is a reminder you’re on the coast of New Hampshire. With more than one type of lobster roll on the menu, you’re in for a tasty time.
To burn off calories from lunch, find the closest Zagster Bike Share station (they’re all over town) and rent a cruiser bike, or put on your comfiest shoes for a walk. A few must-visit places: Market Square, the city’s main hub, easily identified from most parts of downtown by its tall steeple; Ceres Street, a narrow lane with shops and restaurants on one side, and water views on the other, along with a massive great white shark art installation you shouldn’t miss; Portsmouth African Burial Ground, this once-forgotten burial ground (the only one of its kind in New England, dating back to the late 1700s) was recently honored with a memorial park; Mechanic Street, with beautiful historic and modern homes on one side and water views on the other; Commercial Alley, a most inviting, shop-lined alley; and Route 1’s Memorial Bridge, connecting Portsmouth to Kittery, Maine. The view from the bridge back to Portsmouth is beautiful and, hey, it’s fun to say you biked or walked “all the way” to Maine.
After all that fun, you’ve probably worked up an elephant of an appetite, so it’s time for dinner at my favorite restaurant in town, Green Elephant. Striking a culinary balance between good-for-you and indulgent — and uniting flavors and ingredients from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China — it’s a vegetarian restaurant with sublime, carnivore-converting dishes like Singapore Noodles, a cravable combination of stir-fried curried vermicelli noodles, meaty tofu, and perfectly cooked veggies, topped with pea shoots and fried shallots.
Next up: some entertainment. Depending on the time of year, catch a play or musical performance at Prescott Park, an outdoor venue with bountiful gardens and its own “love locks” fence, or The Portsmouth Music Hall, a historic theater with uniquely enchanting bathrooms. After, stop for dessert at Popovers on the Square, a European-style bakery in the center of town. If the weather cooperates, sit outside; otherwise sit at the bar along the window and watch the world pass.
You’re yawning by now, so retreat to The Hotel Portsmouth. Situated close — but not too close — to bustling Market Square, this chic and cozy 32-room hotel was built in 1881 as a private, Queen Anne Victorian-style home. Inside, historic touches (ornate built-ins) live alongside modern appointments (in-room iPads), resulting in an inviting, uniquely Portsmouth space.
We’ll leave you here, ready to crawl into your room’s plush bed and dream about the fun adventures that await during your next 24 hours in Portsmouth. Look for Part 2 of this post in a few days.
Kristyn Lak Miller is a freelance Garnet Hill writer based in Portsmouth, NH. Since 2001, Kristyn has crisscrossed the globe as a travel writer and, no matter where she goes, she always looks forward to returning home to her favorite destination of all.