National Geographic Traveler speculated that Portsmouth, New Hampshire might be the greatest small town in the country. Lucky for us, Garnet Hill has an office in nearby Exeter, NH. Even luckier, we know a Portsmouth local, Garnet Hill freelance writer, Kristyn Lak Miller.
We gave Kristyn a challenge: tell us how to spend 48 hours in Portsmouth. We recently shared her advice for day one; here, we reveal what to do and where to eat during the remainder of your 48 hours in town.
Jumpstart your day with a jolt from Profile Coffee Bar. One of the best parts of this restaurant, besides the coffee and breakfast sandwiches, is the reclined wooden bench running the length of the wide front window. There might be no greater enticement to sit back, chat, sip, and people-watch.
And now for the words you’ve been waiting for: it’s time to shop. A few stellar stores: Pickwick’s Mercantile, a modern take on Victorian times with treasures from around the world for adults and kids alike; Don Gorvett Gallery, featuring the most intricate, impressive reduction woodcut prints of local scenes by a local artist; Off Piste with a tempting assortment of off-beat items, from a birdhouse made from a buoy to temporary tattoos designed by real tattoo artists; Jane Gee, a graphic space sharing all-natural skin and hair care products Jane crafts herself, along with her curated collection of home goods; Wear House, an upscale consignment shop with the nicest stuff and the friendliest staff; and Stock + Spice, a quaint little shop (not much bigger than a spice rack!) selling conventional and hard-to-find spices along with exquisite, exclusive blends curated by the area’s best chefs.
Drop your shopping bags off at the hotel, then go to lunch at Habibi Mediterranean Café. “Habibi” is a term of affection in Arabic, and the owners definitely treat guests with great fondness. That’s one reason to visit. The other is the absolutely delicious Middle Eastern food like spanakopita and chicken shawarma; you can’t visit without coming face to face with their signature pita, a massive cloud of bread that’s the size and shape of a throw pillow when it arrives at the table.
In the afternoon, depending on the time of year you visit, sail with Gundalow Company, drop by The Governor John Langdon House (the gorgeous grounds alone are worth a stop), or look for events of the day — Portsmouth always has something fun going on, like the Stiletto Sprint, where men race in sky-high heels for charity. Whatever you do, save time for drinks on or overlooking what locals affectionately call “the decks”, a swath of waterfront dotted with decks from local restaurants; Martingale Wharf is my favorite spot for a great cocktail with a toast-worthy view.
When it’s dinnertime, head to The Friendly Toast. With high ceilings, lime-green walls, and mismatched art, it’s a unique place. When first opened, it became a local favorite for its comfort food (think: big burgers and breakfast for dinner), then it was “discovered” by Food Network and the like, and some of the fun turned fake and the quality of the food suffered. It changed owners recently and has a fresh new vibe (and new coat of paint) with a renewed interest in good eats.
After dinner, go next door to La Maison Navarre, a French pastry shop, grab a colorful French macaroon, drop it in your purse or pocket, and take a walking ghost tour with New England Curiosities, if you dare and if weather permits. You’ll get to know the city’s history — with a side of goose bumps. Then return to your hotel, sink into bed, enjoy your macaroon, and post favorite vacation photos on Facebook.
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.