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New England by Heart

Portsmouth NH

Portsmouth NH

Oracle House - Portsmouth NH

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If you’re looking for a blend of history, culture, food, and natural beauty, your compass may be pointing towards Portsmouth NH. This small, walkable city is nestled along the picturesque Piscataqua River as it widens into Portsmouth Harbor, wending its way around the many islands before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.

Established in 1653, Portsmouth is one of the oldest cities in America and wears its history with pride. The rightfully lauded Strawbery Banke Museum, with its perfectly preserved houses from different eras, is a living testament to the city’s rich heritage. But history sprawls far beyond its borders, and walking along Portsmouth’s streets can make you almost forget that you’re in the 21st century. If you love historic house tours, your insatiable appetite might well meet its match in Portsmouth.

The original name of this area was Strawbery Banke, perhaps obviously for the wild strawberries growing on the banks of the river, but as we know, settlers in New England were very prone to naming places after the homeland, so it’s quite possible that it was named for an estate back in merry olde England. We may never know. In any case, New Englanders being pragmatic from the start, the name was changed in 1653 to Portsmouth. According to the petitioners pushing for the change, “Our port is as good as any in the land.” And indeed, Portsmouth became one of the most important ports in America.

Beyond history, Portsmouth is arguably one of the most robust arts destinations in New England, with world-class performances at The Music Hall and Prescott Park along with multiple galleries dotting the downtown.,\ The music culture dates back to 1630, just seven years after the first settlers. New arrivals were bringing more musical instruments than bibles. Unlike the Puritan and Separatists to the south, these folks were seeking land and wealth, not religious freedom. By the mid-1700s, Portsmouth had gained the reputation of a place of somewhat ill repute, and a magnet for traveling entertainers offering, let’s say, off color amusement.

When you’re tired of the arts (is anyone ever?), the foodie culture will entice you with top notch, diverse cuisine awaiting you in Market Square and beyond. After your gastronomic indulgences, spend some time walking it off with some excellent boutique shopping or a stroll through Prescott Park.

You can enjoy the best of Portsmouth in a weekend, but to fully experience this charming city, I would recommend 3-4 days, or a repeat visit. If you’ve got more time, you can branch out to places like Hampton Beach and Kittery, Maine.

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