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Portsmouth, New Hampshire: This scenic, centuries-old seaport is a history buff's paradise

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Neighboring Maine may have the reputation as “Vacationland,” but there’s lots to enjoy in Portsmouth, and it’s closer to the Connecticut border. This historic port city offers both a portal to the past and modern-day attractions, all staged in gorgeous, oceanside scenery.

Great for:

History buffs, beachgoers, families.

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The historic South End waterfront of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

What to do:

History buffs will love Portsmouth’s rich past, settled as a seaport in the early 1600s. Every morning at 10:30, the Portsmouth Historical Society hosts a walking tour downtown. Learn about the city’s seafaring roots, and your $20 ticket includes admission to the society’s galleries and Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones’ house.

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The Portsmouth Historical Society Welcome Center

More naval history can be found at Albacore Park, which has a 1953 submarine, a visitors’ center, and a museum on submarine history. You’ll also want to take advantage of the ocean from one of the state beaches or by boat on a Portsmouth Harbor Cruise.

Where to eat:

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Portsmouth Brewery

For bibliophiles, beer connoisseurs and music lovers alike, Portsmouth Book & Bar is a must-visit. Tucked downtown, the locale is a unique combination of bookstore, cafe, bar and music venue. Stop in for small plates and a brew (or cocktail, wine, coffee… ) along with live music, poetry and community events.

When the head chef has appeared on Chopped and the patio was voted “Best Outside Dining” by New Hampshire Magazine, you go to the restaurant. And rest assured, the food at Cure lives up to the buzz. The name refers to how chef Julie Cutting prepares proteins, brined and slow-cooked for tenderness and flavor.

Finally, no trip to the city is complete without visiting its original craft brewery, Portsmouth Brewery. Food is your typical pub fare, perfect for enjoying with a cold one. We recommend the Cucumber Gose.

Where to stay:

A stay in historic Portsmouth requires an equally storied hotel. The Ale House Inn is situated in the circa-1880 Portsmouth Brewing Co. building. It’s centrally located in the Market Square district, just steps to shopping, cafes and historic sites. Plus, the inn is part of the Lark boutique hotel family, so you know it will be luxe and trendy.

Hidden gem:

You’ll have to walk through a seemingly boring parking garage to find Gilley’s Diner, a Portsmouth classic. Gilley’s began as a roaming lunch cart in 1940 before settling into its permanent space in 1974. Since then, the city has grown up around it (hence the parking garage), but Gilley’s has remained authentically itself, serving up classic hot dogs, gravy fries, grilled cheesy steaks and burgers.

On the way:

Hit up another New England state en route, and stop for a day in Worcester, Massachusetts. Soak up the city’s arts and cultural offerings at the Worcester Art Museum, then catch a live show at one of many popular venues like Palladium, Mechanics Hall and Ralph’s Diner.

From Hartford: 2 hrs, 20 min / 145 miles

From New Haven: 3 hrs / 183 miles

From New London: 3 hrs, 10 min / 195 miles   

This article appears in the July 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.