Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH, on a Dunes Day Trip

On principle alone, some folks wouldn’t dare cross the Maine state line between the start and finish of their Ogunquit vacations. Dealt a string of perfect beach days, we’d find it hard to argue with them. When Mother Nature has other plans, though — or just for a change of scenery during a longer stay — it’s worth paying a visit to our neighbors on the south side of the Piscataqua River. Our favorite things to do in Portsmouth, NH, include everything from bargain hunting to exploring US Navy history. And, of course, the number of excellent restaurants in Portsmouth make it an ideal lunch or dinner stop en route to that final Route 1 stretch and your Ogunquit hotel.

Market Square in Portsmouth, NH
Photo: Harvey Barrison via Flickr

Museums and Historic Sites in Portsmouth, NH

Like Ogunquit, Portsmouth, NH, history dates to before the first European settlers arrived. Our favorite historic site is the Strawbery Banke Museum: this preserved colonial neighborhood lets visitors wander indoors and out, exploring buildings, boats, and artifacts from as far back as the 1600s. Unlike other living history museums, many of the houses here have been preserved on their original foundations, so a stroll through the neighborhood yields exactly the same sights it did 300 years ago.

Strawbery Banke outdoor living history museum Portsmouth NH
Strawbery Banke | Photo: Harvey Barrison via Flickr

Portsmouth’s military heritage runs deep as well, and though the currently operational Navy shipyard is off limits to the public, a number of historic sites are well worth visiting on a day trip from Ogunquit. You explore the inside of a retired submarine, the USS Albacore, and listen to recordings from its crew members on a self-guided tour. Also be sure to check out the ruins of historic forts that once guarded the harbor — you can catch two of them in a row off Route 1B, which loops through New Castle. With most of its ruins dating to 1808, Fort Constitution has an older feel and more green space than Fort Stark, which was used as a training center as recently as the 1960s. Both sites offer spectacular ocean views and are especially fun for kids — with adult supervision, of course.

Shopping in Portsmouth, NH

If you’re looking for something unique and stylish, your chances of finding it at a boutique shop in Portsmouth are high. 20 Below Boutique is a thrift store like no other: everything is priced at $20 or less, but the selection of clothing and accessories is carefully curated to include only stylish pieces in excellent condition. Old as Adam keeps vintage gentlemen’s attire on hand along with antiques and curiosities, making it a great stop for costumes and a fun place to just browse. Serendipity is a more modern, upscale boutique with a fashionable selection.

Portsmouth Brewery sign
Photo: David Wilson via Flickr

Restaurants in Portsmouth, NH

An unbelievable number of restaurants line downtown Portsmouth, and most of them are amazing. Still, a few mainstays keep us coming back year after year. Portsmouth Brewery does casual fare right (we love their mussels and calamari) and pours high-quality beer within sight of the brewing tanks. The atmosphere is casual and friendly, and families are welcome. For breakfast and laid-back dining later in the day, grab a table at The Friendly Toast, where creative daily specials complement classic pancakes, waffles, scrambles, and more. On a cooler day in the spring or fall, you can warm up at The Soupery, which makes six different soups from scratch daily. Black Trumpet Bistro is a good pick for couples in search of a romantic, upscale dining experience.

Portsmouth, NH, Sightseeing Tours

If a stroll around town leaves you wanting even more, a number of guided tour options can get you better acquainted with Portsmouth. Visit the Portsmouth Historical Society for guided walking tours and other info. Hop on the NH Beer Bus for a taste of three or four Portsmouth-area breweries on one of the Granite State Growler Tours, or take a cruise around the harbor past the Isles of Shoals, nine scenic, rocky islands off the coast that you can sometimes see from Ogunquit.

Done right, a day trip to Portsmouth, NH, can really complement your Maine beach vacation. We hope you get the chance to enjoy what this classic coastal town has to offer, and remember, if you ever need any help planning a day trip or even just finding a restaurant in Ogunquit, Dunes guests are always welcome to phone or stop by the front desk of our Ogunquit hotel.

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