What is there to do in New Hampshire anyway? Although New Hampshire lies less than an hour north of Boston (where I live), aside from hiking and camping in the White Mountains, until recently, I did not find the state so alluring. In fact, it seems that Massachusetts draws people from New Hampshire rather than vice versa. According to a 2018 (aka pre-pandemic) NHPR article, 82,000 people travel from New Hampshire to Massachusetts each day. Regardless of my general ignorance of all things New Hampshire, recently, my boyfriend and I decided to take a day trip to the city of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth derived from the Old English name “Portesmuða” meaning “haven” (or port) and “mouth” (of a river) is — you guessed it — a New Hampshire city that sits on the mouth of a river. With about 22,000 residents and a historical downtown center, despite being a city, Portsmouth has a quaint small-town feel.
If you are interested in seeing downtown Portsmouth, the best form of transportation is simply by foot. Although the city is home to people young and old, it emanates a sheltered college-town vibe. The buildings and sidewalks are brick, the roads are narrow, and one can traverse the full length of the commercial district in under ten minutes. After leaving the car in metered parking, we walked five minutes to our first stop — breakfast! I, naturally, did a lot of research on restaurants and was pleased to see a handful of nice eateries. One familiar restaurant I noticed was The Friendly Toast, an all-day breakfast restaurant, which has a few locations in the Boston area. We ended choosing a local spot, Colby’s Breakfast and Lunch, which also offered dine-in service.
By the time we arrived at Colby’s it was already late in the morning and an awkward line (mass) stood outside the restaurant. We put our names on the list and walked half a block to wait at the German café on the corner. Although we were literally about to eat breakfast, I was eager to see what sort of German sweets they had available. While this destination is known for its fancy European coffee, the selection of danishes, cakes, and muffins were not especially… special.
We waited no more than 20 minutes for our table at Colby’s and were delighted by the numerous sweet and savory options on the menu. I ended up getting a dish with both eggs and smoked salmon, which, I have found is less common in the U.S. (as compared to the UK), with smoked salmon usually accompanying a bagel rather than additional protein.
Another stop on our list was the Strawberry Banke Museum which is an outdoor space, similar to the Plimouth Planation or Colonial Williamsburg, with historical buildings and demonstrations on the premises. From the streets we had a descent view of everything the museum had to offer, but online we saw that entrance to the grounds was free, so we decided to visit. Unfortunately, however, because of the pandemic, all indoor attractions were temporarily closed, and a $15 fee had been added to enter the grounds. This is all understandable, however, we decided to pass on the exhibit.
Portsmouth is also known for its shopping. While the stores are compact, they are designed to turn heads and draw people in. Unfortunately, the book shop I was hoping to visit was temporarily closed, however, I did have a chance to see a few stores selling, frankly, everything as well as visit a tiny candy shop. The candy shop is so small that, under COVID restrictions, only one customer is permitted entry at a time. Although the streets showed plenty signs of life, I happened to be the only one interested enough in the candy shop at that particular time. I ended up selecting two bars of chocolate with help from the friendly employee. Even though I had chosen the white chocolate for myself, I was surprised at how rich the bar tasted. If you enjoy chocolate (even a teensy bit), then it is definitely worth trying one of the many varieties of chocolate bars at Byrne & Carlson Chocolatier.
I seriously underestimated Portsmouth, NH. Although it is barely bigger than a town, it is teeming with sites to see and things to do. Additionally, not too far south of the city are beaches, hiking trails, and historical sites. With Portsmouth, there is certainly more to see than meets the eye!