Please don't travel until it's safe to do so! Our travel posts are great for making future plans or dreaming about your next escape. Please check with each state/destination for its current COVID-19 guidelines before planning a visit. Also, please note that this post may contain links from which we earn a small commission.For our 20th wedding anniversary, we knew we wanted to visit somewhere special. A place with all of our favorite things — a walkable downtown, unique accommodations, and awesome food, preferably near the ocean. Basically somewhere we could escape for a romantic New England getaway. It didn’t take long for us to come up with the perfect spot — Portsmouth, New Hampshire!
We’ve explored Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the winter, and driven through plenty of times, but we had never visited for a bona fide summer vacation, and we knew we had to change that.
I’m so glad we did! Portsmouth is officially on my list as one of the most romantic getaways in New England. From the brick-paved sidewalks and beautiful gardens, to the waterfront dining and cozy bistros, we are completely smitten with this little city by the sea.
Why You Should Visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the Summer
Portsmouth was settled in 1623 and is considered the third oldest city in the United States. The town practically oozes old-world charm, and strolling the brick-paved sidewalks beneath centuries-old buildings is the perfect way to spend a summer evening. Need more reasons to visit Portsmouth in the summer?
Come to Portsmouth for the Gardens
The summer gardens in Portsmouth are worth a visit all by themselves, and I just can’t imagine the amount of work that goes into them. Strolling through the Prescott Park gardens on a warm summer evening made me want to sell everything I own and move to Portsmouth. Thousands of blossoms are planted each year, most of which are colorful annuals. Located right on the water, Prescott Park is the absolute best place for a picnic in Portsmouth.
Our second-place garden award goes to the Moffatt-Ladd House, which includes a horse chestnut planted in 1776 and an English damask rose planted in 1768. The formal gardens are meticulously cared for. You can tour the house, which was built between 1760 and 1763, and the gardens for $8 or just the gardens for $2.
Relax on one of Portsmouth’s Beautiful Outdoor Patios
Whether you want to chillax with a cocktail or craft brew or indulge in a plethora of local seafood, Portsmouth has about a gazillion choices for outdoor drinking and dining.
You can watch the famous tug boats from the Old Ferry Landing, relax amidst lush gardens under the pergola at Atlantic Grill, or step back in time in a hidden downtown alley at Cava Tapas & Wine Bar. You could spend the whole summer exploring the gorgeous patios and decks all over town. In fact, I think discovering the best outdoor dining in Portsmouth could become a full-time job. I wonder if they’re hiring for that position because I think I’d be perfect…
Indulge in a Stellar Frozen Dessert
We did a lot of downtown strolling during our anniversary trip, and one thing that we noticed is that the town supports a whole lotta ice cream. While we don’t necessarily think it’s fair for one town to play host to so many frozen delights, it’s definitely a reason to keep us coming back for more.
Our first choice is Annabelle’s on the corner of Ceres Street in downtown Portsmouth. Not only is it the cutest ice cream shop ever, but every homemade flavor is created with fresh ingredients, including 16% butterfat. A dizzying array of flavors include Mint Summer’s Night Dream, New Hampshire Pure Maple Walnut, and Chocolate Chip with Kahlua.
If gelato is more your speed, check out Ceo’s Gelato Bistro, which is a relatively new addition to downtown Portsmouth and is located on Pleasant Street. They had me at tiramisu, but other delectable flavors include blackberry thyme, cinnamon pear, and peanut butter swirl. There are vegan flavors as well!
Catch a Waterfront Sunrise or Sunset
Visit Portsmouth any time of year and you can pop out of whatever lodging you’ve secured and catch a gorgeous sunrise or sunset over the Piscataqua River. We stayed just over the Memorial Bridge in Kittery, Maine, and I can vouch for both amazing sunrises and sunsets from the bridge.
We caught two Portsmouth sunsets during our recent visit, but sunrises were just a bit out of reach on this trip. I would have loved to get out of bed at 5 am to watch the sun come up, but I made the effort and slept in. You know, to celebrate our anniversary! Anyway, we caught the sunrise during our last visit and it was worth waking up early for. Promise. Prescott Park would be another great sunrise spot, as would Four Tree Island, both walkable from downtown.
Take in an Outdoor Show on the Portsmouth Waterfront
If you’re looking for top-quality outdoor theater, music, movies, and events, be sure to check out the amazing summer lineup at Prescott Park, right on the Portsmouth waterfront. The events are organized by the Prescott Park Arts Festival, which has been developing an incredible arts and music schedule since 1974.
Every year, Prescott Park Art Festival chooses a family-friendly musical theater event to headline the summer. The show runs Thursdays through Sundays for most of the summer. The 2019 selection was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which featured incredible lively acting and fantastic choreography and costumes. It’s definitely worth checking the Prescott Park event calendar before planning your summer trip.
The Most Romantic Place to Stay in Portsmouth, NH
Arguably, the most important part of your romantic weekend will be where you choose to lay your head. I mean, you can do all the waterfront strolling and oyster slurping you want, but you can’t have a truly romantic weekend in Portsmouth without a truly romantic place to stay.
We were so lucky to find the Water Street Inn, just over Memorial Bridge in Kittery, Maine. Not only is this one of the most adorable, tastefully decorated, fantastically run inns that we’ve ever encountered, but it’s also pretty affordable, all things considered.
The Water Street Inn consists of seven beautifully furnished guest rooms and one amazing studio apartment. The smallest, most budget-friendly room starts at $134 per night, and the studio apartment (room 7), which includes a full kitchen, sitting area, queen-size bed, and bathroom is well under $200 a night. It’s a boutique hotel in Portsmouth for cheaper than most of the corporate chain hotels in the area.
The common spaces at Water Street Inn are equally lovely, with access to coffee/tea and snacks round the clock. Rooms 7 and 8 share a small common area in “the barn,” which can also be rented as a separate unit to sleep 4-7 people across three floors.
We chose the studio apartment for our weekend getaway in Portsmouth because we knew we’d want to spend time unwinding, not to mention eating and drinking, in the privacy of our own space. Despite all the fun we had falling in love with Portsmouth, we carved out plenty of time for eating cake and drinking champagne in our room (Thanks Popovers on the Square!) and sitting in the garden of the Water Street Inn.
The Water Street Inn is a short walk from downtown Portsmouth, NH, right over the Memorial Bridge. The view from our room was pretty sweet, but we could walk to the bridge in two minutes for views that were beyond stunning.
Location is everything! But comfy cozy beds are a close second. The Water Street Inn provides luxurious linens on medium-firm beds that were a joy to get into, but maybe not get out of. Still, we managed alright, and are counting the days until we can sneak back out to Portsmouth for another visit.
Want to check out the Water Street Inn for yourselves? Read reviews on TripAdvisor and you’ll see we’re not alone in our love for the place!
A Romantic Weekend Getaway: The Best Things to Do in Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth doesn’t even have to try to be hopelessly romantic, especially in the summer when the flowers are blooming, the downtown is festooned with twinkly lights, and outdoor patios are bustling with happy revelers.
We encourage you to plan your own romantic getaway, and we’ve even got your perfect itinerary right here. Your romantic weekend in Portsmouth is not jam-packed with things to do because we want you to get off the beaten path and do a bit of exploring on your own. Still, there are a few things you absolutely shouldn’t miss. Here’s what we’d recommend:
Friday: Start Your Portsmouth Weekend off Right
Head to Portsmouth after work and check into room #7 at the Water Street Inn in Kittery, Maine. If you want to feel pampered, order a custom cake from Popovers on the Square. You don’t have to eat it now. Stash it in the fridge for later.
Next, head to the Atlantic Grill in nearby Rye, NH, where you can relax on the patio, sample the freshest oysters around, toast to your love with a glass of wine, and indulge in local seafood cooked to perfection. The menu has lots of creative options, and we really appreciated that the veggies were not an afterthought. I mean, deep-fried Brussel sprouts and sweet potato hash? It was the perfect accompaniment to the maple-bourbon salmon. Vegetarians visiting the Atlantic Grill definitely won’t go hungry. We devoured the Cantonese stir fry as well.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll be more than ready to call it a night after dinner, but if the thought of sipping champagne and eating cake in your hotel room isn’t doing it for you, there’s a pretty fun nightlife scene in Portsmouth. You can catch a show at The Music Hall, head to a pub for a local beer and some live music, or meander the streets and alleys of downtown and see where the winds blow you. If you need help in the Portsmouth nightlife department, check out this calendar of events.
Saturday in Portsmouth: A Lot of History and Some Time on the Water
Leave your car at your hotel for the day, and begin your morning with a brisk walk to The Juicery on Hanover Street. The Juicery features a huge array of smoothies, juices, acai bowls, and wraps, which will provide ample fuel for your morning in Portsmouth.
Strawbery Banke Museum
Now for a little history lesson. What — you don’t think American History is romantic? Maybe a visit to Strawbery Banke Museum will change your mind. This 10-acre living history museum features more than 35 authentic historic buildings in what was once the original Puddle Dock settlement that eventually became Portsmouth.
During the summer months, you’ll find roleplayers living through 200 years of history, with each building representing a different time period. Character portrayals are based on real people that lived here through the generations, from the 1770s to the 1940s. Meet politicians, laborers, homemakers, immigrants, school teachers and shopkeepers.
Modern interpreters are also on hand to demonstrate historic trades and traditional crafts like wooden boatbuilding, blacksmithing, gardening, weaving, and more. Strawbery Banke is such a unique museum and one of the highlights of a visit to Portsmouth, even if history isn’t your thing.
RÍ RÁ in Downtown Portsmouth
Once you leave Strawbery Banke and step back into the modern day, it’s time to grab a bite of lunch. RÍ RÁ Portsmouth is an authentic Irish pub with a traditional feel and menu. Part of its charm stems from the building it’s housed in — a former bank built in 1803 and the oldest bank building in the United States.
Your perfect lunch at RÍ RÁ involves a pint of Irish stout, a hearty sandwich (or homemade veggie burger), and the best onion rings in the country, maybe even the world – definitely the best we’ve ever tasted. Eat inside or outside, just don’t skip it!
The Gundalow Company
What in the world is a Gundalow? We were wondering the same thing, and fortunately, most Portsmouth locals are happy to fill you in. Gundalows were traditional wooden sailing barges that traveled up and down the Piscataqua River carrying cargo starting in the 1650s. They could easily navigate shallow rivers and carry freight weighing up to 50 tons.
The Piscataqua is an authentic gundalow replica that was built in 2011 by the Gundalow Company, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing onboard educational experiences that weave together environmental science, history, and maritime heritage.
The Gundalow in Portsmouth sails daily when the weather cooperates, and you can choose from daytime, sunset, and harbor sails, plus a variety of special sails that feature live music, guest speakers, and more. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience and a great way to see Portsmouth from the water.
Cure Restaurant: Downtown Portsmouth
Cure is located right in downtown Portsmouth on State Street. It’s dark and cozy interior is reminiscent of a French bistro, but the menu is more on the eclectic American side. Meats play a starring role at Cure, where most are brined and slow-cooked to maximize tenderness and bring out their unique flavor.
Mouth-watering dishes like the bourbon-glazed pork chops, pan-roasted duck breast, and rosemary marinated lamb porterhouse are prepared fresh daily. Seafood and vegetarian comfort foods round out the menu — lobster mac and cheese, vegetarian wellington, almond crusted organic salmon. Are you hungry yet?
Be sure to make your reservations at Cure ahead of time. The dining area is small and cozy, and the place fills up quickly, especially in the summer and fall.
Sunday in Portsmouth is for Relaxing
We found the best coffee, pastries, and bread down a hidden alleyway on our last morning in town, which solidified our infatuation with Portsmouth and its unfairly awesome food scene. Elephantine Bakery is tiny and unassuming, but all you have to do is step inside and you will know that something exceptional is coming. Throw away all thoughts of dieting for this one morning of bliss. Seriously.
My chocolate almond croissant was the flakiest, butteriest bit of heavenly confection I have ever tasted. The ricotta lemon danish was even better. We brought a loaf of pain au levain home with us, and it blew our minds. Pack your appetite and bring some goodies home for your friends and family.
Since our visit, we spend our days wishing we were back in Portsmouth and wondering how one town can be blessed with such culinary delights.
The end of your romantic Portsmouth weekend is nigh, but if you still have time to meander through Portsmouth’s amazing gardens before heading home, don’t pass up your chance. Winter will be here before you know it!
Explore more of New Hampshire. Check out these posts!
- Winter in Portsmouth: A perfect New England Getaway
- Where to Eat and Drink in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- Exploring Peterborough, New Hampshire
- The Best Lincoln, New Hampshire Attractions for Outdoor Lovers
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Disclaimer: Our weekend getaway in Portsmouth was hosted by the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth.