Take a step back in time with a visit to this seaside town.
Located along the Seacoast Region of southeastern New Hampshire, Portsmouth is well-known for its shopping, restaurants, family-friendly attractions, and walkable downtown on the Piscataqua River. Settled in the 1600s, the river city has an old world charm that welcomes children of all ages, providing lessons about the past while embracing the future with new features and amenities.
Photo courtesy: Rick Dumont Images
What to do?
If your little lobsters are ready for sailing season, visit Molly at Gundalow Company (60 Marcy St.) to learn some fascinating facts about the flat-bottom barges that once traveled the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth. My girls asked question after question about ocean wildlife and got a chance to “steer, sail, and row” with Molly’s patient guidance. Check the calendar for special events, such as concert cruises on Thursdays and Sundays. Cost: Varies from $18-$42.
KidTripster Tip: Kids sail free on Saturdays this summer with a paying adult. Don’t forget to enjoy nearby Prescott Park (105 Marcy St.) after you disembark. You just may catch a live, family-friendly, seasonal performance (think Mary Poppins or The Little Mermaid), compliments of the Prescott Park Arts Festival.
Let your children burn off STEAM at the Innovation Lab at the Children's Museum of New Hampshire (6 Washington St.) in nearby Dover, where your future scientists get hands-on instruction. Then let them run wild and explore a cave, work in a post office, dig for fossils, and more. The place is small enough to let big kids roam on their own, while little ones become fixated with hands-on exhibits like Built It. Fly It., where foam pieces become custom planes that fly through the air. Cost: Youth and Adults: $10.
Teach your little ones how to keep the ocean and earth healthy at the Seacoast Science Center (570 Ocean Blvd.) in nearby Rye. This non-profit marine science education organization features touch tanks and up-close encounters with New England’s coastal creatures. Explore on your own or with a guide. Cost: Youth $5; Adult $10.
KidTripster Tip: If your visit takes a turn for the sand, try building a castle on Rye Beach or Jenness Beach in nearby Rye. They’re quieter and more peaceful than the other public beaches in the area.
Reach new depths with a visit to the USS Albacore Museum (600 Market St.). Young kids will love pretending to be part of the crew on your self-guided tour of this research submarine. They’ll never tell you that their rooms are too small every again! Cost: Youth $3; Adult $7.
Strawbery Banke Museum (14 Hancock St.) makes history come alive with more than 30 houses that take you back in time to learn about family life in the Puddle Duck neighborhood nearly 300 years ago. Interactive workshops and demonstrations make each visit different and unique. My kids absolutely loved the role players throughout the museum and had their own reenactment later that afternoon on the grounds. Don’t miss a stop at the Figtree Kitchen for a homemade scone or tart when you return to the present. Cost: Youth $9; Adult $19.50.
Just across the river in Kittery, Maine, you and your kids can hang on the high ropes at Take Flight Adventure Park (506 Rte 1). The Aerial Adventure Challenge Course takes teamwork, and the zipline is the only one of its kind on the Seacoast. Additionally, the bravest kiddos in your bunch can try the Super Swing and Quick Jump. My crew had a competition to see who could get to the highest level on the course; my 6-year-old daughter beat us all and then wanted to go back for more! Cost: Youth $27.50; Adult $42.50.
KidTripster Tip: Look online for discounts and special event rates for families. Reserve in advance, so you don’t have to wait.
Finally, if you’re looking to fit in a bit of shopping, stop at G. Willikers Toy Shop (13 Market St.) in downtown Portsmouth. Family-run for nearly 40 years, the store seeks to offer truly unique toys, books, and games. Just look for the shop’s colorful doors. And remember, all items are tax free in New Hampshire!
Photo courtesy: The Gundalow Company
Where to stay?
Holiday Inn Portsmouth (300 Woodbury Ave.) is located right off of Interstate 95, just a few minutes from downtown with quick routes to local beaches. The indoor pool makes it a kid oasis. Rooms are a little snug, but you won’t be sleeping much as there’s so much to see in Portsmouth. Room rates start at $196/night; kids (12 and under) eat and stay free.
Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel (250 Market St.) is a pet and kid-friendly hotel with water views from its restaurant and lounge. Kids eat free with an adult meal purchase, and second rooms are provided at a 25%-off discount for families who need a little more space. Room rates start at $259/night.
Portsmouth also offers locally-owned inns and B&B options in the city that cater to families.
Photo courtesy: Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel
Where to eat?
Portsmouth is brimming with coffee shops and tea houses full of caffeine pick-me-ups, but our favorite was White Heron (601 Islington St.). Its selection of organic drinks and locally-sourced menu options had us drooling in line. Don’t miss the toasted cheese on a homemade English muffin. And it’s on your way into downtown, if you stay at the Holiday Inn Portsmouth.
Mr. Mac’s Macaroni & Cheese (2600 Lafayette Rd.) serves custom comfort food in individual cast-iron skillets. Choose a cheesy favorite or make your own mac & cheese. Just don’t forget to order the flatbread to soak up the last bits of cheese sauce! Mr. Mac’s is a little off the beaten path in Portsmouth, but my kids are still talking about their bacon ranch selection!
The River House (53 Bow St.) is the perfect spot for award-winning chowder in downtown Portsmouth. And all the items on the kids’ menu, like the lob dog (a mini lobster roll), arrive in little paper boats perfect for play later.
The jellyfish tank and kids’ bookshelf at Atlantic Grill (5 Pioneer Rd.) in Rye occupies little ones while they wait for a table or call ahead for a reservation as you’re packing up from the beach nearby. Indoor dining is available, but the patio is the perfect place to watch the sunset. The salmon on the kids’ menu got five stars from my hungry crew.
Trust me, and try the ahi tuna burger at BRGR BAR (34 Portwalk Pl.). Follow it with fried pickles, buffalo Brussel sprouts, poutine fries or ricotta sweet potato tots. It’s definitely an indulgence that your kids will devour.
Flatbread Company (138 Congress St.) offers wood-fired specialties in a casual and artsy atmosphere that suits everyone. The staff easily accommodates groups and makes kids feel part of the flatbread family.
All of Portsmouth screams for ice cream! There are so many options for frozen treats, but Izzy’s Frozen Yogurt & Ice Cream (33 Bow St.) is made locally, and the cake batter flavor is still a topic of our dreams! The fancy shakes aren’t forgettable either!
Photo courtesy: Mr. Mac’s Macaroni & Cheese
Portsmouth is a little over an hour’s drive from Boston.
Carla Kath would like to step back in time every single time a driver honks at her in hometown Boston, but her husband and two daughters keep her firmly planted in the present.
Photo courtesy: Amanda Beaulieu
This writer received a complimentary stay plus some complimentary activities and meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.