The Local's Guide to Portsmouth

There are two versions of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. One is the Portsmouth that belongs to tourists: a quaint New England town full of history and eccentricity. This Portsmouth checks the real estate listings with interest, caffeinates at Starbucks, and strolls downtown in heels to buy artisan salt and mustache wax. 

But there is a deeper Portsmouth behind the polished boutiques and Colonial buildings. You can find it in the back room of Hobo’s Tattoo, behind the curtain at The Music Hall or browsing fiction at Sheafe Street. It isn’t an easy city to find. There are days in the summer where it only appears at 1 a.m. outside of Gilley’s, slipping away when someone mentions Portwalk. On winter mornings, this Portsmouth can be found warming its hands over a coffee at Caffe Kilim and writing a letter to the editor of The New Hampshire Gazette. One time, Portsmouth was found squatting in the Frank Jones Brewery, but it had to be evicted to make way for condos.

Local has many definitions in Portsmouth, but all locals have their hobby hole, the café or bar or bookstore where they’re a regular in a sea of tourists. It’s to these refuges that they scuttle past brick sidewalks and weekend buskers, looking to breathe again in their very own immutable local space. It’s not surprising that these sanctuaries offer the best food, beer and atmosphere in town. If you want to find them, then you have two choices: You can tail a Portsmouth native, or you can cheat and read this guide.

Coffee and Tea


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Beer and Bars


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Where to Eat


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For Bookworms


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Music and Art

Odds and End


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All are welcome in Portsmouth, whether they come here to visit Strawbery Banke and Pickwick’s, to take in a show at The Music Hall or to shop at the boutiques. But for those who want to find the bottom layer of a place, to not just visit but experience it, this is your guide. You won’t find it in a hotel pamphlet or in-flight magazine. So come and drink a sour gruit, dance to live jazz, get swept up in a mobile art show and wonder where you got that slice of pizza. Let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of local Portsmouth. It will be waiting.

Categories: Portsmouth, Weekend Trips

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