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New Hampshire Seacoast

Yes! New Hampshire has a seacoast! It's squeezed in between the 1000-mile-long Maine coast and Massachusetts Bay's North Shore.

Hampton Beach NH
Hampton Beach, on New Hampshire's Atlantic seacoast.

About New Hampshire's Seacoast

Many visitors think of New Hampshire and Vermont as the "landlocked" New England states, but the boundaries of New Hampshire were drawn to assure an outlet to the sea, even though its coastline is only about 20 miles (32 km) long (map).

New Hampshire's short but beautiful seacoast has several fine beaches, the popular honky-tonk summer beach resort town of Hampton Beach, and dignified, historic old Portsmouth.

In fact, the New Hampshire seacoast is almost all beach, with some rocky headlands and coves, and four state parks with their own uncommercial stretches of beach.

The Isle of Shoals is offshore, reachable by ferryboat.

(Vermont, by the way, may not have a seacoast but it does have the long shore of Lake Champlain.)


Of the gracious maritime towns along the New England coast, Portsmouth is one of the prettiest and most interesting.

Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth NH
18th-century houses at Strawbery Banke.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, just across the Piscataqua River from Kittery ME, is a nice mix of art and commerce, history and modernity—with lots of great restaurants for dining.

Historic architecture is a strong point. In fact, it would not be far-fetched to say that Portsmouth itself is a living museum of 17th- and 18th-century American architecture, from the historic houses of Strawbery Banke to the red-brick row buildings of Bow Street and the merry arcitectural mix of Market Square.

Market Square, the intersection of Market, Pleasant, Daniel and Congress streets, is the very center of Portsmouth, with a Visitors Information kiosk open in the warm months.

Plan to spend at least an hour strolling Market, Pleasant, Daniel, Penhallow and other downtown streets, peering in shop windows, relaxing in a cafe, tavern or restaurant. And don't miss little Commercial Alley, between Market and Penhallow, with its bookshop, jewelllery store and shady little sidewalk cafe.

The US Navy was—and is—a major presence here at the mouth of the Piscataqua, from the time Commodore John Paul Jones lived here while outfitting the barque Ranger to prey on King George III's ships during the Revolutionary War.

You can see a lot of Navy history from Prescott Park, which overlooks the mouth of the Piscataqua and impressive Memorial Bridge, a towering drawbridge built to honor the American soldiers and sailors who served during World War I.

Strawbery Banke

Portsmouth's jump from wilderness to settlement started in 1630, when a group of settlers sailed into the Piscataqua River's mouth in search of fresh water and good land. As they climbed up the rise from the shore, they found not only the water and land they'd been looking for but also wild strawberries, which delighted them so much they named the place Strawbery Banke.

Today Strawbery Banke, 14 Hancock Street, serves to identify the center of the city's historic restoration effort, a 10-acre section of buildings dating from 1695-1835 brought back to life and filled with craftspeople who actually make their livings right where you see them.

For the price of admission you can wander about, looking at the 42 furnished houses and buildings, exhibits, period gardens, workshops, and artisans' galleries on display.

A walk through Strawbery Banke is educational as well as entertaining, for you'll see how chairs, tables, and cabinets were made besides seeing examples of the work itself; boatbuilding, woodcarving, and stoneware potting are explained, and early tools and architectural designs are spread out for your examination.

Strawbery Banke is the major part of Portsmouth's Old Harbour district, the cornerstone of which is Prescott Park, a waterfront park, dock, and amusement area donated to the city by the Prescott sisters in the 1930s and 1940s.

Follow the directional signs, with arrows, posted throughout the town and on approach roads toward the waterfront, just south of the US Route 1 bridge.

John Paul Jones House

No place in this pretty city is more notable than the National Historic Landmark house (1758) of John Paul Jones (tel 603-436-8420), Middle and State streets. The stately house was actually a rooming house when Commander Jones stayed in it while his frigate, the famous Ranger, was being built in a nearby shipyard.

The house is now the headquarters of the Portsmouth Historical Society, and you can visit the house and museum on a 1-hour guided tour.

Where to Stay

Portsmouth is an easy day-trip from Boston, or a stop on the way to the Maine coast, but if you wish to stay the night, use this handy Hotel Map with Prices to find the place.




Distances from Portsmouth NH:

Boston MA: 55 miles (89 km) S

Portland ME: 54 miles (87 km) NE

Manchester NH: 51 miles W

Interstate 95 passes right through Portsmouth NH on its way between the Boston area and Portland ME (map).

The Spaulding Turnpike (NH Route 16) goes north from Portsmouth toward (but not quite to) Lake Winnipesaukee.


C & J Bus Lines connect Portsmouth NH with Boston MA and its Logan Airport.


Amtrak's Downeaster trains stop at Exeter NH (12 miles/19 km SW) and Durham NH (12 miles/19 km NW), but not in Portsmouth itself.


The airports at Manchester NH, Boston MA and Portland ME are equidistant from Portsmouth, but Boston's Logan International Airport has the most national and international flights.

Hampton Beach

Hampton Beach NH is a riot of closely packed motels and cottages, ice cream stands and hot dog stands, penny arcades, and watering places.

Lights, glitter, and throbbing crowds of the young, tanned, and adventurous make it a nonstop circus, something out of a music video, to revel in or abhor as your taste dictates.

Hampton Beach State Park is the most southerly of the four state parks that take up much of New Hampshire's seacoast.

Public parking and bathing facilities here are run in the clean, well-ordered way of state park management.

Just north of the state park is the town of Hampton Beach, two streets wide (north along the waterfront, south along the inland street, as far as cars are concerned).

Hampton Beach NH
Always throngs on Ocean Boulevard in Hampton Beach.

North of Hampton Beach, the state park beaches at Rye Harbor and Wallis Sands are not as bubbly with activity as Hampton, but to some tastes are all the more pleasant for that.

At the state park beaches in New Hampshire, expect to pay a parking fee, which includes use of all facilities.

The drive along US Route 1A north from Hampton Beach is very pretty, winding along the coast past a succession of ever more sumptuous and meticulously maintained summer mansions, still inhabited by the wealthy and powerful of New Hampshire, Maine, and Boston.