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A perfect getaway to Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Are you seeking the historic charm of a coastal New England getaway yet craving accommodations where you can enjoy the latest trends, design and amenities? You will find just the right mix of American heritage, culture, cuisine and fresh sea air in and around Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Accommodations

“Hotels should serve as an escape, an oasis from the mundane.”

– Antonio Catalán, AC Hotels Founder

The AC Hotel Portsmouth Downtown/Waterfront by Marriott sizzles with style and continental flair. The sleek and streamlined interior was designed by Antonio Catalán of Madrid, Spain. The grey and neutral urban vibe, original art and European-inspired breakfast and tapas makes this elegant hotel an ideal choice for couples in search of a getaway. 

The fireplace in the AC Lounge adds a glow to the artfully-plated Spanish tapas and signature cocktails served in specially designed glassware. The rooftoop bar and restaurant, Rooftop at the Envio, offers indoor and outdoor seating and, when the weather is right, sliding glass walls that open to bring the outdoors in.You’ll want to time your visit to coincide with the beautiful sunset view of the Piscataqua River and its iconic bridges. 

Sip a signature cocktail like the Envio Black Manhattan, with Rooftop 10 year rye whiskey, cardamaro and black walnut bitters or a Lychee Chichi with Tito’s pineapple, lime, coconut and lychee. Many linger over the “Plates to Share”—things like Exotic Mushroom Toast, Baked Brie and the Farmers Board of artisanal meats and cheeses. “Bigger Bites” like herb crusted salmon, an Ahi Poke Bowl, lobster roll and beef tenderloin are available for heartier appetites. Sweet tooth? The Sticky Toffee Pudding is a favorite. Weekends, feast on the live music at the Jazz & Groove Sunday Brunch.

The Berkel slicer and its hand-shaved prosciutto heads the breakfast buffet in the light-filled AC Kitchen. It may be difficult to choose from among the  made-to-order egg selections that accompany a buffet table with sweet and savory tarts, parfaits, cheeses, freshly baked croissants, fresh fruits, juices, and specialty coffees. 

It’s everything you need before and after exploring the city. 

The harbor cruise

Reserve a spot aboard the narrated Isles of Shoals Steamship Company Star Island Walking Tour & Portsmouth Harbor Tour. It’s an easy 5 minute walk from the hotel. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and still be there in plenty of time for boarding at 9 a.m. Learn about the lucrative fur and shipping trade that made Portsmouth the busiest commercial port on this side of the Atlantic as you cruise for ten miles to the second largest of the nine Isles of Shoals. 

Cruise past the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the abandoned Portsmouth Naval Prison, a castle-like structure known as the “Alcatraz of the East.” Two lighthouses guard the harbor, one at a former Revolutionary War fort, now the site of a Coast Guard Station. 

The isles of Shoals were once known for a prosperous fish processing business. After that they became one of the most popular New England coastal vacation spots, one that attracted the rich and famous. In the mid-19th century a grand hotel known as the Oceanic House was built on Star Island.  Unitarian retreats and educational conferences for those who wish to return to simpler times continue there today.

Downtown Portsmouth

Streets wind through Portsmouth’s historic downtown past former warehouses, chandleries and ship captains’ homes that have been restored as historic sites, restaurants, galleries and boutique shops. You may want to simply wander past the historic architecture. Get a map with self-guided trails or book an organized walking tour at the Visitor Center at 500 Market Street. There’s also an information kiosk at Market Square.

Book an outside table at Tuscan Market, an Italian restaurant on a busy corner at 14 Market Square. There’s much to see and to watch over lunch.

Strawbery Banke Museum

Passengers of the Pied Cow who disembarked here in 1630 called the area Strawbery Banke for the wild fruit that covered the ground. The ten acre open-air Strawbery Banke Museum is in the former working class immigrant community, Puddle Dock, named for the tidal inlet that flowed here. It is unique in that nearly all the buildings, which date from 1695 to 1955, are on their original sites. 

Buildings open to visitors display flags outside that are of the period of the furnishings inside. Exhibition homes, like the Jones House Discovery Center that now features an exhibit on the Wabanaki people “Peoples of the Dawnland,” have artifacts behind glass. There are also demonstrations of traditional crafts. 

Some places have interpreters who offer interesting tidbits of information. Others have costumed roleplayers, actors playing part of an actual person from the past from an historical perspective.

A cultural destination

Summer evenings there are delightful Tuesday on the Terrace outdoor concerts at Strawbery Banke. 

The historic 895-seat Portsmouth Music Hall, on Chestnut Street was built in 1878 as a Vaudeville theater. It is now an arts destination with two venues.

Just outside Portsmouth

The scenic route along the coast to Rye, New Hampshire leads to The Carriage House on Ocean Boulevard. Reserve a table on the second floor in advance for the best view of surfers mastering the powerful waves. 

Try the tortellini appetizer with ricotta, carrots, cardamom, pistachio and parmigiano or the white fish pate, wrapped in potato rosti, and a work of art almost too pretty to eat. The line-caught Maine halibut, with garlic scape puree, kale, and hakurei turnips is perfect for the seaside setting.

For dessert, the lemon cake with semolina, lemon curd, and candied lemon is a favorite. Or try the Dark Chocolate Budino, a confection with cinnamon whipped cream, olive oil and sea salt.

Portsmouth is also close to beaches, boating and the designer outlets in Kittery.

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