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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in downtown Portsmouth NH. If you had access to a flux capacitor and could travel back to 1790, you would have had a high old time spending 24 hours in Downtown Portsmouth NH. Back then, Portsmouth was the 14th biggest city in the entire United States. It was one of the hottest ports in 18th century America. So back then you could have had a high old time romancing a sailor and then having to elope in disgrace, or whatever people did for fun in the 1700s.
But nowadays, Portsmouth is more of an adorable coastal town that truly comes alive during tourist season in the summer. When you spend 24 hours in Downtown Portsmouth NH, you can learn tons of fun facts about Teddy Roosevelt, lots of incredibly un-fun facts about injustice, and also support female empowerment. That sounds like a graduate course, but I promise it will be life-changing. And there’ll be tons of great food along the way!
Downtown Portsmouth NH
Where to Stay?
Like many tourist destinations in New England, Portsmouth has quite pricey hotels. So I was pleased to get a great deal at Port Inn and Suites, Portsmouth. It’s a little far from Downtown Portsmouth NH to walk there, but fortunately Uber is everywhere in Portsmouth, so it was easy for me to get around.
Port Inn and Suites has clean and comfortable rooms and a satisfying free breakfast every morning. Plus it wasn’t so expensive that I had to subsist on gruel for my entire time in Portsmouth. What more could I want?
Downtown Portsmouth NH
What to Pack
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in New England, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
Downtown Portsmouth NH
Morning: John Paul Jones House
We’re going to start our time in Downtown Portsmouth NH at one of the most interesting historic homes in the city. I was initially confused when I read about the John Paul Jones House because I thought John Paul Jones was a Supreme Court Justice who died recently. But then I learned that the Supreme Court Justice was really John Paul Stevens.
Then I thought maybe it was the house of the Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, but apparently he is an entirely different John Paul Jones. And I am 100 percent sure that John Paul Jones was never the Pope. Well, maybe 95 percent sure.
The John Paul Jones who lived in this adorable yellow house pictured above was the first major hero of the United States Navy. Like Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, he was a rock star. And like Justice John Paul Stevens, he was a prominent national figure. But John Paul Jones is important for reasons other than having a very confusing name. I’ll talk you through the most important parts of his life with…
three fun facts: john paul jones house
1) cool house! Did john paul jones own it?
Um, no. In fact, he didn’t really live here. I learned this as soon as I paid the price of admission to enter the house. You go through the home on a self-guided tour, but the docent/ticket taker begins the tour with a little speech first. John Paul Jones only stayed in this house when he was in Portsmouth waiting for his boat to be ready. I feel like they should tell you this before you buy your ticket, maybe?
But even though the name of this building should really be the Not Exactly John Paul Jones House, it’s still worth a visit. After all, how many times do you get to enter an American home built in 1758? The architect of the house was a free African-American architect named Hopestill Cheswell. It was built for a sea captain named Gregory Purcell. (Sea captains are a recurring theme in Portsmouth.) After Sea Captain Purcell died, his widow turned the place into a boarding house, which is when JPJ rested his Sea Hat here.
2) where is john paul jones now?
Great question, Internet Stranger! He is, of course, very dead. But the interesting question is what happened to his body. John Paul Jones is sometimes called the father of the American Navy. His victory against the British Navy, which at the time was the greatest in the world, helped boost American morale during the Revolution. (And his brash quote “I have not yet begun to fight !” when the British commander asked him to surrender didn’t hurt either.)
Jones loved all the attention, and after the King of France gave him the title Chevalier, Jones insisted that everyone call him Chevalier Jones all the time. (In fairness, wouldn’t you like everyone to call you Chevalier Jones all the time, even if your last time wasn’t Jones?)
Unfortunately, Jones’s ego made him unpopular with other authority figures in the armed forces, and he ended up unemployed by the American Navy. So he did as any good American patriot would and…went to work for the Russian Navy. Eventually he died in France and was buried there. It wasn’t until Teddy Roosevelt was president that he insisted on finding JPJ’s body, which had been buried in an unmarked grave, and bringing it back to the US. Why hasn’t James Cameron made a movie about this guy already?
3) what was that about teddy roosevelt?
Teddy Roosevelt is actually a major figure in Portsmouth history, and not just because he was President at one point. The top floor of the John Paul Jones House hosted an exhibit on TR and the Portsmouth Peace Treaty. From 1904-1905, Russia and Japan went to war over some territory. Japan had gained an upper hand by decisively wiping out a good part of the Russian Navy, and now it was time to negotiate peace.
And what more logical place to negotiate a treaty between Russia and Japan than…Portsmouth, New Hampshire? Are there a lot of Russian-Japanese translators available in Portsmouth? That seems unlikely. But Teddy Roosevelt really wanted to use his diplomatic skills to help find a solution to end the fighting between Russia and Japan, so he succeeded in bringing both parties to the US.
Fortunately for President Teddy, the negotiations were successful, and he became the first American to win a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts. And Japan, which came out better than Russia in the negotiations, learned that wiping out your enemy’s fleet in a sudden attack is key to victory. So basically Portsmouth, New Hampshire is responsible for Pearl Harbor.
Downtown Portsmouth NH
Portsmouth isn’t a very large city, but there’s still more than enough to do to keep you occupied for a pleasant afternoon of exploring. Take this part of our time in Downtown Portsmouth NH to wander, mosey, and find whatever strikes your fancy. Just be warned that if you’re into things like death metal or extreme curling, Portsmouth might not have what you’re looking for. But if you like quaint Colonial homes and gardens and delicious snacks, Portsmouth will delight you.
I can steer you towards some of the best in homes and snacks with…
approximately top 5: Downtown Portsmouth NH and Around
1) lexie’s joint
At this point in your exploration of Downtown Portsmouth NH, you’re going to want some lunch. I strongly recommend heading out of the downtown area a bit to nom the burgers at Lexie’s Joint. The service is speedy, the fries are creative, and the burgers are exquisite. I got the Instant Classic burger with Cheddar and grilled onions. It was everything you’d want in a cheeseburger from something calling itself a joint. (I did ask if they had a burger called a Chevalier Jones, but they didn’t.)
You can try a wide variety of toppings on your fries, like truffle or bacon and Parm. But I selected the Hot Fries doused in sriracha and jalapeno. I loved them, but don’t get these if you hate spicy food because they really pack a kick. Stick to the bacon. Bacon will always treat you right.
2) Warner house
I could not believe how many historic homes Portsmouth has. I think they should officially be nicknamed the This Old House Capital of America. We can’t fit them all into our time in Downtown Portsmouth NH, but I wanted to see as many as I possibly could. Everything I do, I do it for you, Internet Strangers!
The Warner House is possibly the coolest Old House in Portsmouth, at least when it comes to decor. It’s the oldest brick house in Northern New England. (Where exactly are they dividing this line between Northern and Southern New England? I am skeptical.) The first owner of the house had the amazing name of Archibald Macpheadris. I really think Netflix needs to make a series about Archibald Macpheadris and Chevalier Jones fighting crime on the high seas together.
The home is perhaps most famous for its highly decorated walls. The walls around the landing of the staircase are decorated with giant murals depicting the lives and traditions of Native Americans of New England. The owner of the home wanted to show his feelings of friendship for the Native Americans.
But my favorite walls in the house are the purple walls above. You can’t quite tell in my photo but the walls actually sparkle because glass was used in the painting. Now I’ll never rest until my apartment has sparkle walls too! Thanks for the design tip Portsmouth!
3) moffatt ladd house
You might only have time for one more historic home during your exploration of Downtown Portsmouth NH, so let it be the Moffatt Ladd House. This home has some of the most gorgeous gardens in Portsmouth, as well as the saddest history. Many families lived in this house, but one of the most famous was the Whipple family. William Whipple, who lived in this house, represented New Hampshire at the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.
There is a legend that Whipple brought some horse chestnuts back from Philadelphia after he signed the Declaration of Independence and planted them in the garden with the help of his enslaved servant, Prince. (The irony of enslaving people and signing the Declaration of Independence seems to have been lost of Whipple.) But the horse chestnut tree still stands in the garden today.
In 1779, Prince Whipple and 19 other enslaved men petitioned the government of New Hampshire for their freedom. They used some of the same arguments that were made by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence. No one is 100 percent sure which of the men wrote the petition. But many believe it might have been Prince Whipple because he had been in Philadelphia when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
In any case, the petition was denied, and nobody got their freedom. But you can receive a copy of the petition at the Moffatt Ladd House–it’s quite inspiring. The men who wrote it bring to mind New Hampshire’s famous motto, “Live Free or Die”.
4) portsmouth women tour
The Portsmouth Women Tour is sadly only offered about twelve times a year. But it’s such a great tour that I need to mention it, just in case it’s on when you are in Downtown Portsmouth NH. The tour was created by Lauren Gianino, and she leads the tour herself. She knows just about everything about Portsmouth history, especially when it comes to the ladies.
BTW only women were on the tour, which I don’t get. Why don’t some men want to learn about women’s history? We women have to learn about men’s history every single day. You won’t catch cooties from hearing our stories.
I’m not spoiling every story from the tour, but one of my favorites was Sarah Haven Foster, who attended South Church pictured above. She is sometimes called the Grandmother of Portsmouth Tourism, and she wrote the first travel guide to Portsmouth. So basically Ms. Foster is responsible for your entire 24 hours in Portsmouth, and you didn’t need to pay her even one penny! Also Ms. Foster died in a trolley accident in 1900, and that’s a very 1900 way to die.
5) annabelle’s natural ice cream
Yours truly is a certified ice cream junkie. One of the first things I do when I arrive in a new city is locate the best reviewed ice cream parlor in the city, and then I eat there ASAP. In Portsmouth, that place is Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream.
I swear every single kid in the city came in to get a scoop while I was there. But you don’t need a kid to savor these balls of bovine goodness. I recommend Peanut Butter Fantasy because it combines the greatest dessert (ice cream) with the greatest candy (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). That’s just science.
6) laBelle winery
After the women’s history tour, we’re going to keep going with more female entrepreneurs. Tell me truthfully, you would not have guessed that you could find a winery in New Hampshire, would you have? But LaBelle Winery is the brainchild of winemaker Amy LaBelle. She used to be a lawyer, but she decided to leave the profession to pursue her true dream of making wine. I feel like there’s a lawyer joke in there somewhere, but I can’t quite get there.
The actual winery is in Amherst, New Hampshire, but the tasting room is in downtown Portsmouth. Stop in for a sampling of five wines for ten dollars. The sommelier talked me through all their varieties, from classic red to dry pear wine. (Apparently wines made from fruits other than grapes do really well in New Hampshire.)
At the end, you might even want to take a bottle home as a souvenir! I got the Dry Pear Wine, but only because they don’t have a bottle of wine called the Chevalier Jones. Believe me, I asked.
Downtown Portsmouth NH
Evening: Dinner at Cure
Cure specializes in Meat, and they really want you to know that. I assume this is why their logo is a giant knife. Although it could also be because the Chef and Owner is named Julie Cutting. That’s a pretty good name for a chef. Almost as good as Chevalier Jones. Cure definitely offers pescatarian and vegetarian options, but meat is their specialty. So if, like me, you eat the stuff, surely go with that.
24 hour treat: peanut butter and jelly ribs
I beg of you, order these if they are on the menu. They sound like a dish Elvis Presley would eat a million of, and who doesn’t want to live exactly like The King. And you know you love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You know you love ribs. So what could be better than peanut butter and jelly ribs. Disliking this dish is un-American. If you don’t want PB and J ribs, you might as well go work for the Russian Navy.
So every time I write a blog post, I resolve to take better food photographs, and then I proceed to ignore myself. My main course was a succulent duck breast served with forbidden rice and spinach. The main reason I ordered this is that I wanted to know what forbidden rice was. Would I be cursed for seven centuries if I ate it? I sure hoped so!
But apparently forbidden rice is just an unnecessarily creepy way of saying black rice. It’s a pretty good marketing tip though. People are much more likely to order something if you tell them it’s forbidden.
Cure is famous for comfort food, and nothing illustrates this better than the above dessert: donuts and ice cream. It’s got something for any season. Is it the summer? The ice cream will cool you down. A frosty New Hampshire January? Thaw your belly with some warm donuts. Truly a cozy dessert for any time of year.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours with Downtown Portsmouth NH!
What would you do in Downtown Portsmouth NH? Is Pearl Harbor all Teddy Roosevelt’s fault? And why won’t any restaurants name their specialties “Chevalier Jones”? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Downtown Portsmouth NH. If you have time after your exploration of Downtown Portsmouth NH, try this 24 hour itinerary!