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12 Reasons Why Portsmouth, NH Is the Most Underrated American City

Student Work Insider Guides
by Maggie Wallace Apr 11, 2015

1. We get to see world-class musicians in our park.

There are few other places on the East Coast where you can put your bare feet in the grass while listening to live performances by artists like Ani DiFranco, Ingrid Michaelson, and Justin Townes Earl. Since it’s a public park, the shows are donation-based. And since it’s a small town with mid-week performances, you won’t be standing in line to get in. Just spread out your picnic blanket and enjoy the tunes.

2. We have the New Hampshire Film Festival and Telluride by the Sea.

Replete with gnarled metal oak trees, brightly lit frescoes, and dark velvet curtains, the Portsmouth Music Hall is more like a Victorian funhouse than a theatre. It makes an incredible movie theatre, showcase for famous musicians, and stage for local events. But follow the curving bannister to your antique movie seat and you can catch academy-award winning independent films and all the hits from Telluride right after their debut in Colorado.

3. ‘Artist’ is a real job here.

With dozens of art galleries and a huge tourist trade, artists in Portsmouth are able to actually make money off of their passions. Portsmouth has been called one of the best places for artistic people by New Hampshire Magazine and listed in the top 25 arts destinations by American Style magazine. As New Hampshire’s seacoast has gentrified, artists have survived here by collaborating and repurposing old relics of the industrial era. Check out the lofty studios at the brick-clad Button Factory, or visit the dingy warehouse disguising our beautiful 3S Artspace.

4. ‘Fisherman’ is a real job here too.

Built on a tidal estuary, Portsmouth is an active port. Bridges extend from it like spokes from a wheel to offer peaceful morning walks over the water. Enjoying your coffee from one of the many coffee roasters in town, you can watch as colorful lobstermen head out onto the Piscataqua River, which has one of the ten strongest currents in the world. Or you can have a drink on the decks – a series of connected waterfront restaurants — and watch as twelve-story ocean liners bring imports to the town.

5. We have the best Halloween in the States.

If you thought Salem, MA was the place to be for Halloween, then you’ve never been to Portsmouth. Something eerie happens around October; under the harvest moon the town transforms. Victorian house owners take months to prepare, setting up life-like haunted house displays that rival any horror movie. The local farms convert to haunted hayrides. Our resident Halloween musician, Dan Blakeslee, plays his creepy hits all over town. Nosferatu plays with the accompaniment of a live ambient orchestra in the Music Hall. It all culminates in a day of festivities including the Zombie race, Choreographed Thriller dance, and massive Halloween parade where hundreds of locals dress as ghouls or stilt-walking monsters to haul house-sized floats through the narrow streets. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

6. We can hike, kayak, surf, and climb — all in one weekend.

Portsmouth is a mere fifteen-minute drive to New Hampshire’s most popular surfing beaches (yes, we do have surfing in NH and if you don’t have a full wetsuit, don’t bother!). You can put in your kayak within city limits and row out to sea. Or go for a bike ride around the six-mile loop leading from the downtown across a cluster of islands known as Newcastle. Or drive less than two hours to hike in the epic White Mountains. Did I mention that Rumney Rocks — Described by the Mountain Project and Outside Magazine as the best sport climbing spot on the East Coast — is only two hours away? In Portsmouth, you’ll run out of energy long before you run out of adventures.

7. We have a little something called Ecogastronomy.

What? Ecogastronomy is about bringing farms to the dinner table, and Portsmouth is a hotbed for this ideology. The nearby University of New Hampshire was a pioneer in organic farming and offered an Ecogastronomy major before any other school in the US. And whether you’re looking at the local company that collects compost from Portsmouth residents and businesses, the sustainable butcher across the bridge in Kittery, or the dozens of organic farms that surround the area, Portsmouth is fully committed to farm-to-table food. Don’t expect to come here in the summertime without hitting up the farmer’s market at town hall.

8. Did I mention we have really good food?

Our biggest culinary ‘claim to fame’ is not, actually, our widespread ecogastronomy practices but rather the fact that we have more restaurant seats than people. In other words, if the entire population of Portsmouth went out to dinner, they could all be seated with room to spare. How do we sustain this? By offering such famously amazing food that half of Boston shows up for dinner. There is a return to artisanal cooking and baking in Portsmouth, so don’t expect any part of your meal to have been packaged or machine-made. From the fine dining at Black Trumpet to the multi-cultural street vendor food at Street, the meals in Portsmouth are made by hand, with love.

8. Our beer is even better though.

If you are a true beer enthusiast then you’ve probably heard of Kate the Great, the award-winning Russian Imperial Stout named one of the best beers in the world by the beer community. For its unveiling, thousands of people from all over the world waited hours and paid exorbitant prices for the chance to win a single bottle. With local competition like this, the breweries have to live up to a high standard. Fortunately, they do. Within 10 miles of the town you can visit 7 fantastic micro and nano-breweries. Don’t worry about visiting them all — at most of the bars downtown you can find locally-brewed Smuttynose, Redhook, and Throwback beer on tap or on cask.

9. We can ski or snowshoe to the bar.

Blizzards don’t keep a true New Hampshirite inside. When the roads get really bad, the locals strap on skis and snowshoes for their nightly activities. Want some added incentive? Many of the bars in town offer beer deals when it snows.

10. Historical re-enactors roam our streets.

Strawbery Banke is a historic town within a historic town. In Strawbery Banke, though, every little thing is historically accurate — including the people. In this preserved village right by downtown Portsmouth you can take a summer tour guided by two boisterous actors in full period costume where you will hear the interesting history of the NH seacoast and observe re-enactors weaving, woodworking, and deftly shaping pottery. In the winter you can catch a horse and buggy through the candle-lit town while enjoying mulled cider and roasted chestnuts.

11. The local historic village turns its common into an ice skating rink in the winter.

That’s right. Puddle Dock Pond offers ice skating rentals and is a must-visit for the novice skater on their town tour. Not a big skater? Watch your friends from the White Apron Café next door while you drink a hot chocolate.

12. We’re an hour from Boston, but we still have that small town feel.

It’s hard to believe that with so much going on, Portsmouth isn’t really a city. Our population hovers between 20 and 30 thousand people, blowing up to giant proportions in the summer and relaxing back into local faces in the winter, when even the frosty bricks seem to sigh with relief.

But the sense of community in Portsmouth is strong. We know each other’s names and jobs, we have daily routines that interconnect, and we help each other out. When Riverrun Bookstore had to change locations, hundreds of townspeople formed a human chain to move their inventory book by book. The town is vocal about the direction of politics and small businesses still dominate the downtown.

This is a town where people recognize you in the grocery store, where you see your friends’ name in the papers, where the bartender knows your drink, and where novelists, musicians, and artists come to hide from the limelight among sailors, software developers, and bakers.

Portsmouth is more than a town. It is a living organism that absorbs you. It is a home where you feel big even when you are small. It is a community.

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