Planning a Trip
Getting There -- Portsmouth is served by exits 3 through 7 on I-95. The most direct access to downtown is via Market Street (exit 7), which is the last New Hampshire exit, just before crossing the big bridge and the river to Maine. Take that exit, then bear right (coming from the south) or left (from the north). You'll come straight into town.
Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) operates four to five trains daily from Boston's North Station to downtown Dover, New Hampshire; a one-way ticket is about $17 per person, and the trip takes about 1 1/2 hours. You can then take the no. 2 COAST bus (tel. 603/743-5777; www.coastbus.org) from Dover station to the center of downtown Portsmouth, a 45-minute trip that costs just $1 (50¢ for seniors).
Bus is not a bad choice. Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com), C&J Trailways (tel. 800/258-7111 or 603/430-1100; www.cjtrailways.com), and Vermont Transit (tel. 800/552-8737; www.vermonttransit.com) all run about five buses daily from Boston's South Station to Portsmouth, plus one to three daily trips from Boston's Logan Airport. Each service has a different pickup point: Greyhound's is the main bus stop in Market Square, Vermont Transit's is a food shop on Hanover Street (downhill from the main square, near the city parking garage), and C&J's is at a modern but distant bus station about 5 miles south at the former Pease air base (call a taxi or rent a car). The one-way cost for any of the three trips is about $16 per person; C&J purportedly prohibits passengers from talking on cellphones.
A one-way Greyhound trip from New York City's Port Authority bus station to downtown Portsmouth is about $45 and takes about 6 1/2 hours.
Visitor Information -- The Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, 500 Market St. (tel. 603/436-3988; www.portcity.org), has an information center between exit 7 and downtown across the road from the piles of salt and scrap metal. From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, it's open Monday through Wednesday from 8:30am to 5pm; Thursday and Friday from 8:30am to 7pm; and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. The rest of the year, it's open Monday to Friday only, 8:30am to 5pm. During the summer, a second staffed booth opens right out in Market Square (in front of the Breaking New Grounds coffee shop with the outdoor tables).
Parking -- Most of Portsmouth can be easily traversed on foot, so you only need to park once. But mind the rules and signs; parking can be tight in and around the historic district in summer, and officers will ticket. The city's municipal parking garage nearly always has space and costs 75¢ per hour; it's located on Hanover Street, between Market and Fleet streets. The Strawbery Banke museum also provides limited parking for visitors.
There's also now a trackless "trolley" (tel. 603/743-5777) circulating through central Portsmouth in a one-way loop from July to early September daily from 10:30am to 5:30pm. It hits all the key historical points and has traditionally been free to ride (that could change in the near future). Catch it at Market Square, Prescott Park, or Strawbery Banke.