Despite the fact that Portsmouth is a small city in a small state, there’s an awful lot crammed into the most popular destination in the Granite State’s seacoast region.

Portsmouth is a charming and refined city that has made countless top 10 lists through the years—from prettiest town to best walking city to most livable small city—and it especially shines in the summertime, with plenty of outdoor activities at Prescott Park, the waterfront oasis that offers live music, art shows, and ample opportunities for picnicking. Portsmouth was settled in 1623, and since the bulk of its wealth came from the sea in the form of shipbuilding and trade over the years, it’s no wonder that the architecture hearkens back to its several seafaring heydays. Styles ranging from Colonial to Federal to Queen Anne abound throughout the city. Stroll down any street in the compact downtown area, or experience it all in one fell swoop at Strawbery Banke, a collection of homes that straddle the centuries.

But Portsmouth isn’t only all about the history. While it’s true that there are more stories packed into each cobblestone and brick on the streets and sidewalks than there are in other parts of New Hampshire, modern-day life dovetails quite tastefully with the historical. Boutiques and shops are situated in buildings that date back centuries, and so are many restaurants, though some specialize in cuisine that the early settlers of Portsmouth could not have fathomed—vegan cuisine from North Africa at Zahtar’s, anyone? In addition, a surprising number of art galleries with some very contemporary exhibits dot the main streets and alleys of the town. One warning: No matter where you go, it’s a good idea to wear comfortable shoes, since it’s much easier to park the car and walk the streets when exploring this charming, compact city. Portsmouth is an easy stopover between Cape Cod and Boston, as well as points farther north in Maine, so there’s no excuse not to spend a couple of days exploring this small and vibrant city. In fact, there’s so much to see and do in Portsmouth that you just might find you’ll need to extend your stay.  

The Essentials: Portsmouth, NH

 Where to Stay: Though not technically located in Portsmouth, it’s just a quick drive to New Castle and Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa, a grand hotel with a rich history and a perch right on the Atlantic. 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle; 603-422-7322; Right in downtown Portsmouth, the Sise Inn dates back to the 19th century and will make you feel like you stepped right into another era. 40 Court Street, Portsmouth; 603-433-1200;

 Where to Eat: The Dolphin Striker is the grande dame of the Portsmouth dining scene. Don’t miss the lobster mac and cheese. 15 Bow Street, Portsmouth; 603-431-5222;

 What To Do: At Strawbery Banke, visit period homes on the waterfront. Marcy Street, 603-433-1100; Glimpse life in a submarine at the USS Albacore, a museum celebrating the historic vessel. 600 Market Street, Portsmouth; 603-436-3680; Take a day trip to the Isles of Shoals, a collection of islands about five miles from town. Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, 64 Ceres Street; 603-436-8084;