What is it like to live in Portsmouth, N.H.?

Location, Location, Location
Nightlife in downtown Portsmouth.
Nightlife in downtown Portsmouth. Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe

Tom Holbrook grew up in Maine and likes the countryside more than big cities. But as the owner of a bookstore, he’s culturally attuned, and he wants to raise his daughter in a place with plenty to offer. For him, Portsmouth, a small coastal city of 21,000 and his home for 15 years, is near perfect.

“Portsmouth punches way above its weight level in terms of arts and culture,’’ said Holbrook, 46, a cofounder of RiverRun Bookstore on Fleet Street and the father of 7-year-old Flannery.

Besides such institutions as the fully restored Music Hall and the Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth has amenities that include a well-maintained public pool and a state-of-the-art library with 3-D printers for patrons’ use. “We’re incredibly lucky we’ve got what we have,’’ Holbrook said.

He does, however, wish the city wasn’t becoming so costly for the younger creative types who have made it thrive. His wife, Stephanie Hausman, a public defender, lived in the city when she attended the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “No students can do that anymore,’’ he said.

As an active member of the community, he welcomes newcomers.

“I just hope the people who want to come here want to participate and support the local businesses that make the place unique,’’ he said.



The number of Africans whose buried remains were discovered during infrastructure work downtown in 2003. The African Burying Ground, a cemetery for this port city in the 18th century, had been paved over and forgotten by many. The site, now home to a $1.2 million memorial park, could contain the remains of as many as 200 Africans, state officials said.


The estimated number of visitors the 3S Artspace is expected to see each year. The multipurpose complex has a performance space, an art gallery, and a restaurant. The nonprofit opened in 2015 and has already hosted well-known performers, including Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

58 feet

The height of the Double Geronimo extreme body slide at Water Country. In Dr. Von Dark’s Tunnel of Terror, you can watch your own horror mirrored in your friend’s face as you sit in a twin tube and take a 40-foot plunge in the dark. Spoiler alert: There’s a tornado funnel in there, too.




Culture and history

For a modest-sized community, Portsmouth boasts a wide variety of attractions. The decommissioned submarine USS Albacore, now a museum, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Music Hall, built in 1878, was saved from demolition in 1987. The US Senate designated it an “American Treasure” in 2003.


Development tensions

In this historic city (incorporated in 1653), development projects often meet with opposition from preservation-minded residents. Some have launched court challenges against a project that would include a hotel, condos, and a 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market — though the Historic District Commission has already approved the plan.

People fish along the Piscataqua River. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
People walk along Market Square —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
Shoppers along Market Street near Market Square in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
African Burying Ground Memorial Park in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
People look out onto the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
Passersby walk through Market Square in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
Passersby look in the window of the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
The John Paul Jones in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
The Albacore Museum in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
Piscataqua Bridge in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff
A woman sits along a fountain in Prescott Park in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff


The Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH. —Keith Bedford/Globe staff

James Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.