Few cities in New England are more pleasant to visit than Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s  maritime center at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. The downtown area is a giant playground of old brick warehouses reinvented as trendy boutiques and artsy cafés that cater to a youthful crowd. Just as much a draw, however, is the city’s history, which is as rich as any in New England.
Portsmouth was home to a settlement named Strawbery Banke , which was settled in 1630, just a decade after the pilgrims landed in Plymouth , and the same year the Puritans landed in Boston . Unlike those groups, however, the settlers were on a commercial, not religious, mission: to exploit the natural resources of the New World. Unfortunately they failed in their mission, going bankrupt just eight years later, and Strawbery Banke became part of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Under the guidance of the Puritans, Portsmouth grew into an important trading port, rivaling Boston  and Salem  in the early days of the country. In 1800, the creation of the Portsmouth Navy Yard established it as a shipbuilding center as well, churning out military vessels as well as the sleek clipper ships that were the Maseratis of their day (one Portsmouth clipper made the Liverpool run in just 13 days, an unheard of feat at the time). As the 20th century dawned, however, Portsmouth was caught flat-footed when fortunes shifted from sea trade to the industrial might of the textile mills, and began to decline in importance.
What turned Portsmouth around wasn’t industry, but tourism. Bucking the prominent trend of “urban renewal” in the 1950s, Portsmouth decided not to demolish its many remaining colonial homes, but restore them. Over the next few decades, it established the colonial village of Strawbery Banke  way ahead of a trend toward historic preservation in other parts of the country, and put itself on the map as a living-history museum.
Now the colonial infrastructure of the city and the colorful energy of its hip population meld seamlessly to make it like nowhere else in New Hampshire . Indeed, many residents south of the border declare Portsmouth to be an unofficial part of Massachusetts . But that’s just jealousy talking; Granite Staters proudly embrace the city as its cherished cultural jewel.