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Celebrate the 400th anniversary of Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth is celebrating its 400th anniversary this summer and you’re invited. Photo by Will Zimmerman

In the seaport city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, history isn’t encased in glass in some ho-hum museum. The past seeps into the present, adding layers of intrigue even for visitors drawn here by the impressive food, arts, and music scene.

Throughout 2023, you can feel even more deeply immersed in the city’s storied past as Portsmouth celebrates its 400th anniversary, while also reflecting on the millennia of Indigenous culture that predated European exploration and English colonial settlement.

Portsmouth hasn’t had a year-long party like this since 1973, when Britain’s then–Prince Charles was coincidentally in town for the 350th-anniversary hoopla. The royals have received a formal invitation to this year’s events, but you don’t need one to join in the fun.

Signature events highlight a history-making year

Aerial view of downtown Portsmouth

An aerial view of downtown Portsmouth looking west over the North Church and Market Square. Photo by Wangkun Jia/

Practically every organization in the city is embracing Portsmouth’s monumental anniversary. The PNH400 website is your guide to 2023’s nonstop lineup. Some events are serious, like the 3-day Keeping History Above Water beginning May 7. The national conference focuses on the threat sea level rise poses to historic treasures. Other activities focus more on entertainment.

On June 25, a vintage baseball game pits Portsmouth against rival Dover, which is also celebrating its 400th anniversary. And the Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show at Pease Air National Guard Base on September 9 and 10 features heritage aircraft.

Plan early if you want to attend any of Portsmouth’s signature quatercentenary events. The Portsmouth NH 400 Parade steps off at 11 a.m. on June 3. This street celebration coincides with the city’s annual Piscataqua Riverfest, which showcases handcrafted boats and features demonstrations, sailings, food, brews, and music.

Sumptuous Italian food by top Portsmouth chefs will be on sale at the August 6 Little Italy Carnival, but this free, family-friendly day’s ties to the city’s past are stronger than a spaghetti strand. The all-day North End event honors the history and culture of Italian immigrants who settled in this “Lost Neighborhood,” which was bulldozed in the 1970s to make way for a parking lot.

Chairs blocking off a section of the street for the community dinner

More than 700 people are expected at the annual community dinner. Photo by Bridgette Desmond 

On August 15, Congress Street, the city’s primary brick-sidewalk-lined thoroughfare, will close to traffic from Market Square to Maplewood Avenue for a Chamber-sponsored Street.Life! 400 community dinner for more than 700 people. Buy a ticket to dine at an impossibly long, white-linen-tablecloth-covered table. You’ll mingle with people from all around the city during a hearty New England clam bake.

Even those who don’t attend will be treated to a spectacle, visible from much of the city. While organizers are hush-hush thus far on details, this component of the evening reflects Portsmouth NH 400’s mission to “include all of the community wherever and whenever possible,” says Stephanie Seacord, the city’s public information officer.

You may also like: 8 of Northern New England’s most beloved local restaurants

History on demand

Specific events might inspire the timing of your visit.

The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire’s 5-day Juneteenth Music & Education Festival (June 15–19) and an Indigenous People Educational Festival & Pow Wow (August 12–13) reflect Portsmouth’s diverse heritage and multicultural present. Tall ships parade for the Blessing of the Fleet (July 27) and Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra musicians perform the world premiere of a piece commissioned for the 400th (November 4–5).  

But no date in 2023 will lack ways to dive into Portsmouth’s stories.

The 400th anniversary gives every historic site a reason to put its best foot forward throughout the year and to unveil new exhibitions and offerings. It’s also a fun excuse for Portsmouth’s dozen-plus breweries to craft commemorative beers.

Strawberry Banke Museum

At the Strawbery Banke Museum, costumed guides in the village to the left of the grassy area demonstrate what life used to be like in Portsmouth. Photo by David J. Murray/

Stroll around Strawbery Banke Museum, a 10-acre living-history attraction devoted to preserving New Hampshire’s oldest neighborhood and check out the Dawnland Storyfest Indigenous storytelling celebration on November 4. Or join a Portsmouth Historical Society walking tour, including outings themed around the women of Portsmouth and the city’s LGBTQ+ community.

Portsmouth invites self-guided exploration, too. Embark on your own citywide scavenger hunt. The new book and website Portsmouth History in 101 Objects was compiled with community input to commemorate the 400th. About 60 of the featured artifacts, from the quirky to the profound, are on public view.

You may also like: 5 waterfront New England spots for a romantic winter weekend

Leaving a legacy

Congress Street

The Portsmouth NH 400 Parade is likely to go down Congress Street. Photo by Philip Case Cohen

“It’s important for us to engage the entire community,” says Valerie Rochon, managing director of Portsmouth NH 400. She says legacy projects such as 101 Objects will enrich the community far beyond 2023.

Portsmouth High School students are collecting oral histories from residents who participated in the 350th-anniversary pageant and parade. A comic book–style retelling of the city’s history will be used in middle-school classrooms for years to come. And in riverside Bohenko Gateway Park, the first of several planned installations in a maritime-themed sculpture park will be unveiled.

Whether you attend a single event or stay a week, this landmark anniversary celebration calls you to make Portsmouth a part of your own history, however many years old you’ll be in 2023.

You may also like: Legendary lighthouses in Northern New England

Other 400-year-old cities on the New Hampshire seacoast

Tall Ship Lynx

The Tall Ship Lynx passes the Whaleback Lighthouse and Wood Island as it enters the Piscataqua River. Photo by Anne Weidman

Does salt air foster longevity? Seriously, all of New England’s earliest European settlements were coastal.

Still, it’s remarkable that the city of Dover and the towns of Rye and New Castle are also marking their 400th anniversaries in 2023. Each has celebratory events planned. Dover’s June 24 boat parade kicks off 11 days of events to culminate in the city’s largest-ever July 4 pyrotechnics display, with fireworks launching from 2 sites.

Learn more about Dover 400 and Rye 400 events. New Castle events, such as the Great Island Garden Club Pocket Tour (June 16–17), are featured at Portsmouth NH 400.

Fueling road trip desires is a passion for Kim Knox Beckius, a widely published travel writer and travel editor at Yankee Magazine.

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