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5 Portsmouth 400th Anniversary Events You Won’t Want to Miss

Portsmouth, New Hampshire may not have crammed hundreds of candles on a cake to call out the coastal community’s 400th birthday, but one thing it certainly has loaded up? The summer events programming schedule honoring the landmark anniversary. Here are a few to shape your stay around.


Portsmouth, New Hampshire has been celebrating the 400th anniversary of its settlement all year long, but the celebration really took off once the summer season hit. The floodgates opened with June’s Grand Parade and are now being followed by several other signature events in addition to ongoing offerings, like historic bike tours and gallery exhibitions exploring how Portsmouth became the cultural hub of the Seacoast.

“Portsmouth is a wonderful place to visit year-round,” says Mary Carey Foley, a Portsmouth native and concierge at Opal resort, Wentworth by the Sea. “But this summer – with the 400th-anniversary celebrations in full swing – would be a great time to come and see what my home city is all about.”

She would know, too. Not only does she sit on various boards for PNH400 (the anniversary planning committee), therefore have her finger on the pulse of the programming, but she just generally loves Portsmouth. To her core. In fact, you could say it’s in her genes – both her mother and grandmother served as former mayors of the city. “The scenery, the strong sense of community, the sincerity of its people, there’s no place like it,” she says. And having held the Wentworth concierge position for the last 17 years, a big part of her day-to-day life has been talking up the community and directing people to its latest and greatest sites. With that in mind, she outlines a handful of the 400th-anniversary summer events you won’t want to miss.

THE SECRET GARDENS OF NEW CASTLE [June 16 & 17]

What does New Castle have to do with Portsmouth? This island community abuts Portsmouth and was settled at the same time. “It also hosts a high concentration of stunning heritage gardens for a two-square-foot-mile island,” says Foley. And during The Secret Gardens of New Castle, a self-guided walking tour hosted by the Great Island Garden Club and sponsored by Wentworth by the Sea, 11 of them will be primped, pruned, and open to you to stroll in honor of the 400th anniversary. Parking will be free and a shuttle service provided by the Seacoast Trolley Company, while guides will be on hand at the New Castle Congregational Church to dispense details about the horticultural history of this island.

MASQUERADE BALL [July 29] 

If you have ever wanted to shed your persona and step into an alternate reality for a few hours, the Masquerade Ball – actually a fundraiser for the Little Italy Carnival, another signature 400th event (see below) – is the place to do so. And there’s no better setting than Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club, Portsmouth’s newest live music venue with a perfect Moulin Rouge-style vibe. Don your best gowns or black ties and tails, and prepare to be mesmerized by the breathtaking décor, creative assortment of food stations serving up dishes of a bygone era, and, of course, music that starts with traditional waltz-style tunes but transitions into modern beats that’ll keep you grooving well into the evening.

LITTLE ITALY CARNIVAL [August 6]

“Many of the Portsmouth 400 events are naturally dedicated to exploring the history of the city,” says Foley. “And there’s a lot of history that I didn’t even know about that’s been really eye-opening.” 

One example she points to: Portsmouth’s former Little Italy neighborhood which was once home to hundreds of Italian families that were displaced in the 1970s in the name of urban renewal. August’s day-long Little ItaIy Carnival intends to pay homage to this lost – but not forgotten – community with Italian folk music, circus acts from the Boston Circus Guild, and plenty of traditional food from the boot-shaped peninsula, including a local chef cook-off hosted by a Portsmouth chef, restaurant owner, and Food Network “Chopped” star. It all culminates with a supper feast at the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel that comes served with a side of history: Over dinner, attendees will get the opportunity to listen to the oral histories from descendants of the Italian families who once called Portsmouth’s North End their home.

STREET.LIFE!400 [August 15]

What’s better than an alfresco seafood dinner set in downtown Portsmouth? How about if that dinner occupied a scenic stretch of five blocks and was emceed by TV personality Tom Bergeron? Such will be the scene at street.life!400, an open-air lobster bake that will take place at one long communal table that runs the length of Congress Street, from Market Square to Maplewood Avenue. Here, 900 diners can dig into lobster, chicken, and corn while Bergeron (known for his host gigs on Hollywood Squares, America’s Funniest Home Videos, and Dancing with the Stars) does what he does best: Entertain the masses with colorful commentary. Dessert comes in the form of a champagne toast and slices of Portsmouth Orange Cake, a spongy and sweet historically significant treat that came over with the community’s early English settlers.

GREAT PORTSMOUTH PICNIC [October 1]

The picnic sites have always been plentiful in Portsmouth, but this may be the biggest one you ever partake in. Set on a five-acre swath of land adjoining Portsmouth’s South Playground and Leary Field, the Great Portsmouth Picnic will feature an afternoon of lawn games, freshly fired flatbread, sandwiches, and ice cream. No purchasing of tickets is required – all you have to do is bring a chair or blanket and post up at this beloved recreation area overlooking South Mill Pond. 

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