Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Explore a Submarine and Abandoned Forts!
Hi-Diddly-Dee, A Sailor’s Life for Me
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is probably best known for its quaint, downtown shops and boutiques and the historic Strawberry Banke museum, but I would like to show you a few of the lesser-known, yet incredibly enjoyable, attractions of this New England city.
If you’re driving along Route 95 approaching Portsmouth, you might be surprised to see a historic submarine permanently moored to, not a dock, but a park right next to the highway. Our first stop is the U.S.S. Albacore, a former research submarine, that was designed by the U.S. Navy to test experimental features that are used in similar vessels today. The Albacore may have never seen combat, but it was in commission from 1953 to 1972. It’s a fascinating place to visit that will bring out the kid in anyone.
After purchasing tickets from the small visitor’s center (where you can get U.S.S. Albacore paraphernalia, including hats and captain’s whistles – beware parents of having to listen to them all day if you purchase one!), you follow a self-guided tour through the submarine. You can choose to get as much or as little information as you want by reading the pamphlet and/or pressing the red buttons in each part of the submarine to hear the pre-recorded audio tour.
I was amazed to see how cramped the living space truly is on a submarine. Imagine sleeping in these quarters or having to shower in such a narrow cubicle. How can anyone live for months at a time, deep under the ocean, like this?! Bravo to our brave sailors!
Kids will love to sit in the driver’s seat, look into the periscope, pass through the hatches, and play chess in the mess hall. They can even pop a squat on a sub’s toilet! Visiting the sub is fun for the whole family. I even enjoyed it myself on a solo visit.
The U.S.S. Albacore is located at 600 Market St, Portsmouth, NH, right off of Interstate 95 (see locations below).
The Misty Remains of a Former Fort
Just outside of Portsmouth, in New Castle, New Hampshire, are the remains of Fort Constitution, which protected the harbor from 1631 to 1961. Originally designed to guard against French-Canadian attack, the Americans captured the fort from the British during the Revolutionary War and renamed it after the famous national document. It was later rebuilt during World War II to defend Portsmouth Harbor from German submarines through the use of underwater mines. How cool!
On the day that I visited, fog was still present from the morning, which added an extra eerie effect to the remnants of the fort. There’s no visitors center or attendants on duty, so you’ll likely have the place almost all to yourself to wander and explore. Located next door are an active U.S. Coast Guard Station and a lighthouse, that, unfortunately, aren’t open to the public, but are nice to look at!
Fort Constitution is located at 25 Wentworth Rd. in New Castle, NH. See “locations” below for the route, parking, and other tips.
An Eerie Military Remnant
Do you enjoy creepy, abandoned locations? Then I have a place for you! If you don’t enjoy the spook factor, can I at least lure you in by saying there’s a small, free beach and park at the same location?
Located near Fort Constitution, which is described above, Fort Stark is the most fun to explore of the two former military installations. Much of it is fenced off and covered by the graffiti of vandals, but that actually adds to the otherworldly atmosphere.
Both kids and adults will love exploring Fort Stark, which saw service from 1905 to 1948. While I was visiting, a family of four was ahead of me, and their two children were clearly having an awesome time wandering around and climbing up onto the gun batteries. Don’t worry parents– there are no more guns on site! From the fort, the views of the ocean and harbor are also amazing; so bring your camera.
The grounds are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, hence the graffiti, but there is a small visitor’s center on site which is open on Saturday (from Memorial Day to Labor Day) from noon to 4:30. I was there on a weekday, so I explored on my own. Most people were there to use the small, free, public beach and park that are adjacent to the fort. The beach is quite rocky, but there’s enough sand and green space (with picnic tables) to make it an enjoyable afternoon outing.
Fort Stark is located at 211 Wild Rose Ln. in New Castle, NH (see location below).
600 Market St, Portsmouth, NH, right off of Interstate 95 – Click on the map for directions.
Fort Constitution & Fort Stark
Getting There: The drive out to Fort Constitution and Fort Stark is absolutely beautiful. If you don’t believe me, the route has been designed as a New Hampshire Scenic Byway! From Portsmouth, take Route 1B (click here for directions) which forms a loop across several small and larger islands, affording stunning views of the harbor and ocean, and which winds through picturesque New England colonial towns. Click on the maps below to get driving directions to each specific fort.
Parking: When going to Fort Constitution, follow the signs and then park in the “Fort Constitution Parking” which is immediately in front of the fort remains, just beyond the larger public parking lot.
Bring Water & Snacks: I would recommend bringing water and maybe some snacks, because as I found out the hard way, once you leave Portsmouth, there are few stores in the immediate area.
Want to make a day out of it? I suggest adding a trip to Strawberry Banke, which is an excellent museum composed of dozens of historic buildings from the 1600’s to the 1900’s. Also, check out my eating recommendations below.
Looking for a place to eat? I highly recommend the Friendly Toast at 113 Congress St. in Portsmouth for breakfast all day or yummy sandwiches and plates. They bake their own bread in-house and are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Want dessert or coffee? Check out Kaffee Vonsolln at 79 Daniel St. in Portsmouth for German pastries and creative coffee creations.
Fort Stark- Click on the map for directions.
Fort Constitution – Click on the map for directions.