New Castle, NH is one of my favorite day trip destinations in New England. Tucked away on New Hampshire’s seacoast, this quiet coastal community lies a little off the beaten path from nearby Portsmouth. But historic sites, lighthouses, beaches, outdoor activities, and a healthy dose of New England charm make this sleepy seaside enclave the quintessential summer getaway.
As you follow the bridges that connect mainland Portsmouth to New Castle, you can’t help but marvel as the landscape transforms into an idyllic oceanfront escape. Fisherman and families dip their poles into the Piscataqua River, unhurriedly awaiting their daily catch. Sweeping views of the sea peak out from behind rows of white, clapboard cottages. The town is quiet, but not in an abandoned sort of way. There’s a serene energy that surges through the streets, as powerful as the tidal waves to which you could keep time here.
Founded in 1623, New Castle is the smallest and easternmost town in New Hampshire, and the only one situated entirely on an archipelago of islands. It covers less than one square mile of land with just under 1,000 full-time residents. I find myself wanting to stop locals and ask them what it is that brought them here, what made them stay. But as I wander the streets and encounter quaint, coastal charm around every new corner, I can already guess at the answer.
Things to Do in New Castle
While browsing a tourist trinket shop, I once overheard, “Does Portsmouth even have a lighthouse?” Although visitors may overlook Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in favor of her sister to the north in Portland, she deserves credit of her own. The only lighthouse on the mainland of New Hampshire, Portsmouth Harbor Light was built in 1877 on the grounds of Fort Constitution. You can visit during one of the open houses held by the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, or get a great view of it from Great Island Common.
Fort Constitution has guarded the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor since 1632. Originally a British stronghold named Fort William and Mary, it was the site of one of the first acts of the American Revolution. In December 1774, the “Sons of Liberty” overtook the British at the fort after being warned by Paul Revere. The colonists seized light cannon and gunpowder, which was later used at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill.
Now a New Hampshire State Park located adjacent to a Coast Guard station, it offers self-guided tours. Pair it with a visit to the nearby Fort Stark, another one of seven forts built to protect Portsmouth Harbor.
Hotels in New Castle
If you’re type of traveler to take the road less traveled, consider staying overnight in New Castle. There’s nothing quite like waking up to the tranquility of the island shrouded in early morning fog. If you’re still craving a faster paced scene, the vibrant shopping, dining and entertainment of downtown Portsmouth is just a five-minute drive away.
The Great Island Inn is a great affordable hotel in New Castle, NH. This beautifully restored 1820s home offers modern apartments for independent travelers. It also has select dog-friendly suites if, like me, you prefer to travel with your pooch.
New Castle is also home to the historic Wentworth-by-the-Sea Resort and Spa. The Wentworth opened in 1874 and quickly became a favorite destination for socialites, film stars and New England society. Its presence launched the tiny fishing village of New Castle onto the global scale. President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the Wentworth in 1905 to broker the Treaty of Portsmouth, an agreement that ended the Russo-Japanese War and earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Today, you can step back in time and enjoy the grandeur of the Gilded Age. Featuring 161 guest rooms and suites, all with water views, the Wentworth is a popular destination for weddings, honeymoons and romantic getaways. Even if you don’t choose to stay overnight, you can still marvel at the historic architecture while enjoying contemporary American dining at SALT Kitchen & Bar.
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