by Carrie Calzaretta
Portsmouth is one of those picturesque, quaint little New England towns that are straight off a postcard. Granted, it’s a city not a town, but it’s cozy and intimate in a way that families will love — friendly shopkeepers, riverfront activities, and streets dotted with all sorts of unexpected treasures. You’ll find funky toy stores, kid-friendly restaurants, and even a brewery. Perched on the edge of the Piscataqua river overlooking the town, sits the Sheraton Harborside Portsmouth, one of my family’s favorite places to stay when we visit the area.
To call the Sheraton a behemoth may be a stretch but it is by local standards, with 180 rooms and five floors. However, the hotel’s stately brick facade blends nicely with the surrounding buildings so that it feels like it’s been there forever. At first glance the Sheraton doesn’t appear as kid-friendly as it is; the first time my family entered the lobby, I took a look at the formal staircase, grand piano and polished little restaurant and hoped we’d make it through check-in without incident. I needn’t have worried, though. The staff is laid back and unstuffy as well as very used to kids. You don’t have to stay long before you realize there are always plenty of kids here, and the staff is more than accommodating to families.
The Sheraton Harborside is a city hotel, and as such, you won’t find the kinds of family activities and kid-centric spaces inside the building that are common at a resort property; nevertheless, the hotel does offer several features that are helpful for families. Large suites and townhouses, some with multi-floors and kitchenettes, are ideal for families, and the hotel offers plenty of kid-friendly dining options, including free appetizers and breakfast (Monday through Thursday) for those staying in club-level rooms. The Sheraton has a perfect location within walking distance to almost every Portsmouth attraction, and the heated indoor pool and sauna score major points, too.
To learn more about Sheraton, please visit Sheraton.
Our Editor Loves
- Large suites and townhouses, free breakfast for club-level rooms
- Downtown location within walking distance to most attractions
- Heated indoor pool and sauna
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
There are 180 rooms at the Sheraton, including a variety of options for families.
Their basic rooms are doable with kids but they're tight, starting at 290 square feet. If you need a crib or have a Pak n' Play in tow, you're going to be tripping over it. Amenities are adequate: 32" flat-screen TVs, Starbucks coffee, free Wi-Fi, and Shine by Bliss bath products. The decor is tasteful and clean, if a little tired. Beds and pillows are comfy, but the bathrooms are pretty tight and our shower had some issues. Club-level rooms (there are 32) aren't really much different, though they're slightly larger, starting at 325 square feet. They also offer the added benefits of complimentary bathrobes, free access to the fitness center, and most importantly, a free reception with snacks and appetizers as well as a buffet breakfast, Monday-Thursday. (It's a decent spread, and they don't care if kids take juice and snacks to go.)
Suites and Townhouses
Luckily for families, Sheraton offers two other lodging options that provide much-needed extra space for the kids: The Port of Call Suites and The Townhouses.
The Port of Call Suites (there are 8) are spacious and charming, with decor more in keeping with what you'd expect when you're paying $300 per night for a room. The suites, many of which are two levels, are available with one or two bedrooms and one or two bathrooms. They have a large kitchen with a full-sized refrigerator, dinnerware, a microwave, and plenty of space to cook, if you're so inclined. Our suite (though not all do) had a great balcony overlooking the river with a table and chairs, as well as a gas fireplace -- so cozy on cold winter nights.
There aren't too many hotels in a city (okay, so it's a small city, but still) where you can find 1,300 square feet of space for your family for around $400 per night in the high season. This makes The Townhouses at Sheraton very unique and a great option for families. Located in a building just across the parking lot from the main hotel, townhouses are even larger than suites. Though not quite as luxurious, they are less expensive. Units in the The Townhouses also offer a full kitchen, 1.5 baths and a living room. Sleeping arrangements come in a variety of configurations including one or two bedrooms with a choice of king and queen beds and all including a rollaway bed.
Cribs are available for all rooms at no extra charge and rollaways are $10 per night (or free in The Townhouses).
Great location, close to Market Street, historic houses, restaurants and bars.
The ladies at the front desk very friendly and helpful, . Susie. found me a room I wanted, Ashley helped me with an email problem and Teressa too.
So happy we stayed here and can ‘t wait to come back.
shower tub area has poor lighting. Room service was pricey and tip was included in the bill. I don’t know about you but I like to tip according to the service provided. It would be nice not to have it forced on you. However the most disappointing was the bed sheets had stains in them. I understand good help is hard to find but c’mon! SMHN
Whether your family wants to cross the street and hop on a whale-watching ferry, take a 10-minute drive to the beach, or browse the shops, there's plenty to do any time of year in Portsmouth.
Harbor Cruises/Whale Watching
The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company is a stone's throw from the hotel; in fact, you can see the boats coming and going from some of the hotel's balconies. Harbor Cruises offers daily whale-watching and sightseeing expeditions. Kids might catch sight of a humpback or minke whale, both frequenting these shores, but if not, they can hear stories about the pirates, shipwrecks and buried treasures off the Portsmouth coast. On certain days, the dock by the whale-watching boats has a touch tank for kids with tide pool animals and plants. There's a different creature featured every week, feeding demonstrations, and craft and story times.
Right over the river from Portsmouth, just about 10 minutes by car, are the beaches of York, Maine. They are a perfect place to spend the day with the kids. Long Sands is the largest, stretching one-and-a-half miles. There are a couple of cafes, decent surfing, and float rentals in the summer. Just a minute farther down the road is Short Sands, which has more to offer families. There's an arcade, bowling, a huge playground, and dozens of shops; our favorite is The Goldenrod where you can look through large glass windows and watch salt water taffy being stretched and wrapped. Also, at Short Sands is the biggest zoo and amusement park in the area, Animal Forest Park. There are kiddie rides, small roller coasters and a petting zoo, making it a great place to spend a few hours. Meters at all the beaches fill up quickly so arrive early.
Prescott Park & Portsmouth Repertory Theatre
If you're visiting Portsmouth during the warmer months, you should definitely take the family to Prescott Park, a pleasant walk from the hotel. It's a small park with beautiful views overlooking the river, and has a fun little garden where kids can throw pennies into bubbling fountains and make a wish. During the summer, there are live plays performed here. Families bring lawn chairs or sit in the grass, and kids can grab a snack and a drink from the food stand. We've seen dozens of shows here including "Annie," "Grease" and "The Wizard of Oz," each being better than the last. If you want to catch a show in the off-season, try the Portsmouth Repertory Theatre just up the street. It's always crowded with families, and if you're visiting around the holidays, don't miss "A Christmas Carol" -- they do a fantastic job.
Right next to Prescott Park is Strawberry Bank, a living history neighborhood where you can get a glimpse into what life was like in New England in the 17th and 18th centuries through exhibits and artifacts preserved in several old Colonial homes. Strawberry Banke (named after the wild berries growing there) is a must-do if your kids are into history, and really, even if they're not. They have family candlelight tours in the winter where you can see gingerbread house displays and take horse-drawn carriage rides.
My kids hate shopping, but I always manage to get them into a few stores in Portsmouth. The hotel is in a great spot to hit the best kids' shops, all within a few minutes. Head out the door down Market Street and you'll find G. Willikers toy shop, Treehouse Toys, and Macro Polo novelties, all practically right in a row. Right over the bridge into Maine, about 5-minutes away, are the Kittery Outlets. There's a huge selection of stores, but you'll pay sales tax on clothes, unlike in New Hampshire.
The Children's Museum of New Hampshire used to be in Portsmouth, but they moved it to nearby Dover, about 15-minutes away. While we preferred the Portsmouth location, it's worth a visit on a rainy afternoon.
Once you've had your fill of the sights, take a break at Sheraton's large indoor pool. It's clean, rarely over-crowded (though you'll always find a few kids swimming there), and there are tables and chairs, plenty of towels, and a sauna for older kids and adults.
Sheraton's Harbor's Edge
There is one restaurant at the Sheraton, Harbor's Edge, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, as well as a Sunday brunch. It's somewhat formal but welcoming to kids nonetheless, with high chair chairs, friendly waiters, and plenty of kid-friendly menu items like burgers, quesadillas and sandwiches. It's an especially good choice if your kids are into seafood -- let them try the lobster croissant or crab cake. If you don't see anything on the menu that appeals to your kids, they are more than willing to create something special. The Riverwatch Lounge, just up the stairs from Harbor's Edge, also has a limited menu (with pizza) and is fine for lunch with the kids.
Outside of the hotel there are dozens of great restaurants within walking distance. We love The Oar House, which has a cozy New England charm and great seafood, as well as Portsmouth Gas Light for their amazing pizza. Also try Izzy's Frozen Yogurt & Ice Cream on Bow Street. And there's one restaurant that you cannot miss during your stay: The Friendly Toast. This unique restaurant is just a short jaunt from the hotel, majorly kid-friendly, and is the best for breakfast. It's a bright, loud, funky place with wild antiques all over the walls and ceiling -- and the food is fantastic; it was featured on Man versus Food, and with good reason -- my pancake measured 12.5 inches across. Bring your appetite.
Kids will also get a kick out of visiting the local "grease truck," Gilley's, for walk-up burgers and dogs.
Planning & Tips
All about the Extras
Parking in the city difficult to say the least, and Portsmouth is no exception. There is an underground lot at the Sheraton, and you'll pay $10 per day to park at the hotel or $15 per day for valet. However, if you book a suite, parking is free.
Another great freebie: If you stay in a club level room, you have access to an evening reception (snacks as well as warm appetizers like mozzarella sticks) and drinks, as well as to a free buffet breakfast in the club room. This can be a real money saver, especially for large families.
The hotel does not have a spa, but Sheraton offers spa services through a mobile spa, The Bodywork Cafe. You can get a massage in your own room or in the hotel's treatment room, which is actually a converted guestroom. The hot stone massage I had was relaxing, if not amazing, and prices are very reasonable. There are no spa services for kids.
Various sundry items and souvenirs are available from a small area behind the front desk -- which is great should you need a Band-Aid or aspirin, since among of all the shops you'll find right outside the door, a pharmacy isn't one of them.
The Sheraton works with a local babysitting service to provide childcare if you need it during your stay.
The Art of Smart Timing
Peak travel season for Portsmouth is during the summer months, and that's when availability will be limited and hotel rates at their highest. Maine and New Hampshire beaches are just a short drive away, so you can take advantage of sailing, whale watching, and countless nearby outdoor, family activities. Weather gets hot during the day in the summer, but nights can still get chilly, and the ocean water never really warms up. Portsmouth is a wonderful city to visit in the off-season too, especially during the holidays. Off-season rates are more affordable, and the downtown is beautiful when draped in snow.
If you're flying into the area, there are three airports, all about equidistant to Portsmouth. They are Boston's Logan airport (about an hour), Manchester Airport (about 50 minutes) and the Portland International Jetport (about 50 minutes). You can check them all, but I've always found the best rates and the most flights into Logan. If you're driving, getting to the Sheraton Portsmouth is a breeze. Portsmouth is located just off Route 95, right before (or after if you're coming south) the bridge to Maine.
For Mom and Dad
If you manage to steal an evening away from the kids, check out The Press Room, which has live music seven nights a week. It's a cozy place that features jazz and blues performers, folk music, and even live poetry readings. Also definitely worth a visit is the downtown Portsmouth Music Hall, a performing arts center with two theaters. The Music Hall hosts everything from authors and artists to theater, cabaret and independent films. If you want to have a romantic adults-only diner, try the Dolphin Striker on Bow Street. It's fabulous.