Portsmouth is the only island city in England with a rich marine history, museums, the Southsea boardwalk, lakes, and shopping malls.
Portsmouth was home to Henry VIII, the British Royal Navy, the sunken Mary Rose, and HMS Queen Elizabeth. If you love maritime history or like exploring fleets of flagship vessels, then you will love Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Naturally, many attractions revolve around the sea, but there’s plenty more to do in the city.
Portsmouth makes for a great day trip or weekend getaway. Let’s look at some highlights of the city:
A great place to start sightseeing is at the 557 ft. tall Spinnaker Tower. Here you will have a fantastic view of over 23 miles around Portsmouth and the Isle of Wright.
The tower has three levels:
- Observation Deck with a glass bottom floor that you can stand on,
- A restaurant called The Clouds.
- Upper Rooftop Deck with a tiki bar and lounge chairs.
- Hours: 10:30 – 17:00
- Admission: £14.95 At the Entrance/£11.95 Online. Purchase tickets here.
After you visit Spinnaker Tower, walk the Gunwharf Quays for some shopping or choose from their many restaurants for a lunch break from all the sightseeing. This shopping center is a modern design to this historic city filled with your favorites such as Vans, The White Company, Nike, and many other popular brands.
If you plan to stay through the evening, you will find several options of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the harbor atmosphere.
You can’t come to Portsmouth without stopping at the Historic Dockyard. As you enter this active Naval base, you will be greeted with massive ships, submarines, museums, and more. The dockyards are fascinating, even if you are not a history buff or marine warship enthusiast.
The Historic Dockyard also has various food options, including cafes and a restaurant. There are also three picnic areas onsite if you prefer to bring your food.
Here are the historic sites and museums within the dockyard:
The HMS Victory
The HMS Victory was built in 1765 and was the grandest, most up-to-date ship in King George III’s Royal Navy. This flagship vessel was in admiral Nelson’s victory over the Spanish and the French in the Battle of Trafalgar.
You will find a great deal to see on the ship. However, beware the stairs are steep, and the hallways are narrow, making the space confining and difficult for those dealing with tight spaces.
It launched nearly 100 years after HMS Victory. This vessel is a great place to see shipbuilding and technology changes that emerged over time. The HMS Warrior was a steam-powered ship built out of iron, with sails as an optional propulsion mechanism. It is twice the size of HMS Victory yet accommodated fewer crew members.
The HMS Warrior never saw war! due to the speed of new designs in shipbuilding, within twenty years of its completion, new ships surpassed her in technology. So instead of sending her off to the junkyard, she took on less glamorous role as a cargo ship.
National Museum of the Royal Navy
Dedicated to one of the oldest armed services, the Royal Navy’s history dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. Since the United Kingdom is surrounded by water, the making of a strong Naval Armed Forces has been a vital part of the British defensive and offensive capabilities.
The museum is spread across three historic buildings which overlook HMS Victory. You will find a wide range of historical sailing exhibits and present-day vessels.
The Mary Rose
Shortly after Henry VIII became king, he commissioned the Mary Rose. If you are a fan of Henry VIII, you will find the Mary Rose an interesting part of history.
The Mary Rose sank in 1545 in Portsmouth while holding off the French fleet. Although it is a mystery why she sank, many believe she sank due to water pouring into the ship during a huge gust of wind coming through the gun ports. Whatever the reason, it was not due to enemy fire.
- Hours: 10:00 – 16:00
- Admission: 1 Attraction – Adult £24, 3 Attractions – Adult £34, or 10 Attractions – Adult £39. Tickets are valid for the whole year (so if you stay for the weekend, you may want to break up this site). You can purchase your ticket here.
To learn more about the city of Portsmouth, visit this museum and see the exhibits that cover the history and its people over time.
Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of the Sherlock Holmes novels has a large exhibit here. In addition, a rotating series of artworks on display drawn from the museum’s extensive permanent collection is a sight to see.
- Hours: Open daily, except Mondays
- Admission: Free
Portsmouth has been the most crucial location in defending England against enemy attacks. The Round Tower dates from the early 15th century, making it the first permanent fortification to be built.
During the 100 Years’ War, Portsmouth endured numerous raids and suffered fires, making the Round Tower of great importance due to its defense capabilities.
You can climb to the rooftop and watch ships enter the harbor. Occasionally, art exhibits are offered in the interior of the tower.
- Hours: Winter- (Oct. – March) daily 10:00 – 18:00; Tue. and Wed. 10:00 – 21:00; Summer ( April – Sept.) Daily 10:00 – 20:00
- Admission: Adult £4.75
Clarence Pier Amusement Park
If you love amusement parks or traveling with children, stop at one of the largest amusement parks, Clarence Pier, on the south coast of England. Here you will find a wide range of rides, food, and arcade fun.
- Hours: 11:00 – 17:00 in winter/ 11:00 – 21:00 in summer
- Admission: Free, but rides cost extra on a token system. Check on more details here.
Portsmouth Cathedral ( Anglican Cathedral of St. Thomas)
Known as the ‘Cathedral of the Sea, is the beautiful Portsmouth Cathedral. Known as one of the oldest buildings dating back to 1188. It is one of the two buildings that survived the French raid of Portsmouth in 1338, which destroyed most of the city.
The cathedral suffered severe bombshell damage during the English Civil War (1642-1651), especially the bell tower.
In 1660 King Charles II authorized the church to raise funds to rebuild the nave and tower. Sir George Rooke donated the bells to St. Thomas, which were melted down and recast into five new bells.
- Note: Free Guided Tour is offered on Tuesday-Saturday at 2 pm/FREE
Known as the Forts of the Saxon Shore,the Portchester Castle began as a Roman fort. Over three centuries the fort was be built to meet the threat presented by Saxon pirates. Norman kings used it when crossing the Channel, while Richard II built a palace within the walls and made it his resident.
Within the fort walls you will find a Norman church. In you will find features of highly decorative stonework, decorated arches and medieval font.
- Hours: 10:00 – 17:00
- Admission: Adult £6.20
Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum
One of Britain’s most famous writers of the Victorian era, Charles Dickens, was born in Portsmouth in 1812. The museum tells the story of Dickens life. The home exhibits the same design as when he was born, along with several of his possessions and memorabilia.
- Hours: Friday – Sunday
- Admission: Adult £4.50
Built-in 1890 in the heart of Portsmouth is the stunning Guildhall building which dates from 1890. The square where the building stands is the status of Queen Victoria. You may find city events or other performances to enjoy.
Southsea Castle was constructed in 1544 by Henry VIII to defend and protect against the invasion by both French and the Holy Roman Empire.
Following the 100 Years’ War, the castle became an unused shell until the 17th century during the English Civil War. Then, during the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars, the castle underwent some upgrades to make it more efficient for battle.
Onsite is a café, gift shop, and microbrewery.
- Hours: March – October 10:00 – 17:00
- Admission: Free
D-Day Story Museum
The D-Day Story Museum tells the story of the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany’s occupation. You will find magnificent imagery, audio-visual presentations, authentic vehicles, and interactive displays.
- Hours: 10:00 – 17:30
- Admission: £13.50
Visit the Isle of Wight
Take the only passenger hovercraft service in the UK to the Isle of Wight. The ride will take about 10 minutes to travel to the island.
The Isle of Wight is a relatively small island off the south coast of England. The town of Cowes is a great place to stroll and do some shopping or enjoy one of the eateries.
Stop at the Osborne House, an Italian Renaissance-style home that once was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s summer home and rural retreat.
Visit the sanctuary, Monkey Haven, to see the rescued animals. private owners or those injured in the wild saved these animals from the illegal pet trade.
If you love trains, then you’d want to ride on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Volunteers operate the train, which is a 5.5-mile track and was restored to its origin as a steam locomotive that once transported those living here from town to villages.
The Needles are a series of chalk rock stalks which jut out at the tip of the Isle of Wight. These natural beauties are an incredible sight and perfect for photography.
Learn about the Victoria Coastal defense, which was the site of an artillery Battery, operational from the 1860s through decommissioning in 1954.
At the center of the island is 12th-century Carisbrooke Castle. The castle was the primary defensive fortification of the islands for hundreds of years, fending off the French and being the prison of King Charles I for fourteen months before his execution in 1649.
Hike to the St. Catherine’s Oratory building. This medieval lighthouse dates back to 1328. It is Britain’s only surviving medieval lighthouse!
Old St. Boniface’s Church in Bonchurch is a cute little church which dates from the 11th century. It is one of the few medieval churches in England dedicated to the Saxon Monks.
Another city to visit is the picturesque town of Shanklin, which offers stunning beaches, thatched cottages and one of the island’s most visited attractions, the Shanklin Chine.
So much to see on the Isle of Wight. You can either visit for the day or overnight at one of their charming hotels.
A great way to get around is using the Needles Breezer or the Down Breezer –the islands two hop on hop off bus services.
Getting Around Portsmouth
Portsmouth is a walking city, so most of the sightseeing is within walking distance from each other. Public transportation, uber, and taxis are available.
How to Get to Portsmouth
- The drive from London will take approximately 2 hours via the M25 and A3.
- If you want to travel by train from London, it will take about 1.5 hours.
Tours of Portsmouth
Here are some excellent options if you prefer to join a tour while visiting Portsmouth.
- A full-day private tour from London is of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyards, including HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. It also includes the Mary Rose, a harbor tour, and packed lunch.
- A 9-day group tour which covers sites related to the Battle of Britain, including a visit to Portsmouth
- These guided walking tours offered by Portsmouth City Council
Make sure to put Portsmouth on your bucket list as one of the love port cities in England to visit.
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.