We showed you a little glimpse of our first day in Portsmouth recently… After a delightful night at Florence Gardens and a hearty English Breakfast, we were ready to explore further. Little did we expect even a full weekend would not be enough to see everything Portsmouth has to offer!
Southsea to Old Portsmouth by the seaside
How could we resist a stroll along the beach, first thing in the morning? It’s only a 30 minutes’ walk from Southsea (where our boutique hotel was) to Old Portsmouth. We started at the elegant South Parade Pier, admiring the Victorian bench shelters along the promenade.
A little further is Portsmouth Castle, built in great haste in 1544 as Henry VIII fears of a French attack on the city. Indeed a foreign fleet approached, landing on the Isle of Wight instead. The King would watch the Mary Rose, his favourite ship, sink right in front of the castle the following day… The place can be visited between March and October – indulge, entry is free! – and you can wander through the tunnels around the moat. You will even find a microbrewery there and the nearby bandstand often welcomes live music in summer.
Do have a look at the Naval Memorial too. It’s easy to find – there are yarnbombed poppies on the side of the road. Wellies, binoculars adorned with a daisy necklace, an HMS cap: it proves very touching… Many families here have lost loved ones to the sea and you will often see bunches of flowers tied to benches along the promenade.
Right before Clarence Pier (with its fun fair rides, including a mini rollercoaster), you might see the hovercraft leaving for the Isle of Wight – the journey takes a mere 10 minutes.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Want to learn more about the Royal Navy and the city’s naval past? There is no better place that the Historic Dockyards, an incredible mix of iconic ships and breathtaking museums. The very heart (with the Mary Rose, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860) is right by the station and can easily take a full afternoon to explore. But that’s not all: a waterbus will take you from the dockyard to Gosport (on the opposite side of the neighbour – with a brilliant view on Portsmouth’s skyline ) where the Submarine Museum and the Explosion Museum of Naval Fire Power await. Needless to say: kids love it. There is a real sense of history and adventure here.
A few highlights to give you an idea…
HMS Warrior 1860
Launched in 1860, Warrior was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet. Just imagine: she was, at the time, the fastest, largest and most powerful warship in the world. A reputation impressive enough to deter enemy fleet from attacking Britain at sea.
Built to counter the latest French battleship, powered by steam and sail… in other words, the very best of naval architecture and design. Sadly, she also proved an unexpected source of inspiration and was outdated within a mere 22 years. The HMS Warrior 1860 was then used as a depot, a floating school, an oil jetty which helped preserve it magnificently. It has kept the wonderful atmosphere of a Victorian battleship: both the armoury and canon collections are mind wowing.
Don’t mistake this for a brand new building: Boathouse 4 was constructed in the rearmament period before the Second World War. It now hosts the Boatbuilding Skills Training Centre and well, it’s quite a sight. The whole floor is filled with boats of all sizes, all side by side, some being repaired, others being built. Bonus: there is a mast climbing experience for the little ones.
Don’t miss the restaurant on the first floor, a superb contemporary space with a naval take decoration wise. You can even choose between views on the working boat yard or on the harbour. Great place for a relaxed lunch or to sip on the local Marie Rose beer…
Both Royal Navy’s most famous warship and a slice of history alone: you are about to visit the HMS Victory, Nelson’s famous flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar. There is lots to see: stunning Georgian interiors, the admiral’s living quarters, the lower gun deck where 600 sailors would eat right between the cannons, adding hammocks when night came…
The Mary Rose
What a destiny… Sunk in 1545, asleep for 470 years. Prince Charles was there, in 1982, when the Mary Rose was finally brought back the surface. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it must have been to see his ancestor’s favourite ship being brought back to life.
What remain of the structure, of course is incredibly fragile, and protected in a special casing, with dimmed lighting. The fantastic collection of artefacts proves quite fascinating so expect to spend at least an hour there. Kids will love the projections on the ship itself, little scenes showing what life on board used to be like.
National Museum of the Royal Navy
Worth a stop even if you’re running out of time, if only to experience the multi-media show ‘Trafalgar!’ which puts you in the middle of the smell and noise of a gun deck during the Battle… and to salute the giant figureheads on the first floor.
Emirates Spinnaker Tower
One of Portsmouth’s star attractions. The weather was still rather foggy when we stopped by, but oh, my what a view of the city… And how busy the harbour is! A tip: the windows are slightly tinted, so you expect a bluish hint on your pictures. There is something for everyone at the Emirates Spinnaker Tower: an amazing glass sky walk to thrill the little ones (and wow friends on social media), high teas with a view or, if you really are an adventurer, the opportunity to abseil down the 100 metres high tower…
Tempted to plan a weekend in Portsmouth? Here is a quick sum up:
How to get there? Portsmouth is just 1h30 train from London Waterloo. Perfect even for a day trip.
Where to stay? Boutique hotel Florence Gardens, part of a few town houses turned into 5 stars, stole our heart. They even have their own gastropub, The Florence Arms, a street away with superb twist on British classics and well balanced cocktails.
What’s on? Check out the latest events on the Visit Portsmouth website.
Our favourite places? Simply click on the Google map below 🙂