Portsmouth, or “Pompey”, is located on the South coast of England in Hampshire about two hours train ride from Waterloo station in London. Portsmouth can claim many facts; but here are two – The city is The UK’s only ‘island city’ – surrounded on all sides by water; Secondly, it is the most densely populated city in The UK. Portsmouth was the main Naval defence against any invaders from the South, and, countless battles against the French and Spanish were fought in The Solent. Peppered along the Hampshire coastline are many castles and forts dating back to the 10th Century.
Great Britain was world class in nautical global discovery with her fleets of navy ships and sailor’s, and, no where boasts this more than its world class collection of maritime heritage, that demands more than a day trip. Here you can wonder around stunning historic ships, a submarine and an impressive cluster of museums. Once you have had your fill of all things maritime, the city’s ‘Point District/Spice Island’ will tempt you with its cobbled streets and ancient pubs, the Emirates Spinnaker Tower delivers beautiful views, and the port makes a prime launch pad for the Isle of Wight.
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION
ℹ️ Travel: Travelling domestically, Portsmouth can be accessed by road and rail. The nearest airport is Southampton and there are several daily flights if you live in the north of The UK. Southampton airport has its own railway terminal were you can hitch a ride to Portsmouth. London Waterloo station is the direct service from the Capital and takes around 2 hours. Driving from central London will take you roughly 2 hours, or from London Heathrow airport roughly 1 1/2 hours.
ℹ️ Currency: The British Pound (£). From 31st October 2019 The UK will no longer be a member of the EU (European Union)
ℹ️ Credit Cards and Banks: ATMs are common place in almost every shopping street, with several ‘bureau de change’ around the city centre, with almost every retailer accepting Mastercard and Visa. There is no fear of an establishment declining card payments.
ℹ️ Weather: As with all Northern European countries the Winter months are dark, cold and wet. The better time to visit is during the Summer months. Always carry an umbrella to be safe.
ℹ️ Accommodation:Portsmouth is not the cheapest of city’s to stay. There are two venues that are reasonable.
The 3* Holiday Inn Express North is located about 3 miles from the city centre. Its clean and one of the cheapest hotels in the area. A night will cost roughly £60 p/n including breakfast.
However, if money is not a focal point then consider the 3* Holiday Inn Express Gunwharf Quays. The location is superb and is close to everything of interest including shopping, eateries and the navel museums. Prices are around £95 p/n and includes breakfast.
WHAT CAN PORTSMOUTH OFFER?
Portsmouth Navel Scene
Portsmouth’s history really is the pride of the city and they make full use of that. You cannot really escape it, unless you spend all your time in the city centre, which I do not find a particularly interesting activity to do when exploring somewhere! Even Gunwharf Quays, a shopping outlet, proudly display’s tons of missiles, figureheads, capstans, a mast, and even a canon, scattered all over the place! There is an anchor by the Hoverport were you can catch a hovercraft across ‘The Solent’, a stretch of water, to the Isle of Wight.
The Emirates Spinnaker Tower, erected in Gunwharf Quays, is named after and inspired by a sail. There are heaps of different pubs named like, ‘The Victory’, ‘The Ship Anson’, ‘The Lady Hamilton’, etc, and I do mean etc! Portsmouth also seems to be Museum Central. The place is full of them and historical attractions. The National Museum of the Royal Navy has it’s headquarters there, in the Historic Dockyard
Portsmouth’s biggest draw sees you gazing at the evocative hulk of Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, and jumping aboard HMS Victory – the warship Nelson captained at the Battle of Trafalgar. Then there is the Victorian HMS Warrior, the WWII submarine HMS Alliance and a wealth of imaginative, maritime themed museums, along with waterborne harbour tours.
Visiting more than one exhibit makes the ‘All Attractions’ ticket (rather than single attraction tickets that themselves cost £18 (US$25)) offers the best value. The adult ticket costs £33 (US$46). There is a 20% discount for buying online. This ticket is valid for 12 months and additionally includes a free tour of the harbour from the water.
THE MARY ROSE MUSEUM
This has to be my favourite of all museums and sights in Portsmouth. The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s favourite vessel, but she sank suddenly off Portsmouth while fighting the French in 1545. Of a crew of 400, it is thought 360 died. Items on display range from the military, including countless cannons and hundreds of longbows, to water jugs, hair combs, leather shoes and even the skeleton of “Hatch”, the ship’s dog.
This 16th Century warship was raised from the seabed of ‘The Solent’ in 1982 after being submerged for over 470 years, and, will take until 2018 to fully dry out. The £35m museum that is built around her gives uninterrupted views of the preserved timbers of her massive hull. The ship can also be seen from tiered galleries that reconstruct life on each deck, using some of the 19,000 artefacts that were raised with her. If you do not purchase the ‘All Attractions’ ticket this museum will set you back £18 (US$25). Well worth the admission!
As impressive as she is venerable, HMS Victory was Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, after victory over the French. This remarkable ship is topped by a canopy of ropes and masts, and enlarged by a ‘swollen belly’ filled with cannons and paraphernalia for a crew of over 800. Clambering through the low beamed decks and crew’s quarters is an evocative experience – just mind your head!
If you do not purchase the ‘All Attractions’ ticket this museum will set you back £18 (US$25).
This magnificent warship was at the cutting edge of technology when she was built in 1860, riding the transition from wood and sail power to iron and steam power. The gleaming upper deck, vast gun deck and dimly lit cable lockers easily conjure up vivid pictures of life in the Victorian navy.
Again, if you do not purchase the ‘All Attractions’ ticket this attraction will cost £18 (US$25).
HMS Alliance and Submarine Museum
Taking a trip deep into the bowels of the WWII submarine, HMS Alliance, is very compelling and educational, with thanks to the lights, sounds and even smells used to create a sense that you are visiting just as the crew has gone ashore to rest.
HMS Alliance is in Gosport, across the harbour from Portsmouth; free water buses take roughly 30 minutes, shuttling to the site from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Admission to this museum costs £14 (US$19)
THE POINT/SPICE ISLAND
‘The Point/Spice Island’ is brimming with character; lined cobbled streets are dotted with higgledy-piggledy houses and salty sailor style pubs, their terraces prime places to watch streams of ferries and naval ships. Here you can climb Henry V’s Round Tower and stroll along the forts walls to the 15th Century Square Tower.
SPINNAKER TOWER AND GUNWHARF QUAYS
The Emirates Spinnaker Tower soars 558ft (170m) above Gunwharf Quays, its two sweeping white arcs resembling a billowing sail from some angles. The views on a clear day from the observation decks takes in all of Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and the South Downs. Observation Deck 1 has a view through the glass floor, while the roofless Crow’s Nest on Deck 3 allows you to feel the wind on your face.
Admission into the tower costs £10 (US$14).
Gunwharf Quays are a shopping and entertainment mecca brimming with designer stores, restaurants, cocktail bars, cinema and hotels all built above an underground car park. There is plenty to do here whether its supping a few cocktails overlooking the Spinnaker Tower or shopping until you drop. Be sure to visit the ‘Old Customs House’ pub – they serve great locally brewed dark ales.
OSBOURNE STREET AND COMMERCIAL ROAD
If you want to get away from the tourist areas make your way to two areas known as Commercial Road (the main shopping district) and Osbourne Road that offers small independent bars, restaurants and boutique shopping experiences.
ISLE OF WIGHT AND HOVERCRAFT TERMINAL
Fancy a day trip or weekend to the Isle of Wight? Portsmouth offers many ways to cross The Solent either by passenger ferry were you can take your car across with you, or by hovercraft (passenger only).
This is by far the fastest and easily the most fun way to travel as the craft glides at lightening speed across the waters surface. The crossing is super quick at roughly 10 minutes. A day return will cost you roughly £24 (US$33) Learn more about the hovercraft by using this link www.hovertravel.co.uk
On a final note, If you have not been to Portsmouth before and you certainly have a lust for all things nautical definitely put ‘Pompy’ on your bucket list of city stops. A day trip is far too short to appreciate everything this island city has to offer. To do everything even halfheartedly will take you a good couple days. A weekend stop would be perfect.