Things to do in Portsmouth, United Kingdom

A port city with a rich maritime history, Portsmouth offers a combination of cultural attractions, excellent shopping and a lively café and restaurant scene by the sea.

Portsmouth in the county of Hampshire is known for its seafaring past and today is Britain’s premier Royal Navy Base. The dockyard is home to several historical ships including King Henry VII’s Mary Rose and Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. There are an abundance of world-class maritime museums celebrating the city’s seafaring past and it would be easy to spend two days exploring the dockyards alone.

The city has some very distinguished literary connections, being the birthplace of Charles Dickens as well as home of Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle. The Emirates Spinnaker Tower is Portsmouth’s premier landmark and has sweeping views of the city and beyond.

Situated on Portsea Island, the busy dockyards are located on one side of the island and a peaceful seafront with shingle beach is on the other. Additionally, Portsmouth has a lively restaurant/café scene and excellent shopping opportunities at Gunwharf Quays.

Portsmouth, otherwise known as Pompey, is the UK’s only island city and is located on England’s south coast, about an hour and a half from London by train. The city is can be visited at any time of the year, but is at its warmest during the summer months from May to September. To beat the crowds, visit off-season from October to April.

Here are ten of the best things to do in Portsmouth:

1. Portsmouth City Museum

Tracing the history of Portsmouth and its people, this captivating museum provides visitors with a background of the city’s past and present

This museum is located in one of the original buildings of the Naval Yard and covers all things Portsmouth from Royal Navy history to Charles Dickens. Football fans will enjoy the impressive Pompey FC exhibition on the top floor.

There are exhibits to catch the attention of the whole family and plenty of interactive displays to engage children including a retro games room.

Well laid out over several floors, the museum has frequent temporary exhibitions as well as permanent displays. There’s a shop, café and a garden at the rear of the building which has outside seating for a sunny day.

Where? 1 Museum Road, Portsmouth, P01 2LJ

When? April – September 10.00 am – 5.30 pm and October – March 10.00 am – 5.00 pm

£$€¥ Entrance to the museum is free

2. Emirates Spinnaker Tower

Enjoy stunning views of the city, Solent and Isle of Wight from the top of an architectural wonder.

This 170-metre viewing tower opened in 2005 and on a clear day the views are magnificent, taking in the Isle of Wight and beyond. It takes a mere thirty seconds to soar to the Sky Garden which is the highest viewing deck. Prior to ascending, an animated film is shown about the history of Portsmouth.

The glass skywalk isn’t for the acrophobic – the view looks directly over the harbour where boats can be seen bobbing about on the water.

Throughout the year, there are regular events held such as Sunday Sunsets when visitors can enjoy a glass of prosecco or two and listen to live music. For the adventurous, it’s possible to abseil the side of the tower during the summer months.

Where? Gunwharf Quays, Shopping Centre, Portsmouth, PO1 3TT

When? Open at 10.00 am daily and last entrance at 5.30 pm

£$€¥ Adults: £11.50; Child: (4-15 years) £8.50; Child (Under 3): Free

3. Gunwharf Quays

Shop till you drop at the south coast’s leading designer retail outlet.

For those in need of a little retail therapy, Gunwharf Quays is the place to head for. One of the south’s premier shopping venues, it is situated adjacent to the harbour. Ninety designer shops offer discounts of up to 60% on top brands.

Not all the shops are high-end and more affordable shopping opportunities are also available for the budget conscious.

There are plenty of food and drink outlets to choose from and many of the bars and restaurants have al fresco seating with views overlooking the harbour. Ten-pin bowling and a multi-plex cinema are ideal for rainy days.

Where? Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, PO1 3TZ

When? Monday – Friday: 10.00 am – 8.00 pm Saturday: 9.00 am – 8.00 pm Sunday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

4. D-Day Story

A modern museum focusing on D-Day and recounted by those who were present at the Normandy landing.

This is the only museum in the UK which is dedicated to D-Day, the allied invasion which took place in June 1944. Personal accounts from both military and civilians are poignantly brought to life via audio and visual presentations. This well-presented museum also includes many artefacts and interactive exhibitions.

At the heart of the museum is the splendid Overlord Embroidery, which was made as a tribute to those who participated in Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the invasion. At 272 feet (83 metres) in length, it took four years for 25 embroiderers to complete.

Where? Clarence Esplanade, Portsmouth, PO5 3NT

When? April – September 10.00 am – 5.30 pm October – March 10.00 am – 5.00 pm

£$€¥ Adults: £10.00; Children and Students: £7.00; Senior: £8.00; Family: £25.00; Under 5’s: Free; 10% off when booked online at https://www.theddaystory.com

5. Albert Road

Portsmouth’s bohemian district of independent shops, cool cafes and funky antique stores.

Situated south of the city, Albert Road in the heart of the Southsea is the city’s bohemian area. Brimming with independent shops, antique emporiums, second-hand bookstores, restaurants and pubs, it’s a bustling thoroughfare perfect for browsing in the shops or hanging out at one of the many cafes.

Albert Road has the highest density of restaurants in the city, serving cuisine from all over the world.

King’s Theatre which opened in 1907 is an excellent example of an Edwardian playhouse, having retained many of its original features.

It plays host to a variety of entertainment including plays, musicals, comedy and concerts. On the eastern end of the street, the Wedgewood Rooms is a live music and comedy venue where such bands as Travis and the Klaxons have played.

6. Mary Rose Museum

Explore Henry VIII’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose, at this contemporary museum which opened in 2016.

This state-of-the-art museum charts the history of the Mary Rose, which was recovered from the seabed in 1982 in one of the most ambitious excavations in history. Dating back to 1545, the ship sank defending England from French invasion.

In addition to the ship itself, there are three floors of over 2,000 artefacts including guns, tankards and surgeon’s tools, many of them in pristine condition. A film is projected on the side of the hull showing what life would have been onboard back in the day. Staff attired in Tudor costumes, including Henry VIII himself, bring the story of the iconic ship to life.

Where? No. 3 Dock, Main Road, H.M. Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3PY

When? November – March 10.00 am – 5.00 pm (last entry 4.15 pm); April – October 10.00 am – 5.30 pm (last entry 4.45 pm)

£$€¥ Adults: £18.00; Child( 5-15): £8.50; Family (2 adults and up to 3 children): £38.50; 20% off if booked on line at https://www.maryrose.org

7. Portsmouth Dockyard

Explore the myriad of attractions at Portsmouth Dockyard which include the National Museum of the Royal Navy and three great historical ships.

History lovers will be in their element exploring the Portsmouth Dockyards. HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship is the oldest war ship in the world and known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Learn about what life onboard was like for the 700 men and see the spot where Nelson fell, marked by an engraved plaque. HMS Warrior 1860 was Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured battleship and has been renovated to its original condition of 1863. She was the largest and fastest ship of the Victorian era.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy traces 350 years of history and gives an insight into navy life over the centuries. The largest gallery ‘Hear my Story’ focuses on the most recent century, reciting personal stories of naval personnel.

Where? HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3NH

When? November – March 10.00 am – 5.00 pm; April – October 10.00 am – 5.30 pm

£$€¥ Full Navy Ticket for Adults: £39.OO; Family (2 adults and up to 3 children): £85.00; Concession: £27.50; 20% off if booked online at https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk

8. Canoe Lake

Fun for all the family at this recreational green space by the sea.

This tranquil park is situated a short stroll from the seafront and was opened in 1886. With its evergreen oaks and attractive flowerbeds, it’s a perfect spot for a picnic on a summer’s day.

In the heart of the park is Canoe Lake itself, with swan pedal boats available for hire.

The large children’s play area has a zip wire and splash pool and there is also has a mini-golf course and model village. Portsmouth Natural History Museum is another of the park’s attractions and is home to an impressive collection of local fossils and stuffed animals. The museum is free to enter.

Where? St. Helen’s Parade, Portsmouth, PO4 9RG

9. Portchester Castle

Travel back in time at this Medieval castle and Roman fort.

Located at the northern end of Portsmouth Harbour, this was originally the site of a Roman fort. Coins found in the area indicate that the well-maintained fort walls date back to AD285.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, a castle was built in the corner of the fort. From 1665, the castle was used as a jail for foreign prisoners.

There are excellent views of the Solent from the battlements. After exploring the fort and castle, head for the church which is situated on the grounds - the café serves delicious cream teas.

Where?Church Road, Portchester, PO16 9QW (Six miles from Portsmouth)

When? Check https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/portchester-castle for opening times

£$€¥ Adult: £8.00; Child: (5-17): £4.80; Concessions: £7.20; Family (up to 2 adults and 3 children): £20.80