12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Portsmouth
Portsmouth owes its importance to the magnificent natural harbor, which since the days of the Spanish Armada, has served as the principal base of the Royal Navy. Today, Her Majesty's Naval Base, Portsmouth (HMNB Portsmouth) remains the most important naval station in Great Britain. As a result, many of the city's most popular tourist attractions are related to naval history, particularly around the spectacular harbor area. Three famous historic ships provide evidence of past naval might: Lord Nelson's HMS Victory; Henry VIII's Mary Rose; and HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's first ironclad warship.
Recognizing Portsmouth's strategic importance, the Romans built a fort here, a position later strengthened by Henry II, while Richard II had the site extended by building a fortified palace adjoining the keep. In 1415, Henry V assembled his troops at Portsmouth before setting sail for France. But the city came under attack during WWII, when large parts of the town were bombed due to its strategic importance.
1 HMS Victory
A short distance north of the landing stage for ferries to the Isle of Wight, visitors can find the gateway to the old docks and the site of Lord Nelson's famous flagship. Built in 1765, the magnificent 197-foot-long HMS Victory - along with its five decks and 104 cannons - has been beautifully restored to its former glory. In his hour of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, barely 20 minutes after he'd penetrated the French lines, Nelson was fatally wounded and died aboard his legendary ship.
Afterwards, visit the Royal Naval Museum, where you'll find numerous mementos relating to Nelson and seafaring in the 18th century, including a splendid 46-foot panoramic painting by William Lionel Wyllie recording the course of the battle.
Location: HM Naval Base, Portsmouth
2 Mary Rose Museum
The famed Mary Rose, part of Henry VIII's fleet, is a ship of great historical interest. This four-deck vessel with its 91 bronze cannons was built in 1509 and enlarged to 700 tons in 1536. In 1545, during a sea battle against the French, it sank just a mile and a quarter from its homeport in the Solent.
Lifted from the bottom of the Solent in 1982, the remains of the vessel, consisting largely of sections of her hull, are now on display at the Mary Rose Museum. In addition to seeing the formidable hull (now dry and preserved) up close, visitors can spend time exploring displays of some of the more than 26,000 rare artifacts discovered in the wreck, including personal items belonging to the crew, along with musical instruments and tools.
Address: No 3 Dock, Main Road, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth
3 HMS Warrior
In June 1987, after eight years of restoration work in Hartlepool, HMS Warrior finally returned to its home port of Portsmouth. Launched in 1860 and one of the world's first iron-hulled warships, this 418-foot-long, 9,700-ton vessel ranked as one of the biggest and best-equipped vessels of its type. Now a floating museum, HMS Warrior is a treat to explore. Highlights of a visit include seeing the restored crew quarters, including the Captain and officers' areas, along with displays portraying the often tough life at sea.
Also worth seeing is HMS M33. Built in 1915 and one of only three surviving WWI-era Royal Navy warships, this recently restored vessel can be viewed alongside HMS Warrior and HMS Victory at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard.
Location: Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth
4 Spinnaker Tower
Soaring nearly 560 feet above the Solent, the Spinnaker Tower is a highlight of any visit to Portsmouth. Located on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, this tourist attraction offers wonderful panoramic views of the city and its spectacular harbor, as well as the south coast and the Isle of Wight.
On a clear day, views extend for up to 23 miles from the tower's three observation decks, as well as from its café, aptly named the Café in the Clouds. Once you've braved the glass-floored Sky Walk, spend time learning about the area using the interactive touchscreen system.
Location: Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth
5 Royal Navy Submarine Museum
Just across the water from Portsmouth in Gosport is the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. Highlights include Britain's first submarine, Holland I, launched in 1901, along with HMS Alliance, launched just after the close of WWII. Other notable displays include a German WWII-era mini submarine, an Italian human torpedo, along with weaponry and many other fascinating interactive exhibits dealing with life underwater in a submarine.
Address: Haslar Jetty Road, Gosport
6 Round and Square Towers
The Round Tower (1418) and the Square Tower (1494) have, for centuries, guarded the entrance to Portsmouth harbor. The Square Tower was originally the residence of the military governor, and is today used for functions and weddings. The interior of the Round Tower has been converted for use as an exhibition gallery, while its rooftop is open year-round and affords wonderful views over the city and harbor.
Location: Harbor, Portsmouth
7 Portsmouth Cathedral
The foundation stone of Portsmouth Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, was laid in 1185. The chancel and transepts date from Norman times, while the choir is in the late style of Sir Christopher Wren. A highlight is the south side aisle of the choir, dedicated to the Royal Navy and including mementos of the Mary Rose and Nelson's HMS Victory.
Other Portsmouth religious landmarks to include on your itinerary are the Roman Catholic Cathedral Church of St. John the Evangelist, built in 1882, and the Royal Garrison Church, also referred to as Domus Dei, built in 1212 as a hospice and almshouse. Also worth checking out is the nearby historic 10 High Street, Buckingham House, where the Duke of Buckingham was murdered in 1628.
Address: St. Thomas's Street, Old Portsmouth
8 Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum
The Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum consists of the house where the great novelist was born in 1812, as well as many fine examples of Regency furniture that once belonged to his family. Among the memorabilia are manuscripts, copies of his novels, and his deathbed, brought here from his home in Gad's Hill Place, Kent. Guided walking tours of Dickens' favorite haunts are available, as are readings of his work.
Address: 393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth
9 Portsmouth City Museum and the Sherlock Holmes Connection
The Victorian-era Portsmouth City Museum is worth visiting for its extensive collections of art and craftwork. Another big draw is the museum's large collection of material related to Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the hugely popular Sherlock Holmes character. Highlights include details of the author's early life as a doctor in Portsmouth, along with exhibits pertaining to the many incarnations of Sherlock in film and theater. Also of interest is a permanent exhibition dealing with the story of the city, portraying daily life from the 17th century onwards through models, regalia, photos, and videos.
Address: Museum Road, Portsmouth
10 D-Day Museum
The excellent D-Day Museum houses numerous fascinating displays relating to the allied invasion of France's Normandy coastline in 1944. Highlights include weaponry and vehicles used during the invasion, along with immersive displays that include the sights and sounds of the battle and the long preparation leading up to it. The museum also houses the Overlord Embroidery, a 27-foot-long tapestry (the world's largest) that encapsulates the key moments of this turning point of WWII. The nearby Blue Reef Aquarium presents displays of the mysteries of the underwater world.
Address: Clarence Esplanade, Southsea
11 Stansted House
Just a few miles northeast of Portsmouth, Stansted House, set in spectacular parkland with an arboretum, walled gardens, and an ancient chapel, is well worth adding to your travel itinerary. The Wren-style house dates to the 17th century and contains the Bessborough collection of paintings and family furnishings, including early 18th-century paintings.
Location: Stansted Park, Rowland's Castle
Southsea is a popular suburb of Portsmouth and boasts a lovely three-mile-long promenade offering excellent views across to the Isle of Wight. It was in fact here that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle practiced as a doctor when he wrote his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet.
Southsea Castle, built by Henry VIII in the 16th century, contains a number of exhibits connected with the city's history from Tudor times to the Victorian era. From the castle walls, there's a superb view across the Solent to Spitbank Fort. Other things to do in Southsea include visiting Cumberland House Natural History Museum, with exhibits devoted to the flora and fauna of the sea, and exploring the Royal Marines Museum in the elegant Victorian officers' mess of Eastney Barracks. The Eastney Beam Engine House is an impressive Victorian building containing a pair of restored 1887 Boulton Watt beam engines and pumps, while Fort Cumberland is a pentagonal shaped stronghold constructed in 1746.
Address: Cumberland House, Eastern Parade, Southsea