Home to one of the UK’s most magnificent natural harbors, Portsmouth has long been associated with everything from the Spanish Armada to serving as the Royal Navy’s principal base. With a history rich in strategic importance for the Romans to Henry V and later WWII, you can’t go far within the city’s walls without glimpsing a slice of history for yourself.
Anchored in the city’s historic dockyard, you can catch sight of Great Britain’s three most prominent ships before visiting Charles Dickens’ birthplace.
With so much to see and do, here’s our rundown of the ten places to visit in historic Portsmouth:
Lord Nelson’s reputation speaks for itself, and there’s no better way to take a walk through history than to step foot on the masterfully restored HMS Victory.
Built in 1765, the magnificent ship houses 104 cannons, five decks and is an impressive 197 feet long. It is where Lord Nelson claimed many victories and where he perished after his triumph at the Battle of Trafalgar, barely 20 minutes after he penetrated the French enemy lines.
To get a fuller picture of Nelson’s heroics and to see some of the treasures and mementoes relating to his seafaring days, visit the nearby National Museum of the Royal Navy.
Mary Rose Museum
Second, in our big three lineup comes the celebrated Mary Rose Museum. Within its walls, you can see the remains of the world-famous Mary Rose that were lifted from the bottom of the Solent in 1982.
In its heyday, the Mary Rose housed 91 bronze canons upon its impressive four decks. Built in 1509 and later enlarged to 700 tons in 1536, the pride of Henry VIII’s fleet sank during a sea battle against the French in 1545. The ship’s historical importance is second to none.
As well as viewing the formidable, well-preserved hull up close, you can also feast your eyes on over 26,000 incredibly rare artefacts discovered from the wreck, including personal crew items, instruments, and tools.
Not only is the HMS Warrior one of the world’s first iron-hulled warships and an impressive feat of 19th-century engineering and design, but you can explore all of its bounty up close and personal.
Now a floating museum, you can have a rare glimpse into the brutal life at sea from the restored crew quarters, Captain and officers’ areas, and can even get married onboard!
Originally launched in 1860, the Warrior is still considered one of the biggest and most well-equipped vessels of its type. It doesn’t get more memorable than this!
Want to be transported back in time and get lost in a mystery? Well, it just so happens that Portsmouth’s resident escape room, Exciting Escapes has all the answers you are looking for. The catch? You have sixty minutes on the clock to unlock the secrets, solve the case, and beat the room!
Whether you want to compete against your friends, buddy up, or encourage team building, then Exciting Escapes’ homage to some of Portsmouth’s decorated history will get your creative juices flowing. From dancing your way through a naval base dance floor to setting a duchess free from the Czar, there’s something for everyone.
Emirates Spinnaker Tower
Offering spectacular panoramic views of the city, the Emirates Spinnaker Tower is one of Portsmouth’s most celebrated tourist attractions. Located in the heart of Gunwharf Quays, the tower soars 560 feet above the Solent, allowing you to see all the way out to the Isle of Wight on a clear day.
What’s more, you can treat yourself to high tea in the Café in the Clouds before braving the glass-floored Sky Walk. Finally, for the adrenaline junkies amongst you, the tower offers an incredible breathtaking abseiling experience, giving you the most unique sight of the city as you descend.
Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum
Legendary novelist Charles Dickens famed for writing Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol, has impacted literature in ways that some can only dream of. Fans of his work will be delighted to explore his 1812 birthplace and see the fine examples of Regency-era furniture that once belonged to his family on display.
The museum holds many of Dickens’ original manuscripts, drawings, copies of his novels, and his final deathbed – brought from his home in Gad’s Hill Place, Kent. What’s more, the museum also offers extensive guided walks of Dickens’ favorite city haunts, and holds several themed events throughout the year.
The D-Day Story
A celebration and a unique memorial, the D-Day Story in Southsea offers a breathtaking and haunting glimpse into the allied invasion of France’s Normandy coastline in 1944. From immersive displays that place you right in the heart of the battle, to the intricate displays of weaponry and vehicles used during the invasion, the exhibition is as informative as it is impressive.
One of the museum’s most incredible highlights is the Overlord Embroidery. The 27-foot long tapestry details the key turning points from WWII.
Not only is Southsea breathtakingly beautiful and a beach destination, but it is rich in literary, military and Tudor history. There, you can visit the three-mile-long promenade where Arthur Conan Doyle first penned his Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet.
Away from the beach, you can visit Henry VIII’s Southsea Castle, the Cumberland House Natural History Museum, or the Eastney Beam Engine House. Just down the road, you can also explore the pentagonal-shaped stronghold Fort Cumberland, built in 1746.
With its foundations dating back to 1185, Portsmouth Cathedral has stood for nearly 1,000 years in the heart of the city. Within its walls, you can explore the Norman-era chancel and transepts and view some of the rarest mementoes from the Mary Rose and Nelson’s HMS Victory.
A stone’s throw away, you can visit the infamous Buckingham House, where the Duke of Buckingham was murdered in 1628.
Royal Navy Submarine Museum
Home to some of Britain’s finest examples of naval history, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum can be found just over the water in nearby Gosport. There you can set eyes on a German WWII mini-submarine, an Italian torpedo, Britain’s first submarine, Holland I, and several other fascinating interactive displays.
Are you ready to take a step back in time? Portsmouth is bursting with some of the most unique and rare artifacts in the world. So, which of our top ten has made your list? Make sure you check out each venue’s COVID-19 policy before your arrival.