Portsmouth: The Dubai of Southern England?

Portsmouth is a harbour city in Southern England. My Mum had been saying for a while that she wanted to go because of the historic dockyard. I quite fancied being in the sunny south coast with a nice waterfront and Dubai-like sail, while watching the ships pass by. And it was a breath of fresh air.

The Historic Dockyard is quite something. There are various old boats to see, including  the Mary Rose, Henry the Eighth’s boat which sank in 1545, saw preserved in silt at the bottom of the harbour for 437 years (Yes, 437 years!!) before being dredged up in 1982. It is just like the Vasa in Stockholm, Sweden, which was on the sea-bed for around 300 years and is perfectly preserved. There are also ships like the HMS Victory which was Nelson’s ship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and the HMS Warrior from 1860 which was heavily armoured so no-one dared attack it and it never engaged in battle. Note: tickets are expensive and confusing – see the travel tips section at the bottom of this page.

We took a Harbour Tour which was a lovely way to see Portsmouth from a new angle. We saw navy ships (although sadly not the massive new aircraft carrier as that was away), passenger ferries and commercial ships. We saw a ship being loaded with sails for wind turbines which are made on the Isle of Wight, which were being loaded on a large tanker to be sailed to Finland or similar. This was my favourite thing in Portsmouth – I was fascinated to see modern ships. If you’re going, see the travel tips section at the bottom of this page.

We then went up the Spinnaker Tower which had grand views over the whole harbour. The lift was broken when we went, so we got a discounted ticket for £5 but we had to climb over 500 steps! I was glad there was a cafe at the top as I needed a rest and a cold drink after that climb!!

I enjoyed exploring the pleasant shopping complex, Gunwharf Keys, at the base of the Spinnaker Tower, and we also had a lovely dinner in a restaurant overlooking the waterfront. There are few better things in life than a lovely meal with a view.

in the evening we strolled to Old Portsmouth, where we wandered the cobbled streets and climbed the ramparts of the city and saw the Round Tower and Square Tower.

Later in the evening we moved the car to Southsea and strolled along the coast. We were all enthralled to see the Hovercraft which powers its way across from the Isle of Wight and drives straight onto the beach! I have never seen anything like it before and it was really exciting!

Overall I am really glad we came to Portsmouth – it is an English city I have never been near before, and it was a real gem on a nice sunny day.

Travel Tips:

I found the Ticket situation confusing, so here is my understanding:- 

  • The Historic Dockyard contains about 12 sights. Any single attraction is £18 or an “All Attractions” ticket is £39, so obviously it depends how many things you want/have time to see.
  • The Historic Dockyard ticket does not include the Mary Roseso you have to pay separately for that, at £18. (Even though the Mary Rose is geographically located within the Historic Dockyard site – grrr.)
  • The other big attraction, the Spinnaker Tower (£11.50) isn’t included so you have to pay separately for that too.
  • Almost all of these are cheaper if you book in advance online. They also do the usual concessions.
  • To add to the confusion, if you want a harbour tour, from what I can gather there is only one company doing this. Your options are either: (1) If you have bought the “All Attractions” ticket in the Historic Dockyard you can get the harbour tour free from there. (2) You can take the same tour from the waterfront in Gunwharf Keys for £10 each.
  • The harbour tour boat starts the tour from the Gunwharf Keys shopping complex. It then stops at the Historic Dockyard to pick up additional people, and then carries on up the harbour. Sit on the right of the boat for the best views.
  • Parking – we parked at the Park and Ride which is located just as you drive into Portsmouth. (Junction 1 off the M275). It was really convenient to come off at the first junction, park, and then get the bus into town. It cost £4 for all day parking and a bus ride for up to 5 people into town. You have to take the ticket on the bus with you. The only restriction was a slightly early finish – the last bus is 7.15 on a weekday or 6pm on a Sunday and the car park is locked 45 mins after the last bus.

next: West Bay, Dorset, UK.

previous: Christiana, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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