Portsmouth makes a great day-trip option and is one of the best places you can visit to gain extensive knowledge of maritime history. The Historic Dockyard must rank among the UK’s best attractions, with a large number of things to do and see.
By train – Portsmouth has a good rail link, with a couple of stations enabling quick travel between the city and London, Cardiff and Brighton.
By car – Good road links connect Portsmouth to the wider road network. The A3(M) can take you up to London within an hour and a half, whilst the motorway network can be reached by the M27.
Things to do
A great place to spend a one- or two-day trip, Portsmouth offers a varied, family friendly, experience. Some of the highlights are outlined below.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
The key point to visit on any trip to Portsmouth is the Historic Dockyard. Offering three main historical attractions, with an assortment of knowledge to be gained in and around them, are the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, and the Mary Rose.
An annual, all attraction ticket is probably your best bet. This ticket will allow you to visit and see all the attractions, for the one fee. It also offers the benefit of free return visits at any point for the next 12-months, so if you don't get everything done in one-day, you can plan a return trip, to see the remainder.
Mary Rose Museum
Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose was built in 1510. The ship was in service for 34 years, until its sinking in 1545, with the loss of hundreds of lives. The sinking occurred during the Battle of the Solent, whilst it was leading an attack on a French invasion fleet. The ship itself was discovered in 1971, and raised from its resting place in 1982.
The museum itself now houses the structure, along with many artefacts discovered and raised from the seabed. Floor-to-ceiling windows line the side of the ship, allowing a full, uninterrupted view of the warship. A balcony at the top enables the view without the windows, and it really is a memorable experience.
Over a period of 34 years, between 1778 and 1812, HMS Victory held an unusually long service and went on to lead fleets in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War, and the Napoleonic War. HMS Victory is best known as Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805, which was its last naval battle, where the British Royal Navy fought against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies.
Today, the ship is much-restored, and you can explore large portions of it, making your way down toward the keel. As you explore, guides will be able to impart some knowledge of the historical workings of the ship, and you can somewhat gain an understanding of what this ship must have been like when in operation.
HMS Warrior was launched in 1860 as one of the first armour-plated, iron-hulled warships. Powered by steam and sail, the ship was the largest, fastest and most powerful warship of the day. She played primarily a role as a deterrent, as a warning to others of Britain’s naval capabilities. However, as a result of the spark in an arms race between Britain and France, the Warrior was quickly outdated, in terms of technology, and was placed in reserve in 1875.
The ship now serves a role as a museum ship, where you can tour the decks and glimpse life on board a Victorian-era ship. Restored to reflect its former glory, guides are available to talk you through different aspects and provide an insight into life on board.
HMS Alliance at the Submarine Museum
HMS Alliance has been a memorial and museum ship since 1981, after being completed in 1947, following the end of the Second World War. You can take a look around the interior of the submarine, with a guide taking you through and talking about the various aspects.
Acting as the central point of the Portsmouth Harbour area, this 170-metre tall tower offers views across the Harbour, the Historic Dockyard, Gunwharf Quays, and the city centre itself. Built in the shape of a sail, from the top of the tower you can see panoramic views from the observation platform.
Looking out over the sea and guarding Portsmouth itself from would-be invasions by sea, Southsea Castle has stood since 1544, constructed during the final years of King Henry VIII reign. It was from the castle that Henry VIII looked out and witnessed the sinking of the Mary Rose, in 1545.
Today, the castle is open to visitors free of charge, between March and October. You can explore the keep, and take in the view across the Solent.
Where to Stay
When visiting a city, booking a short hotel stay can allow you to have a good base to go on and explore the city centre and its attractions. There are a number of hotel options available in and around Portsmouth, including Holiday Inn*, Holiday Inn Express*, and Premier Inn*.
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