Our guide to Portsmouth

Portsmouth is situated on the south coast of central England occupying the Portsea Island Peninsula and directly opposite the small island of the Isle of Wight in the English Channel. The city’s focus is along Southsea where a collection of Victorian and Georgian town houses and guest houses cluster along an expansive promenade and pebbled sea-front boasting two Victorian piers and huddles of traditional beach huts.

Located in the county of Hampshire the charming woodlands of the New Forest, which dates back almost a thousand years, the neighbouring (and rival) coastal city of Southampton and the historic city of Winchester are all within a short drive from this base. The city also offers the major ferry and hovercraft links to the Isle of Wight.

Portsea Island is a bustling area; due to its naval significance the city was a targeted in the Second World War and thus many areas were destroyed resulting in a city where today old and new builds nestle together. The city is the birthplace of both Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous architect of the Industrial Revolution, and the literary genius Charles Dickens to whom there is a dedicated exhibition at his former childhood home. There are some interesting architectural highlights including the impressive guildhall and the cathedral however Portsmouth is of course best known for its magnificent historic dockyard. This is where Sir Walter Raleigh returned the first potatoes and tobacco from the New World – today the dockyard provides a massive visitor attraction and remains home to some of Britain’s most significant ships which include Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory, the Tudor era Mary Rose, Queen Victoria’s HMS Warrior, and the WWII Ocean Submarine HMS Alliance. All have been lovingly restored to their former glory and offer visitors the chance to explore.

Portsmouth’s naval history pervades the city; the National Museum of the Royal Navy is well worth a visit, detailing England’s naval past and Portsmouth’s importance as a Major Port and home to the Royal Navy who helped shape the Modern world. There are also museums dedicated to the Naval Firepower, Royal Submarines and the intriguing D-Day museum. Also on the waterfront is Gun Wharf Quays which boasts a modern development of cafes, wine-bars, restaurants and boutique shops not to mention the recently added Spinnaker Tower which has become a modern icon; soaring 170 metres above Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent, it is taller than the London Eye, and offers panoramic views of the surrounding seascapes and countryside. Other nearby attractions include Southsea Castle and Portchester Castle which dates back to Roman times but was also used and modified by the Normans and the Tudors.

Dominated by its seafaring connections, Portsmouth is a “must” for anyone with more than a passing interest in British or World naval history and an excellent stop for those touring the South of England.

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