Portsmouth may be a naval city in Britain but the fun certainly doesn’t stop at the harbor! Located East of Southhampton and across from the Isle of Wight, the vibrant city of Portsmouth is brimming with nautical history and a vibrant arts scene.
In fact, Portsmouth once used to be the most fortified city in the world, so you’ll get to step back in time while exploring ancient ruins, forts, naval dockyards, and castles. It’s also home to centuries-old castles and fascinating museums.
Outside the city you’ll find the stunning New Forest and South Downs National Park, so nature lovers can revel in the ideal location that Portsmouth has to all these stunning nature spots.
There are so many things to do in Portsmouth, that deciding where to start can be tricky. To help you out, I’ve put together a list of the best attractions in Portsmouth to help you map out your itinerary. So, let’s get started!
The Top Things to Do in Portsmouth
Backpacking the UK and pressed for time? Then, you should absolutely check out those top 5 unmissable spots in the city!
Marvel at the Mary Rose
By far the most popular venue in the city, the Mary Rose Museum allows you to see Henry VIII’s flagship up close. Enjoy the interactive museum built around it and marvel at Tudor naval artifacts.
Walk the SkyWalk of Spinnaker Tower
Explore the most photogenic spot in Portsmouth and enjoy awe-inspiring views of the city skyline from way up high. If you’re feeling daring, experience the thrill of walking across a glass skywalk suspended 100 meters above sea level.
Explore the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Enjoy a tour of various submarines, museums, and ships, including the famed HMS Warrior. Learn about life below deck in the HMS Alliance and take a waterbus ride to the Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower.
Take a Hovercraft Flight to the Isle of Wight
Forget about boring old ferries and hop on a thrilling hovercraft flight to the Isle of Wight! After crossing the Solent in 10 minutes, take in all those great Isle of Wight attractions like the Needles Rocks and Lighthouse.
Check out the Portsmouth City Museum
Learn more about Portsmouth’s vast history with a visit to the Portsmouth City Museum and Art Gallery. Enjoy the interactive Sherlock Holmes exhibition as well as reconstructions of rooms dating all the way back to the 17th century.
Why don’t I kick off with one of the top things to do in Portsmouth? Now, I would recommend exploring the entire Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, but if you’re short on time, be sure to at least check out the Mary Rose Museum.
Once King Henry VIII’s pride and joy, the Mary Rose is now a time capsule representing naval life in Tudor Britain. See the famed ship up close and marvel at the state-of-the-art museum built around it. Enjoy the interactive displays that’ll take you through an extensive collection of Tudor artifacts.
And if you’re feeling particularly daring, try the immersive ‘1545- When their World Ended’ experience that’ll take you through Mary Rose’s harrowing final moments.
- Entrance fee: $29.46
- Hours: Various time slots from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Address: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ, UK
2. Potter About at the Portsmouth City Museum
This strangely attractive twin-turreted landmark from the Victorian Era is quite the treasure trove.
Indeed, there’s always plenty to see on your own or as part of a tour when visiting the Portsmouth City Museum and Art Gallery. Learn more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle through the museum’s interactive Sherlock Holmes exhibition, then enjoy reconstructions of a Victorian Parlor, a Dock Worker’s Kitchen, and a 17th-Century Bedchamber.
Check out Silver City: 500 Years of Portsmouth’s History, an exhibition with invaluable civic silver pieces.
In summer, remember to allocate yourself enough time to stroll through the gardens. This place regularly hosts various events, so make sure to check their what’s on calendar to see what’s on before you go.
- Entrance fee: Free
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (Tuesday to Sunday)
- Address: Museum Rd, Portsmouth PO1 2LJ, United Kingdom
Ah, the eye-catching building that draws photographers from all over! Whether you’re looking for fodder for the ‘gram or simply want to visit one of the unmissable attractions in Portsmouth, this 170-meters tall building never disappoints.
Enjoy a unique vantage point overlooking the Isle of Wight, The Solent, and Portsmouth Harbor. Experience the thrill of walking across a glass skywalk perched 100 meters above sea level and escape the hubbub of the city in the Sky Garden.
Since the Sky Garden is only covered by a light mesh, you’ll be able to feel the sunshine and sea breeze as you soak up gorgeous city views. Cap off your visit with a traditional English High Tea or a glass of bubbly.
- Entrance fee: $17.02
- Hours: Various time slots from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Address: Portsmouth PO1 3TT, United Kingdom
Boasting whitewashed interiors, ornate detailing, and even a grand piano, this Victorian apartment is one of the most charming Airbnbs in Portsmouth!
Less than a minute away lies Southsea Beach where you can frolic in the lagoon or enjoy beautiful sunsets from the pier. Popular Portsmouth attractions like the Mary Rose Museum, Spinnaker Tower, and the Historic Dockyard lie just a 10 minutes drive away.
Ideal for two to four guests, the Airbnb features a double bed in the master bedroom and a small double sofabed in the living space. There’s an extra single sofabed for an additional person.
This apartment is fitted with a modern, well-equipped kitchen, but with some of Southsea’s best eateries in the vicinity, why bother cooking, right?
- Entrance fee: $126/night
- Hours: Check-in after 3 p.m., Checkout at 11 a.m.
- Address: Southsea, Portsmouth, UK
5. Wind Down in Stansted Park
Looking for romantic things to do in Portsmouth? Well, how about a visit to Stansted Park, located just 20 minutes away?
This parkland houses 1800 acres of lush grounds, including walled gardens and an ancient forest – the perfect setting for an afternoon stroll with your significant other!
Mosey around the arboretum and lose yourself in the Lower Walled Garden’s circular maze inspired by Italy’s Villa Pisani. Keep your eyes peeled for the giant Jenga and Chess replicas hidden within the maze.
Be sure to check out Stansted Park’s Edwardian mansion, known for its opulent interior. Glimpse into a bygone era with a tour of the staterooms and live out your Downtown Abbey fantasies in the Servant Quarters located below stairs.
- Entrance fee: $12 (adults), $10 (seniors 60+), $5 (children 5-16 years), $30 (family ticket for 2 adults and up to 3 children)
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays only
- Address: Stansted House, Rowland’s Castle PO9 6DX, UK
6. Hop on a Train to London
Okay, it would be unfathomable to go to Portsmouth and not take at least one day trip to London! After all, Big Ben and all those other exciting attractions lie just two hours away by train!
Watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, snap selfies with celebs at Madam Tussaud’s then catch a show on West End.
Tour the British Museum’s hallways and treat yourself to a pint at the pub. Fans of Harry Potter will no doubt be thrilled with a visit to the Warner Bros Studio which features sets and relics from the movies.
And if you’re not pressed for time, why don’t you make a quick stop by Southampton on the way back to visit the SeaCity Museum?
- Entrance fee: $17-$23
- Hours: whenever you want!
- Address: London, UK
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We’ve covered the legendary Mary Rose, but if you’ve got enough time to explore the entire Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, then this one’s for you!
One of the most popular things to do in Portsmouth, the Historic Dockyard gives you access to museums, submarines, and ships. See how life was below deck in the HMS Alliance, explore the famed HMS Warrior, and check out the only ship that survived the WWI Gallipoli Campaign.
Adults and kids alike will no doubt be thrilled by a waterbus ride to the Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower and the Royal Navy Submarine.
Your ticket is valid for a year, giving you the chance to tour these historic attractions as many times as you want.
- Entrance fee: $47.96
- Hours: Various time slots from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Address: Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ, UK
8. Shop ‘Till You Drop at Gunwharf Quays
If you can afford to splurge a little, one of the best places to indulge in some retail therapy in Portsmouth is at the Gunwharf Quays.
Now, this place may be brimming with high street designer stores, but customers usually enjoy regular discounts, including up to 60% off normal retail prices. Talk about bagging yourself an amazing bargain, right?
Nestled in the shadow of Spinnaker Tower, this waterfront mall is also known for its naval monuments such as the George Vulcan Building, and figureheads from the HMS Vernon and HMS Marlborough.
If you’d like to soak up that vibrant Portsmouth nightlife, be sure to check out Eden, a one-stop nightspot with a disco room and tiki bar.
- Entrance fee: Free
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Monday to Friday), 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Saturday), 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sunday)
- Address: Portsmouth PO1 3TZ, UK
9. Soak Up the Sun from Southsea
I know, I know. England isn’t exactly known for its sunny disposition. But Southsea is an absolute must if you want to experience Portsmouth like a local! Besides, this seaside resort boasts dazzling a scenic shoreline fringed by a calm lagoon.
Families have it made, with lush seafront gardens, a model village, and even arcade games at the Clarence Pier. Be sure to check out the Southsea Canoe Lake offering rides on swan-shaped boats – the ideal activity for travelers looking for things to do in Portsmouth in summer!
After your boat ride, you can always head over to the moated Southsea Castle, which was built by Henry VIII. Tour the grounds and enjoy a picnic within the castle walls. This is one of the most stunning castles in the UK.
- Entrance fee: Free
- Hours: 24 hours
- Address: Southsea Portsmouth, England, UK
10. Pay Homage to Charles Dickens
If you’re a fan of this eminent English author, you really can’t miss a visit to the Charles Dickens’ Museum, located in the house where he was born.
Among the many memorabilia transferred to Portsmouth from his Kent home, you’ll find copies of his novels and original manuscripts. Along with his works, the place has a beautiful collection of Regency furniture that used to belong to Dickens’ family.
A word of advice? Because the museum’s only open on the weekend, it’s a good idea to head there early if you want to avoid the crowd, especially in peak season. This place also hosts regular events such as readings by the Fellowship.
- Entrance fee: $5.30 (adults), $4.10 (children 13-18), $4.70 (seniors), Free for Portsmouth residents
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday)
- Address: 393 Old Commercial Rd, Portsmouth PO1 4QL, UK
11. Have a Pint at Portsmouth’s Oldest Pub
Are you looking for non-touristy things to do in Portsmouth? Then be sure to head down to The Dolphin, which just so happens to be the oldest pub in the city.
Rumor has it that this place was actually founded way back in the early 1700s. As you can expect, the Dolphin is something of an institution in the city and well worth a visit, especially on Friday nights.
The perfect place for mingling with locals, The Dolphin specializes in classic pub grub. Expect quintessentially British fare like pies, sausage and mash, fish and chips, and the likes.
When the sun’s out, you can also hang out in the on-site beer garden while sipping on a deliciously cold ale.
- Entrance fee: Free
- Hours: 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Monday to Thursday and Sunday), 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. (Friday), 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. (Saturday)
- Address: 41 High St, Old Portsmouth, Portsmouth PO1 2LU, UK
12. Catch an Event at Portsmouth Guildhall
Not only does Portsmouth Guildhall offer quite a majestic backdrop for your pictures, but it’s also among the largest entertainment venues on the English south coast.
In fact, Guildhall is absolutely worth a visit, even if you’re not attending an event. Believe me when I say this building is quite a sight to behold with its soaring bell tower and Zodiac Gallery!
The Grand Victorian Hall previously hosted some pretty huge names, including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Pink Floyd.
You can always check their list of upcoming events when planning your trip to Portsmouth to see if there’s anything that tickles your fancy. I would recommend that you get your tickets as early as possible because most shows sell out early.
- Entrance fee: Dependent on show
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (weekdays only)
- Address: Guildhall Square, Portsmouth PO1 2AB, UK
Here’s an activity that’s bound to thrill travelers seeking adventurous things to do in Portsmouth!
Now, the Isle of Wight is only 20 minutes away from Portsmouth by ferry, but if you want to add some panache to your trip, you can always consider a hovercraft flight.
Cross the Solent in 10 minutes and spend a day taking in all those great Isle of Wight attractions. Don’t miss a visit to the Needles Rocks and Lighthouse, easily the most recognizable landmark on the island. Tuck into a seafood feast at beachfront shacks like Harbor House or the Beach House.
After your meal, check out popular points of interest like Carisbrooke Castle and Osborne which was Queen Victoria’s favorite residence.
- Entrance fee: $30.31
- Hours: Operating hours from 8.15 a.m. to 8.30 p.m.
- Address: Clarence Esplanade, Southsea, Portsmouth, PO5 3AD, UK
14. Take the Kids to Staunton Country Park
Just outside Portsmouth is found an incredible venue that’ll no doubt please the entire family!
Home to the largest ornamental glasshouse on the south coast, Staunton Country Park promises a day of fun for all ages!
Enjoy a unique experience as you take in the sensory garden’s smells, sounds, and sights. Spend quality time with the kids in Staunton Farm or George’s play barn which consists of a net bridge, fireman’s pole, climbing walls, tractor, and much more.
If you’re feeling up for a challenge, tackle the orienteering course that’ll take you into the woodland beyond the park as you collect wooden posts hidden throughout. Hit the hiking or biking trails, then wind down with a picnic by the lake.
- Entrance fee: Free access to the country park, $11.57 (adults), $7.92 (children) for access to Staunton farm
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Address: Middle Park Way, Havant PO9 5HB, UK
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England’s southern coast is an absolute haven of peace that draws tourists from all over.
Perfect for travelers looking for the best day trips from Portsmouth, this expedition combines some of the most desirable destinations in the country.
Kick off at Sandbanks Beach which offers views towards Old Harry Rocks and Studland. Explore the Studland Nature Reserve before making a stop at the quaint seaside town of Swanage. Treat yourself to a full Dorset cream tea at Corfe, then enjoy unparalleled photo opportunities as you pass by the Jurassic Coast.
This day-long expedition even includes stops at Minstead and Rufus Stone, as well as All Saints Church with its 12th-century traits. Talk about a sightseeing bonanza, right?
- Entrance fee: $237.54
- Hours: Various time slots from 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.
- Address: Pickup from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, PO1 3LJ, UK
16. Attend the Victorious Festival
Set on the scenic Southsea seafront, Portsmouth’s Victorious Festival is a three-day event that’s usually held over the August Bank Holiday Weekend.
Combining music lovers, families, and curious tourists alike, this festival features concerts and comedy shows. Best of all, the Victorious Festival donates a percentage of income from ticket sales to various charities and causes around the world.
If you want to prolong the fun, you can also set up a tent in Farlington Fields. There’s even a free shuttle bus that’ll take you from your campsite to the festival venue.
Parents will be glad to learn that the event also boasts a Kids Arena offering activities like Bouncing Boots, Kids Karaoke, Coloring Tents, and lots more!
- Entrance fee: $67.08 (adult), $9.76 (children)
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Address: Clarence Parade, Southsea, Portsmouth, PO5 3LJ, UK
17. Sample Local Brews at the Portsmouth Distillery
A little-known fact is that Portsmouth has quite an eclectic beer scene, as evidenced by the many distilleries and microbreweries dotted across Portsea Island.
The city produces everything from traditional ales to gin made from botanicals sourced right from the Mary Rose wreck site.
I can recommend a visit to the Portsmouth Distillery, located in an ancient Fort Cumberland monument. Perfect for travelers looking for indoor things to do in Portsmouth, this distillery offers a behind-the-scenes experience as you watch how various drinks are created.
You’ll also get to taste their ‘core-range spirits’ and enjoy a full-sized drink of your choice. Check out the on-site shop if you want to grab a few bottles to bring back home.
- Entrance fee: $26.89
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (weekdays only)
- Address: Fort Cumberland Rd, Southsea PO4 9LD, UK
18. Learn About D-Day
Most people envision Normandy when they think of D-Day, but did you know that Portsmouth played its part too?
Indeed, hundreds of ships were on standby in the Solent between the Isle of Wight and the mainland. They were supported by the city’s naval dockyard as they waited for this pivotal event.
If you would like to learn more about this fateful day in history and pay homage to those who perished, head over to the D-Day Story in Southsea. Discover the story behind this harrowing day through exhibits, workshops, and thousands of D-Day-related artifacts and items.
Personal accounts from people who were there are also brought to life through a series of audiovisual presentations.
- Entrance fee: $14.84
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
- Address: Clarence Esplanade, Southsea, Portsmouth PO5 3NT, UK
19. Little Woodham Living History Village
Wondering what to do in Portsmouth on a beautiful spring day? Well, the Little Woodham Living History Village has you covered!
Also known as The Seventeen Century Village, this place certainly is found just 20 minutes outside the city. A visit there will allow you to step back in time and experience life as it used to be back in the mid-17th century.
Open doors to ancient houses and have a good nosey inside. Remember to keep your eyes peeled for the seamstress or the potter working at his wheel.
This venue isn’t merely a feast for the eyes: you’ll also get to experience the sounds of a 17th-century village such as the banging of the blacksmith’s forge or wood being chopped.
- Entrance fee: $6.10 (adults), $4.80 (children and seniors), $19.50 (families 2 adults and 3 children)
- Hours: 10.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. (last entry 3.30pm)
- Address: Barrington Cl, Howe Rd, Gosport PO13 8NZ, UK
20. Wander the Millennium Promenade
Stretching over 1.8 miles, the Millennium Promenade offers the ideal setting for an afternoon stroll.
Connecting Portsmouth’s waterfront, this natural stone walkway is enhanced by a chain motif symbolizing the friendship between Gosport and Portsmouth. Historically speaking, the motif also represents the actual chain that was used to protect the harbor against potential enemy attacks way back then.
The route starts off from Spur Redoubt located near Clarence Pier to end on The Hard. On the way, you’ll pass by the Gunwharf Quays, the Camber, and Old Portsmouth.
I would really recommend that you head to the promenade in the afternoon so you can enjoy a beautiful sunset over the water.
Oh, and did I mention this activity is completely free?
- Entrance fee: Free
- Hours: Open 24 hours
- Address: Portsmouth, Southsea PO5 3AA, UK
Where to Stay in Portsmouth
Looking for a great place to crash after an exciting day of sightseeing? Then, you’re in luck! From B&Bs to hotels, or even Airbnbs, Portsmouth has a wide range of offerings for various budgets.
Here are some of my top recommendations for where to stay.
Best B&B in Portsmouth – Waverley Park Lodge
As far as British accommodation goes, you really can’t get more traditional than Beds and Breakfasts! Commanding a prime location just a short stroll from the beach, Waverly Park Lodge treats guests to a scrumptious Full English or Irish breakfast every morning. Guests can choose from double, twin, or family rooms designed to accommodate between two and five persons. Nearby, you can tour popular attractions like Canoe Lake and the Mary Rose Museum.
Best Airbnb in Portsmouth – 2 Bedroom Condo Near the Sea
This charming abode lies just a short distance from the top attractions in Portsmouth, such as the D-Day Story, Southsea Castle, and the South Parade Pier. Spend a day exploring the gorgeous sights in the vicinity, then return to the Airbnb to unwind in front of the cozy fireplace. You’ll find plenty of pubs and cafes within walking distance, but if you don’t want to go out, you can always use the modern, well-equipped kitchen to rustle up a quick meal.
Best Hotel in Portsmouth – Seacrest Hotel
Glorious views, deluxe rooms, and daily complimentary breakfast? Sign me up! Overlooking the Isle of Wight as well as the Solent, Seacrest Hotel is nestled on Southsea’s seafront. After a hefty dose of sightseeing, retreat to a beautifully-appointed room fitted with tea/coffee-making facilities, desks, and free toiletries. Families and groups can opt for two-bedroom suites for four while solo travelers may consider the single room which comes at a cheaper rate.
Some Additional Tips for Visiting Portsmouth
I can imagine how stoked you are to get out there and start exploring, but before you do, check out my travel tips to ensure you have an absolutely banging time in Portsmouth!
- Don’t hesitate to walk around. Portsmouth has an excellent transportation network, but in my opinion, the best way of soaking up all those lovely sights is to just walk around the city. You can also consider a guided walking tour.
- Take advantage of free attractions. Portsmouth has a surprising number of free attractions for a city that’s so laden with history, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of them!
- Book a place with kitchen or breakfast. Here’s an easy way to cut back on costs! Fuel up at the free breakfast buffet before hitting all those great attractions in Portsmouth or whip up a quick snack in the kitchen.
- Avoid Peak Season. Portsmouth is one of the UK’s most densely populated cities, so summer can get quite packed with tourists flying in from all over. If you want to avoid crowds, your best bet would be to visit in the fall.
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Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Portsmouth
Portsmouth is sometimes overshadowed by more popular places like the Isle of Wight and London, but its rich history, cuisine, and myriad of attractions make it an awesome place to explore.
More importantly, the city caters to just about every type of traveler: families will no doubt appreciate the many kid-friendly attractions in Portsmouth such as the Historic Dockyard, while outdoorsy travelers have it made with spots like the Millennium Promenade.
Whether you’re chasing adventure, looking for unique photo opportunities, or simply want to soak up some history, Portsmouth certainly has it all!
Hopefully, this list made it a bit easier for you to plan the perfect Portsmouth itinerary that’ll guarantee a memorable time in this naval city!
Bye for now, but not forever!
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