Portsmouth is a compact city with lots to see and do. The city can be divided into distinct quarters, each with their own character, namely the Historic Waterfront, the City Centre, the Seafront and Central Southsea. Portsmouth Visitor Information Centre can arrange a number of walks and talks for your group, which will give your members an interesting insight into the history of the city. Further afield, groups can explore the many attractions of Gosport, just a short ferry trip across the harbour.
One of the major attractions in the city is undoubtedly Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Here, you will find a collection of museums, ships and interactive attractions. These include the Royal Naval Museum, the Mary Rose Museum, ‘HMS Victory’, ‘HMS Warrior’ and Action Stations. Portsmouth is also the home of the Royal Navy with Britain’s three aircraft carriers, ‘HMS Ark Royal’, ‘HMS Illustrious’ and ‘HMS Invincible’ based here, as well as a fleet of destroyers, frigates, mine warfare shops and offshore patrol vessels.
Dominating the skyline of the Historic Waterfront is Spinnaker Tower, a 170-metre high visitor attraction affording great views over the harbour and the Solent.
Also with spectacular views across the harbour, Gunwharf Quays features over 95 designer outlets, 30 bars and restaurants, a health and fitness centre, 14-screen cinema, 26-lane bowling alley, comedy club, nightclub and hotel. The venue also stages a year-round programme of events. From the Historic Dockyard you can follow the Millennium Promenade around Gunwharf Quays and further south along the Renaissance Trail walking route into the centre of the historic part of Portsmouth that has retained much of its 18th century port feel. It was once known as Spice Island as it was the main port for the importation of spices from the Caribbean and you can still see its fortified walls and battlement towers.
To learn more about the city’s history, a short walk inland brings you to Portsmouth City Museum & Records Office. The museum’s main display, the ‘Story of Portsmouth’, details how life has changed in the city over the centuries. There is a reconstruction of a 17th century bedchamber, an 1871 dockyard worker’s kitchen, a Victorian parlour, a 1930s kitchen and a 1950s living room. Another section ‘Portsmouth at Play’ looks at leisure in the city and the can also be found here.
Just a 15-minute walk from the Historic Waterfront, Cascades Shopping Centre offers a wide range of high street and speciality shops. This modern shopping mall leads straight out to the pedestrianised shopping district of the city centre with even more shops and cafes. Nearby, St. John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is a fine example of 19th century French Gothic architecture, built in five phases from 1882 to 1925 and consecrated in 1887. During World War Two, it was extensively damaged and all its stained glass windows, except the rose window over the organ, were either damaged or destroyed. They have since been repaired or replaced.
Also in the city centre, the Edwardian New Theatre Royal offers a full programme of entertainment including dance, theatre, music, children’s shows and comedy. Another place of interest, the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, is located just north of the city centre. The famous writer was born in this modest house in 1812, which is now preserved as a museum furnished in the style of this era. There are three furnished rooms – the parlour, the dining room and the bedroom where Dickens was born. The exhibition room features a display on Charles Dickens and Portsmouth, as well as a small collection of memorabilia.
Stretching southwards from the Historic Waterfront, Southsea is well worth adding to your itinerary. Built in 1544, Southsea Castle was part of a series of fortifications constructed by Henry VIII around England’s coast to protect the country from invaders. Most of the castle seen today is 19th century but there are several surviving Tudor sections and features; the ‘Time Tunnel’ walks visitors through the Castle’s dramatic history. Also situated on the seafront at Southsea, The Royal Marines Museum details every aspect of theMarines fromtheir globe-trotting exploits to their involvement in fierce battles such as the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. On Clarence Esplanade, between Clarence and South Parade piers and overlooking the busy Solent, Blue Reef Aquarium is an ideal all-weather attraction. Its huge ocean display, complete with underwater tunnel, is home to hundreds of animals ranging from local marine species to tropical fish. General guided tours by one of the aquarists can be arranged as well as an Undersea Garden Tour concentrating on the flower-like fauna that makes our oceans so colourful.
If you are interested in World War Two, the nearby D-Day Museum and Overlord Embroidery is Britain’s only museum dedicated solely to covering all aspects of the D-Day landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944. One of the highlights of the museum is the Overlord Embroidery, which was commissioned as a tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of those men and women who took part in Operation Overlord as it was known. The embroidery is 272 feet in length and took five years to complete. An audio guide brings the events depicted on the embroidery to life.