Portsmouth is a historic city located in the south of England. The city is home to a number of prominent tourist attractions that draw in the crowds throughout the year, including the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the Spinnaker Tower, and HMS Victory.
Portsmouth is also a popular destination for shoppers, with a variety of high street and independent stores. If boutiques and fancy fashion are your vibes, you’re going to love a cheeky weekend here.
With a vibrant nightlife scene, the city has a number of bars and clubs located in the heart of the historic district; a haven for any late-night revellers and partygoers.
Culture your bones with some of the more popular museums and art galleries around town, if a little educational visit is more your cup of tea.
And with easy train connections to London, it makes for an even more appealing weekend destination for a change of scenery and some new and exciting experiences.
Portsmouth is an exciting place to live, work or visit. There is always something going on, and there are plenty of things to see and do during your time here.
Wondering what to do in Portsmouth? Whether you’re already here or planning your visit, discover the best things to do in Portsmouth so you don’t miss a single thing during your trip.
Let’s get to it.
The Long History Of Portsmouth
Located in the southern English county of Hampshire, Portsmouth is situated right on the coast and comes with a long and varied history as a naval port and home to Britain’s Royal Navy.
Portsmouth was first settled by the Romans, who built a fort here around 55 AD. The town grew rapidly during the medieval period and became an important trading port by the 12th century.
In the 15th century, Portsmouth was one of the first towns to be granted a charter by King Henry VII. It was also during this time that the first dry dock in England was built here.
Portsmouth continued to flourish as a naval port throughout the Tudor and Stuart periods and remains an important base for the Royal Navy to this day.
With its rich maritime history, the city is home to many historic ships and buildings, including the Tudor warship HMS Victory and the medieval Portsmouth Cathedral; a rich history and vibrant culture that makes it a super popular tourist destination today.
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Best Things To Do In Portsmouth
1. Visit The Historic Dockyard
One of the first things to do in Portsmouth should be to visit the city’s Historic Dockyard. This world-famous attraction is home to a number of historic ships, including HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum, and HMS Warrior 1860.
The historic dockyard of Portsmouth is a must-see for anyone interested in maritime history. Visitors can explore a variety of interactive exhibits, including a recreation of a Victorian shipyard and a ‘time capsule’ that allows you to see what life was like on board a naval vessel during World War II.
Simply walking around this imposing dockyard is impressive in itself, before you throw in the naval base presence.
The Dockyard is a fantastic place to see in Portsmouth with the family, so ready the camera and capture some quality moments.
2. Climb The Emirates Spinnaker Tower
For incredible views of Portsmouth, make your way to the top of the city’s iconic Spinnaker Tower. This 560-foot tall tower offers panoramic views of Portsmouth Harbour, the Isle of Wight, and the south coast of England on a clear day and is one of the top attractions in Portsmouth.
There are three viewing platforms to enjoy, as well as a glass floor and a virtual reality experience that gives you the sensation of paragliding over the city.
If you’re feeling brave, you can even abseil down the side of the tower! The Spinnaker Tower is definitely one of the best things to do in Portsmouth if you’re looking for some thrills and spills.
3. Tour The HMS Victory
HMS Victory is a world-famous warship that was built and launched in Portsmouth in 1765. She is best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, where she served as Lord Nelson’s flagship during the Napoleonic Wars.
The ship has been painstakingly restored and is now open to the public as a museum ship. Visitors can explore the decks, gun decks, and even the Captain’s quarters.
There is also a Victory Museum on site which tells the story of her fascinating history. A tour of HMS Victory is a must-do activity when visiting Portsmouth.
With its incredible history, it’s inspiring to hear that the HMS Victory is the oldest naval ship in the world that’s still in commission – credit to Portsmouth and its craftsmanship of shipbuilding back in the day.
Insider Tip – buy your tickets in advance from the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard website and save some money on entry costs to the many museums around this famous city
4. Visit The Mary Rose Museum
The Mary Rose is a famous warship that was built in Portsmouth and served in the English navy during the Tudor period.
The ship sank unexpectedly in 1545 while leading an attack against the French fleet at the Battle of the Solent.
She lay at the bottom of the sea for over 400 remarkable years before being rediscovered and raised from the depths in 1982.
The Mary Rose is now on display in a purpose-built museum, where visitors can see the ship’s hull and learn about the fascinating story of her discovery and restoration.
The wreck has perfectly preserved exactly what navy life must have been like back in Tudor times. You can see the iron and bronze guns that were used on the ship, along with tankards, bells, gold coins and so much more that surfaced along with the Mary Rose.
The Mary Rose Museum is one of Portsmouth’s top attractions and is a must-see for anyone interested in maritime history.
5. Explore The HMS Warrior
HMS Warrior 1860 is a decommissioned warship that was launched in Portsmouth in 1860. She is the world’s first iron-hulled, armoured warship and is now preserved as a museum ship.
For the ten years it was in service, HMS Warrior inspired fear in anyone in many enemies, though it never once engaged in a single battle.
Visitors can explore all three decks of the ship, including the gun decks, engine room, and officers’ quarters. There is also a small onboard museum which tells the story of the Warrior and her role in naval history.
HMS Warrior is a must-see for anyone interested in maritime history or engineering. You can even dress up in Victorian clothes and have your photo taken on board…something the kids always love to do!
6. Visit Fort Nelson
With the increasing possibility of land attacks by France, with Napoleon III sitting on the throne, forts popped up in several spots along the south coast.
Fort Nelson was one of them; a historic fort that was built in the 1860s and was made up of 6 sides and surrounded by a trench and 3 caponiers.
The fort never saw any action and was decommissioned in the early 1900s. However, it has since been restored and is now open to the public as a museum.
Visitors can explore the underground tunnels, gun emplacements, and barracks. There is also an on-site restaurant and a small shop.
Fort Nelson is a great place to visit for anyone interested in military history or architecture. It’s also a popular spot for families, as there are plenty of things for the kids to see and do.
7. Explore The D-Day Museum
The D-Day Museum is dedicated to the history of Operation Overlord; the codename for the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II.
The city of Portsmouth served as a main starting point for the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. Furthermore, Southwick House located just north of Portsmouth was where Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander during WWII, had his headquarters.
The museum tells the story of the build-up to the invasion, the actual landings on 6th June 1944, and the subsequent liberation of Europe.
There are rare artifacts and personal accounts from those who were involved in the operation. You can also find tanks, jeeps and machine guns that would have all played their role in the invasion
The D-Day Museum is one of the best things to see in Portsmouth and a must-visit for anyone interested in military history or the Second World War.
8. Visit The National Museum Of The Royal Navy
The National Museum of the Royal Navy is a magnificent maritime museum that tells the story of the United Kingdom’s naval history.
The museum is located in 3 different buildings lined just in front of HMS Victory.
The museum chronicles the rich history of the British navy, from its early days as a small fleet protecting the coast of England to its present-day status as a global maritime power.
Visitors can explore exhibits on famous battles, heroic sailors, and groundbreaking technologies, as well as learn about the lives of ordinary sailors both past and present.
With its interactive displays and informative exhibits, the National Museum of the Royal Navy is sure to educate and entertain visitors of all ages, making it a great place to visit with kids and the whole family.
Regarded as one of the best things to do in Portsmouth, particularly for any of the history buffs or maritime enthusiasts out there.
9. Visit The HMS M33
HMS M33 is a Royal Navy warship that was built in 1915 and saw plenty of action during World War I and II. It’s now one of the last 3 warships still floating from the First World War.
She is the newest museum ship in town, preserved and moored in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Visitors can explore the three decks of the ship, including the engine room, gun deck, and officers’ quarters.
There is also a new exhibition demonstrating what battle would have been like in such a tight and claustrophobic environment. It’s an eye-opening experience knowing that the crew would have lived and fought on this ship for 3 years during the Gallipoli Campaign.
Great for kids and grownups alike, it’s an inspiring experience where you’ll get to see first-hand what things would have been onboard.
10. Shop Till You Drop At Gunwharf Quays
Gunwharf Quays is a retail and leisure development located on the waterfront in Portsmouth.
There are over 90 stores, including high-street favourites such as H&M, Zara, and Topshop. Some of the outlets have up to 60% off the usual retail prices as well; another factor that draws in the fashionistas looking for some bargains.
If you’re into your brands, you won’t be disappointed either, with the likes of Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and Michael Kors knocking around the quays.
If you’re looking for things to do in Portsmouth on a rainy day, then Gunwharf Quays is the perfect place to head. You can easily spend a few hours (or more) browsing the shops and grabbing a bite to eat, with a plethora of restaurants, cafes, or bars to choose from. You’ll even find some upscale restaurants run by celebrity chefs (think Raymond Blanc). There is definitely no shortage on the food and beverage front here, so arrive hungry and enjoy!
You will also find a cinema, bowling alley, and casino in the mall if you’re looking for a bit of entertainment for the whole family to enjoy.
11. Relax At Canoe Lake
Canoe Lake is a beautiful green space located in Southsea, just a short walk from the seafront.
The picturesque lake is perfect for a leisurely stroll or picnic on a summer’s day. You’ll find plenty of ducks and geese to keep you company as you meander around the tranquil waters, well-kept flowerbeds and its stand-out Art Deco angel statue.
This place looks like it would be right at home in a Victorian-era postcode, with its swan-shaped pedalos and retro-nostalgic feel.
The lake shop is at hand to provide a bucket and line for a spot of crab catching in the morning, and a fantastic portion of fish and chips from the famous Deep Blue close by on South Parade Pier.
You’ve also got the Cumberland House Natural History Museum here, a model village to explore, as well as the beautifully arranged Japanese garden and rose garden. And if you’re thinking about driving here for the day, there is a car park on-site, too.
The perfect combination of activities makes this one of the best things to do in Portsmouth with kids, but also quite a romantic place to visit in Portsmouth for couples later in the day.
12. Escape To Portsdown Hill
Portsdown Hill is located just north of Portsmouth and offers stunning views over the city, harbour, and beyond.
The stunning grassland hills are awash with colourful wildflowers in the warmer months and are a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the many different species of plants, insects and birdlife for anyone who takes an interest in a bit of bird watching
There are several walking and cycling routes that wind their way up the hill, so it’s a great place to get some fresh air and exercise. The views from the top are definitely worth the effort!
13. Visit Hotwalls Studios
The Hotwalls Studios are a group of Grade II listed buildings and former artillery barracks that have been transformed into creative spaces for local artists, makers and performers in this new-found artistic quarter of Portsmouth.
The studios are located on the seafront, just next to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and they’re open to the public every day from 10am to 4pm.
Visitors can explore the studios, meet the artists, and purchase some of their fantastic creations. This little creative quarter is fast becoming one of the most popular places to see in Portsmouth, with the artistic scene really taking off here.
The Hotwalls Studios are a great way to support local businesses and get a taste of Portsmouth’s thriving creative scene.
14. Feast At The Tenth Hole Tea Rooms
The Tenth Hole Tea Rooms is a buzzing spot set on a pitch-and-putt course just to the east of Canoe lake.
You’ll see a queue of people at the tenth hole waiting to get in, and it gets particularly busy at weekends, but if you plan to go in between meal times, then you might just get a sunny spot out on the terrace.
Love a homemade cake? Think fresh Victoria sponge, millionaire’s shortbread and banoffee pie, plus some of the largest scones I’ve ever witnessed.
The breakfasts and sandwiches also hit the spot. Combine a stop here with a little round of golf and you’ve got a super fun thing to do in Portsmouth for adults, couples and families alike.
15. Admire Portsmouth Cathedral
Portsmouth Cathedral is a must-see for anyone visiting the city, even if you’re not religious. This beautiful building dates back over 800 years to the 12th century.
The Cathedral is dedicated to St Thomas Becket, who was murdered in 1170. His tomb can be found in the Cathedral, and his remains are on display for all to see.
The Cathedral is also home to the Portsmouth War Memorial, which commemorates the soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.
Portsmouth Cathedral is a truly stunning building, with an imposing octagonal cupola and lantern rearing up at the centre, and no trip to Portsmouth would be complete without a visit to this beautiful spot.
16. Grab A Boat Tour Of The Harbour
The modern Royal Navy is still based in Portsmouth, and the Harbour Tour offers an unrivalled glimpse of Britain’s current frigates, destroyers, and helicopter carriers, as well as historic structures and the stunning cityscape.
The Portsmouth Historic Dockyard are, again, in charge of things here, providing 45-minute long tours of the harbour with an entertaining guide talking you through the whole experience.
The tours are very much dependent on weather conditions, and you can check whether things are running from the official website.
17. Explore Portsmouth City Museum
The Portsmouth City Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of the United Kingdom.
The museum is located in the heart of Portsmouth, just a short walk from the seafront, where the museum tells the story of Portsmouth from its Roman roots to its modern-day status as a thriving city.
Visitors can see exhibits on the city’s maritime history, its role in the Second World War, and its development over the centuries.
You will also find an excellent collection of art and artifacts from all around the world right here in Portsmouth.
And of course, no museum showcasing the marvels of Portsmouth would be complete without a mention of their much-loved football team – Portsmouth F.C, with the matching-winning balls on display here from their successes of 1939 and the 2009 FA Cup Finals.
Give yourself a couple of hours to get around it all to make the most of it all. With something for everyone, it really is one of the top things to do in Portsmouth for couples, families and adventurers.
18. Take A Ferry To No Mans Fort
In the Solent, just off the coast of Portsmouth, lies No Man’s Fort – one of three 19th-century structures built to protect Portsmouth Harbour from enemy attack.
Nowadays, this fascinating spot is open to the public and can be reached by taking a short ferry ride from Gunwharf Quays.
Once you’re on the fort, you can explore the many rooms, corridors and turrets, before heading up to the roof for some truly breathtaking panoramic views.
You can even spend the night here in one of the plush rooms where a sea view is always going to be guaranteed
There’s also a restaurant and bar on-site if you fancy staying for lunch or dinner. No Man’s Fort is a great option for something a little different and definitely a unique day out in Portsmouth.
19. Visit The Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum
Portsmouth is also home to the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, which celebrates the life and works of one of Britain’s most famous authors.
The museum is located in Dicken’s former family home on Old Commercial Road, and it has been lovingly restored to look just as it would have when he lived here with his parents and siblings.
You can see some of Dicken’s personal belongings, as well as learn all about his formative years in Portsmouth, which would go on to inspire some of his most famous works.
Last time I checked, the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum was only open on weekends, so check before visiting!
20. Catch Portsmouth F.C At Fratton Park
Portsmouth Football Club, or Pompey as they are more commonly known, are the city’s much-loved football team, with Fratton park being their home since 1898.
They play their home games right here at Fratton Park – or more affectionately known as ‘The Old Girl’ by supporters – and she can fit a whopping 21,00 spectators on match days.
If you’re visiting Portsmouth during the football season (August to May) and fancy catching a game, then you should definitely try and get tickets to see Portsmouth F.C play.
Even if you’re not a big football fan, it’s still a great experience to soak up the atmosphere of a Pompey match day and join in with the singing of their famous songs. Don’t blame me if your voice is a little hoarse after screaming “Play up Pompey!”.
21. Explore Viviers Fish Market
Viviers Fish Market is a buzzing seafood market located in the heart of Portsmouth’s historic Old Town.
The market sells an impressive variety of fresh seafood, which has been caught locally in the Solent and sold at the market here every morning.
For the best catches, you’ll want to arrive early. The market might be small but the seafood is mighty fresh!
If you’re visiting Portsmouth and looking for something a little different to do, then make sure to head down to Viviers and pick up some lunch or neck an oyster or 5.
21 Best Things To Do In Portsmouth, Hampshire
- Visit The Historic Dockyard
- Climb The Emirates Spinnaker Tower
- Tour The HMS Victory
- Visit The Mary Rose Museum
- Explore The HMS Warrior
- Visit Fort Nelson
- Explore The D-Day Museum
- Visit The National Museum Of The Royal Navy
- Visit The HMS M33
- Shop Till You Drop At Gunwharf Quays
- Relax At Canoe Lake
- Escape To Portsdown Hill
- Visit Hotwalls Studios
- Feast At The Tenth Hole Tea Rooms
- Admire Portsmouth Cathedral
- Grab A Boat Tour Of The Harbour
- Explore The Portsmouth City Museum
- Take A Ferry To No Mans Fort
- Visit The Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum
- Catch Portsmouth F.C At Fratton Park
- Explore Viviers Fish Market
Where is Portsmouth?
Portsmouth is located on the south coast of England in the county of Hampshire. It’s around 70 miles from London and just a short drive from Southampton.
Is Portsmouth worth visiting?
Yes, Portsmouth is an excellent place to visit! The historic centre is packed full of independent shops, restaurants and quirky bars and then there is the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – home of the Royal Navy and brimming with a ton of maritime and ship museums to explore and visit.
What is there to do in Portsmouth on a rainy day?
There’s plenty to do in Portsmouth on a rainy day! Head to one f the many maritime and navy museums around the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, check out Hotwalls Studios in Portsmouth’s creative quarter or explore some of the city’s historic pubs and bars.
What is the best time of year to visit Portsmouth?
The best time to visit Portsmouth is during the summer months when the weather is warm and there’s plenty going on in the city. However, Portsmouth is a great place to visit all year round, with different events and activities taking place throughout the seasons.