- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Travel to Portsmouth
Portsmouth owes its importance to its magnificent natural harbor. Since the days of the Armada, the port has been the principal base of the Royal Navy and remains the most important naval station in Great Britain. As a result, many of the city's most popular tourist attractions are related to naval history, particularly around the spectacular harbor area.
Three famous historic ships provide evidence of past naval might: Lord Nelson's HMS Victory, Henry VIII's Mary Rose, and HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's first ironclad warship. The Romans built a fort here, recognizing Portsmouth's strategic importance. Henry II later strengthened the position, and Richard II had the site extended by building a fortified palace adjoining the keep. In 1415, Henry V assembled his troops at Portsmouth before setting sail for France. But the city came under attack during WWII, when large parts of the town were bombed due to the region's strategic importance.
Tourist Attractions in Portsmouth
A short distance north of the landing stage for ferries to the Isle of Wight, visitors can find the gateway to the old docks and the site of Lord Nelson's famous flagship. Built in 1765, this magnificent vessel has been fully restored to the full glory of its 197 ft length with five decks and 104 cannons. In his hour of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, barely 20 minutes after he'd penetrated the French lines, Nelson was fatally wounded and died aboard this legendary ship.
Afterwards, visit the Royal Naval Museum where you'll find numerous mementos relating to Nelson and seafaring in the 18th century, including a splendid 46ft panoramic painting by W. L. Wylie recording the course of the battle.
Mary Rose Museum
The famed Mary Rose, part of Henry VIII's fleet, is a ship of great historical interest. This four-decker vessel with its 91 bronze cannons was built in 1509 and enlarged to 700 tons in 1536. In 1545, during a sea battle against the French, it sank just a mile and a quarter from its homeport in the Solent.
The first divers went down to look for the frigate, and from 1965 onwards explorations intensified until the Tudor ship was lifted from the sea-bottom in 1836.
In June 1987, after eight years of restoration work in Hartlepool, HMS Warrior finally returned to Portsmouth. Launched in 1860, this 418 ft long, 9,700 ton ship ranked as one of the biggest and best-equipped warships of its type. It had never actually seen active service when it was taken out of commission after just 23 years.
Royal Navy Submarine Museum
Just over the water in Gosport is the Royal Navy Submarine Museum containing Great Britain's first submarine, Holland I, launched in 1901. Many other fascinating interactive displays deal with life underwater in a submarine.
Round and Square Towers
The Round Tower (1418) and the Square Tower (1494) have for centuries marked the entrance to Portsmouth harbor. The Square Tower was originally the residence of the military governor, and is today used for functions and weddings. The interior of the Round Tower has been converted for use as an exhibition gallery, while its rooftop is open year round.
Soaring nearly 560 ft above the Solent, the Spinnaker Tower is a highlight of any tourist visit to Portsmouth. Located on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, the sightseeing attraction offers wonderful panoramic views of the city and its spectacular harbor, as well as the south coast and the Isle of Wight.
On a clear day, views extend for up to 23 miles from the tower's three viewing decks, as well as from its café - aptly named Café in the Clouds. Once you've braved the glass-floored Sky Walk, spend time learning about the area using the interactive touchscreen system.
The foundation stone of Portsmouth Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, was laid in 1185. The chancel and transepts date from Norman times, while the choir is in the late style of Sir Christopher Wren. The south side aisle of the choir is dedicated to the Royal Navy and includes mementos of the Mary Rose and Nelson's Victory. Also of interest is the Mother and Child by Andrea della Robbia.
Of Portsmouth's nearby historic High Street only one building survives: Buckingham House (No.10), where the Duke of Buckingham was murdered in 1628.
Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum
The Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum consists of the house where the great novelist was born in 1812, as well as Regency furniture belonging to his family. Among the memorabilia are manuscripts, copies of his novels and his deathbed, brought here from his home in Gads Hill, Kent. Guided walking tours of Dickens' favorite haunts are available, as are readings of his work.