If you are looking at doing a day trip to Portsmouth Hampshire, you’ve come to the right place.
Portsmouth is a vibrant and historic city on the south coast of England. With a rich maritime heritage, it is home to the Royal Navy and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which houses some of the most famous ships in British naval history.
But Portsmouth is not just a city for history buffs. It also boasts a lively beachfront, a charming old town, and modern attractions like the Spinnaker Tower and Gun Wharf Quays.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveller, a day out in Portsmouth has something to offer everyone.
We visited Portsmouth at the beginning of April and although the day started off raining, the promised day-long downpour didn’t materialise. By lunchtime, the sun was shining and all was well in Portsmouth (although there is plenty to do if that pesky rain persists!)
A Day trip to Portsmouth
This one-day itinerary is designed to help you make the most of your day trip to Portsmouth, whether you are a first-time visitor or returning to the city. It has something for everyone including history, culture, where to eat and a trip to the seaside.
How to get to Portsmouth
Portsmouth is easily accessible by car, with good road connections to London and other major cities in southern England. Portsmouth is also well-connected by train, with direct services to London, Southampton, Brighton and other major cities in southern England.
If you are doing a Portsmouth day trip, I would suggest the best way to get there is by train. Portsmouth Harbour train station is directly next to all the major tourist sites and attractions in Portsmouth, so there is no need to drive through the busy streets and find parking. We always go to Portsmouth by train as it is easy and much more eco-friendly.
One day itinerary
If you want to get the most out of your Portsmouth day trip, I find that it is easiest to get the train to Portsmouth Harbour and then start in the west of the city near Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. You could spend hours in each location, but time is of the essence.
9 am – Arrive at Portsmouth Harbour Train Station
9.05 am – Feed café for breakfast
10.00 am – Head to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
10.10 am – HMS Warrior
11.00 am – HMS Victory
12.00 pm – The Mary Rose Museum
1.30 pm – Head to Gun Wharf Quays for lunch
3 pm – Spinnaker Tower
4 pm – walk to Portsmouth Cathedral (12 min)
4.30 pm – walk to Southsea common
5 pm – have a walk along the beach and a drink at the beach club
6 pm – Drinks and Dinner on Albert Road, Southsea
9 pm – Head home!
A brief history of Portsmouth
Portsmouth has a rich and varied history that dates back over 2,000 years. The city was founded by the Romans around 70 AD and was known as Portus Adurni. It served as an important port for the Roman Empire and was used as a base for the invasion of Britain in 43 AD.
Over the centuries, Portsmouth continued to grow and develop as a major port city. During the Middle Ages, it played a key role in the defence of England against French invasion, and in the 16th century, it became a centre for naval shipbuilding.
In the 19th century, Portsmouth played a major role in the British Empire’s naval power, with the Royal Navy establishing its main base at the city’s historic dockyard. During World War II, Portsmouth was heavily bombed by the Germans, and many historic buildings were destroyed.
In the post-war years, Portsmouth underwent significant redevelopment, with new housing, shopping centres, and tourist attractions being built.
Today, Portsmouth is a thriving city with a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant economy. It remains an important centre for the Royal Navy and is home to a number of historic sites and museums, including the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the Mary Rose Museum, and the D-Day Museum.
However, Portsmouth is more than just its maritime history. If you venture into Southsea, you will find a wonderful art scene, quirky shops and cafes and of course, the beach.
Southsea Beach is a major attraction, offering miles of sandy shoreline, scenic promenades, and a range of water sports and activities. The beach is also home to several iconic landmarks, including the Southsea Pier and the D-Day Museum.
The area is home to several galleries, theatres, and music venues, as well as annual festivals and events. Southsea Castle, built by Henry VIII in the 16th century, is located on the seafront and offers stunning views of the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
Arrive at Portsmouth Harbour Train Station
If you can manage the early start and want to make the best of your day trip to Portsmouth, aim to arrive at Portsmouth Harbour Station at around 9 am. You can then head to one of the many independent cafes dotted around for breakfast.
Feed café comes highly rated and is located under the railway arches and has lots of character. They provide a good value breakfast which will set you up for the day.
Head to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is one of the top tourist attractions in Portsmouth and is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in naval history. The dockyard is home to several historic ships, museums, and exhibits, and offers visitors a fascinating insight into the city’s maritime heritage.
You could spend a whole day in the Dockyard itself as there is so much to see and do. However, if you want to explore Portsmouth in a day, I would spend the morning in the Dockyard before moving on.
The best bits of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard include –
HMS Warrior – the world’s first steam-powered armoured frigate of the Royal Navy, launched in 1860. She was the first iron-hulled warship built for the Royal Navy and was considered one of the most powerful warships of her time. Visitors can explore the ship’s decks, cabins, and gun decks, and learn about life on board during the Victorian era.
My children enjoyed the re-enactment of the sailors onboard the HMS Warrior with the fabulous “Dockyard Alive” team bringing Victorian England onto the ship, telling stories from the era.
HMS Victory – Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Visitors can explore the ship and learn about life on board during the Napoleonic Wars.
The ship has been restored to her 1805 configuration, with many of her original features and fittings still intact. You can also see the ship from the dry dock below, quite an impressive view.
The Mary Rose Museum – Henry VIII’s flagship that sank in 1545 and was recovered from the seabed in 1982. The museum features a range of exhibits and displays that provide insight into the history of the Mary Rose and her crew, as well as the techniques and technologies used in her construction and preservation.
Visitors can see the ship’s hull and many of her artefacts up close, including weapons, tools, and personal items belonging to the crew.
If you visit any museum or attraction in Portsmouth, then I highly recommend the Mary Rose Museum! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but was totally in awe of the size of the preserved ruins of the ship and the sheer amount of artefacts dating back to the 16th century.
It was quite a haunting experience and I could have spent many hours in there. However, I have children who like to run through museums at a hurtling speed, so maybe the Mary Rose Museum is somewhere I need to go on my own.
New for 2023 – Dive the Mary Rose 4D. This is a new 4D immersive experience which tells the finding, excavation, and recovery of the Mary Rose in a 4D cinema experience. We absolutely loved this, especially my kids and I would thoroughly recommend it.
In addition to the ships, the dockyard is home to several museums and exhibits, including the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Dockyard Apprentice exhibition, and the Action Stations interactive experience.
There are also several cafes and restaurants on-site, as well as a gift shop selling souvenirs and maritime-themed gifts.
Gun Wharf Quays
Situated on the waterfront, Gun Wharf Quays is one of the leading designer shopping outlets home to over 90 premium retail outlets, including designer brands such as Michael Kors, Hugo Boss, and Ralph Lauren. It also features a range of restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as a cinema and bowling alley.
The site of Gunwharf Quays has a rich history, having served as a naval base and ordnance depot for over 200 years. Today, the site has been transformed into a modern and vibrant destination, while still retaining many of its historic features and buildings. If you love to shop and eat (don’t we all), this is the place for you!
Where to eat at Gun Wharf Quays
You get all your usual high street restaurant chains at Gun Wharf Quays including Frankie & Benny’s, All Bar One, Wagamama’s and Nando’s.
If you fancy something a little more independent, try out these establishments –
However, if you’ve had a large breakfast and can’t face a big lunch (unless you’re like my husband who seems to have a separate stomach for each meal), you can grab a coffee and a pastry from the numerous cafe and coffees shops in the area.
In addition to shopping and dining, Gunwharf Quays is also home to several popular attractions, including the Emirates Spinnaker Tower, which offers stunning views of Portsmouth Harbour and the surrounding area. The site also hosts a range of events and activities throughout the year, including festivals, concerts, and outdoor markets.
If you are more of a shopper than a naval history lover, Gun Wharf Quays is a great way to spend your morning in Portsmouth with so much to do.
The Spinnaker Tower is a 170-meter-tall tower with three observation decks, each offering a different perspective of the city and the harbour. It is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors stunning views of the city and the surrounding area.
The Spinnaker Tower also features a range of attractions and exhibits, including a 4D cinema, interactive exhibits, and a glass skywalk, which allows visitors to walk on a glass floor suspended 100 meters above the ground.
Known as the Cathedral of the Sea, Portsmouth Cathedral is located in the heart of Old Portsmouth, just a short walk from Gunwharf Quays and Southsea Common. It is open for sightseeing, with guided tours taking place throughout the week.
Southsea Common is a vast open space that runs along Clarence Esplanade and the beach. Here you will find –
- The Royal Garrison Church – a Grade II listed building and one of the only churches in England without a roof.
- Clarence Pier – a seaside amusement park which features a range of attractions and rides, including roller coasters, bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel. There is also a range of arcade games, stalls, and food outlets, as well as a soft play area for younger children.
- Southsea Bandstand – built in 1931, the Bandstand is a popular destination for live music and entertainment.
- Southsea Castle – the castle is free to visit. Visitors can explore the castle’s battlements, towers, and gun emplacements, and enjoy panoramic views of the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
- D-Day Museum – a museum dedicated to the history and legacy of the D-Day landings in Normandy during World War II. Visitors can see a range of artefacts and memorabilia from the landings, including weapons, uniforms, and personal items belonging to the soldiers who took part.
There is a lot to do in and around Southsea Common (and probably deserves a blog post all on its own), so you may only have time to quickly visit and move on. However, it is still worth the walk on a sunny day.
Albert Road, Southsea
Albert Road is around a 15-minute walk from the common and is the perfect place to end your day in Portsmouth and rest your tired feet.
The road is lined with a range of independent shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars, and is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.
Many of the buildings date back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras with eclectic, vintage and antique shops lining the road. There is also a range of cafes and restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, from traditional British fare to international cuisine.
Some of the best restaurants and bars, according to locals, include –
- Sakura – Japanese restaurant
- Nemrut – simple Turkish-Mediterranean food
- Gin & Olive – Gastropub with plenty of Gins to choose from!
- Sant Yagos – Spanish tapas with a cocktail bar downstairs
- The Vaults – offering refined pub classics with modern craft beers and an extensive wine list.
Head home. Boo!
You’ll be ready for bed after a full-day itinerary in Portsmouth. But first, you need to catch that train home. Albert Road is around a 35-minute walk from Portsmouth Harbour so your best bet is to order an Uber. Portsmouth & Southsea station is a little closer, but still a 20 min walk.
There is so much to see and do in Portsmouth, one day will never be enough. However, it is a good start to get a feel for the city. I can guarantee you’ll want to come back.