What you need to know about Portsmouth
Nowhere in Britain does seafaring and maritime heritage quite like Portsmouth – this lively waterfront city is packed with historic ships and submarines, ancient salty seadog pubs and important-looking naval monuments.
But Portsmouth is not just a watery museum; it’s also a modern port, a bustling naval military base and a working dockyard, with hundreds of attractions to captivate the 21st century visitor. The jaw-dropping views from the Spinnaker Tower are not to be missed, nor is a wander around Gunwharf Quays or (if you fancy taking to the water), a trip across the Solent on the Isle of Wight Ferry.
Food and drink
Portsmouth is a lovely place to enjoy a meal and a few relaxed drinks, particularly in summer when many of the waterfront restaurants open up their terraces for al fresco dining. But even away from the water, the city has hundreds of cafes, restaurants and bars to tempt your tastebuds, offering cuisines from all over the world, as well as superb local seafood.
The pubs in Portsmouth are some of the liveliest in the UK, and there are plenty of authentic sailors’ haunts where you can knock back a few rums whilst telling mysterious tales of the sea (or today’s shopping).
Shopping in Portsmouth is a pleasure, whether it’s in the city centre, Gunwharf Quays, or nearby Southsea. In the city centre, the usual High Street brands can be found in Commercial Road and the Cascades Shopping Centre, which has over 60 retailers in a bright and airy mall.
For premium brands, Gunwharf Quays is a huge waterfront leisure development right next to Portsmouth Harbour station, with 90 high end outlets and 30 restaurants and cafes.
Southsea is only 2 miles away, and it’s well worth making the trip for its bohemian feel and lovely selection of boutiques, bookshops, gift shops, markets and vintage clothing stores.
Most of Portsmouth’s industry and commerce is focussed on marine-based businesses, with 10% of the city’s workforce employed at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.
The HQ of BAE Systems Surface Ships is also based in the city, as well as BAE Portsmouth Shipyard, where naval aircraft carriers are built.
Away from water-based commerce, the city is also home to the European headquarters of IBM and the UK headquarters of Zurich Financial Services.
Portsmouth is easy to reach by air or rail – Southampton airport is a short drive away, and Portsmouth Harbour rail station has regular direct trains to London, Gatwick Airport, Bristol, Southampton, Cardiff, Exeter, Reading and Brighton.
One you’re here, you’ll find this compact city is joyously flat and easy to explore from your serviced apartment, with lovely trails along the waterfront where you can walk or cycle traffic-free.
Buses in the town are good value and cover the whole region, or (if you’re feeling adventurous), you can hop on a ferry and head off to France, Spain, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Wight.
Things to watch out for
The Isle of Wight hosts two music big festivals each year, the Isle of Wight festival in June. Cowes week in August is another huge event, and what these all have in common is the volume of visitors pouring through Portsmouth to get the Isle of Wight ferry. Be prepared for big crowds if you’re in the city at this time!