Portsmouth has played an important part in this country’s heritage. It has been the home of the Royal Navy for 500 years, the city had a key role in preparing for the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944, and its history arguably stretches as far back as the Roman times. But modern Portsmouth also has much to offer to the contemporary visitor, be they a tourist, resident or business owner. And, over the past 14 years that I have lived here, the concept of a great waterfront city has successfully emerged to balance this rich naval heritage. Spending a weekend in Portsmouth, it is possible to combine countryside (with the South Downs so close by), coast and city living remarkably well: it’s a compact area that’s easy to get around.
These are my choices as to how to spend 48 hours in the city.
There are a range of holiday homes available here, from apartments to large family houses, spanning all budgets and requirements, so finding just the right home from home will not be a problem. Once you’ve settled in, I would head for the Kitsch ‘n d’or restaurant in Southsea. Don’t be put off by the name: this is a relaxed and good quality restaurant specialising in French rustic cuisine, but with a three-course meal from around £25, the price is affordable to most pockets. Take a taxi though, as the wine is excellent! If French is not to your tastes, there are many more independent restaurants in Southsea or the larger chains at Gunwharf Quays.
On Saturday morning, it’s a must to visit the Historic Dockyard, where you can now see the impressive Mary Rose Museum which opened earlier this year and has already seen 250,000 visitors. I will never forget seeing some of its artefacts for the first time – be it shoes, combs or cutlery – which are in excellent condition despite having lain on the sea bed for 400 years. Indeed, the Mary Rose has been described as England’s Pompeii and a fascinating glimpse into our Tudor past. Also in the dockyard is, of course, the flagship of the Royal Navy HMS Victory, together with a host of other attractions including Action Stations which is guaranteed to keep the children happy with lots of activities.
Lunchtime and fancy a bite to eat and a chance to shop? Then a five-minute walk from the dockyard to Gunwharf Quays is a good choice: this area, since its regeneration more than ten years ago, offers plenty of options to exercise some retail therapy together with unique attractions such as the Spinnaker Tower. At 170m high – and offering 350 degree panoramic views – the outlook is superb, and on a clear day you can not only see right across the harbour and to the Isle of Wight, but across to the New Forest, South Downs and Chichester area.
Music plays an important part in my life and those wanting a night out should see what’s on at the Portsmouth Guildhall. Classical, rock, swing, jazz, dance, comedy, community events: there is much to choose from in this impressive building, set in the centre of Portsmouth and close to the city’s nightlife.
Come Sunday, the pace can slow a bit but the area provides an opportunity to relax and refresh. For stunning views to match the Spinnaker Tower, I would head for Portsdown Hill on the edge of the city – perfect for visualising what a dense but interesting city Portsmouth is. Close by is Port Solent, which is an ideal choice for a leisurely Sunday lunch with various restaurants and shops. Port Solent marina was originally modelled on a French resort and when the sun glistens on the blue water amongst the yachts in the harbour, it’s easy to see why. Still time for more? Well, my final selection would be to take a trip to the Southsea seafront and wander along the shoreline, finishing off with a traditional cream tea at the Tenth Hole tea rooms.
Now that’s a perfect weekend…
This post has been brought to you by Simon Frost from Visit South East England where you can find more ideas on family fun in the area. Simon Frost lives in Portsmouth together with his wife Anne. Simon has lived in the city since 1998 and enjoys running, is a supporter of local arts & theatre and is also a Trustee and Director of Portsmouth Cultural Trust and other organisations.