With lively bars, quirky tearooms and a welcoming local pride, Portsmouth has a rich cultural heritage and makes for a dynamic-yet-sophisticated, local-yet-visitor-friendly stay. This waterside city is like no other seaside spot: here’s how to make the most of Portsmouth in 72 hours.
Wedged in between Southampton and Chichester on the south coast of England, Portsmouth has a vast and vivid history, for the most part largely naval. This was where Henry VIII watched from Southsea Castle as the Mary Rose sank in 1545 and was a major dispatch point for soldiers en route to Normandy in 1945. Yet wade inland and discover an array of hipster dwellings, bustling local markets and fresh seafood cuisine to discover the traits of a city unique in its own right.
Portsmouth has a lot to shout about: from the annual music festival Victorious Festival and the family-friendly International Kite Festival to live performances at Southsea Bandstand and intriguing museums, it’s an ideal visit for any type of traveller.
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Its quainter neighbour, the Isle of Wight, lies just a short bounce across the waves, and you can even break up the already-short journey between the two with a stay at a couple of naval-forts-turned-luxury-hotels (as you do).
So, whether you’re after a quick city break or in search of a longer weekend getaway, here’s how to make the most of your time in Portsmouth:
Check into: The Florence House. Set in an Edwardian townhouse, this boutique B&B boasts individually designed, spacious rooms (all en suite). The B&B pairs a quiet spot with a convenient location, just a stone’s-throw from Southsea seafront and trendy Albert Road.
Guests enjoy free parking and Wi-Fi, and it’s worth checking out their sophisticated gastro pub, The Florence Arms, just over the road, too.
Stretch your legs: across Southsea Common, where you’ll pass groups enjoying barbeques and parents sprinting after children flailing across the wide stretches of green. Pause at the pea-green, Scandi-styled The Coffee Cabin with a delicious slab of cake.
Dine at: Steki, for a real taste of Greece in Portsmouth. This authentic Greek taverna serves the favourites (souvlaki, yemista, moussaka) along with barbecue and seafood dishes, all at fairly reasonable prices. Opened in 1998, the restaurant lives up to its Greek name, offering an informal and relaxed dining experience.
Go for an evening digestif: Along the buzzy strip of Albert Road; this is where the locals come to play. Head to One Eyed Dog for a pint, The Royal Albert for live music or Gin & Olive to sample over 100 different gins on offer.
Saturday: Best of Southsea
Step back in time: Tucked behind Southsea Castle and Southsea Bandstand, you can easily while away two–three hours at the D-Day Story Museum.
Portsmouth played a vital role in the Second World War; the museum features professional, personal and local stories of those involved with the Normandy Landings through exhibits, artefacts and interactive displays.
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There’s a lot to take in, but with a well-thought out design route, you won’t leave feeling too overwhelmed. Museum tickets: adults £9 (online) and children £4.50.
Seafront views: Walk up an appetite with a breezy stroll along the promenade. En route, zigzag through Southsea Rock Gardens, a pleasant spot away from the main road to surround yourself with interesting plants amid a colourful, rocky landscape.
Stuff yourself silly at: The Tenth Hole. Take an early lunch to avoid the queue, but even then it’s still worth the wait. Breakfast and brunch options are aplenty; try the ‘ultimate toastie’ with mac’n’cheese on grilled doorstop bread.
But what people really come here for are the ginormous slices of homemade cakes: point at your choice behind glass-fronted windows when you order at the counter. Think mixed berry cheesecake, vegan chocolate sponge and snickers cake: best to wear something loose-fitted.
Walk it off: around Canoe Lake, a charming, family-friendly spot where you can hire pedalos, pack a picnic or simply circle the lake. Afterwards, cross the road and amble along the South Parade Pier. The pier was rebuilt after it burnt down during the filming of mod-favourite 1960s flick Tommy.
Enjoy unobstructed views of the Solent, watch the fishermen try their luck and pick out details from the Isle of Wight ahead of you.
Beachfront bliss: For a relaxing dinner on the seafront, head to Southsea Beach Cafe, which serves contemporary dishes until 8pm or 9pm each evening. With a retractable sunroof, all-white furniture and wooden trimmings, splashes of colour are welcomed from the blue sky, yellow beach and green shimmer from the sea.
While it’s also a popular brunch spot, they hold regular live music nights and events including fish-tasting, barbecues and even ‘Ibiza Chill Out Nights’.
Soak it up: Back on Albert Road, the live music and comedy nights served at the cosy Wedgewood Rooms is a good way to spend your last evening; alternatively, cross over to the Kings Theatre to catch a comedy show or classical performance.
If nothing floats your boat, there’s plenty more bars to venture down...
Sunday: Best of old Portsmouth
Henry VIII’s Mary Rose warship sank in 1545, was recovered in 1982 and is now back on display – well, half of it, anyway (the other half is still in the Solent). The museum levels are in line with each deck of the ship, so you really get to grips with how it was structured, the various artefacts on display and more.
Enjoy the view: at The Still & West. Its inviting nautical theme will make you think of the seaside before you spot the harbourside view from its waterfront terrace. Enjoy a locally-sourced Sunday Roast and take in the comings and goings of yachts, ferries and the like making their way into and out of the Solent.
Mix old and new: At the Hotwalls Studios, which displays the best of Portsmouth’s thriving creative scene. It’s home to 13 working studios, so you can swing by to watch an artist in action and even commission a piece yourself.
Either way, it’s perched in a good spot, just behind the beach along the Battery Point and near the Grade I-listed Round Tower, where you can sneak views in the slits of windows or head up to the top for a breezy viewpoint of the Solent and higgledy-piggledy architecture.
Pause for a cuppa: at Manna. This is one of those places where you’ll pop in for a coffee but will end up with a slice of cake or petite tarte a flan in front of you, as well.
With friendly staff, a calming yellow, grey and white interior and a good selection of savoury breakfasts and sweet treats alike, this is a charming tearoom that is one of the best in Portsmouth and is regularly recommended by locals.
Stay for dinner: and tuck into a minted lamb burger or grilled veg and tofu soba noodle salad from The Florence Arms’ seasonal menu, before heading home. Or, if you’ve got more time to spare, stay an extra night and venture out to the Isle of Wight early the next morning, either as a day trip or overnight stay.
Wightlink ferries take between 30–45mins but try something different and opt for a hovercraft ride – it’s the only operating service in Britain – and bumps you across the waves from Southsea to Ryde in just 10mins.
Whether it’s Ryde, Cowes or anywhere else you want to go, the island makes for a great spot to chill out on the beach, stroll through the fields or mooch along narrow high streets, all while pointing out the pinpricks of Portsmouth.
National Express coaches depart London Victoria Coach Station (hourly; roughly 2hrs direct to Portsmouth Harbour); trains from Waterloo (half-hourly; 1hr35min); or by car on the A3 (1hr45min).
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