Portsmouth is known as the home of the Royal Navy and the birthplace of Charles Dickens and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s also where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes novel and where Rudyard Kipling and HG Wells lived for a while. Blue Badge Guide Suzanne West suggests many more good reasons to visit this fascinating city which is just over 90 minutes by rail from London.
The D Day Story – This must-see museum has been completely revamped to bring to life the epic story of the largest single seaborne assault in history, involving over 156,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944. By the end of August that year, two million Allied soldiers were in France. There are the personal stories of those who were there and those left at home. The magnificent Overlord Embroidery (a rival to the Bayeux Tapestry in terms of telling a story) is a highlight but there’s also an extraordinary array of audio-visual displays and exhibits such as landing craft, personal letters and photographs. 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, so it’s a great time to visit.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – A visit to the dockyard takes you on a journey through time. You can step onboard HMS Victory (Nelson’s magnificent flagship) and HMS Warrior, Britain’s first ironclad battleship. Perhaps take a boat trip around the harbour and dive into HMS Alliance (a submarine from the Cold War era). And don’t forget that King Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose (sunk in 1545 and raised from the seabed in 1982), rests in its own state of the art museum and can now be seen like never before, surrounded by thousands of Tudor artefacts.
Old Portsmouth and Spice Island– Just 15 minutes’ walk from the Historic Dockyard and railway station is Portsmouth’s hidden treasure: Spice Island.
It’s the beating heart of Old Portsmouth- the location from which this great island city grew. A walk around its cobbled streets will take you back to the days of explorers, pioneers, drunken sailors and Press Gangs and give you fabulous sea views. Take in some bracing sea air and immerse yourself in history on a walk through time. Some of the things to see include:
- The Round Tower– Originally built in 1418, this fortification stands at the narrow entrance to Portsmouth Harbour and provides a fantastic viewpoint over the water.
- A mysterious disappearance – Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony departed from here in 1587 and settled in Roanoke (North Carolina) but the colony of over 100 people soon disappeared.
- A royal wedding and a cup of tea – Our “merry monarch” King Charles II married Catharine of Braganza here in 1662 and it’s said she introduced tea drinking to England.
- Calling all Aussies – The First Fleet set sail from here in 1787 – eleven ships (including six convict transports) under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. They landed at Botany Bay in January 1788 and established the first colony in Australia.
- A naval hero – Retrace Horatio Nelson’s last steps on English soil in 1805 before he departed for Cape Trafalgar and you can visit his favourite pub.
- A haunting silhouette – Built in 1212 as a chapel and almshouse for pilgrims and crusaders, Domus Dei (or the Royal Garrison Church as it is now known) lost its nave roof to enemy bombs in 1941. Come and admire its modern stained glass windows.