Sightseeing in Portsmouth

The naval heritage alone of Portsmouth provides several sightseeing opportunities for the visitor. HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose are all located here as well as the Royal Marines museum and a Royal Navy sub-marine museum. Alongside the attractions you can find in many other cities, like the castle and its museums, you'd have no excuse for not knowing what to do whilst in Portsmouth.

We'll start with one of the more usual attractions, Southsea Castle.  Built by King Henry VIII in 1544 this was one of the 'Device Forts' that were intended to protect England against invasion by the  French. It is said that this is the point from which Henry VIII watched the Mary Rose sink in 1545. The castle was extensively altered in the 19th century to allow more canons to be installed, a larger garrison and a tunnel dug under the moat. Pre-dating the castle in fortifications are the Square and Round Towers. They were built by King Henry V and were originally part of the Old Portsmouth city wall. Both are still popular as vantage points to watch events in the harbour and Solent. Near the Harbour railway station is the new Spinnaker Tower. Opened in 2005 it is a modern sail-like structure that rises to 170m above ground-level. It has two viewing platforms that can be accessed by lifts with panoramic views up to 30 km (20 miles) away. This £35million structure is the tallest viewing platform in England and was commissioned to be the focal point of the Portsmouth Harbour regeneration.

It is hard to imagine visiting Portsmouth and not seeing at least one of the many naval attractions on offer. All of these three attractions are in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and can be seen separately or you can get an 'all-inclusive' ticket for all three.
The main naval attraction is HMS Victory. This ship was the flagship of the Battle of the Nile and the scene of one of the most famous deaths in British history, that of Admiral Lord Nelson. Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean fleet, he died in battle off Cape Trafalgar on October 21st 1805 after being shot by a sniper on the French naval vessel 'Redoubtable'. However, it is widely accredited to Nelson that his leadership prevented an invasion of Britain by the French, thus ensuring his place in history. In its time the ship had a crew of 900 and a top speed of about 15 km per hour (around 10 miles an hour). HMS Victory was first launched in 1765; it took 6000 trees and 6 years to construct the ship which wasn't taken out of active service until 1922. Despite finally being considered unfit for duty in 1922, the ship still holds its Royal Navy commission and is subject to Royal Navy rules and protocols. HMS Warrior is interesting as it was Britain's first iron clad naval ship built in 1860. Also, having both sail and steam power it straddles the old and new technologies available at the time and was very much seen as both the pride of the navy and the future. The final ship in the 'big three' attractions is The Mary Rose. Built in 1509 and the pride of the Tudor navy it sank in Portsmouth harbour in 1545 in view of Henry VIII who was reviewing his fleet. Raised to the surface 437 years later, after being rediscovered by some local divers, the ship has given invaluable insight into the lives of 16th century sailors with the wealth of artefacts that were preserved in the harbour mud. On Haslar jetty in Gosport is the Royal Navy Sub-Marine museum. Here you can be shown around the sub-marine HMS Alliance and get a feel for life as a sub-mariner. If your thirst for knowledge about naval matters is still not satisfied there are two more museums to visit. The Explosion, is the Museum of Naval Firepower, this is also in Gosport at Priddy's Hard and the Royal Marines museum at the east end of the Esplanade in Southsea. Finally, before leaving military matters entirely there is the D-Day museum on Clarence Esplanade, this tells the story of the D-Day landings in June 1944 during World War II. The main exhibition is the Bayeaux tapestry inspired 'Overlord Embroidery' along whose 83m the story unfolds.

For a complete change of style and pace you could visit Charles Dickens Birthplace. Born in Portsmouth in 1812 the only piece of furniture actually connected with Charles Dickens is the sofa on which he died in 1870. The family moved to Camden Town in 1822. The museum is at 393 Old Commercial Road. City museum is on Museum Road in the centre of the city. It houses exhibitions on 'Living in Portsmouth' from the 17th century to present day and Portsmouth as a sea-side resort entitled 'Portsmouth at Play'. It also has a gallery of historic and contemporary art. The Natural History Museum is at the bottom of Festing Road where St Helens and the Eastern Parade meet. A special attraction here is the Butterfly House, in which through the summer you can walk amongst and experience a range of insects, plants and butterflies. Well worth a visit is Portsmouth Cathedral. Not one of the most famous cathedrals in England, but one with an impressive history. Its original 12th century features were largely obliterated during the English Civil War and were not improved during some 20th century restorations. Nonetheless this cathedral does have charm and history. The Blue Reef Aquarium on Clarence Esplanade gives you a fish's eye view of life under the sea and inland water environments. If mammals and birds are more to your fancy, you can alternatively visit the Marwell Zoo at Colden Common on the way to Winchester, off the M3 at Junction 12.

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