Start your trip to Portsmouth on a high – literally. The Emirates Spinnaker Tower, overlooking Portsmouth harbour and towards the Solent, is aptly shaped like a spinnaker sail, its wide D shape providing fantastic views across the water and all the way to the nearby Isle of Wight. At 170m high, it’s one of the best Portsmouth tourist attractions you can experience – try to pick a clear day so you can make the most out of your visit. Above this level is the open-roof Sky Garden, where you can enjoy afternoon tea, coffee and cake or simply a chute of prosecco.
Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard provides a days-worth of sightseeing; you can buy various tickets to pick and choose what you want to see there. A range of Portsmouth attractions lie here: find out all about the city’s significant naval history with walks around the incredible 17th- and 18th-century warships of Queen Victoria’s HMS Warrior and Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory; there’s a submarine to be explored; spacious gift shop-cafes to take a break in; and even the opportunity to take boat trips across the harbour.
Also located in the dockyard is the fantastic Mary Rose Museum; while you can visit it as part of a Historic Dockyards combination ticket, it’s still worth visiting as a standalone attraction. The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s favourite warship, but sank in 1545 in the Solent; it’s believed that the king himself watched the disaster from Southsea Castle. In the 1980s it was raised from the seabed, and following extensive restoration and conservation works, you can see the fruits of the museum's efforts today. There are simply thousands of Tudor-age artefacts on display that were recovered from the ship, from nit combs to iron cannons, and alongside impressive interactive stations, informative displays and enthusiastic volunteers on hand, you’ll come away feeling like you’ve momentarily stepped back in time.
Portsmouth may have a strong naval history, but that doesn’t mean your trip only has to be about museums, old castles and dockyards. The shopping outlet of Gunwharf Quays brings the waterfront city a slice of modernity, with its range of high-end and designer outlet shops – think Nike, Jack Wills, Kate Spade, Coach – offering great discounts from the retail price. It’s not all about shops, though, with plenty of bars, restaurants and even a casino to choose from.
There are loads of fascinating museums in Portsmouth, all as equally interesting as the other. Start off at Portsmouth City Museum (free), which details local life in the city; Cumberland House (free), Portsmouth’s Natural History Museum which displays British wildlife and has a Butterfly House; and the D-Day Museum, arguably the best of them all, which focuses on the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944. At the Portsmouth City Museum there’s a permanent exhibition to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who worked and wrote the first two Sherlock Holmes books in the city. Whatever Portsmouth hotels you’re looking at, the range of museums in Portsmouth means you won’t be stuck for things to do, come rain or shine.
Not only is Southsea Castle a place of historical interest, but it’s also a great Portsmouth sightseeing spot, too. Built in 1544, it originated as a coastal fortification to protect England from invasion, and is said to be where Henry VIII watched his beloved Mary Rose warship sink in 1545. Visitors today will enjoy exploring the 19th century tunnel, while atop the castle are restored battle remnants to marvel at and sweeping views across the Solent and Isle of Wight – made all the more better if you visit at sunset. Another bonus? It’s free to enter.