Things to do in Portsmouth for free

Must-see free Portsmouth sights

Portsmouth is a lively city situated on the English south coast, boasting loads of great things to do and see – and a great deal of them are free, too. You can sprawl out on Southsea Common with a picnic or a game of frisbee; check out the free museums which tell you more about the natural and local history of the city; or go window-shopping at trendy Gunwharf Quays and round it off with one of its iconic seaviews. There’s also a whole host of interesting walks to take, whether you want to stroll along the promenade, follow a themed trail or take in the characterful buildings of Old Portsmouth.

  1. Fly a kite on Southsea Common
  2. Walk along the promenade and pier
  3. Go back in time in Old Portsmouth
  4. Picnic at Canoe Lake
  5. Take in Portsmouth Natural History Museum
  6. Explore the Royal Garrison Church
  7. Learn about the locals at Portsmouth City Museum
  8. Go window-shopping at Gunwharf Quays

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Fly a kite on Southsea Common

Make the most of Southsea Common, a large stretch of green that sits just behind the seafront. There are various war memorials dotted around and the view looks towards the Solent and Isle of Wight beyond. At one end it leads onto the hovercraft terminal, old-fashioned amusement arcade and funfair and free public toilets, as well as a kids playground on the common itself. Otherwise, it’s a great place to chill out on, and there are a host of events, festivals and conventions that take place during the summer months, some of which are free.

Best for: Taking it easy in a busy area.

While you’re there: Take a seafront stroll down to Gunwharf Quays, or head off in the other direction to the bandstand where you can enjoy live music.

2. Walk along the promenade and pier

Stroll along Portsmouth’s wide-set seafront promenade, just as the Victorians used to enjoy doing. There’s also Southsea Pier that makes for a pleasant walk along to the end, where you can watch the sailing yachts, motorboats and other ships pass by on the waves. Whatever cheap hotels in Portsmouth you’re after, you can’t miss the perfect combination of promenade, pier and beach: and best of all, they’re all totally free!

Best for: Buckets-n-spades Portsmouth.

While you’re there: If all that walking has tired you out, rest up on the pebble beach.

3. Go back in time in Old Portsmouth

With an illustrious Naval past that is still thriving today, taking a walk around Old Portsmouth is one of the most historic things you can do in the city if you’re on a budget. Situated between Southsea and Gunwharf, this is an area to take in the characterful buildings and their maritime histories, which gives you as much history as a museum tour does. The highlight here has to be Southsea Castle, which is also free to enter; enjoy the fine views from the same spot where King Henry VIII stood and watched the Mary Rose ship sink in the Solent.

Best for: Maritime Portsmouth.

While you’re there: The Dickens Trail is a self-guided walking trail covering key places during Charles Dickens’ time in Portsmouth.

4. Picnic at Canoe Lake

One of the best free things to do in Portsmouth is to enjoy its Canoe Lake, a rather lively spot just set a little further back from the seafront. It’s a perfect alternative if it’s too windy for the beach, plus there’s a range of free activities that will suit the little ones, such as the play parks or feeding the ducks; while pedalo rides and the model village require a small charge.

Best for: Picnicking.

While you’re there: Nearby is the Southsea Rose Gardens, which make for a free, picturesque (and Instagram-worthy) stop-off.

5. Take in Portsmouth Natural History Museum

Portsmouth’s Natural History Museum is the place to come to if you want to find out about the local habitats and geology of this south coast city. There’s also a butterfly house and an observational beehive to check out! Find out more about the birds and wildlife who reside in the Farlington Marshes (a saltwater lagoon) and Hilsea Lines, which date back to the 15th century, which makes it a bit of a history lesson too!

Best for: Rainy day options.

While you’re there: It’s just around the corner from Canoe Lake.

6. Explore the Royal Garrison Church

The Royal Garrison Church is an English Heritage site that is one of the more unique spots in Portsmouth. While it is a beautifully preserved church, it doesn’t have a roof; it was bombed during a World War Two fire raid due to its close proximity behind the seawall. The chancel is still roofed, though, and if anything it makes for a different experience of being inside a church and gazing up at the sky. Make sure you check out the stained glass windows of World War Two scenes.

Best for: Thirteenth-century buildings.

While you’re there: They also run temporary photography and art exhibitions.

7. Learn about the locals at Portsmouth City Museum

This free museum in Portsmouth gives visitors a chance to get beneath the surface of the waterfront city and find out more about its passionate people. Themed displays and exhibits consist of recreated rooms of dockyard worker’s kitchens and 1950s living rooms; you find out more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who wrote the first two Sherlock Holmes books while living in Southsea); and there’s no missing the football exhibition, which is a large part of Portsmouth’s identity thanks to its 19th-century founded Fratton Park.

Best for: Local life.

While you’re there: It’s also an art gallery, with a host of interesting temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

8. Go window-shopping at Gunwharf Quays

Gunwharf Quays is one of the more glam free things to do in Portsmouth. It’s home to an outlet shopping centre, so with names like Jack Wills, Nike and Ralph Lauren, you can still window shop, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you did decide to treat yourself! Walk through the swish complex with its green courtyard centre, and take in the restaurants, bars, cinema, bowling alley and more that span two levels. Then, once you reach the railings overlooking the marina, gawk up at the Spinnaker Tower to one side of you, then left towards Old Portsmouth, before finally looking ahead to Gosport and peeking out towards the Solent.

Best for: Window shopping and great views.

While you’re there: Time your visit at sunset for an ambient atmosphere.

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