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Notre Dame de la Garde

About Portsmouth

A large part of Portsmouth is spread over the low-lying Portsea Island. The island, barely separated from mainland England and entirely contained within the city of Portsmouth, creates the picturesque Portsmouth Harbor to the west and Langstone Harbor to the east. The city has been settled since before the days of the Roman Empire. With its position on the sea, it grew into a medieval port town, bringing in wine and other goods from France. In 1787, the first ships sailed from Portsmouth to establish a penal colony in Australia.

A significant naval port for centuries, Portsmouth claims the oldest continuously used dry dock in the world, and has been home to notable ships like the HMS Warrior and Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory—the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission. It was massively expanded in the late 17th century and was heralded as an embarkation port for the D-Day landings, serving as the headquarters for Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, during World War II. It was substantially rebuilt after the war, and today it is one of the largest fruit-handling ports in the country.

Portsmouth Lifestyle and Culture

In the historic county of Hampshire, evidence of Portsmouth’s rich maritime history is everywhere, perhaps most powerfully on the approach through the Solent Strait, which is surrounded by the stunning citadel walls of Napoleonic forts. Picturesque waterfront extends for miles, and from Portsdown Hill to the north, panoramic views of the city unfold.

Portsmouth’s cultural offerings are varied, ranging from contemporary art galleries and magnificent theaters to live music venues and annual festivals. Gunwharf Quays, former site of the munitions depot HM Gun Wharf, is the city’s entertainment center, containing nearly 100 outlet stores, a bowling alley, cinema, casino and more than 30 restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs.

But the city is inextricably tied to the sea and inspiration to some of England’s finest works. Engligh composer William Walton wrote Portsmouth Point upon being moved by this scenic spot. Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore is set in Portsmouth Harbor. And the sailing sagas written by historical maritime novelist Patrick O’Brian make frequent reference to the city.

Portsmouth Sights and Landmarks

With the city’s strong naval ties, exploring its grand ships at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a must. The HMS Victory led Admiral Lord Nelson and his crew to victory over the French at the critical Battle of Trafalgar, securing Britain’s naval supremacy. Walk the decks and peek inside the crew’s quarters for a step back in time. Another awe-inspiring ship is the HMS Warrior, an innovative ship when it was built in 1860. The enormous gun deck harks back to maritime life in Victorian times.

The D-Day Museum recounts Portsmouth’s role in this critical invasion. Don’t miss the large and impressive Overlord Embroidery, commissioned by Lord Dulverton of Batsford as a tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of those who took part in Operation Overlord. Also of great significance is the Mary Rose Museum, which showcases the namesake 16th-century warship, Henry VIII’s favorite vessel.

Soaring above Gunwharf Quays is the town’s beloved icon: Emirates Spinnaker Tower. Resembling a ship’s billowing sail, the 560-foot landmark opened in 2005 and was designed to reflect Portsmouth’s maritime history. Look out over the city and beyond from the Sky Deck, or watch boats bob on the harbor under your feet through the Sky Walk’s glass floor.

Wymering Manor is Portsmouth’s oldest building, and many believe it is Britain’s most haunted. Today it hosts ghost story tours and “whodunit” mystery dinners.

Portsmouth Entertainment and Activities

One of the best ways to get to know Portsmouth and its history is by foot. Millennium Promenade offers two miles of waterfront sightseeing. Start at Spur Redoubt and follow the chain motif, inlaid in the walkway’s stone. You’ll end on The Hard, an interchange near the entrance to the Historic Dockyard, and pass numerous sites along the way, including Square Tower, Round Tower, Gunwharf Quays and Bath Square.

For more relaxed wandering, concentrate your efforts on Old Portsmouth, where cobbled streets, quaint homes, historic buildings and seaside pubs give a taste of local life. Also known as Spice Island, as it was where spices once entered the city, it’s a great place to cap off the afternoon with a pint of ale while breathing in the salt air.

For a taste of local culture, treat yourself to a night out at the Kings Theatre, perhaps enjoying a touring production from London’s West End or an opera, ballet, drama or music performance. The New Theatre Royal is another option for a variety of live performances.

Portsmouth Restaurants and Shopping

With old-style pubs and seaside geography, it’s no mystery that the iconic dish of fish & chips is a popular choice in Portsmouth. The Master Fryer, Britannia, Mother Kelly’s and Ocean Fresh all prepare the famed dish perfectly.

There are a number of dining options at Gunwharf Quays, but the Old Customs House stands apart. A former 18th-century Royal Marine Hospital, its historic decor complements its traditional pub fare.

Restaurant 27 and Brasserie Blanc both offer excellent dining. In Gunwharf Quays, Brasserie Blanc serves simple yet upscale French classics. Choose from the elegant dining room or laid-back outdoor terrace. Restaurant 27 puts modern flair on its “global French” cuisine. The decor is simple; the focus is on seasonal dishes that are nothing short of spectacular. Local favorite Montparnasse is another high-end option, turning fresh ingredients into exceptional British classics with a twist.

For shopping, Gunwharf Quays offers discount outlets. Southsea features independent shops, while Marmion and Osborne Roads are home to chocolatiers, jewelers and shoe boutiques. Albert Road has a funky yet cosmopolitan vibe with antique shops, retro clothiers and trendy bars.