Portsmouth owes its importance to its magnificent natural harbour. Since the days of the Armada, the port has been the principal base of the Royal Navy and remains the most important naval station in Great Britain. As a result, many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions are related to naval history, particularly around the spectacular harbor area.
Three famous historic ships provide evidence of past naval might: Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory, Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, and HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy’s first ironclad warship. The Romans built a fort here, recognizing Portsmouth’s strategic importance. Henry II later strengthened the position, and Richard II had the site extended by building a fortified palace adjoining the keep. In 1415, Henry V assembled his troops at Portsmouth before setting sail for France. But the city came under attack during WWII, when large parts of the town were bombed due to the region’s strategic importance.
A short distance north of the landing stage for ferries to the Isle of Wight, visitors can find the gateway to the old docks and the site of Lord Nelson’s famous flagship. Built in 1765, this magnificent vessel has been fully restored to the full glory of its 197 ft length with five decks and 104 cannons. In his hour of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, barely 20 minutes after he’d penetrated the French lines, Nelson was fatally wounded and died aboard this legendary ship.
The famed Mary Rose, part of Henry VIII’s fleet, is a ship of great historical interest. This four-decker vessel with its 91 bronze cannons was built in 1509 and enlarged to 700 tons in 1536. In 1545, during a sea battle against the French, it sank just a mile and a quarter from its homeport in the Solent. Pictured here is Rear Admiral John Lippiett the Chief Executive of The Mary Rose Trust who is a frequent Guest Speaker on the Minerva.
HMS Warrior 1860 was Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured warship and the pride of Queen Victoria’s Fleet. On her first voyage, HMS Warrior caused a sensation; people crowded to see her and she was considered invincible. The combination of iron sides, which offered protection from the exploding shells and the ability to carry large guns, changed the nature of marine warfare.
The Round Tower (1418) and the Square Tower (1494) have for centuries marked the entrance to Portsmouth harbour. The Square Tower was originally the residence of the military governor, and is today used for functions and weddings. The interior of the Round Tower has been converted for use as an exhibition gallery, while its rooftop is open year round.
Soaring nearly 560 ft above the Solent, the Spinnaker Tower is a highlight of any tourist visit to Portsmouth. Located on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, the sightseeing attraction offers wonderful panoramic views of the city and its spectacular harbour, as well as the south coast and the Isle of Wight.
On a clear day, views extend for up to 23 miles from the tower’s three viewing decks, as well as from its café – aptly named Café in the Clouds. Once you’ve braved the glass-floored Sky Walk, spend time learning about the area using the interactive touchscreen system.
Portsmouth international port is Swan Hellenics UK base, from here the ship is turned around in a day with up to 300 passengers finishing or starting their cruise.