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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – we review HMS Victory and more with our children at this huge site

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – we review HMS Victory and more with our children at this huge site

Museums, ships and a boat ride make this a must for sea lovers or young history fans. 

What is it?

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a huge tourist site where families and other visitors can explore the UK’s naval past.

It includes museums and some of the most famous ships in British history including the star attraction HMS Victory.

It is part of the Royal Naval Dockyard and is run by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Where is it?

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is on the waterfront in the centre of Portsmouth, Hampshire.

What did we think?

It is massive! To get around everything is more than a full day out and it has some of the most important living history in the country.

Highlights

*HMS Victory – stand in the spot where Nelson fell on the top deck of this famous warship during the successful Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The plaque on HMS Victory where Nelson fell

The plaque showing where Nelson fell

The ship he sailed is beautifully restored with a simple, clever route through the different decks. She has sat in a dry dock on the site since 1922. There is a free audio guide to carry around.

Hammocks on HMS Victory

We also enjoyed seeing how the 800 sailors on board lived.

A word of warning though, there are steep steps and low ceilings throughout so keep a close eye on children.

A gun deck on HMS Victory

*Harbour tour – a 45-minute ride on the Solent Cat boat – it takes you around Portsmouth’s waters with an on-board commentary, seeing existing navy warships and getting a sense of the scale of the dockyard. It is also a good chance to sit down after walking around the large site.

*Action Stations – an entire building with hands-on activities for children including rope courses, the tallest indoor climbing wall in the UK and a helicopter simulator. There is also a Laser Quest (for an extra charge).

*Other highlights include HMS Warrior, Mary Rose and the Royal Navy Museum.

Our top tips 

*Cut down on walking by doing the harbour tour last and jumping off at Gunwharf Quays for food, shopping or the Spinnaker Tower (read more about the tower here).

*Tackle HMS Victory either early or late in the day, especially with younger children, so it isn’t too crowded walking around the narrow decks.

*Consider paying for a Full Navy ticket giving repeat entry for up to a year as there is enough to occupy a few separate visits if you want to do more than see just the Victory.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard information

Food: There are four different options. Boathouse 7 offers full meals, Boathouse 4 sells sandwiches, snacks and a children’s menu, the Copper Kettle serves cake and coffee or there is a Costa Coffee as well. The site has three picnic areas too.

Opening hours: Daily 10am to 5.30pm in summer, 10am to 5pm in winter.

Cost: A ‘Full Navy’ ticket costs £31 per adult with children free in the summer holidays and allows a year’s access to all the naval attractions at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – except for the Mary Rose, Mini Ports and Laser Quest.

You can also buy single attraction tickets for £18 per adult for one attraction, £25 for two attractions and £32 for three. Again children go free in the holidays.

Best for: Ages 5-10

Time needed: All day to see everything. Allow at least one hour per attraction.

Access and restrictions: There is a Special Access Route around the site with ramps for wheelchairs and buggies. There is also wheelchair access to the lower decks of HMS Victory.

Address: Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3LJ.

There is a nearby railway station, Portsmouth Harbour Station. Plus there is a large car park (£5 for four hours) 400 yards away.

Now read our full review of a break in Portsmouth here.

Portsmouth – we take our children back in time to explore the city’s naval history on a family holiday to the south coast of England

Portsmouth – we take our children back in time to explore the city’s naval history on a family holiday to the south coast of England

Read our review of a family break to Portsmouth where we try out some of the best attractions for children

We’re standing on the top deck of Britain’s most famous warship, looking out over a bustling harbour.

Suddenly there’s a bang and my son is clutching his chest – he’s recreating the final moments of the country’s greatest naval hero Nelson.

We’re all aboard HMS Victory – at the exact spot where Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson fell.

Getting close to Britain’s naval history is a must in Portsmouth after all – even on a family holiday.

Spinnaker Tower

Portsmouth is known as the great maritime city and we begin by taking it all in more than 105 metres above its harbour at the Emirates Spinnaker Tower.

An aerial shot of Emirates Spinnaker Tower

Spinnaker Tower

It takes just 25 seconds to reach the top in a lift and from the viewing gallery you can enjoy the entire Portsmouth panorama as well as views of the Isle of Wight.

One of our children loved the glass floor you can walk over – the other isn’t keen on heights! And both liked finding letters to complete a word search around the tower.

There are three viewing levels and two cafes (read a full review of the tower here).

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

If you want to see some of Britain’s best known ships up close then it’s a short walk from the tower to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

This huge site, which is still home to the Royal Navy, has enough attractions to occupy an entire day.

Out first stop was HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar.

It is amazingly well preserved with a well thought-through route that takes you right down into the bowels of the boat.

Hammocks on HMS Victory

Where they slept on HMS Victory

You can follow in Nelson’s footsteps and also experience life below deck where the sailors had to eat, sleep and be treated for war wounds.

Also at the dockyard we sampled the Action Stations hanger which has a climbing wall, rope course and a helicopter simulator giving children the chance to act like Royal Marines.

The site also has HMS Warrior, the biggest ship in the world when it was built in 1860, Henry VIII’s famous Mary Rose and plenty more.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate its scale is to go on the museum’s 45-minute harbour tour. This takes you around the Royal Navy’s current warships and onto The Solent. You can hop on and off at Gunwharf Quays near the Spinnaker Tower to cut down on walking (and enjoy a shop if you have time).

Read our full review of Portsmouth’s Historic Dockland here.

Beaches

Being so close to the sea means there are beaches aplenty around Portsmouth at places like Lee-on-Solent and Hayling Island.

Nearby Southsea and its pebbly beach is the closest but if you want soft sand then you have to head for the Isle of Wight.

Hovercraft

Fortunately there is a quick way to the Isle of Wight – on a Hovertravel hovercraft.

It is the last remaining passenger hovercraft in the country and is a great experience.

The Hovertravel Hovercraft crosses the water from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight

The Hovertravel hovercraft

You can get from Southsea to Ryde in 10 minutes and the journey is smoother and quieter than we imagined.

At Ryde, it is just a short walk to a lovely sandy beach with views back across the water to Portsmouth.

Read a full review of the hovercraft here.

Accommodation

After a busy day, we continued the nautical theme at our base – the family-friendly Solent Hotel & Spa, midway between Portsmouth and Southampton.

The exterior of the Solent Hotel & Spa

The Solent Hotel & Spa

Pictures of yachts and boats adorn some of the walls and if you fancy a dip in something warmer than the sea then there’s a 13 metre pool with plenty of space for children.

In fact, little ones are well looked after at The Solent with a goodybag in the room, mini dressing gowns, a games room with Xbox and table tennis plus a large woodland to explore.

There’s a relaxed restaurant and a modern pub on site and the fabulous breakfast certainly filled us up for a day’s exploring.

The swimming pool at the Solent Hotel & Spa

It’s also only 20 minutes from Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park.

Read our full report of the hotel here.

Marwell Zoo

You don’t have to be near the sea to have a good time in this part of the country. We spent a full day at Marwell Zoo on the outskirts of Winchester, on our way home.

This wildlife park is certainly large and the spacious habitats for giraffes, zebras, hippos and tigers mean plenty of walking to see everything.

A rhino drinks at Marwell Zoo

It was a busy day but didn’t feel crowded and you can pack it all in with the help of a road train and a miniature railway around the site.

For a full review of the zoo, click here.

Conclusion

Naturally, the sea and Portsmouth’s role in our naval history is a big draw to holiday here with your children.

But you don’t have to be on the top deck of HMS Victory to discover a family break in this part of the world can be a real winner.