Travelling doesn’t have to mean paying extortionate amounts in plane tickets and struggling with exchange rates. The UK is bursting with beautiful towns, tranquil countryside and rugged coasts and can be just as exciting to explore as foreign shores. In the “Hometown” series some of the Wessex Scene travel writers show us the places they grew up in and tell us why they’re worth a visit!
Portsmouth, paradoxically described on Urban Dictionary as both ‘a wart on the arsehole of humanity’ and ‘a collection of rolling hills, real gentlemen, and a burger van combining to create this magical location.’ Whilst as residents of Southampton we are brainwashed to hate Portsmouth, having been born there I find myself awkwardly torn (and often too loudly proud).
The best place to start any description of Portsmouth is with the often revelatory news that its an island. People I tell are nearly always shocked by this, with friend asking if it was even part of the UK. But an island it is, and people often cite the ‘island mentality’ as the reason Portsmouth has developed such a unique culture and identity (which is fiercely protective of its football team), with groups such as Strong Island becoming ‘a resource designed to promote, showcase and inform people about Portsmouth and Southsea’s cultural scene.’ Portsmouth – albeit slightly shabby in places – boasts a rich history, thriving social scene, its own clothing brand and lovely seaside to boot and at only £7 return with you student railcard, it really is worth a trip.
Portsmouth’s history is long and varied, with top sites including Charles Dickens’ Birthplace, a Roman Fort and King Henry VII’s own seaside castle. But the majority of Portsmouth’s dense history is tied to the sea due to it having a large natural harbour blocked by the Isle of Wight making it ‘virtually impregnable to attack from the sea’. The Historic Dockyard showcases Admiral Lord Nelson’s own flagship HMS Victory, HMS Warrior (the first iron-clad warship) and the wreck of the Henry VIII’s prized Mary Rose, which was raised from the seabed 437 years after it sank right in front of the King’s eyes.
Things to Do
Portsmouth is stacked with things to do, most tourists go straight to Gunwharf Quays which has lots of shops, most outlets boasting cheaper prices for designer labels. Gunwharf is also home to the Spinnaker Tower, lovingly described as a ‘skinny Burj al Arab’ and whilst it doesn’t house the luxury hotel of its better looking brother in Dubai, it does have a café, stunning views and a cool glass floor you can walk across. Gunwharf also has a multitude of restaurants and whilst most of them aren’t unique to Portsmouth they do serve the purpose of ‘mid shop refuel’ very well, and most of the restaurants look out over the sea which makes for perfect Instagram fodder. Which brings me nicely to the seaside, which is undoubtedly a huge plus to living on an island, and Southsea beach is suitably pleasing, although a little stoney, but it does have Southsea common right next to it, which is a great place to relax, sunbathe, pop to the fair or even the the aquarium. Finally no tour of Portsmouth would be complete without a trip to Pie and Vinyl which sells delicious pie and mash alongside a huge collection of vinyls varying from the Beatles to the XX – it even showcases local bands in small gigs so you can have your pie and eat it too.
Located in Gunwharf Quays is Portsmouth’s biggest – but no means best – nightclub, Tiger Tiger. Whilst this is a great place to tick off seeing all your friends from home over the Easter Holidays in one handy vodka fuelled night the music is decidedly ok and the vibe pretty average. There’s a smattering of clubs and bars situated nearby in Guildhall Walk which as well as housing the hallowed halls of Liquid and Envy does boast The Astoria, which one tripadvisor reviewer calls ‘a banging night out’, and I can’t help but agree with them. But unique to Portsmouth is Albert Road, where you can have a great night in smaller bars like the One Eyed Dog and Little Johnny Russell’s and still have a sit down meal at one of the many curry houses afterwards, which always gets a big thumbs up from me. Also the Atrium sells all cocktails for £3.50 on weekdays which makes a brilliant excuse for getting trollied on a Monday night. And on a serious music note, the Guildhall has seen some pretty famous acts over the years (such as Scouting for Girls and BLUE(!!!)), and The Wedgewood Rooms regularly sees alternative as well as famous acts gracing its stage.
Portsmouth has huge amounts to offer, and with it only a 30 minute train ride away it really is worth braving the wrath of your fellow Southampton residents and popping over to see what all the fuss is about.