One week in Portsmouth with kids turned out to be much better than we expected. Not much for cities or busy places, we were happy to find that Portsmouth is not only a family-friendly city but a city with more than enough outdoorsy things to do, plenty of green spaces to relax in and a large variety of entertainment options, not to mention the diverse shopping experience on offer.
Here’s how we spent one week in Portsmouth with kids without swimming in the sea – it was too cold in August!
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Day 1: Hover Craft Ride to The Isle of Wight
Treat yourself to a hovercraft ride from Southsea in Portsmouth to Ryde, a small seaside town on the Isle of Wight, with Hovertravel, who claim to be the only year-round hovercraft service in the world. You’re literally flying across the Solent on the fastest ferry service reaching the other side in just ten minutes!
The Hovertravel office and departure point are next to Clarence Pier Arcade and Amusement Park. There are public toilets and a playground across the road, and plenty of parking along Clarence Esplanade and Pier Road.
We had lunch at the food shack by the Peter Pan Fairground and it was good. We can recommend it.
The Peter Pan Funfair is on the esplanade, a short walk from where the hovercraft disembarks. It’s a permanent fixture and of course, where we spent most of the afternoon with the kids.
You’ll find it has all the expected fairground rides, games and adventure golf and, we’re happy to report, all are well-staffed and in good working order.
One of Rydes main attractions is its long white sandy beaches. The playpark at Ryde Beach was a big hit and the long shallow sea entry makes it a safe choice for families. We stopped and played at Ryde Beach, but you could walk further along the esplanade to Appley Beach, also a family favourite. At Appley Beach, you’ll find Appley Tower, Appley Park and Goodleaf Tree Climbing, where you can climb a 15-meter high tree with a rope and harness.
We caught a ferry back to Southsea before 5pm. For next time, these are the things we will add to our Isle of Wight must-do list.
- Haven Falconry
- Appley Beach & Park
- Goodleaf Tree Climbing
- Puckpool Park
- Isle of White Coastal Footpath
- Quarr Abbey
Day 2: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
This is an amazing place to spend a few days if you’re in Portsmouth with kids. You can have a ball without kids if you’re into history and culture. There is so much to explore that one day is not enough. We bought the annual membership ultimate explorer family ticket, which was on offer on Groupon, and we were glad we did because we didn’t get through half the stuff in one day. We chose to come back for round two on our last day in Portsmouth and still missed a few things.
It’s easy to find parking in nearby buildings. You may have a short walk to get to the entrance, but parking shouldn’t be a problem. Get there early to avoid the queue and buy your ticket online before you go to skip the main queue. Currently, I think you can only buy tickets online, but do check the website for updates here.
Her Majesty’s Naval Base Portsmouth (HMNB) is situated next to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Portsmouth Naval Base is one of three in the UK, has been part of the city since 1194 and is home to almost two-thirds of the countries’ surface ships and various new naval protection squadrons. There is a strong police presence and terrorism threat level signs are posted around the dockyard, or there was during the time of our visit.
Our children love Horrible Histories! They had so much fun doing the treasure hunt, watching the pirate talk and exploring the interactive exhibits and various indoor play areas.
Start the day at the Pirate exhibition centre if you’re visiting with kids. The treasure hunt game will set them off and take them all over the dockyards in search of clues. We did the treasure hunt twice!
So much fun inside the Pirate exhibit. It will keep children of all ages entertained for a good long while.
We enjoyed a typical British lunch in the cafeteria. It was busy but service ran smooth and the food was nice.
Action Stations is our favourite place at the dockyard. Situated in Boathouse 6, it offers a series of physical challenges, simulators and technological experiments that gives you a taste of Naval life.
Our toddler seriously liked the Sky Tykes challenge and did it more times than I care to remember. B and I took turns watching her navigate the obstacle course while the other explored the rest of what the centre has to offer with the older children.
We found the onboard tour of the warships truly fascinating. Being able to get on the ships and walk through all the areas to see how masterfully these beauties were put together and to see how sailors lived was just magnificent. It’s one of the most enriching, educational experiences I think we’ve been able to share with the kids.
Onboard HMS Warrior we saw how they slept, worked, ate and relaxed. Everything about living on a warship is shared in this experience and it’s beautiful to see.
The 25ft statue of a sailor kissing a girl was unveiled in June 2019 as part of the countries’ 75th D-Day celebrations. It originates from a photo taken at Times Square at the end of the second world war and represents complete surrender.
Day 3: Play at Clarence Pier
Spend an afternoon bowling, playing arcade games, eating ice cream and going wild in the playground at Clarence Pier.
You’ll find plenty of off-street parking around Clarence Pier.
Day 4: Chillax
We always need at least a day or two during a busy week to stay put and recharge before we explore again. The typical grey, wet British weather often makes the choice of which days to spend indoors fairly easy, as was the case this time.
Day 5: Explore Portsmouth On Foot
We set out to see how far we could get on foot with the kids and also, how much there is to see and do in that time. As it happened, we got quite far and had a full day of family-friendly entertainment, all unplanned and within reasonable walking distance from our Airbnb in Southsea.
The route took us through Albert Road, a street lined with independently owned shops that give it a unique vibe and a more traditional high street feel. You can find anything from comic book stores to costume hire and vegetables, as well as a wide variety of food from all around the world.
Colourful and authentic, a street with personality. It would be great if all Albert Road shops could be revived with a bit of TLC and a lick of paint, without taking away any of its inherent character and charm of course. I recommend heading to Albert Street to support local shop owners instead of heading to the modern highstreet big-chain stores and malls.
We found this great green space on the esplanade where we had lunch (not recommended) and let the kids loose to play and explore before heading further along the esplanade to South Parade Pier.
South Parade Pier has roadside parking along South Parade Road, as well as Clarence Esplanade and Eastney Esplanade. There is also a small car park just 500 metres to the east of the pier, near the Model Village and Canoe Lake.
More irresistible fairground attractions on South Parade Pier and an amusement centre to keep the kids smiling from ear to ear.
Southsea Castle was built in 1544 by King Henry VIII, but it was barely completed when he stood inside only to watch his flagship, the Mary Rose, tragically sink at the Battle of the Solent against the French in July 1545.
During our visit, entry was restricted due to a wedding taking place, so we could appreciated it from the outside only.
You will be spoiled for choice when it comes to dining in Portsmouth with kids. There are restaurants for every nation from across the globe. Our favourite restaurant, not only because we found it close to our apartment, was Umami Street Food.
Day 6: Retail Therapy at Gunwharf Quays
Having dipped our toes in a bit of shopping the previous day on our walk, we decided to visit what seems to be the main shopping attraction in Portsmouth, Gunwharf Quays.
Gunwharf Quays is situated next to the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth Harbour and the Historic Dockyard. The weather was particularly dreadful this day, but with parking and designer outlets all or mostly undercover, we were, well, covered.
Browsing through a shopping centre with nearly a hundred designer outlet stores and lunch at one of over 30 restaurants is more than enough for us for one day. Actually, it’s more than enough shopping for me for a long time! If shopping is your thing, Gunwharf Quays is the place to go.
Day 7: Back to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
We spent our last day in Portsmouth with kids at the Historic Dockyard again, just because there is so much to do! As it stands, we need another day or two to get everything done. The kids just enjoyed the treasure hunt so much that we did it with them a second time on this visit instead of ticking off the other attractions we were still due to visit. The Action Stations centre got a big chunk of our attention too and we took Matt on the Warrior and Victory warship tours because he missed the first visit.
Attractions we have still to see at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard include
- Boathouse 4
- Henry VIII’s The Mary Rose
- National Museum of the Royal Navy (if only to see the rare 18th century Jolly Roger flag in the Sailing Navy gallery.)
- Harbour Tours boat ride
- Dockyard Apprentice Boathouse 7
There! That’s how we spent one week in Portsmouth with kids, despite the nasty weather we had during that week of our 2019 summer holiday. And I’d say that that’s the big advantage of going to Portsmouth, is that you’ll have an abundance of cool things to do at your fingertips come rain or shine.
I hope you enjoyed this photo essay and that you can see how much we loved exploring in Portsmouth with kids. We wouldn’t hesitate to visit Portsmouth again for a weekend break-away or to perhaps spend a week on the Isle of Wight in summer or spring. I think it would be a super family holiday for anyone now that I can see why Queen Victoria loved the Isle of Wight so much.
When you visit Portsmouth, we suggest you choose accommodation with allocated parking. That was the one thing we struggled with while staying in a residential area. Parking was very limited and well monitored by police. We had to move the car at certain times of the day, especially when permit holders arrived from work. It was an inconvenience that kept B busy, driving around the area in search of parking. In the end, a 3-minute overstay in a parking area in front of the apartment resulted in a fine. Be warned.
Have you been to Portsmouth? What did you enjoy most?