A vibrant and bustling waterfront city nestled in Hampshire, Southern England, Portsmouth is a fantastic city to live, work and study. With everything so close by, it is easy to get truly immersed in this beautiful city.
From taking a step back into maritime history, to engaging museums, top-class restaurants, bars and cafes, sprawling beaches and unforgettable nightlife there is always plenty to do, see and be a part of in Portsmouth. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about the city and where to eat and visit for some great student deals from the best of Portsmouth’s local businesses.
Portsmouth, nicknamed “Pompey”, is the UK’s only island city located in Hampshire, England. Portsmouth is known for its significance in naval history and as the birthplace for many of the world’s greatest authors, such as Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Peter Sellers. Founded in 1180 by a wealthy merchant named Jean de Gisors, Portsmouth’s early history was marked by its naval and military achievements, due to its strategic standpoint on the Solent. In 1494, Portsmouth received decree from King Henry permitting the construction of a Royal dock, granting permission to build warships. This doubled the town’s population, effectively establishing it as the beginning of a ship building city and major port for several hundred years. In 1729 the Royal Navy Academy was established in Portsmouth and trained officers and cadets until 1872. During both World Wars, Portsmouth was a main military embarkment point for soldiers and a vital embarkment point for the D-Day Landings. During World War II Portsmouth was heavily destroyed by the Blitz, killing many and destroying housing and significant buildings in the Portsea and Southsea areas.
Since the war, Portsmouth has transformed into a vibrant city with tourism increasing steadily. It is the UK’s most dense city outside of London and has a population of approximately 205, 000 people. Over the last 25 years, the city has hosted many major events and celebrations including the Tour de France, the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the 200th Anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar and the 200th birthday celebration of Charles Dickens.
Currently, Portsmouth is home to three musical venues, twelve museums, several theatres and one football team. It has one of the most important collections of warships (HMS Victory and HMS Warrior), beaches, piers, a fun fair and is home to the Spinnaker Tower. Portsmouth has a large multi-cultural student population that gives the city a cultural twist amongst its modern and vintage feel. There is always something happening in Portsmouth, which makes it a great place to call home.
Portsmouth is a bustling city with several prominent areas and neighbourhoods. Below is a brief summary, with a little bit of history of parts of the city that you should know about.
Once used as an ordnance yard to store cannons and ammunitions and as torpedo training facility for soldiers during World War I, Gunwharf Quays is now a retail outlet destination with over 90 premium outlets, designer brands, restaurants, cafes, a cinema, casino and hotel. Located near the Portsmouth Harbour train station, Gunwharf Quays is also home to the Spinnaker Tower and the Gunwharf Quays Marina, which houses many small ships and luxury yachts.
Old Portsmouth is located in the South West corner of Portsmouth near Spice Island. Originally, Old Portsmouth was where inhabitants first settled in 1180. Currently, Old Portsmouth is a beautiful neighbourhood with sea views, traditional pubs and restaurants, historic monuments and new developments. Tourist attractions, such as the Square and Round Tower, Camber Dock Portsmouth Cathedral, and Royal Garrison Church and Spice Island are located in Old Portsmouth.
Southsea is located east of Old Portsmouth in the Southern part of the island. Originally, developed as a Victorian seaside resort, Southsea now has a large residential and commercial area that is a popular place amongst students both to live and visit. While still apart of Portsmouth, Southsea is recognized as a distinct and separate area within the city. As seaside resort with plenty of beaches, Southsea has a quirky and quaint atmosphere with a large commercial district and plenty of independent shops, bars and restaurants. Three main areas of significance in Southsea include: Palmerston Road, Albert Street and Southsea Common. Palmerston Road is a pedestrian street with two large commercial shopping malls. Albert Road has several cultural venues, including the Kings Theatre, and is a shopping street that is line with many independent, off-beat vintage shops and boutiques. Lastly, Southsea common, is a recreational ground and popular place for BBQ’s, picnics and enjoying the sunshine. It is host to many of Southsea's annual events and festivals in Portsmouth.
Includes the area around the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Gunwharf Quays and the Portsmouth. It is a major transportation hub for trains and intercity and national busses.
Portsmouth International Port is a point of departure and arrival for cruise ships, cargo ships and passenger ferries. Ferries departing for the Isle of Wight, France and Spain leave from here.
Commercial Road is a main shopping and market street in Portsmouth that is a part of the downtown core. The Cascades shopping centre, a large indoor commercial centre is located on this street.
Fratton is an area north of Southsea and east of Commercial Road. It is a quiet industrial and residential area often marked by its Victorian style housing. There are many local, low-budget shops and cafes, as well as, a large shopping centre located off of Fratton Road. Portsmouth F.C. Stadium, home of Portsmouth F.C, Portsmouth’s only professional football team is located in Fratton Park, within Fratton.
Portsmouth is a vibrant city with many tourist attractions. The most iconic is the Spinnaker Tower. Built to celebrate Portsmouth’s maritime history for the millennium, the Spinnaker Tower is taller than the London Eye at 170 meters tall. On a clear day you can see for 23 miles in any direction. This provides for a stunning view of Portsmouth, but also of the surrounding areas including Hayling Island and the Isle of Wight. Thrill seekers will enjoy walking along the glass floor at 100m above the harbour!
Nearby the tower is Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. Those interested in learning about the Royal Navy and why and how Portsmouth became a shipping haven can do so at the National Museum of the Royal Navy situated within the harbour. In particular, the dockyard is home to the world oldest collection of warships which include the Mary Rose, HMS Victory, HMS M.33 and HMS Warrior. These ships represent important moments in British history depicting the Battle of Trafalgar to the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. Accessed from the dockyard is the only surviving WWII submarine, the HMS Alliance - part of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, provides for an interesting and interactive look at history and how that has shaped Portsmouth into the city it is now.
Historically, Portsmouth played a prominent role as a place of embarkment in both World Wars. However, it was particularly vital to the D-Day landing. The D-Day Museum is Britain’s only museum dedicated to covering all aspects of D-Day and contains the famous Overlord Embroidery, a piece of embroidery that tells the harrowing story of the war from beginning to end.
On a literary note, Portsmouth also has two museums that recognize and pay tribute to two, among many, of Portsmouth’s most famous authors: the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum and the City Museum and Records Office. Located in Fratton, the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum is the house that Charles Dickens was born in. Accurately preserved, the museum provides an idea of what life was like for Charles Dickens and contains many of his personal possessions and allows you to experience 19th century life within the Dickens family. The City Museum and Records Office, has an extensive display of the city’s art and design collections and a special Sherlock Holmes exhibit that explores the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with an emphasis on the depiction of Sherlock Holmes through film, theatre, art and the media.
Another iconic tourist attraction in Portsmouth is the Southsea Castle, which is located at the end of Southsea beach. Due to its strategic positioning, the castle was originally built in 1544 to protect Portsmouth harbour from outside threats. Over time it was used as a military prison, then as a lighthouse before being restored and opened for public use. Today visitors can learn about the history of the castle and attend events, such as concerts and festivals in the adjacent grounds.
For a medieval look at history we recommend that you visit the Portsmouth Cathedral located in Old Portsmouth. A beautiful 12th century Anglican Church, the church is designed based on the Tree of Life, representing the renewal of life, and is Portsmouth’s only medieval cathedral.
Lastly, for a bit of light hearted fun, we recommend that you visit the Blue Reef Aquarium in Southsea. The aquarium has over 40 living displays and has an underwater walkthrough tunnel where visitors can interact with tropical sharks, lobsters, seahorses, and tropical fish. For a more exhilarating experience we recommend visiting Clarence Pier, an amusement park located on the coast next to Southsea Hoverport. The amusement park contains a variety of fun fair rides and arcade games, proving for a fun visit in the spring and summer months.