Portsmouth, the Great Waterfront City, is packed with attractions, things to do, and summer events. As the UK’s only island city, there’s plenty of coastline to explore and history to learn about.

Visiting museums are among the top things to do in Portsmouth, while there are also a few great FREE attractions and endless shopping opportunities.

If you’re planning in visiting Portsmouth in the next few months, start planning with this Portsmouth guide.

Things to do in Portsmouth, UK
Things to do in Portsmouth, UK

Free things to do in Portsmouth

There are many great free places to visit things to do in Portsmouth. Here’s where to start.

Southsea Common

Southsea Common is a great place for a family picnic, flying a kite or having a game of football, recently voted the best picnic spot in the South East region in Warburtons Britain’s Best Picnic Site Awards.

Aspex

Portsmouth’s leading contemporary art gallery invites you to explore the innovative, contemporary and visual art on display. With exhibitions, workshops and events throughout the year from international and local Portsmouth artists.

Eastney Beam Engine House

Housed in their original high Victorian engine house of 1887 this pair of James Watt beam engines will be in full steam. You can also enjoy a variety of pumping engines, many of which are still in running order. Open the last full weekend of each month 1pm– 5pm (except December).

Cycle Ride around Langstone Harbour

One of the must things to do in Portsmouth is to visit the harbour. This 15 mile ride takes in mud flats, salt marshes and reclaimed land as it loops around the harbour. Pick up your route map from the Visitor Information Centre.

Related Read: Best UK Cycle Routes

Seafront Cycle Ride

This is a 4.5 mile ride from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard along the seafront to Eastney. This route makes a great day out, you can stop at one of the bars and restaurants along the way or one of the many attractions along the seafront. Pick up your route map from the Visitor Information Centre.

Hilsea Lines

An eighty-hectare site surrounding the fortifications of Hilsea Lines ancient monument, including woodland, meadows and fresh brackish lakes. It is remarkable that it contains the only area of woodland on Portsea Island. The site is of particular interest to botanists and offers easy to use self-guided trails.

Millennium Trail

This Portsmouth walking trail is indicated by a chain motif set into the promenade. Historically it refers to the chains, which use to be tightened across the harbour entrance at times of potential attack. A printed handout is for sale at the Visitor Information Centres, which provides full details of the route and the history associated with the Millennium Promenade.

Farlington Marshes Wildlife Trail

Flower-rich grazing marsh and a saline lagoon, supports a wide variety of wildlife, including internationally important populations of migratory wildfowl and waders such as the black-tailed godwit. Enjoy the circular walk, mostly on the sea wall, which is approximately 4km.

St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

Explore the splendour of this city centre cathedral which was built in five phases from 1882. The cathedral was extensively damaged during World War II and subsequently rebuilt. 

St Thomas’ Anglican Cathedral

For centuries the Cathedral has watched, listened and helped the people of Portsmouth navigate the passage of time. It has witnessed wars and peace, famous marriages, been bombed and rebuilt. Everyone from all religious backgrounds is able to come along and enjoy this beautiful cathedral.

Victoria Park

A haven of green tucked away in the city centre adjacent to the Guildhall. It covers 15 acres of grassed area, well-planted flower borders and trees. In the centre of the park is an area containing an aviary with peacocks, parrots and other exotic birds, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs that children can feed. Take some time to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of this city getaway.

Canoe Lake

A popular park dating from 1886, filled with some of the mature evergreen oaks planted in 1910, as well as an impressive display of floral bedding. The main Portsmouth attraction is the man-made boating lake. There is a large and very popular children’s play area with equipment for all ages and a sand pit.

Adjacent to the lake are the remaining walls of Lumps Fort which is now a peaceful and restful setting for Southsea Rose Gardens. Canoe Lake is known as a swan’s nursery as it is one of the Mute Swans chosen sites in the Solent. At times up to 60 juveniles can congregate here for comfort and security during the winter.

Portsmouth City Museum

Visit the exciting exhibition that allows you to explore the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of world renowned character Sherlock Holmes. Learn about life in Portsmouth and at the seaside, both past and present through their exhibitions and reconstructions.

Natural History Museum, Cumberland House

Explore the British wildlife and its many habitats. The museum tells the tale of the wild riverbank, marshes, woods and urban areas of the city, and includes a fresh water aquarium. Between May and September you can also take an exciting walk through their butterfly house, see how many species you can spot as they fly around your head.

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Museums in Portsmouth

Portsmouth has a wealth of places to visit, but is especially well known for its museums.

When making a list of things to do in Portsmouth for your trip, make sure to include a few museums on the list.

City Museum

See the exciting exhibition that allows you to explore the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of world renowned character Sherlock Holmes. Learn about life in Portsmouth and at the seaside, both past and present through their exhibitions and reconstructions.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Home to HMS Victory, HMS Warrior 1860, The Mary Rose Museum and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard offers a full day out. Add to these attractions Action Stations and Harbour Tours which bring the naval history bang up to date.

Book your tickets online before you get there to make sure that you get in.

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Royal Marines Museum

Based in a former Officer’s Mess, this stately museum celebrates the famous fighting spirit and history of the Royal Marines. 

D-Day Museum

The D-Day Museum is Portsmouth’s moving tribute to the efforts and sacrifices of the Allies of WWII.  Its centerpiece is the magnificent Overlord Embroidery, 272 feet of panels illustrating stirring scenes of Operation Overlord.  

Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum

This small house, where Dickens parents set up home after their marriage was where the great author was born in 1812. 

Natural History Museum, Cumberland House

Explore the British wildlife and its many habitats. The museum tells the tale of the wild riverbank, marshes, woods and urban areas of the city, and includes a fresh water aquarium. Exotic butterflies fly in the summer in the butterfly house overlooking the museum garden.

Southsea Castle

Built by Henry VIII, Southsea Castle is where he watched his favourite warship, the Mary Rose, capsize and sink in 1545.

Eastney Beam Engine House

Housed in their original high Victorian engine house of 1887 this pair of James Watt beam engines will be in full steam. You can also enjoy a variety of pumping engines, many of which are still in running order. Open the last full weekend of each month 1pm– 5pm (except December).

Shopping in Portsmouth

Portsmouth is retail therapy heaven! 

With three distinct areas to go shopping in Portsmouth, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Southsea

There’s a wealth of distinctive stores in Southsea, selling everything from curios to retro clothing. Palmerston Road is home to two department stores and high-street favourites whilst Marmion Road has chocolatiers, designer jewellery, boutiques and inspirational furnishings. 

Albert Road is considered one of the city’s hidden gems and Portsmouth’s answer to Brighton’s Lanes. Discover vintage delights, edgy clothing, antiques and collectables. With a distinctly bohemian feel, the street is buzzing day and night with quirky cafés and bars.

City Centre

To find high-street style, head to the City Centre. Commercial Road and Cascades Shopping Centre are home to some of the biggest brand names in the UK.  From Thursday to Saturday you’ll also find a traditional street market dating back centuries. When you need some time out to review your purchases, head to nearby Victoria Park for a snack and a rest.

Gunwharf Quays

You’ll find top designer outlets, stylish restaurants and chic bars on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays. Meander through the pedestrian avenues and discover massive savings on designer labels and high street favourites. When your feet need a break you can relax with a cocktail overlooking the harbour or take in the views with a trip up the Spinnaker Tower.

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    Travel Dudes

    I'm sure you've had similar experiences I had whilst traveling. You're in a certain place and a fellow traveler, or a local, tip you off on a little-known beach, bar or accommodation. Great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels. That was the inspiration for Travel Dudes.