Portsmouth Historical Dockyard Reviews
Naval Historians' Heaven May 05, 2015
The must-see attraction of this important coastal city - Britain's Royal Navy has its headquarters here, and it's a gateway to both the continent and the nearby Isle of Wight - Portsmouth's historic dockyard's website boasts of showcasing ten major attractions and 'one amazing day out'. Puncture the hyperbole, and get over the eye-wateringly expensive admission fee, and you do indeed get a fine day out, which is a must-see for anyone with an interest maritime history and even for those who are simply curious about British history in general.
There are ten attractions but, dependent on what you're looking for and your age (more on that later), they are of variable quality. However, for most people, there is little doubt that the main attractions are quite clearly the three ships.
First up we have the HMS Victory (which I visited before this most recent visit, so apologies for the absence of onboard photos). This was the flagship of Admiral Nelson's fleet at Trafalgar - the battle which spawned that famous square in London - and is remarkably well-preserved and intact. Unbelievably popular, it's worth getting to as early as you can to beat the crowds, as clambering through the atmospheric lower decks is a fun experience and the closest you'll ever get to experiencing what life must have been like in Nelson's Navy. Speaking of Nelson, you get to stand on the spot above decks where he was shot down too, which is stirring and morbid at the same time.
The Mary Rose is the other grandstand attraction, not least because, as of the time of writing this, its remains are finally, fully on display to the public for the first time since it was hauled up from its watery grave in 1982. For those not in the know, this was Henry VIII's warship, and the only 16th century ship that remains on display anywhere in the world (apparently). The museum is ingeniously structured: the half of the ship that does remain is viewable through a three-tiered viewing gallery, and in these galleries themselves are exhibits (including hands-on activities for the young) to fill in the details, including information on the battle that sealed the Mary Rose's fate and the story behind its restoration, which is a masterclass in historical preservation.
The third ship - the Warrior - is somewhat overshadowed by these two, not least because it doesn't have the same historical clout behind it: it never saw any action. But it's quieter and easier to explore than the Victory, and as a monument of Victorian naval life, it's probably without parallel.
Elsewhere in the dockyard, the 'Action Stations' museum is probably the place to take the kids, featuring as it does all sorts of games and battle simulators. The Naval history museum is worth a look too. But really, it's all about the three ships. Be warned, the dockyard is quite big, and doing justice to them in one day is very difficult to do, so buying an all attractions ticket and spreading the visit over a couple of days is advised. It's also worth repeating just how very expensive it is - almost unjustifiably so, in fact at £32 each (though you get 20% off if you book online). So, if you're on a budget and/or are pressed for time, consider getting a ticket just to see one ship (£18 each)...and pick that ship wisely.
Part of the list Random Travels in the UK
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