Skip to content

Print this page Back to results

Portsmouth's Naval Heritage

Step back in time around the streets, quays and dockyards of Old Portsmouth.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Sea wall defences, cobbled streets and pavements

Landscape Historic streets, docklands, busy harbour and waterfront

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 119 Meon Valley and AA town plan

Start/finish SU 634991

Dog friendliness Not suitable for dogs

Parking Clarence Pier car park (right of Amusement Park)

Public toilets Broad Street, White Hart Road and the Hard

1 From the car park, join the Millennium Promenade (Renaissance Trail) and follow the chain-link trail (marked on the paving) along the sea wall away from Clarence Pier towards the ruined Garrison Church.

2 Continue along the wall to the restored Square Tower and proceed to the Round Tower, both built during the 15th century to protect the dockyard. Follow the chain-link paving down on to Broad Street, along Tower Street and into West Street, passing weatherboarded Quebec House, the oldest house in Old Portsmouth (1754), to reach the Still and West pub and the Point, the heart of Spice Island.

3 Curve right, following the chain-link along Broad Street, then left along a pathway that passes between the old fishing harbour and new housing developments to White Hart Road. Turn left, pass the Fish Market and continue ahead along Gunwharf Road, passing the Isle of Wight Ferry Terminal. Follow the chain-link right towards the terminal building, then right into the Gunwharf Quays complex.

4 Follow the trail through the complex to the Hard beyond Portsmouth Harbour Station. Turn left to the Naval Dockyard and Flagship Portsmouth.

5 Return along the Hard, pass St George's Church, go under the railway and bear left along St George's Road. Keep ahead at the junction with Gunwharf Road to the roundabout. Continue ahead to visit the City Museum, otherwise, at the roundabout, turn right along High Street to reach the Cathedral. Turn left just past the Sally Port Inn into Grand Parade and join the path past Garrison Church back to the car park.

Portsmouth is steeped in maritime history. For over 800 years it has been the home of the Royal Navy, playing a key role in the defence of the British Empire and synonymous with Nelson's victory at Trafalgar. It was from these shores that many of Britain's great naval heroes set sail to earn their place in history. Those days may have gone but their legacy lives on in Old Portsmouth, with its quaint houses and colourful waterfront. On this route you can walk along the centuries-old fortifications and discover Britain's naval heritage

History is brought to life by the majestic ships and fascinating museums and exhibitions. Allow plenty of time to visit the site, for there is much to see and explore. See the spot where Nelson died on HMS Victory, view the hull of Henry VIII's favourite warship, which sank in 1545 with the loss of 700 men and dramatically rose again from the sea bed in 1982, then step back in time and experience life aboard a Tudor warship by visiting the amazing Mary Rose Exhibition. Explore the four vast decks of HMS Warrior, Britain's first iron-clad battleship, built in 1860, and discover more about the Navy in the absorbing Royal Navy Museum. This includes the Victory Gallery and a breathtaking recreation of HMS Victory's gundeck at the height of the Battle of Trafalgar, in Action Stations, a new exhibition area.

The Garrison Church, founded in 1212 as a hospice for travellers and the sick, was where Charles II married his Portuguese bride, Catherine of Braganza, in 1662. It was reduced to its roofless state by bombing during the Blitz in World War Two.

Spice Island, a tiny peninsula of narrow cobbled lanes, lay outside the 17th-century walls and during the 18th and 19th centuries was bursting with all the life, danger and excitement one associates with a thriving naval port, filled with sailors and press gangs. At one time, it was said, 2,000 prostitutes and 200 beer houses could be found here, along with gambling saloons and cock fighting.

The waterfront land here, closed to the public for centuries, has now been opened up for everyone to enjoy. There are public promenades, viewing terraces for maritime events and berths for tall ships, and the bright and bustling Gunwharf Quays complex now features cafés, bars, restaurants, a cinema and over 80 shops.

What to look for

As you stroll down the High Street, look for George Court, formerly the George Hotel, and the inscription recording that Nelson stayed there before joining HMS Victory and setting off for the Battle of Trafalgar. The Duke of Buckingham was murdered in a nearby house in 1628; a plaque can be seen on the wall.

While you're there

Enjoy a leisurely 50-minute cruise around Portsmouth Harbour and view the warships and fortifications like Portchester Castle. Visit 393 Old Commercial Road, the Georgian house where Charles Dickens was born in 1812. Furnished in early 19th-century style, it houses a museum containing many items associated with the novelist.

Where to eat and drink

There's a wide choice of pubs and cafés, including the Spice Island Inn, the Still & West and Sally Port Tea Rooms in Old Portsmouth. There are waterfront bars and cafés at Gunwharf Quays and at many of the attractions on the route.


Local information for

Find the following on: