First, let’s say, you should definitely plan to visit Portsmouth & Southsea for more than 24 hours, but alas, our time was squeezed due to a new housesitting assignment.
Though, as you would expect, we made the most of every minute. Before arriving, we queried friends as well as total strangers and studied local Instagram accounts and traveler reviews to dial in as much as possible before stepping off the train.
Here’s what we discovered…
When You Visit Portsmouth & Southsea,
Be Sure To…
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Renowned as a Royal Navy base, Portsmouth features one of the oldest dry docks in the world. It was a treat to come off the train at Portsmouth Harbor and immediately see the historic dockyard and massive HMS Warrior 1860, a 40-gun steam-powered armored frigate. “Her Majesty’s Naval Base” offers Comprehensive tours daily and an impressive museum named the Mary Rose, housing the wreckage of Tudor sailing ship.
The D-Day Story
This sobering museum tells the story of an operation (Operation Overlord) during the Normandy D-Day landings. The D-Day Story is an essential stop for everyone visiting Portsmouth & Southsea. An educational film, troop uniforms and battle maps are among the highlights, as are recorded interviews with veterans.
Millennium Seafront Promenade
Maybe I’m easily amused. (Okay, yes, I’m definitely easily amused). But, the three+ kilometer seafront promenade of Portsmouth & Southsea was a stunner – and, a complete surprise. Stretching roughly from Gunwharf Quays near Old Portsmouth all the way to the Southsea end well past Clarence to the Eastney Esplanade, this paved path offers views of the harbor and across to Isle of Wight. It’s definitely worth a few hours of strolling and exploring.
Pie & Vinyl Record Cafe
Honestly, I’m not sure whether to put this famed spot into the “see” or “eat” category, because you should do both. Though, it’s worth noting, it cannot be in the “drink” category as there’s no adult beverages served without food ordered (we know, we tried). So, order up a pulled pork pie or cauliflower and sweet potato pie and get ready to dig into good eats and music.
Combining the owners’ passions for music and comfort food, Pie & Vinyl features, you guessed it, a vinyl room with a multitude of “I Want That!” albums on display, along with great concert posters and information on new artists. (I couldn’t help but think of our album collection at home – it’s one of the few “things” we didn’t sell when we set off to travel). And, speaking of home, we loved seeing Alabama’s own Alabama Shakes prominently displayed on the top shelf. Totally groovy spot with the nicest people. They were even kind enough to create a list of live music venues for us in our next stop of Reading. You must visit and eat here.
For our anniversary dinner (Ah, thanks for the congrats. That’s sweet!), we chose to have dinner at highly-rated Beckett’s Southsea. We started with a heritage tomato tart with spanish goat cheese as well as smoked mackerel pate (what can we say, we’re on a mackerel kick for some reason I can’t explain). Both appetizers were unique and tasty and highly recommended. For mains, Matt opted for the seabass en pappillote, which he used the word “fine” to describe (ouch). I, on the other hand, was completely happy with my giant pot of mussels steamed with white wine and garlic and fat fries (we’re celebrating, who cares about calories, right?). Overall, it was a tasty experience and we would definitely dine here again.
We also stayed the night at Beckett’s new guest lodging. See below for our B&B review.
King Street Tavern
It’s been dubbed as “Southsea’s best kept secret,” though everyone we met recommended stopping in King Street Tavern. Scenic atmosphere within a historic 18th century pub house, nice beer selection and friendly vibe made this place a fast-on favorite. There’s often live music and everyone says the barbecue is fantastic.
The Hole in the Wall
Recommended by our friends at Pie & Vinyl, this place totally lives up to that glorious name. A wee bit crusty (in a good way), dark and compact; yet with comfy seating areas and colorful characters. The Hole in the Wall has been voted as “Best Pub in Portsmouth” for many years running and is the place to come for cask ales.
Monis Londres Vintage Clothing
The stylish Portuguese-born proprietor Monis Londres began selling vintage wear in the stalls of Portobello Market in famed Notting Hill. Today, her shop is packed with well-curated on-style vintage finds, from boots and jackets to belts and earrings. Matt almost walked out with a pair of (totally-impractical-for-backpacking-lives) circa 80’s faded Guess jeans…almost (the wife-veto-card works every once in awhile).
From old world barbershops to royal antiques, historic Castle Road offers plenty to see, do and shop, including above mentioned Pie & Vinyl and Monis Londres Vintage Clothing. Be sure to peek in the window of Tony Wood’s ultra-cool salon, just underneath the historic clock tower.
This popular restaurant and small 6-room guest house (the lodging portion is a new venture) is a design lover’s dream. Re-purposed champagne riddling racks, colorful tiles and wooden beams work together to create a warm, yet modern vibe throughout the property.
We were welcomed to Beckett’s Southsea with complimentary glasses of Prosecco (always a nice way to start!), then guided to comfy room #6 on the top floor. The room is light, airy and spacious, plus a really cool bubble-glass lighting fixture dangles from the peaked ceiling basking everything in warm glow. We loved the keyless entry pads – as long as you can remember your 4-digit room combo. A la carte breakfast was included with selections like Full English (and Full Veggie, hooray for me!), yogurt and muesli and it was all delicious.
Pros: Gorgeous design, great location, extra friendly and helpful staff. Strong and reliable in-room WiFi.
Notes: Two aspects that weren’t issues for us, but worth noting are rooms are accessible via stairs (#6 is on the 3rd floor, for instance), and in #6, bathroom walls don’t meet the peaked ceiling (naturally), meaning just a bit less privacy than some may hope for. If either is an issue, ask about the other rooms, as each one is designed differently and some are on lower levels.
Bottom line: We would definitely stay here again! It’s a good value and stylish retreat for this area, especially during peak or shoulder season.