Saturday 17 August 2019

Family Adventures: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard! (Part One!)

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a Navy base on the south coast of the UK which is part active base, part historic museum. 
It has a load of awesome attractions but very annoyingly one of the most awesome things available at the dockyard - The Mary Rose Museum - is no longer included in the ticket price.* 

Anyway, the attractions the dockyard ticket does give you access to are:

Museum of Naval Fire Power
National Museum of The Royal Navy
The Dockyard Apprentice
HMS Warrior
HMS Victory
Action Stations
Boathouse 4
Making of a Royal Marine Commando
Horrible Histories: Pirates
Royal Navy Submarine Museum and Explosion Museum 
(+ the water bus to take you across the harbour)

Basically, it's a lot to fit into a 7.5 hours period, especially when the submarine and explosion museums are the opposite side of the Solent. We got stuck in traffic on route to Portsmouth (evil M27!) and didn't arrive until 11:30 and despite it not being too busy, we never got around all the available attractions.
Luckily, the dockyard ticket gives you entry for a whole year so we can go back and see the things we missed!

I'd guess that if you didn't spend too much time at each attraction and you had a strict timed plan you could maybe cover everything off in a single visit but... If you can spread it out over two, I would.  Otherwise, mark out exactly what you want to see and prioritise it leaving the rest as optional.

HMS Warrior
On this trip to the dockyard we started our day by exploring HMS Warrior.

HMS Warrior is a steam-powered, metal, frigate (otherwise known as an Ironclad) built in the mid-1800s. You can explore her decks and get a taste for what life was life in the Royal Navy during the late Georgian - Victorian era!
Warrior has been beautifully restored and there's a cafe in the ships galley kitchen. You can even rent her for events such as weddings!
Be warned though, the stairs between decks are insanely steep and it can be a little nerve-wracking making your way around!

After Warrior, we meandered into the Horrible Histories: Pirates event and while we enjoyed reading about various pirates and their gruesome histories the event as a whole was a little underwhelming with not a whole lot to do considering the hype.

From Horrible Histories, we went to check out Monitor M33 a gunboat designed for coastal bombardment in shallow waters.
M33 is famous for being the only Monitor class gunboat to never have a casualty - despite taking direct hits -  and became known as a lucky boat. She saw action in the first world war campaign at Gallipoli and was later repurposed to various fleet support roles before being retired, sold, and making her way to a drydock in the historic dockyard.
M33 is a relatively small boat and she's a bit of a battered husk, to be honest. She hasn't been restored to immaculate conditions and it makes her a little more special in my eyes.

In the lower decks, they have a 5 minute video projecting onto the walls telling you the history of M33 and the first world war and it's sobering. The little dude was able to handle it - he's quite mature and not a sensitive or easily upset kid - but I don't think I'd have been happy with him watching it when he was younger so parents may want to hustle through that particular part of the exhibit or limit themselves to the upper decks which are laid out as they would have been 'back in the day'.

HMS Victory
After M33 came one of the jewels of the dockyard: HMS Victory.

HMS Victory was Admiral Nelson's flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar. She was been painstakingly restored and you can take a walk through each deck of this stunning ship of the line and lose yourself imagining what it must have been like packed with hundreds of men living on board and with the thunder of cannon during battle.
The little dude was absolutely entranced by the legend of Nelson so was particularly excited as he walked through this famous ship.
Like Warrior, climbing between decks on Victory isn't an easy task with the crazy steep steps so you need to be super careful and definitely leave anything but flat, sturdy, shoes behind!

Nelson Exhibit
Once leaving Victory, we popped into the National Museum of the Royal Navy which didn't take too long to wander around. However, it has an entire exhibit dedicated to the life and naval exploits of Lord Admiral Nelson and we spent a lot of time in there for, as I said, the little dude has a new hero in Nelson.

After the museum, we were ready for lunch and as we hadn't brought any food with us we eat in the Boathouse Cafe. The food was lovely - we had sourdough stone-baked pizzas and cake - but it was a bit pricey for what you got... Once we'd eaten, it was around 15:30, we had no chance of getting across the river to the submarine museum and explosion museum and we also weren't fitting in the Museum of Naval Fire Power so we took ourselves off to the Action Stations where the little dude learned a bit about the Royal Marines, had a go at the climbing wall, flew a Merlin helicopter simulator, and played various games and challenges.

Action Stations
By 17:00 we were tired and had had a lot of fun. 
We'll definitely be visiting the dockyard again before the end of summer break to finish off the activities we never got around to! We particularly want to go climbing around the WWII submarine in the Submarine Museum.

Tickets to the dockyard are quite pricey but they're worth it, especially when you can go as many times as you like over a year. There are plenty of places to eat, bathrooms are clean and tidy, the car park is right next to the attraction (and isn't horribly priced for a city car park) and all in all it's a good day out packed full of history and adventure. 

*If you want to see the Mary Rose you need to pay an entrance fee to enter the museum (an additional £26.50 for me and the little dude!) which is outrageous when we'd already paid ~ £60!
Luckily, we've seen it before  - when it was part of the dockyard ticket price - so I didn't bother paying out a second time but it would have been nice to see it again this time around.
- le sigh -


  1. Wow! That's impressive that your ticket is good for a whole year. My dad and sister would love this place. They adore all that is history, and my father loves boats and whatnot. I have been to several maritime museums in my time, and we had visited the seaport in NYC when I was a kid as well. The action stations look like lots of fun, but you know my favorite part would have been the pizza.

  2. It sure looked like you guys had a good time.

  3. What an incredible day! I will keep this place in mind when I take Eleanor to the UK in a few years. I feel like it is probably more of a two-three day adventure - I love that the pass is good for a whole year and hopefully you get to use it again soon.

  4. I would so love to visit all these things but it is too far for us to drive down to the south coast and too expensive to start messing about with planes and trains, plus hotel costs!

  5. Wow that place looks amazing!! If I ever make it to the UK (a dream trip for me!) this is going on my list.

  6. Sounds like a place full of history. I'm glad you had a nice day, and that's awesome you can go back for a year on your ticket. Not a bad deal - but that's a bummer EVERYTHING wasn't included in one price.


  7. My husband was practically gnashing his teeth over the fact you were onboard HMS Victory, Nicci! LOL I read him parts of this post and he was beside himself. I swear, one day I want us to go back to England just so I can see his face when he see the Nelson museum and boards Victory. :)


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