What to do in and around Portsmouth, UK

It seems like a strange place to love, Portsmouth but in fact the city has so much to offer all ages. We had our first holiday there many years ago when a kind friend asked his mum if we could house-sit with our young family giving us a break at her home in a village just outside Portsmouth while she visited family elsewhere. Then our eldest son moved there and now we visit quite regularly.

taxidermy seagull on sign which reads:" Life is better at the beach."

Recently he asked us to cat sit for him which was the perfect excuse to spend time with my other half at the seaside. Normally we are there mostly to see our son, his partner and our grandson so it was a novelty to have a few days to fill without them. We decided on an itinerary of old faves and new adventures.

We arrived in torrential rain with a dreadful forecast but to our amazement the rain cleared and for the next few days we managed to dodge the showers. Bit of a shame really as I'd taken my new (gifted) Lighthouse Clothing Outback full-length waterproof raincoat and waterproof Canterbury Cloche hat (also gifted) ready for whatever the weather could throw at me.

madmumof7 on Southsea beach wearing green hat and coat from Lighthouse Clothing (gifted)

First stop on my must-do list was the beach near Clarence Pier, Southsea where I love to collect pretty stones and watch the hovercraft fly in (did you know a hovercraft ride is called a flight?) and see unsuspecting visitors getting caught out by the spray. Sadly although the rain was holding off, it was still very windy - the windsock at the hovercraft terminal was horizontal and no hovercraft were running! The waves crashing on the shore were gorgeous to watch though.

madmumof7 on southsea beach

I was very impressed with my Canterbury cloche hat - the advertising claimed it was "crafted to stay securely put when the brisk winds blow." I can confirm that despite a wind I would describe as more than brisk the hat did in fact stay put. I suggest if you want to buy one you measure your head and check Lighthouse Clothing's size guides to ensure a perfect fit.

One of my favourite places in Southsea is the Victorian sea shelter on Clarence Esplanade. I love the bright yellow paint and the simple but effective four sided design so you can sit out of the wind and rain no matter what the weather is doing. It's perfect for people watching and eating hot chips out of the paper on a cold day or ice cream on a hot day.

madmumof7 standing in yellow Southsea shelter

Then we went along the front to the Southsea Beach cafe, one of a few lovely spots along the front offering quality food and drink offerings. We enjoyed hot cocktails while we watched the "white horses" aka cresting waves on the water. 

cream topped hot chocolate

Then we walked along to South Parade Pier. It seems you can get Greek food, sourdough pizzas or a full English breakfast there now as well as the traditional fish and chips and ice creams. It was very windy on the pier - bracing you might say- and I was very grateful for the handy leg straps on my coat which stopped it flapping around.

madmumof7 with southsea pier in background

Nearby is another family favourite, Canoe Lake where generations of children have enjoyed pedal boats, a good playground and picnics under the evergreen oak trees. There's a cafe and toilets too. In the summer it's a popular spot for catching crabs (not entirely sure why there are so many in there!) but visiting in February I was glad to see the crabs were enjoying a break from their "in and out of the water" life. 

For once the seagulls and pigeons were outnumbered by mute swans. I still prefer seagulls though. Apparently Canoe Lake is known as the swan's nursery because so many juvenile birds congregate there for shelter and security in the winter. Don't be tempted to feed them bread though- it's not good for them.

Seagull and swans at Canoe Lake, Southsea

Now I am a keen thrifter and one of our favourite things to do on a day out is touring charity shops looking for quirky items and bargains. Our favourite spots in the Portsmouth area for this activity are in Palmerston and across the bay in Gosport. Gosport is, (how can I say it nicely?) a bit run down. But it has lots of charity shops where you can sometimes find designer bargains bought at the nearby Gunwharf Quays outlet and then dropped off at local charity shops for me to buy at a knock down price. Years ago this was the motherlode for Cath Kidston bags. During our recent visit we found loads of Superdry clothes.

My favourite thing about Gosport is the ferry - for under £5 you can enjoy the mini-est of mini cruises - a few minutes of life on the ocean wave traversing from the terminal next to the Portsmouth Harbour train station to the terminal near the bus station and High Street in Gosport. You get a great view of the HMS Warrior, a 40 gun steam powered armoured frigate built in 1860. This time we also saw two huge aircraft carriers in the harbour too.

madmumof7 on Gosport ferry looking at HMS Warrior

To actually look round the ship you can visit Portsmouth's historic dockyard. You can buy a ticket to give you access to all the attractions in and around the dockyard for a whole year which I would recommend as there is so much to see. No shopping fan's visit to Portsmouth would be complete without a visit to Gunwharf Quays. If nothing else it offers the opportunity to admire the yachts often moored there. You might pick up some bargains too. The stores seem to change or move quite frequently so check before you travel that your favourite is still there.

During our four day stay we also visited Chichester, Selsey and Hayling Island, all just a short drive from Portsmouth. You could also go to the armouries at Fort Nelson, pop across to the Isle of Wight, explore the D-Day Story or the Aquarium, play crazy golf, visit the model village..... seriously it is a great place for a holiday for all ages. And don't forget to indulge in a portion of traditional British chips!

hand holding bag of chips up with beach and sea in background

Disclaimer: I was gifted the Outback full length waterproof raincoat in colour way Fern and the Canterbury cloche waterproof hat also in Fern from Lighthouse Clothing.