Portsmouth has been the home of the Royal Navy for more than 800 years, playing a key role in the defence of the British Empire and synonymous with Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar (1805). It was from here that many of Britain’s naval heroes set sail, and their legacy lives on in Old Portsmouth, with its quaint houses, colourful waterfront and historic dockyard. Walk along the fortifications, through the cobbled streets of Spice Island, and discover Britain’s naval heritage by touring the dockyard, museums and exhibitions.
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. At one time, it was said, 2,000 prostitutes and 200 beer houses could be found here, along with gambling saloons and cockfighting. The oldest house in Old Portsmouth, Quebec House (1754), was originally built by public subscription as a seawater bathing house. Founded in 1212 as a hospice for travellers and the sick, the Garrison Church was where Charles II married his Portuguese bride, Catherine of Braganza, in 1662. The waterfront land, 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 features cafés, bars, restaurants, a 14-screen cinema and more than 90 shops.
Allow plenty of time to visit the Dockyard. See the spot where Nelson died on HMS Victory. View the hull of Henry VIII’s favourite warship, the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545 with the loss of 700 men and dramatically rose from the seabed in 1982, then experience life aboard a Tudor warship by visiting the amazing Mary Rose exhibition. Explore the four vast decks of HMS Warrior, Britain’s first ironclad battleship, built in 1860, and discover more about the Navy in the absorbing Royal Navy Museum. Access to the Historic Dockyard is by ticket obtained at the Visitor Centre next to the main gate. A Historic Quarter Pass is free but to visit the attractions a ticket must be bought.
From the car park, join the Millennium Promenade (Renaissance Trail) and cross the wooden footbridge. Follow the chainlink trail (marked on the paving) along the sea wall, walking away from Clarence Pier. 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. Walk through the tower and follow the chainlink paving down the steps onto Tower Street and into West Street, passing white weatherboarded Quebec House, to The Still and West pub and the Point, at the heart of Spice Island.
Curve right, following the chainlink along Broad Street, then left along Feltham Row, passing 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 chainlink left towards the terminal building, then turn right through an ornate metal gate. Follow the chainlink through a development of modern apartment blocks, passing the HMS Marlborough figurehead, and into the Gunwharf Quays shopping complex.
Follow the trail across the lock, then turn right down Vernon Avenue to reach Central Square. Continue ahead down Marlborough Avenue and pass under the railway and turn left to The Hard beyond Portsmouth Harbour station. Turn left to the Historic Dockyard.
Return along The Hard, down the short Ordnance Row to St George’s church, then bear right to go under the railway and keep ahead along St George’s Road, with the sports field on your left. Bear left at the junction with Gunwharf Road to the roundabout.
Continue ahead if you want to visit Portsmouth City Museum; otherwise, at the roundabout, turn right along High Street to the cathedral. Turn left into Grand Parade and join the path past Garrison Church. Walk through the tunnel across Nelson’s Bridge to return to the car park.
Sea wall defences, cobbled streets and pavements
Historic streets, docklands, busy harbour and waterfront
Not suitable for dogs
OS Explorer OL3 Meon Valley, Portsmouth, Gosport & Fareham
Pay-and-display at Clarence Pier car park (right of Amusement Park)
White Hart Road, Gunwharf Quays and the Hard
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Hampshire’s varied landscape of hills and heaths, downlands and forests, valleys and coast is without rival in southern England. Combine these varied landscapes and terrains with secluded and idyllic villages, complete with thatched and timber-framed cottages and Norman churches, elegant Georgian market towns, historic ports and cities, restored canals and ancient abbeys, forts and castles, and you have a county that is paradise for lovers of the great outdoors.
If you’re a walker, stride out across the high, rolling, chalk downland of the north Hampshire ‘highlands’ with far-reaching views, walk through steep, beech-clad ‘hangers’ close to the Sussex border. Or perhaps take a gentler stroll and meander along peaceful paths through unspoilt river valleys, etched by the sparkling trout streams of the Test, Itchen, Avon and Meon. Alternatively, wander across lonely salt marshes and beside fascinating coastal inlets or, perhaps, explore the beautiful medieval forest and heathland of the New Forest, the jewel in Hampshire’s crown.