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What to do in Portsmouth before embarking on your cruise

Author: Lesley Bellew

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Sailing from Portsmouth offers a fleeting glimpse of the old quarter and Historic Dockyard – but the city is so rich in maritime history a pre or post-stay adds so much more to a cruise holiday.

Admiral Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory, the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet HMS Warrior and aircraft carriers HM Queen Elizabeth and HM Prince of Wales alongside the Historic Dockyard make sail aways from Portsmouth a memorable cruise experience.

With the beauty of the city within a mile or two of a ship’s gangway, it is well worth building in a pre or post-cruise stay in Portsmouth or Southsea, the city’s seaside resort, on its southern tip.

Here, the imposing Victorian red brick Queen’s Hotel, overlooking the sea and Southsea Common is being restored to its former glory. It’s a multi-million-pound work in progress and a grand place to stay without breaking the bank. High ceilings make the public areas and bedrooms light and airy while black and white photographs of 1960s pop stars line the walls with more nostalgia.

Better still, the hotel offers parking for guests who are staying at the hotel prior to their cruise – and if they want to stay on the day their cruise returns a special package can be arranged. Rooms start at £200, use code Queens22 to guarantee the best rates (queenshotelportsmouth.com).

So read on to discover more about Portsmouth's maritime history and how you can see it...

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The D-Day Story

The Queen’s Hotel is a leisurely stroll across the common to the D-Day Story (theddaystory.com) a modern museum where, outside, is the last surviving Landing Craft Tank out of 800 from Operation Neptune, the assault phase of Operation Overlord in June 1944.

Landing Craft Tank LCT 7074 was decommissioned in 1948 and ended up as a Liverpool nightclub, before sinking in Birkenhead Docks. It has been rescued for the nation thanks to the National Museum of the Royal Navy with backing from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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Inside the museum is another unmissable treasure; the 34-metre Overload Embroidery, commissioned to remember those who took part in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, stitched by a team at the Royal School of Needlework in London.

Using appliqué, stitching small pieces of fabric onto a larger background piece, the extraordinarily beautiful embroidery recreates pictures of the historic landings featuring the three forces and the familiar faces of Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Montgomery and Lord Mountbatten by British artist Sandra Lawrence.

Take a visit to the D-Day Story museum in Portsmouth. Credit: Shutterstock

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More Naval connections

A walk from Southsea Common to the Historic Dockyard passes Portsmouth Cathedral which has strong connections with the Royal Navy and the seafaring community.

Here you can see remnants of Admiral Lord Nelson’s flag from HMS Victory or visit the grave of an unknown crew member of the Mary Rose.

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The cathedral is opposite the city’s oldest pub The Dolphin, boasting a window said to be signed by Nelson, while nearby are plenty of interesting new independent shops selling art and crafts to books and antiques.

The walk also takes in Gunwharf Quays where there are discount designer shops as well as more pubs and restaurants.

Admire HMS Victory at the historic dockyard. Credit: Shutterstock

Brasserie Blanc is a tempting option with traditional French dishes served by friendly, knowledgeable staff, or book afternoon tea at the top of the Spinnaker Tower for spectacular views over the harbour.

In the lovely old town, Spice Island is where Sir Walter Raleigh unloaded Britain's first potatoes and tobacco in the late 1500s. Overlooking the harbour, the Still & West pub serves Fuller’s beer and good fish ‘n’ chips.

The Historic Dockyard (historicdockyard.co.uk) is the city’s jewel and cries out for a full day’s visit with the Mary Rose now housed in its own impressive museum.

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Fit time to board Victory and Warrior, visit the excellent museums and take a harbour boat tour with commentary. A day ticket costs £39 which allows unlimited visits for a year.

Driving into the Portsmouth to jump on a cruise ship without connecting with the city’s maritime history is a must to add to your cruise destination list.

Visit Portsmouth @visitportsmouth

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