Some links on this page are affiliate links. They may generate revenue for this site but there’s no extra cost to you if you make a purchase. More on affiliate links

All you need to know about visiting the historic harbour in Portsmouth

The Historic Dockyard is a leading attraction in Portsmouth. The museum complex is a treasure trove of maritime heritage that spans centuries of British naval history. Though promoted as a single attraction, the dockyard comprises several museums and historic ships.

Whether you are a history enthusiast, a maritime buff or simply curious, the Historic Dockyard is a must-visit for any visitor to Portsmouth. Most attractions are in the dockyard while 2 museums are off-site at different locations in Gosport, across Portsmouth Harbour, and reachable by taking the waterbus.

Here’s the guide to visiting Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. In the guide, you’ll find information about the historic ships, museums and other attractions to explore. There is also information about opening times, getting here, visitor conveniences, tickets and hotels near the Historic Dockyard.


About the Historic Dockyard

Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
Aerial view of the Dockyard | Ben Salter

The Historic Dockyard is within the expanse of HM Naval Base Portsmouth. Located on the eastern shore of Portsmouth Harbour, the naval base is one of the 3 operating in the UK. Its history goes back to the late 12th century during the reign of King Richard I, who ordered the construction of a dry dock for maintenance and repairs.

Through the centuries the dockyard expanded and grew in importance with new storehouses and shipbuilding facilities. It also grew in importance as a naval stronghold and during both World Wars, played a significant role in supporting the Royal Navy’s efforts. Today, the naval base is home to two-thirds of the Navy’s fleet.

The Portsmouth Dockyard is the only area of the naval base that’s open to visitors. The area spans 5 hectares (12 acres) and is a step back in time when the warships of the Royal Navy roamed the seas. The experience also includes 2 offsite museums in Gosport, situated across Portsmouth Harbour.

Exploring the area, you’ll discover historic ships and centuries-old buildings that are now homes to museums. The ships here have served many battles and are filled with intriguing stories to tell. The restored old buildings are not only homes to naval artefacts but also provide a glimpse into the lives of sailors at sea.

To complete the Dockyard experience, the Mary Rose Café for quick bites and Boathouse 4 Restaurant with its elegant setting. Both serve a range of traditional British fare using the freshest ingredients. There are also gift shops with maritime-themed souvenirs to commemorate the visit.

Historic Ships at the Dockyard

The Portsmouth Dockyard is home to several historic ships, each with a unique story to tell. From the sea battles fought on board to the daily lives of the sailors, these historic ships offer a glimpse into the past. What’s more, it’s an opportunity to explore the heritage of the Royal Navy which is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
HMS Victory | Ballista

Launched in 1765, the HMS Victory was central to many of the Royal Navy’s engagements in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was the pride of the British fleet and one of the most revered warships. HMS Victory is still in commission and serves as the flagship of the First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy.

For more than 40 years, HMS Victory served under several captains and was involved in many naval battles. Most significant was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when Lord Nelson led the British fleet against the French and Spanish Armada. The British were victorious but Lord Nelson tragically lost his life.

Stepping aboard HMS Victory, you’ll be amazed by its sheer size and grandeur. It’s not just a warship but a testament to the Royal Navy’s heritage, a masterpiece of naval engineering and craftsmanship. The ship features 3 masts, several decks, intricate rigging and cannons used in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Visitors to HMS Victory receive a hand-held audio guide. Get aboard and explore the upper deck, lower gun deck and Lord Nelson’s spacious cabin. Don’t forget to explore the ship’s living quarters and mess deck. A prominent feature on the upper deck is a plaque marking the spot where Lord Nelson was shot during the battle.

HMS Warrior 1860

HMS Warrior at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
HMS Warrior | Geni

HMS Warrior 1860 was the first steam-powered ironclad warship built for the Royal Navy. Launched in 1860, the ship was a marvel of engineering and technology of its time. It was not only the largest and fastest in the British fleet, but also one of the first in the world to have an iron-clad wooden hull.

The powerful and massive warship played a crucial role in the Royal Navy. During the Victorian era, the ship was a symbol of British naval power, serving as a deterrent to potential enemies. Powered by steam engines, it could outrun other ships. And the ship’s iron-clad wooden hull made it more impervious to attacks.

HMS Warrior was converted into a training vessel for young Royal Navy sailors in the 1880s until taken out of service in 1987. It’s now a museum ship and meticulously restored to its original state with 4 decks to explore. Pick up a free guide before you tour the HMS Warrior to make the most of the visit.

The tour is a captivating journey into the ship’s history. Explore the main deck and gun decks. There are replicas of the massive steam engines and boilers that once powered the ship. And don’t forget to explore the living quarters including the captain’s cabin as well the ship’s kitchen and mess hall.

Mary Rose Museum

Mary Rose Museum at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
Mary Rose Museum | Geni

The Mary Rose Museum houses the remains of the Mary Rose, a 16th-century warship that sank in the Solent in a battle against the French navy in 1545. Constructed in 1510, it was one of the largest ships in the English fleet and a formidable warship during its time. The Mary Rose was discovered in 1971 and retrieved in 1982.

It’s a captivating museum and a journey back in time. The museum is well laid out with 3 levels of exhibits. What’s more, you can walk around 360 degrees for a complete view of the ship. The museum is more than just about the 16th-century warship but also about the sailors of the Mary Rose.

On display are the ship’s preserved hull and a vast array of 19,000 historical artefacts. The hull is a stunning display and you can get close to see the timbers. Artefacts include the ship’s canons, weapons and bowsprit used to ram other ships in battles. There are also personal items like clothes and combs.

The artefacts are regularly rotated, so there’s always something new to see. There are also interactive displays and audio-visuals to absorb you. You’ll learn how the ship was constructed and used in battle. You’ll also learn about the lives and challenges faced by the sailors and soldiers of the Mary Rose.


HMS M.33 at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
HMS M33 | Mike Peel

Commissioned in 1915, the HMS M33 was a Royal Navy “monitor class” ship. It was designed to defend the coast and support troops during landing operations. The ship saw its first active service during the Battle of Gallipoli in August 1915. For the remainder of the war, the ship served in the Mediterranean.

HMS M33 was part of a group of small warships during the First World War. Though a small ship, she played an important role. After the war, the ship was converted into a support vessel. It was later kept in storage, after decades of service, before being restored and converted into a museum ship.

Though modest in size, HMS M33 has plenty of history to tell. It’s not only about its naval past but also the life of the sailors at sea. The ship is outfitted with artefacts including tools and weapons. There are also film shows, interactive displays, information panels and photographs for a deeper understanding.

The warship has been restored to the way it was during the Battle of Gallipoli. Step aboard and explore the main deck, bridge, gun deck, mess deck, galley, boiler and engine rooms. A tour of the ship also passes the captain’s cabin and the cramped living quarters used by the officers and enlisted sailors.

The Dockyard Museums

The museums are showcases about the history of Royal Navy and Portsmouth’s maritime heritage. Housed in centuries-old buildings, the collection spans centuries from the Royal Navy’s early beginnings to the present day. Beyond the artefacts are interactive exhibits for an immersive experience that brings the past to life.

Boathouse 4 Museum

Boathouse 4 at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
Boathouse 4 | Christ Talbot

Boathouse 4 is the first museum you’ll meet as you enter the Historic Dockyard through Victory Gate. You don’t need a ticket to enter this museum, it’s free. Constructed in 1939, it was the last of the buildings built for the Royal Navy. It played a vital role as a maintenance and repair facility for small naval vessels during the Second World War.

Boathouse 4 is about the craftsmanship and skill involved in the building of naval vessels. Walk inside and you’ll learn about the traditional craft of boat building from laying the keel to the finishing touches. In addition, you’ll learn about the evolution of building naval boats through the centuries.

The museum is a showcase of tools and equipment used in boat building. There are also intricate model ships and artefacts of small historic boats. The interactive displays provide a deeper insight into the art and science of naval engineering. There are also staff to share their knowledge and experience.

You can also observe traditional boat-building skills in action on various projects. Some are involved in restoring historic boats, while others are devoted to constructing replica vessels. Take your time to observe. Besides, you can also hear informative talks by knowledgeable experts about the projects.

Royal Naval Museum

National Museum of the Royal Navy at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
Royal Naval Museum | Jaguar

The National Museum of the Royal Navy is an absorbing museum about the history of the Royal Navy over the last 4 centuries. The museum is housed in a row of 3 buildings located near HMS Victory. There are 3 galleries to explore, including Hear My Story, The Sailing Gallery and The Nelson Gallery.

Hear My Story tells about the men and women who served in the Royal Navy over the last 100 years. The story is told through a combination of artefacts, interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations. There are also recorded interviews of personal stories from naval personnel, their families and the communities.

The Sailing Gallery is a journey back to life at sea during the age of sailing ships. Learn about the experiences and challenges faced by the sailors, often shedding light on the less pleasant aspects. The gallery also examines the origins of customs that still persist in the modern Royal Navy.

The Nelson Gallery explores the life of Lord Nelson, the famous admiral who defeated the Spanish and French armada in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Though his life was cut short during the battle, Lord Nelson was a naval hero who inspired the British people. Besides distinguishing himself, he also led an intriguing and colourful life.

Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, England
Royal Navy Submarine Museum | Drumlanrig

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum is an off-site museum in Gosport, across the harbour from Portsmouth. The museum explores the history of submarines from the time of Alexander the Great to the present, particularly the Royal Navy. A visit here is not just about submarines but also submariners.

The highlight of the visit is the HMS Alliance, built towards the end of the Second World War and completed in 1947. This formidable 86 metres (282 feet) vessel has been meticulously restored. A tour inside the submarine includes the narrow corridors, cramped living quarters, control room and torpedo bays.

Other exhibits include an X24 mini-submarine from the Second World War. Another is the HMS Holland 1, constructed in 1901 and was the first Royal Navy submarine. Inside the galleries, you’ll find exhibits, interactive displays and multimedia presentations. You’ll not only learn about submarine technology but also about the life of the submariners.

There’s a waterbus service sailing every hour between the Historic Dockyard and the jetty near the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. The service is from 10:30 AM to 4:15 PM and the trip takes about 5 minutes each way. That said, the service runs only on weekends from November to March.

Museum of Naval Power

Museum of Naval Firepower n Gosport, England
Museum of Naval Firepower | N Chadwick

The Museum of Naval Firepower is another off-site museum in Gosport but located at Priddy’s Hard. This museum showcases weapons and equipment used by the Royal Navy. There are also countless engaging simulators and interactive exhibits including some showing life aboard a naval vessel.

Exhibits include small arms, cannons, torpedoes and computer-guided missiles. Exhibits from earlier times include the RBL 20-pounder gun introduced in 1859. There’s a 4.5-inch Mark 8 naval gun currently used by the Royal Navy. Others include a French Exocet anti-ship missile and a British Sea Dart surface-to-air missile.

The Night Hunters: the Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War is a permanent exhibition. The gallery pays tribute to the coastal forces that defended Britain during both world wars. Exhibits include a Mark 11 Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun, a Vosper motor torpedo boat and Thornycroft coastal motor boat used during the Second World War.

To get to the museum at Priddy’s Hard in Gosport, there’s a waterbus service leaving the jetty at the Historic Dockyard. The service is every 2 hours from 11:00 AM to 3:15 PM. The trip takes about 15 minutes. But from November to March, the waterbus service is only available on weekends.

A Few More Attractions

The historic ships and museums stand out as the crown jewels of the Portsmouth Dockyard. But the encounter doesn’t end there. As we journey, there are a few more attractions that deserve mentioning. Each is unique and captivating which adds to the Dockyard experience.

Portsmouth Harbour Tour

Portsmouth Harbour in Portsmouth, England
Portsmouth Harbour | Tony Holkham

The Harbour Tour is a 45-minute boat trip departing from the Historic Dockyard. The tour offers great views on both sides of Portsmouth Harbour. What’s more, you’ll get close-up views of the most modern warships in the Royal Navy docked at the naval base. It’s an opportunity only a few get to see!

The cruise offers scenic views of the city and the historic waterfront in the east. Notable landmarks include Gunwharf Quays and the 170-metre (560 feet) high Spinnaker Tower. Towards the west is the town of Gosport and Fort Blockhouse, which once defended the entrance to the harbour.

The highlight of the cruise is the sight of the mighty vessels of the Royal Navy. After all, the naval base is home to two-thirds of the Royal Navy’s surface fleets. When not at sea, ships often seen include patrol vessels, frigates and destroyers. On a lucky day, you may even spot an aircraft carrier.

The boat tour leaves near the Tour Harbour Office between HMS Warrior and Boathouse 4. The cruise comes with a live commentary, sharing fascinating stories about the sights. Bring a jumper or jacket during cold weather. If staying on the open deck, it can get very breezy and chilly.

Action Stations

Action Stations at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
Action Stations | Chris Talbot

Action Stations at Boathouse No. 6 is a thrilling adventure zone for young visitors. Housed in an 18th-century boathouse, the facility presents physical and mental challenges that are central to the Royal Navy experience. The challenges are inspired by the actual training methods used by the Royal Marine Commandos.

Action Stations opens only on weekends and UK school holidays. The facility features a range of hands-on activities including simulators and physical obstacles. They are designed to provide a taste of life in the Royal Navy while having fun. Take note that age and height restrictions apply depending on the activity.

The Climbing Wall is an 8.4-metre (27 feet) challenge with several levels of difficulties. The Ocean Warrior is a 40-metre (131 feet) obstacle course involving balancing, jumping, swinging and climbing. Sky Tykes is a fun-filled course for little adventurers featuring a mix of rope bridges and balance beams.

There’s an additional charge for the Laser Quest and players must be 6 years and above. It’s an exciting laser tag game with dynamic lighting and music effects set across 2 whole floors. In the game, players take on the pirates as they battle their way out from a hijacked shipping container.

Conveniences for Visitors

Boathouse 7 at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
Boathouse 7 | Editor5807

The Mary Rose café offers hot and cold drinks, soups and a lovely range of light bites including sandwiches, paninis, wraps, pastries and cakes. Everything is prepared on-site using the freshest ingredients. There’s also the Mary Rose shop where you can buy souvenirs like replicas, jewellery, gifts and children’s books.

The Boathouse 4 Restaurant welcomes visitors for snacks, lunch and afternoon tea. The restaurant has an inviting ambience, with a blend of maritime heritage and modern comfort. The focus is on fresh and locally sourced ingredients. And you’ll find a diverse range on the menu from smoked salmon sandwiches to roasted lamb rump.

For more souvenirs to commemorate your visit, there’s the National Museum of the Royal Navy shop and Nauticalia at Boathouse 7. Each offers a selection of maritime-themed gifts and there’s plenty to browse. They include books, prints, models, mugs, jewellery, key chains, caps, soft toys and much more.

The dockyard is quite a big area to walk around and you could be spending half a day or more here. If you’ve got that call to go to the toilet, there are several located at various points – you’ll see signs indicating the facilities. Common locations include the Visitor Centre, inside the museum buildings and along the primary pathways.

Opening Hours & Getting Here

Entrance to the Historic Dockyards in London, England
Entrance to the Historic Dockyard | Paul Gillett

Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard opens every day of the week. Opening hours are typically from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM with the last entry at 4:30 PM. The hours are subject to change, especially during the holidays and special events. So check the official Historic Dockyard website for the latest information before visiting.

The historic harbour is centrally located along the waterfront with easy transport links. You’ll see signs on major roads and junctions in the area clearly showing directions to the Portsmouth Dockyard. Victory Gate, on Queen Street, is the main entrance and well-marked that it’s hard to miss.

Portsmouth Harbour railway station and the Hard Interchange (the station for coaches and buses) are a few minutes walk from Victory Gate. If coming here by car, the nearest parking space is on Admiralty Road, also a few minutes walk. If this car park is full, others within proximity are at Gunwharf Quays and Havant Street.

Portsmouth Dockyard Tickets

Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England
View towards the entrance | Colin Smith

You can purchase tickets to the Portsmouth Dockyard on the day of the visit from the ticket office, near the Victory Gate entrance. You can also book online in advance or on the day of the visit at the official website. Children’s tickets are for 3-15 years and seniors for 65 years plus. Carers and children below 3 years enter free.

One-Day Tickets to Only One Attraction

This ticket is valid for the day and you can explore one attraction of your choice whether one of the historic ships or museums. However, the one-day ticket doesn’t include the Portsmouth Habour Tour and Action Stations at Boathouse No. 6 as an option. Here are the online ticket prices.

  • Adults – £34
  • Children – £24
  • Seniors – £33

Tickets to the Same 3 Attractions for 12 Months

This ticket offers access to the same 3 attractions for 12 months. That said, the Portsmouth Habour Tour is not included as an option but you get free access to Action Stations. With the ticket, you can visit your favourite attractions as often as you want within the year for a more in-depth experience. Here are the online ticket prices.

  • Adults – £44
  • Children – £24
  • Seniors – £43

Ultimate Explorer to All Attractions for 12 Months

The Ultimate Explorer offers value for your money with access to all the attractions including the Harbour Tour and you can visit as many times as you want within 12 months. And you pay £5 less if you book online in advance than on the day of the visit or at the ticket office. Here are the online (on-the-day/advance) prices.

  • Adults – £49/£44
  • Children – £34/£29
  • Seniors – £48/£43

Family Explorer Ticket to All Attractions for 12 Months

If you’re visiting with young children, consider purchasing the Family Explorer Ticket. You’ll save money compared to purchasing individual Ultimate Explorer tickets. For additional savings, you pay £5 less if you book online in advance. There are 2 options and the online (on-the-day/advance) prices are shown below.

  • 1 adult and up to 3 children – £110/£105
  • 2 adults and up to 3 children – £140/£135

You may want to check out Get Your Guide for tickets. Tickets are issued by the Historic Dockyard and prices are the same. But at Get Your Guide you can book on the spot and pay later, 72 hours before the visit. Not only that, you’ll get a full refund if you decide to cancel not less than 24 hours before the visiting date.

The Free Historic Quarter Pass

If you prefer to keep your money, ask for the free Historic Quarter Pass at the Visitor Centre. This pass allows you to walk around the dockyard and view the historic ships from the outside. You also get free entry to the Boathouse 4 Museum. With the money saved, you can treat yourself at the Boathouse 4 Restaurant or Mary Rose Café.

Hotels Nearby the Dockyard

There are no shortages of visitor accommodations in Portsmouth. If you prefer to stay in or near the Historic Dockyard, there are several hotels. Here are some suggestions and they have been picked for their favourable guest reviews and ratings. You can also follow this link for more hotels in Portsmouth.

  • The George Hotel ⭐⭐ – This traditional English inn offers comfortable rooms with a homey feel. All are en-suite and equipped with a coffee/tea maker, TV and free WiFi access. There’s a cosy pub restaurant serving light meals, lunch and dinner.
  • The Lady Hamilton ⭐⭐ – This bed and breakfast accommodation is in a restored 18th-century building. Rooms include single, double and family rooms. Breakfast is included in the rates and the restaurant serves traditional English meals.
  • Royal Maritime Hotel ⭐⭐⭐ – The hotel is in a convenient location between the Historic Dockyard and Gunwharf Quays. Rooms are modern and well-furnished. Hotel facilities include a restaurant, an indoor pool and a relaxing spa.
  • Ship Leopard Boutique Hotel ⭐⭐⭐ – This boutique hotel is a Georgian-era building but the rooms have modern furnishing with luxury bedding. Some of the rooms offer lovely views of the harbour. Take note the hotel is only for adult guests.
  • Keppel’s Head Hotel ⭐⭐⭐ – This historic hotel goes back to 1779. All the rooms have undergone extensive refurbishment. Family rooms are also available besides single, twin and double. The has a traditional English restaurant.