We did a review of the Mary Rose last year which is on the same site as Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Just walking around the site we thought it looked brilliant. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was also personally recommended to me by Dan Snow (honestly). We just had to go back! The other great thing about this place is that there’s loads of ways to save money on tickets. AND tickets are valid for 12 months. Bargain!!!
There are loads of different parts of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to review, but I’m not going to do each one separately. It’s worth nothing that Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is on an active Naval base. Don’t be surprised if you see armed police officers walking around. We had a Full Navy Ticket which means we got entry to;
- HMS Victory
- HMS Warrior 1860
- HMS M.33
- Action Stations – indoor interactive attraction with Ninja Force assault course, climbing wall and more (Laser Quest is an additional charge)
- Boathouse 4
- Dockyard Apprentice Exhibition
- Harbour Tour
- National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth
- Royal Navy Submarine Museum (off site, based in Gosport)
- Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower (off site, based in Gosport)
This review of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was originally written before covid-19 struck. Since then they have reopened, but there are some key changes. Firstly, they’re not currently offering the “Full Navy Ticket”. They’re now offering the “Ultimate Explorer Ticket”. You still get access for 12 months, to all attractions on-site, but it now includes unlimited access to The Mary Rose Museum as well. Some attractions may be closed in line with the latest government guidance. It looks like they’re currently suspending participation in the Blue Peter badge scheme. All tickets must be booked online.
Opening times for the various attractions may differ. Please double check their website before planning a visit.
We’d delayed visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for a week because of Storm Dennis. When we arrived it was…. windy and rainy! Oh well. That did mean that walking around with Smallest Child in a carrier on the top deck was a bit precarious. You’re not allowed to take pushchairs on the ship for obvious reasons but there is a covered place to store them. It’s also worth noting that the steps between floors are quite steep so this might not be the best place for people who have mobility issues. Don’t forget, this is an original ship and not built to be a tourist attraction!
Once you’re on-board it’s fascinating. On the main deck there’s dozens and dozens of massive cannons all lined up, with tables and benches in between. The idea that hundreds of men lived, worked and slept in this space blew our minds. There are weapons everywhere as well. Smallest Child wanted to touch every single one.
There are a couple of people in costumes on the ship who explain what everything is etc. They also tell you some of the stories of the ship. One of the rooms has a huge cannon in it. Apparently that’s because the officer whose room it is miscalculated the weight distribution of the ship. The Captain moved the cannon into his room to teach the office a lesson. They were also telling us about how quickly they could clear the desk. Stuff like that really brings the whole thing to life. There was (quite a long) talk by one of them going through how a cannon is fired. We listened for about 10 minutes before the kids got bored.
This ship is MASSIVE. It’s not as long as Warrior but it’s really really tall and has loads of decks. It felt more claustrophobic at times because the ceilings are quite low. It was on HMS Victory that Nelson was shot and subsequently died. HMS Victory is the reason that we wanted to come back to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard after doing a review of the Mary Rose. Just standing next to it is impressive.
There’s a free audio guide included with your tickets. I highly recommend that you get the guide. You get so much information and fascinating history on the guide. If it hadn’t been for the guide I would never have known that this is the exact spot that Nelson died.
There is loads to see on-board HMS Victory. It really is fascinating, you even get to go right down into the bowels of the ship. There’s a one-way system in place and it’s not necessarily the easiest place to get about (particularly with a toddler in a carrier) but it’s absolutely worth it. This is one of the best places we’ve visited.
National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth
Of all the different attractions at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, I think this was the least child friendly. It’s all about the history of the Royal Navy, and is quite Nelson heavy. This was one of the places we visited later in the day but the kids were distinctly less keen and moan-y. There’s lots of interesting stuff in here and I’m glad we looked around, but we didn’t stay for long.
This is the interactive, indoor area. There’s a section about the Commandos and their history. You can also fly a helicopter. Most of the games in here are at an additional charge – there’s a climbing wall, laser tag, sky ropes course and ninja force. There were also a couple of other games that the boys got to do.
Horrible Histories Pirates
This place was so much fun, and made the perfect end to our day. The kids enjoyed playing in here soooo much. There’s two pirate ships set up and a couple of air cannons. All of the kids get together to shoot the c**p out of each other then run around like nutters collecting all the balls again!
There’s other games in here as well, a mat with hidden treasure, interactive pirate shop and a small soft play area for babies. You can even have a photo of the kids with a peg leg! Annoyingly there’s very little seating for adults in here and it does get quite hot with all the sweaty, gross children running around.
Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower
Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower is located off-site so we went along the next day before going back home to Aylesbury. It’s only a small museum but it was quite fun. You’re greeted by a load of HUGE guns in the car park that you just have to go back and look at.
Inside there’s a lot of guns and bombs all over the place. At one stage I thought Smallest Child was actually trying to climb onto a nuclear war head! In one of the corridors there are sculptures of some of the workers which are quite haunting. It’s another museum that’s quite reading-heavy rather than hands-on. Make sure you read the information in the locker room. You find out things like when a drunk woman got into an argument with another worker and threw an actual bomb at them! Thankfully it wasn’t primed, but she didn’t know that at the time. Probably a very good reason not to drink on the job!!!
You’ll find the odd game dotted around and there’s a cool spinny thing but I think this museum is best for adults and older children who are happy to read all the info to get the most out of it. We weren’t here for that long, maybe an hour or so.
The Other Attractions
There are various other smaller attractions dotted around the dockyard which we looked at, but didn’t really spend much time on. We also didn’t get the chance to visit Royal Navy Submarine Museum which is a real shame as you get to walk around the only remaining British WWII submarine. Boat tours are included with your ticket, but the weather when we visited wasn’t great so they boats weren’t running.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Review
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is fascinating. The main bits were really HMS Warrior and HMS Victory. We spent hours on each of these and all of us thought they were so interesting. The kids really enjoyed having their own audio tours so I’d recommend getting those when you visit. There is so much to do here that you will be at the on-site attractions all day. We were at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard from opening to closing, which is always a sign of a good review! Add in that you have boat tours and two off-site museums then it’s excellent value for money.
Post-covid the new combined Mary Rose and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard ticket really does need at least two days to visit everything. The tickets are valid for 12 months so there’s plenty of time for you to come back and see anything that remains. You could always make a weekend of it and stay in Portsmouth. If you do, check out West Wittering beach which is 30 minutes away and AWESOME.
Normally the on-the-door price of a family Full Navy Ticket is £85 or £68 online. Blue Peter badge holders get in for free. Covid update – this ticket is currently suspended and the Ultimate Explorer Ticket is available instead. This is £120 for 2 adults and 3 children and is available for 12 months. Don’t forget, this includes admission to The Mary Rose.
Parking / How to get there
Address – Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is PO1 3LJ
There is a large car park just around the corner. It’s £9 for up to 8 hours. If this car park is full you’ll find other options on the car parking page of the website.
There are toilets at the back of the restaurant as well as baby changing facilities. There are also both toilets and baby changing in the Mary Rose.
There’s a restaurant on-site but it is quite expensive. There’s no specific picnic area, but there are some picnic benches you can use.
Hi, I’m Vicky. My husband and I live in Aylesbury with our three children; a 10 year old son, an 8 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. I (mostly) love spending time together as a family. We visit all kinds of places and we’re quite happy to drive a fair distance for a decent day out. A few years ago I decided to set up Free Time with the Kids as a way to share our experiences of these family days out. You know, the essential information you need to know before your visit that can be surprisingly hard to find out. Where do I park? How much will it cost me to get in? Are there any discounts available? Are there loos? Can I take a picnic or get food? My aim is to be your go-to guide for all your free and cheap family days out across Bucks, Beds, Oxon, Herts & slightly beyond. I really hope you find the reviews helpful. If there’s anywhere that you’d recommend please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via Facebook