Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Discover the historic ships of the Royal Navy within twelve exhibits

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Tour the home of the Royal Navy, and see the amazing Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Suppose you have wondered what life is like at sea during a conflict. In that case, the Historic Dockyard will give you a fascinating insight into one of the world’s great navies.  

A visit here is for those interested in naval history and people who want to find out the human story behind the vessels that have altered history. It is also surprising to see the modern Royal navy fleet right next door with all the cutting edge hardware, including the flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth.  

We can include a visit of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on England’s South Coast Tour. It is convenient to visit when arriving at nearby Southampton cruise terminal.

Introduction to the Royal Navy
The history of the Royal Navy is a phenomenal tale of conquest, defence and attack. The old British Empire has long gone, but the United Kingdom has new responsibilities. First and foremost, the protecting realm, supporting humanitarian organisations around the globe, and defending our allies.   

A visit to the Historic Dockyard with a knowledgeable guide is an enthralling experience. Hear the incredible stories of action on the high seas and see the vessels involved in those pivotal moments in world history. 

I suppose we can say it started with King Alfred the Great, who built a navy to defend England from Viking raids, meeting the threat in the north sea. Alfred was attempting to prevent the carnage before it began. Then we have King Henry VIII who stripped England of Oak trees to build his Royal Navy.

By the 1790s, there is a great fear of invasion from France under Napoleon Bonaparte's leadership. Britain invested heavily in recruitment, port technology and valued experience at sea over a person's background. Britain's fleet now numbered 661 vessels to 291 French ships.  

Next came the iron-hulled battleships in the Victorian era and eventually the giant dreadnaught class of World War One. Indecently at the outbreak of World War One, Britain's merchant fleet numbered 9,000 ships. Then in 1924, Britain built the first purpose-built aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes. The age of the aircraft carrier begun. 

There are twelve attractions at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, starting with King Henry's Mary Rose is a good start.  

The Mary Rose museum
King Henry VIII is famous for marrying six times. His favourite was Queen Jane Seymour, we think, only because she produced a boy. Henry was obsessed with having a son and heir. Henry had more than sixty palaces, but the King's favourite was Greenwich Palace. Out of the forty ships built for the Royal Navy, Henry had a favourite, and it was the Mary Rose. Of course, it was his favourite; it was the flagship of the Royal Navy. She was built in 1510 and served the nation for 34 years. She sank while defending England from a French invasion in the year 1545. 

Alexander McKee (1918-1992) a historian and diver instigated the Mary Rose search in the Solent. For three years his team of divers searched the seabed using sonar scanners. A strange shape appeared on his monitor, could it be. Divers dredged and excavated and on the 5th May 1971, Percy Ackland discovered the ship's timbers. The plan was to remove the hull of the ship in its entirety, an incredible engineering feat. People all over Britain watched TV wide-eyed as Alexander McKee, and his team raised the vessel from the bottom of the English channel in 1982. 

The archaeological achievement is mind-boggling, over 19,000 items are on display, and most linked to a crew member of 1545. The museum is the story of the 500 crew and ship that they served. The museum uses cutting edge tech to tell the tale. Special effects machines project images into decks of the real boat, it is a remarkable exhibit, and we hope you enjoy it.  

HMS Victory
Every schoolchild knows the Victory and the story of it being Lord Nelson's flagship at the famous battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805. A French marine shot Lord Nelson on that day and he slowly died below decks, but he learnt of Britain's Victory before he died. 

The Victory was built in 1759, had a crew of 821 and was in service for a remarkable 206 years. Once inside, you realise that the Victory, in essence, is a huge floating gun platform, built for destruction of the enemy. At the Battle of Trafalgar, the Victory carried 104 guns. The rate of fire of a single round fired every ninety seconds. Your tour of the boat will give you insight into the living conditions, the noise during the battle and the awful human carnage. 

The Victory has lasted for so long due to the quality of wood used. The builders used wood that was seasoned for more than fourteen years. For a ship is a very long time, but, essential to stop the swelling when the wood comes in contact with water. Ultimately, it meant that the Victory lasted a very long time. It is a fascinating vessel to explore and an absolute must on any tour to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.  

HMS Warrior
HMS Warrior (1859) was the pride of Britain during the height of the British Empire. She was the largest, fastest and first Iron hulled ship. There were no ships to match her prowess. HMS Warrior toured the British Isles and sailed into ports to cheering crowds. You will find actors onboard playing crew members' roles of , as you do on other ships at the Historic Dockyard. They are well versed and give you a true picture of life onboard Britain's most advanced warship of the mid 19th Century.  

Harbour tours
Harbour tour takes you across a vast inlet where you will see (depending on deployment) the Royal Navy's modern ships. There is a good chance to see one of the Daring Class Type 45 destroyers. The one billion pound ships built to defend the aircraft carriers from aircraft attack and missiles. The harbour tours also include seeing some of the 11th-century defences.  

More to see;

Royal Navy Submarine Museum
Visit HMS Alliance the last World War Two submarine and take a look through the periscope. 

The dockyard apprentice
Hear the stories of the builders of the fleets. Have a go at tying knots and learn how to build a boat. 

HMS M.33
HMS M.33 is one of only three surviving ships from World War One. HMS M.33 was active during the dreadful Dardanelles campaign and saw action in the Russian Civil War. 

Making of a Royal Marine Commando
Find out what it takes to become a Royal Marine Commando. Test your fitness levels and learn how fitness help soldiers overcome extreme conditions. Finally, race against the clock and tackle an assault course. 

Lastly
See the Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower, an interactive museum telling the story of naval power. Suppose you have younger members of your family. In that case, they will enjoy 'Action Stations' with a rope course, laser quest, climbing tower and Command Approved, an immersive large-screen film experience.

Touring and accommodation
Visit Portsmouth and stay overnight at luxurious Chewton Glen Hotel. The following day, enjoy the spa at the hotel or explore the New Forest and the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast with your driver-guide. We can tailor the tour for you. There are so many options to make your vacation dynamic and exciting; please contact us for further information. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; CottagesManor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.

If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. 

The Ultimate Naval Experience

Explore the famous ships of the Royal Navy

  • See the recovered Mary Rose
  • See HMS Victory (active at Trafalgar)
  • Explore the Victorian HMS Warrior
  • Submarine museum
  • See the modern war ships on a harbour tour
  • Ten exhibits to explore