Be sure to swash those buckles and practice your salty sea-dog arrrs before arriving at this brawny harbour city. For Portsmouth is the principal port of Britain’s Royal Navy, and its historic dockyard ranks alongside Greenwich as England’s most fascinating centre of maritime history. Here you can jump aboard Lord Nelson’s glorious warship HMS Victory, which led the charge at Trafalgar in 1805, and glimpse the timber-shivering remains of Henry VIII’s 16th-century flagship, the Mary Rose.
Regeneration at the nearby Gunwharf Quays has added new glitz to its scurvy-riddled waterfront. A spectacular millennium-inspired structure, the Spinnaker Tower – keelhauled by the British media for its delays and spiralling costs – finally opened here in 2005, with views to knock the wind from its critics’ sails.
However, Portsmouth is by no means a city noted for its beauty; it was heavily bombed during WWII and a combination of soulless postwar architecture and surprisingly deserted waterfront promenades can leave a melancholy impression. An array of museums justify an overnight stay for naval nuts, however, and the suburb of Southsea boasts some fair beaches, bars and good restaurants.