Portsmouth and the surrounding area has some fantastic attractions for those interested in naval history. We recently had the opportunity to visit the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport and Spinnaker Tower. Read on to find out how we got on.
The Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport
This is home to 4 submarines, including the newly restored HMS Alliance. Additionally there is a museum and hands on science area where you can learn more about submarines and the work of the Royal Navy.
The undeniable star is HMS Alliance, a submarine which took part in surveillance operations during the Cold War. Recently reopened after a £6.75 million restoration visitors can walk through it to see how the submariners would have lived, worked and played whilst at sea.
If it’s busy you’re allocated an entry time upon arrival, however we simply popped into the shop area and signed up for the next available session. It’s possible to go on a 45 minute tour with an ex-submariner but I think this is only available outside peak periods.
We entered via the torpedo compartment and listened to a short introduction, before walking through the living quarters and into the engine room. Storage space is minimal on board, with items stored wherever they could fit. It was surreal to see boxes of cornflakes hanging from the ceiling next to the torpedoes!
My favourite parts were the living quarters, which have been reconstructed as they would have been back in the 1950s. This includes snoring sounds coming from the bunk beds, and inappropriate reading material in the toilets! The submariners had minimal personal space whilst on board with a system of ‘hot-bunking’ as there wasn’t sufficient space for everyone to have their bed.
The kitchen area was tiny. It was amazing to think that three cooked meals a day were prepared here, mostly out of tins and packets as fresh food was only available for the first few days after they left port. Fresh water was reserved for cooking so the submariners didn’t take showers or wash their clothes whilst at sea. Nice.
We walked on through to the engine room, but my son wasn’t too keen on this part (lots of realistic noises) so we didn’t linger. One item that caught my eye on the way through was an identification chart to help work out whether vessels were friend or foe. A real life game of battleships!
HMS Alliance is the main draw at the museum, but it’s not the only submarine. We also looked around Holland 1 which was the first submarine to be commissioned by the Royal Navy back in 1901. She was decommissioned in 1913, but sank whilst being towed to the scrapyard. Since being salvaged she has been displayed at the museum.
The submarine was able to dive to a depth of 100ft and could travel up to 20 miles under water. It’s possible to enter a small section of the sub and it seems so basic compared to HMS Alliance. It’s hard to imagine what the conditions would have been like for the men operating this submarine but I know I would have hated it!
Back in the gift shop area there’s an interactive science area where the kids had a go on the various exhibits and found out more about the history of submarines. We also watched a short film about life on HMS Alliance which was interesting, although my kids just enjoyed sniggering at the sight of men taking their clothes off for a swim in the ocean.
We spent around 3 hours at the museum. I’d suggest it is best suited to primary school aged kids and older. That said, children under 5 are free and they have their own dedicated indoor play centre, Busy Boats Bay, so if you’re visiting with a mixed age group you’ll find something of interest.
Once finished, we left our car parked at the Submarine Museum and took the Gosport Ferry over to Portsmouth Harbour. The Gosport terminal is only a 10 minute walk from the museum and on the other side the Spinnaker Tower is around 5 minutes walk (unless you get waylaid in the shops). It saves a long drive round and the hassle of finding a parking space so definitely worthwhile, but be aware the museum car park is locked at closing time.
Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth
Spinnaker Tower opened in 2005 and is the most prominent landmark in Portsmouth. I’ve seen it from afar on many occasions so it was great to finally get the opportunity to visit. Up close the architecture is impressive, and it was exciting to get into the lift for our trip upwards.
The lift initially takes you to View Deck 1, 100m high. The main feature is the section of glass floor, known as the Sky Walk, where all that separates you from the ground is 4 panes of glass. Once you’ve taken your shoes off you’re free to walk across and jump on it, if you dare. I think this is also the deck that you can abseil from if you’re feeling brave!
My favourite part of this deck was Ship Finder. This screen showed all the ships passing through the harbour. Clicking on them bought up information about the vessel, as well as showing the route it had taken. I’m sure it’s pretty standard technology but I was impressed. There are also i-VIEW screens which allow you to zoom in and find out more about points of interest, sadly the only one I attempted to use was broken.
It’s sods law that the sky clouded over during our visit so all of my photos of the view look rather dull. And of course the sun came back out almost as soon as we left. We could have gone back up the lift but time was against us.
The views were still impressive though, and on a clear day it’s possible to see 23 miles. I was quite content with my birds eye view of the Historic Dockyard and of a Navy aircraft carrier (I’d never seen one before except on TV).
After you’ve finished on the first deck it’s time to hop back into the lift to reach View Deck 2, 105m high. This floor houses a cafe, Cafe in the Clouds. From here you can take the stairs up to the Sky Deck, 110m high for more of the same views, except everything looks even further away! The Sky Deck is open to the elements as there’s no roof but it’s still completely safe.
When we’d finished with the views we headed back down again via the lift. The kids had spotted a Cadbury outlet store whilst walking through Gunwharf Quays so guess where we had to stock up before our journey home!
Disclosure: we received free tickets from Hampshire’s Top Attractions to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and Spinnaker Tower for the purposes of this review. Their website offers a variety of discounts on Hampshire attractions (including the Submarine museum and Spinnaker Tower), which is useful if you’re planning a trip to the area.
- The Royal Navy Submarine Museum is open daily from 10am-5.30pm April-October. During the winter months it is closed Monday and Tuesday, except during school holidays. A family tickets (2 adults, up to 3 children) costs £38. Children under 5 are free. Most of the museum is wheelchair accessible, including the end compartment of HMS Alliance.
- Spinnaker Tower is open daily from 10am-5.30pm with slightly longer hours in August. An adult ticket is £9.50, children aged 3-15 cost £7.50. Ticket prices are reduced by 15% if you book online. View decks 1 and 2 are wheelchair accessible, the top sky deck can only be reached by stairs.
- The Gosport ferry operates between Gosport and Portsmouth Harbour. An adult return ticket is £3.30, a child return is £2.20. It runs every 15 minutes between 5.30am-midnight. Buy your tickets at the office before boarding.