If you are looking for things to do in Portsmouth with kids then there’s loads to keep your family entertained.
Before moving to Devon I lived in a Portsmouth postcode for more than thirty years, so have a pretty good idea of the very best attractions for families, free things to do and days out in Portsmouth.
As a bonus, you can scroll to the bottom of this post for plenty more ideas for things to do near Portsmouth.
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Why visit Portsmouth?
Portsmouth is one of UK’s most important maritime hubs and with this heady responsibility comes a lot of history. It’s home to the Royal Navy and the departure point for the ill-fated Mary Rose and HMS Bounty. It’s also where Charles Dickens was born.
The city gets air time in the pages Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby as well as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, while the historic docks formed the back drop for the 2012 adaptation of Les Misérables. Oh, and it’s the county’s only city on its own an island.
With all these claims to fame, there’s plenty of reasons to visit Portsmouth for history and literary buffs. But what if your kids aren’t all that into books and old stuff?
What to do in Portsmouth with kids
In this post I’m sharing a good dose of all the best things to do with kids in Portsmouth. Yep, even the old stuff, because its actually really interesting.
Read on for:
- free things to do in Portsmouth
- world-class family attractions
- historic places and museums in Portsmouth
- fun things to do in Portsmouth
- what to do when it rains
- events in Portsmouth
- and things to do near Portsmouth.
Find more days out in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in my big round up of 101 UK attractions for families.
Free things to do in Portsmouth
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to appreciate the city’s maritime heritage and views of the Solent.
Here’s some ideas for things to do in Portsmouth for free:
1. Southsea & Eastney Beaches
Pack your beach bag and head to the seafront.
Less than a mile from the city centre you’ll find three mile a shingle shoreline overlooking the Solent and Isle of Wight.
2. Promenade along South Parade Pier
It’s free to take a walk along South Parade Pier but you might want to pop some 2ps in your bag for the arcades.
3. Meet the ducks at Baffins Pond
Baffins is a hot spot for wild fowl. You’ll also find play equipment, a sand pit and picnic tables.
4. Southsea Castle
The castle was built by King Henry VIII as part of a series of south coast defences against French invasion and was in use almost continuously until 1960. It sits at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour so was a strategically significant fortification through the centuries.
It’s free to enter the keep and enjoy the views across the harbour and Solent.
There’s a small car park close by and limited on street parking.
Southsea Castle | Outdoor activity | Open Tuesday to Sunday from April to October
5. Portsmouth Museum & Art Gallery
Find out about the history of this maritime city through exhibitions about its people and industry, as well as seeing touring displays of art.
One of the city’s most famous residents was Arthur Conan Doyle – the author of Sherlock Holmes. The museum houses the world’s largest Sherlock Holmes exhibition.
On street parking is available.
Portsmouth Museum | Wet day activity | Open Tuesday to Sunday all year
6. Wander Old Portsmouth
Walk around Old Portsmouth where you’ll find plenty of medieval fortifications, cobbled streets and places to grab a bite to eat.
Take a seat outside the Spice Island Inn or Still & West for excellent views of traffic coming in and out of the harbour.
7. Cumberland House Natural History Museum
Discover Portsmouth’s A-Z of natural history alongside local geology and the history of the city’s people at this free museum near Canoe Lake in Southsea.
Visit between May and September and you’ll be able to see butterflies hatching in purpose-built greenhouse.
Cumberland House | Wet day activity | Open Tuesday to Sunday all year
8. Follow the Dickens Trail
Portsmouth was the birthplace of Charles Dickens whose father was a clerk for the Royal Navy.
The Dickens trail takes you on an eight mile tour of some of the places that inspired his books including John Pounds Church, the site of The Portsmouth Theatre and the Pay Office in the Historic Dockyard.
You can download the trail for free.
9. Play at Canoe Lake
Enjoy the open space and adventure playgrounds at Canoe Lake in Southsea. In the summer months you can also find pedal boats for hire.
It’s a great spot for a picnic with cafes, parking and toilets too.
10. See the Southsea Rose Gardens
Next to Canoe Lake you’ll find a lovely walled rose garden. During the summer months you can enjoy dozens of varieties of rose.
The gardens are open from dawn to dusk.
Historic places and museums in Portsmouth
Portsmouth is famed for its military connections. Anyone with an interest in the Royal Navy will find plenty of places to visit in the city.
11. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
See 11 attractions for the price of one at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
From Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, to the interactive Action Stations activity boathouse and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, there’s more than a full day out to be had here.
The good news is that once you’ve bought your tickets you can return again within 12 months.
One of our personal favourite things to do is to visit during the dockyard’s Christmas events when costumed characters from the past roam the Victorian streets.
The dockyard attraction has its own car park. If you are travelling from to Portsmouth from the west we can also recommend parking in Gosport and catching the ferry to avoid the city traffic.
12. The Mary Rose Museum
Discover the story of The Mary Rose, why she sank and who was onboard in this incredible exhibition where the preserved wreak is the star of the show.
This indoor day out in Portsmouth is packed full of interactive features like touch screen games, dressing up in Tudor costumes and story telling using light and projections to explain life on a Tudor warship.
I’ve not been to see the Mary Rose since I was a kid but would love to take the girls back now. It’s ranked as one of the top things to do with kids in Portsmouth.
Top tips for visiting: use the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard car park.
13. D Day Museum
For an educational day out in Portsmouth, visit this museum to find out the personal stories behind the D Day landings in 1944.
This Portsmouth attraction is ideal for children learning about the Second World War, showing them how the preparations were made, where the landings embarked from along the South Coast, and plenty of artefacts to bring history alive. It’s also a great wet weather day out in Portsmouth.
There’s lots of parking along the seafront.
The D Day Museum | Wet day activity | Open all year
14. Fort Nelson
Not far outside the city of Portsmouth is Fort Nelson on Portsdown Hill. This is the home of the Royal Armouries – a collection of artillery in a Victorian fort that played a key role in protecting the city.
As well as plenty of big guns there are tunnels under the fort, plenty of interactive displays and recreated soldiers living quarters.
It’s free to visit Fort Nelson but book in advance.
Fort Nelson | All weather attraction | Open Tuesday to Sunday and every day in school holidays
15. Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum
Visit the birthplace of the great British writer who penned the phrases ‘Scrooge’, ‘Que Sera, Sera’ and ‘Bah Humbug’.
The interiors of the house on Old Commercial Road have been restored in the Regency style that was popular at the time Dickens was born. There’s a small collection of memorabilia as well as illustrations of the characters who appear in his books.
Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum | Wet day activity | Open on selected dates
Fun things to do in Portsmouth
Portsmouth is a seaside city that fronts on to the Solent and English Channel. Here’s some fun things to do in Southsea and at the beach in Portsmouth:
16. Seaside fun at Clarence Pier
If you love traditional fun fairs then a visit to Clarence Pier is a must. There are rides, arcades and family activities like crazy golf, high ropes and indoor play.
You can pay for rides using tokens or unlimited wristbands that can be bought at the onsite kiosk or in advance online.
Clarence Pier | Best on a sunny day | This is a seasonal attraction so check the website for opening times
17. Explore Southsea Model Village
This small attraction is set in an old Victorian fort just back from the seafront. It’s a great thing to do in Portsmouth with toddlers because of the charming models and easy accessibility.
The 1/12th scale village includes 40 model houses and scenes, plus a G scale railway.
While at the model village you can also explore the 100ft long rifleman’s tunnel and have a picnic overlooking the seafront.
There’s a handy car park right outside the model village or you can park on the seafront.
You’ll also find a large playground and a few cafes outside.
Southsea Model Village | Outdoor activity | This is a seasonal attraction so check the website for opening times
18. Fair ground rides on South Parade Pier
Kids Island on South Parade Pier has small fairground rides that are fund for young children.
Attractions include bumper cars, a caterpillar ride and pirate ship.
Entry to the pier is free. Buy credits for the ride you want to try.
South Parade Pier | Outdoor activity | Open all year round
19. Climb the Spinnaker Tower
This iconic 170m tall tower, which was completed in 2005, can been seen from 23 miles away. Climb up more than 100 meter to reach the three viewing platforms or ascend in 30 seconds in the lift.
From the top on a clear day its possible to see across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, the South Downs and along the English Channel coast.
If you have a head for heights you can step onto the glass Sky Walk 100 meters above the sea or even book an abseiling experience.
Park in the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre were you’ll also find lots of restaurants, a cinema and outlet stores.
Things to do in Portsmouth on a rainy day
As well as Portsmouth’s museums and Historic Dockyard, here’s some things to do in Portsmouth when it’s wet:
20. Bluereef Aquarium
If you are looking for things to do in Portsmouth on a rainy day this is perfect.
Come face to face with creatures from the deep in more than 40 displays around the aquarium including sharks, lobsters and fish native to UK shores. There’s also Asian Short Clawed Otters and reptiles.
Time your visit with the five feeding times during the day to make the most of this creature experience.
There’s lots of parking along the seafront.
Bluereef Aquarium | Wet day activity | Open all year
21. Gunwharf Quays
Dodge the rain by treating the kids to bowling or a trip to see a flick at Gunwharf Quays. It has a 14 screen Vue cinema and state-of-the-art bowling alley.
Activities at Gunwharf | Wet day activity | Open all year
22. Flip Out Portsmouth
Juts outside Portsmouth you’ll find Flip Our with trampolines, an air bag and multi-layer soft play including areas for under fives.
Flip Out Portsmouth | Wet day activity | Open all year
23. Exploria soft play
If you’re looking for things to do in Portsmouth with toddlers Exploria at the Pyramids Centre is Portsmouth’s largest soft play and bounce centre.
It’s suitable for kids of all ages with three massive adventure worlds including a junior soft play zone and toddler and baby zone.
Exploria | Wet day fun | Open all year
24. Portsmouth events
It’s worth keeping an eye on what’s on in Portsmouth throughout the year as there are plenty of family events. One of our favourites is the Christmas events in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
If your family is into music then the Victorious Festival held each August has been highly recommended to us as being family-friendly.
Also in the summer you can find the Kite Festival held on Southsea Common. This attracts kite flyers and fans from around the world to see kites of all shapes and sides fly on the seafront.
25. Day trip to the Isle of Wight
A fun day out or even short break from Portsmouth is to hop on a Wightlink ferry or Hovertravel hovercraft to the Isle of Wight.
Read about our last day trip to the Isle of Wight.
Things to do near Portsmouth
Not far from Portsmouth you’ll find even more things to do with kids including:
- exploring Portchester Castle
- play at Staunton Country Park in Havant
- go for a hike at Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Waterlooville
- go for a ride at Funland on Hayling Island
- getting hands on with science and space experiments at Winchester Science Centre
- and enjoying the gardens of Hinton Ampner National Trust in the South Downs.
Here’s some more days out round ups for cities and countries close to Portsmouth:
- Things to do in Winchester
- What to do in Southampton
- Things to do in Sussex
- Things to do in Dorset with kids
Where to stay in Portsmouth
We’re lucky to still have family in the Portsmouth area so stay with them when we are visiting.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay close to Portsmouth we can also recommend The Solent Hotel & Spa.
Find more places to stay in Portsmouth on Booking.com:
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links marked with *. This means that if you click through and make a purchase I may earn some commission. This does not affect the price you pay.
If you’re heading to the South Coast then why not pin this post about things to do in Portsmouth with kids?