What it’s like to live in Portsmouth

Views of Spinnaker Tower and Portsmouth Harbour from No1 Gunwharf Quays

Views of Spinnaker Tower and Portsmouth Harbour from No1 Gunwharf Quays - Credit: Leaders Waterside

Fancy a life on the ocean wave? The island city of Portsmouth could be the next best thing

Portsmouth has been described as a salty seadog of a city. A port and a naval dockyard for centuries, the sea is in its bones and its soul. Today this is a vibrant city that has taken its waterside location and ship-shaped heritage and reinvented them for the 21st century.

Key to this was the redevelopment of navy buildings, overlooking Portsmouth Harbour, into Gunwharf Quays - a high end outlet shopping complex. Retailers range from Bose to Boss and Karl Lagerfeld to Kate Spade, plus there are bars, cafes and restaurants set among canals and squares, all anchored by the 170-metre high Emirates Spinnaker Tower, a prominent landmark visible miles away, its design referencing Portsmouth’s maritime heritage.

Another essential component has been the outstanding celebration of Portsmouth’s naval heritage – showcased in world-renowned museums, among them Portsmouth Historic Dockyard with exhibits such as Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, and the Mary Rose Museum providing an intriguing insight into Tudor life.

The city’s maritime story continues; brought bang up to date with Sir Ben Ainslie setting up his HQ in Old Portsmouth (in his bid to win the America’s Cup for Britain) - the distinctive structure dominating the skyline and providing facilities for cutting-edge boat design and boat building, team training and an education centre.

However, Portsmouth offers a whole raft of opportunities (and not necessarily water-related), including Gold-rated University of Portsmouth and a thriving creative sector. Check out Aspex, an exciting contemporary art venue that supports emerging artists and hosts a participation programme, and Hotwalls Studios with workspaces for artists and makers within a heritage site - the arches at Battery Point.

Quality of life is lively with a brilliant choice of activities and facilities, from miles of shingle beach in Southsea, Portsmouth’s seaside resort, to Mountbatten Leisure Centre, the city’s premier sports centre on the edge of Alexandra Park. This has a 50-metre pool, 150-station fitness suite, themed climbing walls and health suite among other features, and is home to a number of clubs, including Portsmouth Athletics Club and Portsmouth Wheelchair Racing. Then there’s Groundlings Theatre, an award-winning, community-minded theatre and drama school, for both youngsters and adults, based in a Georgian Theatre. Portsmouth Cathedral (aka The Cathedral of the Sea) hosts an events diary that includes a visit by Ruby Wax in January and occasional discussions on Dr Who. New Theatre Royal (actually Victorian) offers the likes of hip hop workshops alongside its performance programme, The Guildhall attracts headline favourites, and a packed events diary ensures there’s always something going on somewhere.

All this is good for the family experience. So, too, are the schools, which are good, often very good. Impressive independents include Portsmouth Grammar which has featured (yet again) in the Sunday Times latest Top 150 Schools listings. Plus, there’s Portsmouth High School, St John’s College and Mayville High School. However, state schools don’t lag behind, particularly at secondary level where Ark Charter Academy, Priory School, The Portsmouth Academy, Miltoncross Academy, The Harbour School, Mayfield School, Admiral Lord Nelson School, Trafalgar School and Portsmouth College are all rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, while St Edmund’s Catholic School and Mary Rose School are both ‘outstanding’.

Portsmouth feels spirited and independent. Perhaps this is because it is an island city. Being bounded by water is probably why Portsmouth has been named the most crowded city in the UK. And it has also seen the region’s fastest population growth.

With vehicular access on and off Portsea Island limited to one motorway and two dual carriageways, all linked to the M27/A27, the city also suffers from severe traffic congestion. However, four stations (and another in the suburb of Cosham) ensures rail services are good. Journeys to London Waterloo take well under two hours and journeys to Southampton about an hour. Keen day trippers and travellers will also appreciate Portsmouth’s ferry services to the Isle of Wight, Channel Islands, France and Bilbao.

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So, where to buy? The main question is on or off island? “Off” means the smart suburbs of Cosham and Drayton where big between-the-wars and post-war detacheds and semis line leafy avenues on the slopes of Portsdown Hill, often with distant views to the Isle of Wight and easy access to the M27/A27. “On” means anything from fancy executive apartments in gleaming towers of glass to an historical hotchpotch of Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian townhouses. There are even properties with 17th century and Tudor origins. Old Portsmouth is particularly favoured - once home to the city’s shadiest characters, this is now one of its most affluent areas. Reinvention can be such a positive.

So, settle in, pick up fresh fish, oysters and lobster from Viviers Fish Market and get comfy with a paper and a pint (and maybe fish and chips or cod and cockles) at the  Still ‘n’ West on Spice Island (just one of Portsmouth’s many popular pubs), looking onto busy Portsmouth Harbour, and congratulate yourself on a home well chosen. There’s nowhere else quite like it.


Agent talk - Neil Maxwell, Fry & Kent

“The vibrant renaissance of Portsmouth has continued throughout the past year as it solidifies its position as a destination city, hosting a plethora of events as varied as the Kite Festival, Heavy Horse Show, Victorious Festival (a three day music extravaganza) and the ever popular Great South Run - which last year saw around 10,000 runners follow a ten mile route on a balmy autumn day.

All this is held against a backdrop of the ever-changing Solent and Portsmouth Harbour - home to the hugely successful Historic Dockyard whose popularity and educational benefits for all age ranges is a legacy for generations to come.

Compared to Brighton, I consider Portsmouth (and Southsea) a much more favourable destination. Yes, I may be biased, but we, too, have a pier, and I would argue that there is much more to see and do here with the iconic Spinnaker Tower and Gunwharf Quays – offering a retail experience that can’t be matched on the South Coast - all wrapped around the history of Old Portsmouth with its ancient fortifications and Norman Cathedral.

The property market and prices have enjoyed a boost on the back of this popularity, offering a very good mix of first time buyer, family and retirement homes to suit any requirements, and property stock ranging from contemporary flats to Georgian townhouses.”



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