(Edited from AP) A modern tower shaped like a sail, with a view of the sea, stands in tribute to the history of this famous port, where centuries of naval warfare can be experienced in a day trip from London, just 75 miles (120 kilometers) away.

Portsmouth has been a naval station since Roman times. A narrow channel port and the Isle of Wight just offshore offer natural defensive advantages. Here Viking invaders were fought off, the world’s first dry dock was built, and the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France, just across the English Channel, was planned, changing the course of World War II.

(Edited from AP) A modern tower shaped like a sail, with a view of the sea, stands in tribute to the history of this famous port, where centuries of naval warfare can be experienced in a day trip from London, just 75 miles (120 kilometers) away.

Portsmouth has been a naval station since Roman times. A narrow channel port and the Isle of Wight just offshore offer natural defensive advantages. Here Viking invaders were fought off, the world’s first dry dock was built, and the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France, just across the English Channel, was planned, changing the course of World War II.

Today’s visitors can tour ships in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, visit a D-Day museum, follow the Millennium Trail along the waterfront, and take in the panoramic view from the observation deck of the Spinnaker Tower, which looks 23 miles (37 kilometers) out to sea.

Other tourist attractions include Charles Dickens’ birthplace. The writer lived here for a few years as a young child after his father was transferred to Portsmouth by the Navy office.

But the dockyard, heaven for naval history buffs, is Portsmouth’s biggest draw. Its centerpiece is HMS Victory, the vessel on which legendary naval commander Lord Nelson was killed in 1805 during the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the British fleet defeated a combined French and Spanish armada.

Visitors also can go aboard HMS Warrior, which was launched in 1860 as one of the first armored warships. Modern British naval warships are often in port as well, complete with sailors and naval cadets from the working naval base milling about.

Another main attraction is the museum of the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s flagship, which sank in 1545 in a battle with French naval forces just off Portsmouth. The Mary Rose was one of the first warships built to carry heavy guns, which may have contributed to her demise. According to a popular theory about the ship’s sinking, gun ports near the waterline were left open after firing and when the ship heeled over in heavy wind, water poured in. More than 400 people aboard were killed.

The wreck was raised from the seabed in 1982, and conservationists have been working to restore the ship’s hull along with 19,000 Tudor-era artifacts found with it. A new museum set to open in a few years will display 70 percent of the artifacts as well as the hull. The existing museum displays just 6 percent of the artifacts, but still offers plenty to see, including a fragment of a rigging line that still smells of the tar used to keep it waterproof 500 years ago.

Below deck, visitors can explore the low-ceilinged quarters for regular sailors, the ornate quarters of the admiral and the galley with its giant stoves. Gundecks are crowded with massive cannons.

The trail starts at the tourist office just outside the dockyard gate and leads to the harbor station (where catamarans run to the Isle of Wight). It picks up on the other side of the station, where the Spinnaker Tower sits in front of Gunwharf Quays, a newly redeveloped shopping center.

The chain trail leads on, down narrow alleyways and past skinny houses, to the tip of the peninsula in front of a pair of pubs. It is the perfect place for a day-tripping landlubber to grab a drink before heading back to London.


If You Go…

PORTSMOUTH HISTORIC DOCKYARD: Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, England; www.historicdockyard.co.uk. Open at 10 a.m. daily (closed Dec. 24-26). Admission ranges from 13 pounds 50 pence to 18 pounds, plus a family deal (two adults/seniors, three children) of 50 pounds 50 pence.

PORTSMOUTH VISITOR INFORMATION: www.visitportsmouth.co.uk

GETTING THERE: Trains run from London to Portsmouth throughout the day, 90 minutes to 2 hours each way.

SPINNAKER TOWER: Gunwharf Quays; www.spinnakertower.co.uk. Open daily except Christmas Day 10-6. (in August, Sunday-Thursday, open until 7 p.m.) Admission ranges from 7 pounds 25 pence to 5 pounds 75 pence; children under 3, free.

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