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A large, historic port city on the south coast of England with plenty of shopping and entertainment

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Portsmouth is a large, historic port city on the south coast of England. Technically, it's actually situated on its own island, separated from the rest of the United Kingdom by a small channel only 30 metres wide. It's called Portsea Island, and it's completely covered by the city. In fact, Portsmouth has grown beyond the channel and out onto the mainland, becoming part of a bigger urban area that is the 11th largest in Britain. The city itself is home to 200,000 people, with a bigger population density that anywhere outside London.
No-one knows the true story of Portsmouth's origin, but legend has it that the city was started by a Saxon warrior called Port, who sailed to Britain one day, killed a local nobleman in single combat, and set up a town of his own! At any rate, the settlement was only a small place, up until the turn of the 13th century when King John decided that he wanted to invade Normandy. Portsmouth was recognised as a strategic location for a naval base, and so it was soon developed into one of the busiest ports on the entire coast. It grew into an important location for trade and cargo ships, as well as attracting the pleasure craft of England's nobility. In 1787, Arthur Philip set off from here to colonise Australia for the first time.
In present-day Portsmouth, the dockyards are still there. Much of the area has been converted into attractions for tourists, but this is no bad thing. The docks have a rich and fascinating past, and the sights on show here give a wonderful insight into this history. One highlight is the Royal Naval Museum, which is one of the country's oldest maritime museums. It details the history of Britain's sea bound armed forces, from Nelson's victories in the 18th century, to more recent events in the two World Wars. Also on show in the docklands are many famous ships from all areas of history, including the HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship, and Mary Rose, one of the key vessels of Henry VIII's fleet.

HMS Victory
Photo RobShenk
Another important place within the docklands is the D-Day Museum, which is the only museum in Britain that is completely dedicated to that fateful day in June, 1944. It was opened by the Queen Mother on the 40th anniversary of the event. The most important artefact on show is the Overlord Embroidery, an 83-metre-long piece of art that details the events of the Normandy landings. It took twenty skilled embroiderers an entire five years to complete it.
Since 2005, the port has been watched over by a 170-metre-tall structure called Spinnaker Tower. Its unusual design resembles a full sail, and it has quickly become Portsmouth's icon.

Spinnaker Tower and the Portsmouth waterfront
Photo TheLazyPhotographer
It also acts as a symbol of the city's growth. In recent times, much building and renovation work has been taking place here - and much more is planned for the future, including several new towers on the shoreline. The city has turned into one of the best shopping and entertainment areas on the south coast, and its development doesn't seem to be slowing down. In 2008, two new aircraft carriers were commissioned to be built here, ensuring that Portsmouth will continue to keep its status as the pride of the British navy.
Visitor Information
The Royal Naval Museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm (reduced times during winter). Entry costs around £20 for adults, £14 for children (ticket must be bought in advance online). HMNB Portsmouth, Porters Lodge, College Rd, H M Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3NH. Tel: 02392 727 562
The D-Day Museum is open daily from 10am to 5:30pm (reduced hours during winter). Entry costs around £6 for adults, £3.50 for children. Clarence Esplanade, Southsea, PO5 3NT. Tel: 02392 827 261

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