Things to see and do in Southsea

PUBLISHED: 15:23 18 March 2014 | UPDATED: 15:23 18 March 2014




The tide’s turned for Southsea in recent years where a lively festival atmosphere rubs shoulders with its traditional seaside charms and historic sights


Situated on the southern end of Portsea Island, Southsea is just a mile from central Portsmouth, yet has its own distinctive character. Henry VIII reportedly watched the sinking of his flagship The Mary Rose from the ramparts of Southsea Castle (free entry March to October). And this defensive fort later featured during the English Civil War. Having adopted the castle’s name the suburb that grew up in the shadow of the city’s walls included the ‘mineral’ streets, so-called after their skilled gold, silver and nickel workers. By the 1850s architect Thomas Ellis Owen’s fine Regency style buildings were making their mark on the local landscape. However Southsea, along with its near neighbour suffered badly during The Blitz.

Now, thankfully, conservation generally wins out against unsympathetic infilling, helping to preserve its heritage. Interestingly, the roll call of celebrities with local links includes: actor Peter Sellers whose birthplace was on the corner of Castle Road and Southsea Terrace; writer Rudyard Kipling who spent much of his early childhood here, and a young Scottish doctor named Arthur Conan Doyle, who in 1887 set up his surgery in Elm Grove.


Out & about

If chilling out with an ice cream whilst enjoying one of the many events taking place on Southsea Common, or strolling along the seafront sounds too pedestrian, Exhilaration Boat Rides have speedboat trips to tempt thrill seekers; alternatively, an underwater safari at the Blue Reef Aquarium is a stone’s throw away along the beach. The D-Day Museum with its famous Overlord Embroidery, Southsea’s answer to the Bayeux Tapestry, will captivate history buffs who this year might also want to visit to discover the special 350th anniversary events being hosted. Kids will love the camera obscura in action at the Cumberland House Natural Sciences Museum on Sunday 23rd March, part of National Science and Engineering Week, or can let off steam at the Clarence Pier Amusement Park and The Pyramids Leisure Centre. It’s also worth checking if the elegant Kings Theatre still has tickets left for the theatre, music and comedy acts performing at this Southsea landmark.


Food & drink

If, to you, the British seaside means less gastro more fish and chips, then think again. While joining the pilgrimage to Albert Road’s Casa de Castro for homemade pastries, or taking traditional afternoon tea, within Clarence Parade’s Queens Hotel is tempting, a flotilla of new eateries is ashore.

Artworks can be enjoyed alongside a fresh brew at The Southsea Coffee Co.’s cool Osborne Road café, and a short walk leads to authentic pizzeria Circolo, where Gianni and his team deliver a true taste of Italy in stylish, retro surroundings. 
In fact, whether you love sushi or sorbet, tagine or tandoori, it’s here.

Southsea’s nightlife gets into full swing at the numerous bars; then again, a Daiquiri or cold beer whilst wave watching from Mozzarella Joes’ terrace beside Clarence Esplanade might prove equally irresistible.


Shop till you drop

Plenty of familiar high street names, including John Lewis and Debenhams are easily accessible in the Palmerston Road shopping area. There’s an opportunity to stock up on fresh local produce when the Hampshire Farmers’ Market sets up stall on the third Sunday of each month and the precinct also hosts the Love Southsea specialist market, the next being on Saturday 1st March. While for unique independent galleries, antiques and vintage shops, head over to either Marmion Road or Albert Road. Bellamy’s, run by Debbie Parker features semi precious jewellery and miscellanea, and there’s always a chance of unearthing interesting collectables at Tango Tea.


Getting there: The M27 with links to Southampton and the New Forest, Winchester, London, and West Sussex is less than five miles away. Portsmouth and Southsea train station has fast services to London Waterloo (80 mins) plus lines across Hampshire; and there are coaches to London Victoria bus station. Regular seafront bus services cover the attractions with the no. 19 conveniently connecting Albert Road. Alternatively, the Isle of Wight hovercraft service takes just 10 minutes.


My weekend in Southsea

“One of the great things about Southsea is that it’s perfect for cycling, and recently more paths have been opened up,” says Paul Gonella, a partner in music and cultural promoter Strong Island.

“A particular favourite is along the Eastern Road, by Langstone Harbour, which is full of wildlife. I take my camera; it’s only a 15-20 minute ride. Coming back via Albert Road, I’ll look into Parmiters Antiques, which sells unusual items like old glass bottles and vintage signs. There’s also a great bookshop, Jade Mountain down on Highland Road that’s worth exploring.

“After a walk on the Common, Osborne Road’s Belle Isle café bar is the place to stop-off. It does wonderful seasonal food and a fantastic jerk chicken, or there’s Pie & Vinyl on Castle Road, a real success story. I like to support local bands at the Wedgewood Rooms and we’re lucky, there are many small reasonably priced venues around here.

“Southsea’s got a real village feel, you’ll chat with people in the street and this sense of community makes it special.”


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