Southsea staycation: We went on holiday on our doorstep and found Portsmouth was better than heading on a trip to Cornwall
WITH far-flung summer holidays off the cards this year, we decided to staycation.
And we are not alone. Crowds of people have been packing out Cornwall, and with the A303 probably at permanent snail’s pace throughout the whole summer break, we started looking a bit closer to home.
Yes Devon is a bit closer, Dorset is beautiful, even Bognor could be fun, but with two young kids car journeys are a mission.
So we decided to holiday on our own doorstep and took a break in Southsea.
Here’s the confession, I have lived and worked in Portsmouth for more than 15 years. Even after moving out of the city a few years ago to find some green fields and a house that I could afford to buy near Fareham, I am often in Portsmouth.
I have even been a student in the city, which led me to becoming fairly well-acquainted with the city’s best watering holes.
I know my way around, but it feels like I never stop to take in its beauty. And I have certainly never shared the city with my two children.
So after a work visit to the Queens Hotel in Southsea, and seeing how much hard work, effort and money has been invested into the historic venue over the past few years, we checked in for a three-night break.
We have the two kids in tow, so have booked a family suite - two adjoining rooms with a balcony that overlooks the common.
From here, we really are in the heart of Southsea. You can see the ferries passing by, visitors soaking up the sun on the beach, the hovercraft flying over to the Isle of Wight, people enjoying time and company on the common: Southsea is alive with activity.
And there are plenty of family attractions within walking distance.
From the hotel it is a short walk to Palmerston Road with its shops, bars and cafes, and walk the other way and you’ll find the joys of Castle Road with its independent traders and restaurants.
We take in the sights of the D-Day Museum, and the landing craft tank (which is huge) really brings the place to life. You can almost imagine what it must have been like for all those soldiers landing in Normandy - it really gives you something to think about.
The guides are friendly and helpful, the displays engaging, even for children, and the whole morning is educational.
From there we head for some fun - and South Parade Pier has it by the bucket load. Our four-year-old is in his element, there are rides and rollercoasters, all aimed at the younger ages bringing a nice family feel.
The way the pier has been transformed over the past few years is incredible. It’s gone from a sorry looking husk into a vibrant welcoming and fun family attraction.
We also pay a visit to Southsea Model Village - a wonderfully tranquil experience after the buzz of the fair. Its miniature houses, streets and scenes, enthral the kids, who squeal with delight every time Thomas the Tank Engine comes whizzing past on the miniature railway.
Over the course of the three days, we also spent time at Clarence Pier, where the rides are a little scarier and bigger, attracting hordes of teenagers.
However there’s a great open top bus which runs along the seafront to Eastney and back for just £5 adults, with the young kids free, and the ice cream is just as delicious, as is the fruit sold by the greengrocer next to the hovercraft (which itself is a wonder to watch coming in). It’s a refreshing change to be able to get at least some fresh fruit into the kids, when they are not scoffing ice cream, chips or candy floss.
The family trip to Southsea also saw us visit the Blue Reef Aquarium - the first time in years - and once inside we marvelled at the stingrays, otters and sea horses.
However it is sunny, and the Blue Reef really comes into its own on a less-summery day, so we don’t spend long there before heading to the splash park outside. Blue Reef has its own splash park, however the kids have seen the council-operated one opposite and are dying to spend some time running about among the fountains.
The splash park is busy, but it’s so great to see people enjoying something put on for free. There’s no entry fee, no ticket required, just turn up and play for as long as you like and the kids love the freedom (there’s a huge fence around it). In fact they love it so much that we return every day of our break.
We also found joy at the fountain next to the D-Day Museum, where jets spray up at random times. Again, it’s free, simple, good honest fun.
And of course no trip to Southsea would be complete without a swim in the sea. Southsea’s beach stretches for miles, you can walk along the prom, and there are plenty of places to settle down. Southsea’s pebbles are not the most pleasant thing to hobble over to get in, but once you’re in, and have got over that shock of the cold Solent water, it’s exhilarating. I consider swimming off towards the Isle of Wight and leaving the family on the shore, however the four-year-old’s call of “Mummy come back” pierce my peace and I decide it’s probably best to return to parenting.
As well as sitting on Southsea’s pebbles, we also spent some time simply lying down and then playing games with the kids on the common - and we realised how lucky the city is to have such a beautiful area for everyone to enjoy.
Families are sitting together enjoying a picnic and barbecue, people are playing football, others are walking their dogs, kids are playing in the playground, some are throwing frisbees or flying kites.
Rarely, when we are caught up in city life, or work life, do we take five minutes to appreciate what’s under our noses.
And checking into the Queens Hotel with its beautifully-decorated rooms, opulent lobby, swish dining room, wonderful food and attentive staff gave us the chance to spend some quality family time together.
So in summary, if you live near you should visit, if you’ve never been you should visit and even if you live on the other side of the country you should visit, as Southsea makes a great family-friendly city break.
The hotel at the heart of Southsea
The Queens Hotel sits on the edge of Southsea Common just a few minutes’ walk from the beach. Within walking distance is the D-Day Museum and Historic Dockyard, home to the Royal Navy and attractions such as HMS Warrior, HMS Victory and The Mary Rose.
At the Queens Hotel, you will find newly refurbished rooms, many with spectacular panoramic views over The Solent. The rooms are striking, full of personality and with an air of elegance. Comfort is the hotel’s number one priority with big comfy beds and gorgeous bathrooms, helping to make your stay truly memorable.
Originally built in 1861 by Augustus Livesay, Southsea House was first constructed as a large private home for Sir John and Lady Morris. The house was situated in an almost identical position to the front half of the existing hotel, but was at that time surrounded by woodland – stone woods – and the Royal Albert Yacht Club.
In the latter part of the 19th century, around 1865, during a boom in construction and tourism in Southsea, the house was converted into a hotel by William Kemp Junior. The Queens became one of the first hotels in Portsmouth.
The current owners took over in April 2017 and commenced a painstaking, multimillion-pound restoration and redevelopment of the hotel to return her to her former glory. Original features have been uncovered and the lobby, bars and restaurants offer the perfect meeting space for gatherings large and small.
New seasonal menus in the signature restaurant 1865 and Dukes bar, a cocktail bar serving drinks with plenty of panache, have recently been introduced and a hand-picked team of hospitality specialists will ensure the warmest of welcomes at the Queens Hotel, Southsea.
For latest news on offers and updates, go to queenshotelportsmouth.com.