Where to eat, drink and shop in Portsmouth

Portsmouth City GuideAaron Gray

I think we can all agree that being beside the sea makes everyone feel better. But, unfortunately, jumping on a flight to Ibiza or the Maldives, every single time you face a minor annoyance just isn’t possible.

What is (slightly more) realistic is hitting up the beaches and coastlines that the UK has to offer. And, considering that Portsmouth is known as the UK’s only island city with miles of coastline to explore, it’s the perfect place to book for those weekends when you just need to escape. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your time…

Where to stay…

If you like to role play as a hot mess Victorian heiress, who brings scandal on her family by throwing opulent parties and taking secret lovers, you have to stay in The Queen’s Hotel, which dates back to 1861 and still has a grand, yet hedonistic, vibe. Even if you don’t get your kicks imagining you live an entirely different life (just me?!) it’s still the prettiest place to stay, with herringbone floors, twinkling chandeliers and a ceiling mural to get lost in… and that’s just the lobby.

The hotel underwent a multi-million pound revamp a couple of years back and, as a result, the rooms manage to maintain that classic feel while also being incredibly comfortable. Many also have a sea-view and balconies you can actually access (I’m a big fan of having fresh air in hotels, instead of stuffy air-con). Food-wise, the hotel’s restaurant 1865 is worth a visit, even if you’re not staying, as with its 15ft high ceilings, plush velvet chairs and marble tables you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

It's also in the ideal location, as the hotel faces the Southsea Common, with the beach just beyond that, making it the best pit-stop for exploring the surrounding area on foot.

History buffs will enjoy The D-Day story, which is about five minutes away and tells the story through personal accounts of the people who were there. Alternatively, you could wander along to Southsea beach for a walk along the pier and a dip in the sea for those who can handle colder temperatures (go on… it’s good for you.) If you don’t fancy swimming I’d recommend what I like to call ‘rock therapy’ where you pick up pebbles, and throw them angrily in the sea calling out the names of all the people who have wronged you. Trust me, it’s really works (just make sure you watch out for the seagulls).

Where to shop…

I don’t know about you, but I’m personally offended if I have to pay full-price for anything (rude) so I was delighted to discover everything at Gunwharf Quays has up to 60% off it, all day, every day. I didn’t actually realise this when we first arrived at the shopping outlet (which is kind of a mix of outside shops, and your classic indoor shopping centre) as everything is so neatly organised. It's also in the most beautiful location, overlooking the water. It doesn’t feel like bargain shopping, but it is.

There’s all your classics: adidas, Armani, Calvin Klein, Dune, Levi’s and Kate Spade… but with prices much, much cheaper than your average high street. I was also thrilled to discover they have an actual Haribo store. Which is just… full of Haribo. At discount prices. The dream.

And, if you need any help picking out what to wear, local personal stylist Jennifer Jones is on-hand to take you around, she’s an expert in colour analysis (which you might have seen all over your TikTok feed) its principles help you find help you find rules for everyday styling, and which colours suit your skin-tone best. As someone who likes to wear a riot of hues daily, most of which clash, I wasn’t so keen, but it’s definitely useful if you just want to put together a capsule wardrobe.

If you’re more of an independent boutique shopper, you’re best to head on up to the independent shops in Southsea, the southern tip of the city. For those of you who love searching for treasure Roberts of Southsea has an eclectic collection of antiques, with everything from jewellery to (my personal favourite rummaging pastime) vintage postcards. If you’re a vinyl fan, there’s Pie & Vinyl, while book worms need to browse the selection at the city's only independent book store Pigeon Books.

Where to eat and drink…

First up: make sure you head to Outside-In Food Court, tucked away in a hidden warehouse, super close to the train station, it has a mix of independent food and drink street-food stalls. Always ideal for when you’re in a group and can’t decide on a cuisine that suits all of you – are Sourdough Ted for pizza, or Oishi buns for bao.

If you’re out shopping and suddenly starving, there’s loads of decent restaurants in Gunwharf Quays – from a newly opened Banana Tree (personally I think Banana Trees are under-rated, the food is so good there, always) to Cosy Club which had a celebratory atmosphere when we went.

Or, for unrivalled views, book in for high tea in Spinnaker Tower. The Clouds café is 105 metres above ground and housed within the iconic observation tower that towers over Portsmouth’s skyline… oh and they do cocktails too.

For vegans (or really, just anyone who likes nice food) Offbeet Café is dog-friendly (but, of course) and has the sort of innovative veggie/vegan food that taste too good to be healthy, but actually is. For brunch/Sunday roasts/basically any sort of occasion you want to eat well for there’s Croxtons, which has guest DJs and various events (check out their website for more info) and is the sort of casual dining I relish in. Who wants to feel like they can’t just spill food all down themselves and still carry on and party? Certainly not me.

Portsmouth has a brilliant live music scene, known for supporting local up and coming artists, so, if you can check out a bar or pub that also hosts live music events. There’s the Lord John Russell on Albert Road, currently overtaken with football but recently had Starsailor frontman James Walsh do two nights there, so keep an eye on its schedule for when you’re in town. While Drift is one of the city’s longest standing independent bars, the cocktail menu is incredible, has a huge beer garden as well as a basement, the late night bar regularly holds nights featuring top DJs, as well as local, up-and-coming talent. Bonus points if you pull a musician. But, even if you don't, a night out in Portsmouth is bound to bring plenty of adventure. Make sure you fill me in on the gossip...

Catriona Innes is commissioning director at Cosmopolitan, you can follow her on Instagram

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