Hi, I live fairly close to Portsmouth and go there a lot, but can't recommend any hotels etc as I never use them. However, there is plenty to see and do while you are there.
Firstly, are you travelling to France or the Isle of Wight? The ports for those are in different parts of the city. The continental ferry port is close to the motorway entrance to the city but is not close to the touristy parts it's in a residential/commercial area. The IOW ferries are closer to the more interesting parts. However they are all on the same side of the city and not that far apart. I would aim to stay somewhere close to Old Portsmouth or Gunwharf Quays. Old Portsmouth is great for a wander round to get a bit of heritage, watch the ships come in and out of the harbour, there are a few pubs etc. There is also a stony beach there which is very sheltered even in winter and it is all close to the cathedral. You can easily walk along to Southsea seafront where there is a funfair, cafes etc and a big common with play areas etc, although not sure now much is open in winter. If you walk the other way, there is a marked walkway to Gunwharf Quays which is a big complex of outlet shops, restaurants, cinema etc, although it is a bit exposed and windy. I would suggest Old Portsmouth/Southsea in the morning and head to Gunwharf later for a meal, entertainment. The is also a massive viewing tower at Gunwharf, the Spinnaker Tower which is worth a visit and you can go on little boat trips round the harbour too.
Alternatively the historic dockyard is supposed to be a great day out, I've never been though! That's very close to Gunwharf Quays too. Maybe better for older children I think.
thank you so much for your thoughtful posts, whoknows. I think you have just confirmed what I was thinking: we will look for somewhere in the old town to stay. I (purely for my own geekiness!) would love to see the history dockyard. We are taking a continental ferry and have check distances on googlemaps, so even though it's not next door, it will not matter as we are taking a car.
I would make sure you allow plenty of time to get to the ferry, it's not far but Portsmouth is pretty congested a lot of the time, due to being an island with only three roads coming in and out. Hope you have a good stay!
Hi, there's a holiday inn express in gunwharf quays which is 10 mins walk from the historic dockyard in one direction and 10 mins walk from Old Portsmouth in the other. Loads of places to eat in gunwharf too.
thank you all. The holiday inn express sounds good, but I was leaning towards the Keppel's head hotel, just because it sounds quirky. However, having read some reviews reporting mould and generally poor hygiene, the Holiday inn is looking A LOT more enticing!