On the south coast of England, Portsmouth has been an important port since Roman times. Known as the home of the Royal Navy, many of its attractions have a maritime air, including several notable ships. Visitors to the UK will need to apply for the new UK ETA for Portsmouth. This guide explains how to do that and what to see on arrival.
The Growth of Portsmouth
There have been ports in this area of the south coast since at least the 3rd century, but the town itself blossomed in importance after the Norman invasion. Richard I, known as the Lionheart, travelled through Portsmouth from France on his way to his coronation. He gave Portsmouth royal market town status and summoned a fleet of 100 ships to dock there. His successor, John, established a permanent naval base, marking the start of Portsmouth’s long association with sea battles.
For centuries, England and France met in battle. Portsmouth’s southern location made it strategically important, so English monarchs began to fortify the town to repel French forces. The first fortifications were built under Henry V to stop a French naval blockade. More were added by later kings and queens, and by the time of the Napoleonic wars, Portsmouth would become the world’s most fortified city.
The Round Tower
Many of Portsmouth’s fortifications are now ruined, but the historic Round Tower remains. Originally built in 1418, the first Round Tower was a wooden structure equipped with a defensive chain. This could be raised across the harbour to prevent ships from entering. In the 1490s, the original wood was replaced by stone, and at the time of the Napoleonic wars, the tower was heavily rebuilt using stronger fortifications and additional gun platforms.
Concerned about invaders after his break with the Catholic church, Henry VIII put a lot of effort into strengthening Portsmouth’s defences. In addition to building Southsea Castle and expanding the dockyard, he erected a defensive boom to protect the harbour. Despite his best effort, the English navy suffered a heavy blow in Portsmouth in 1545 when Henry’s flagship, the Mary Rose, sank in action, leaving about 500 dead. Henry himself was stationed in Southsea Castle, where he could watch the tragedy occur. The Mary Rose was finally raised from the seabed in 1982, and today the ship’s ruins and its artefacts can be seen in the Mary Rose Museum.
Built by Henry VIII, Southsea Castle feels more like an artillery fort than a castle. Today, it serves as a museum open to visitors, with a collection of antique artillery weapons inside. It saw action against the French shortly after its construction, but later centuries of peace left it somewhat neglected. It was attacked in the English Civil War when Portsmouth’s position made it a crucial stronghold for the Royalists. Later, it was also used in the Second World War.
Portsmouth as a Naval Capital
As seafaring became more important, Portsmouth’s prominence grew. Captain James Cook sailed into Portsmouth in 1775, completing his mission to circumnavigate the world. The ill-fated HMS Bounty departed from Portsmouth, and the HMS Pandora followed it two years later to bring its notorious mutineers back to stand trial in England. Admiral Horatio Nelson was frequently based at Portsmouth. From here, he set sail on HMS Victory, the Royal Navy’s flagship, to fight the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Many ships are preserved at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, but none are as well-known as HMS Victory. From its deck, Nelson commanded his forces, who defeated Napoleon at Trafalgar. The admiral later died onboard, and his body was preserved in a barrel of brandy until it could be returned to England for a full military funeral. HMS Victory is preserved much as it was in Nelson’s day, and today, it serves as a living museum.
Portsmouth in World War II
Portsmouth’s large naval base and shipyard was a natural target for enemy bombers during the Second World War. It was bombed heavily in the Blitz, with 67 air raids specifically targeting the city and its port. Later, its strategic location would once again prove vital, as it had done in so many previous wars. From Portsmouth Harbour, Allied ships departed for Normandy on the 6th of June, 1944, for the D-Day landings.
The D-Day Story
The D-Day Story is a museum dedicated to Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings. Exhibits include tanks, as well as the last surviving D-Day landing craft. One of the most impressive pieces is the Overlord Embroidery, a 272-foot hand-crafted tapestry created as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the D-Day landings.
The UK ETA for Portsmouth
From 2024 onwards, visitors to the UK will need to familiarise themselves with the new ETA system. The ETA, which stands for Electronic Travel Authorisation, is an incoming programme designed to replace the UK’s current system of visa waivers. Inspired by similar programmes in the United States and Canada, it is designed to help the government digitalise the borders and benefit from greater control over the country’s entries and departures.
The current UK visa waiver system allows travellers from 92 countries to enter the UK without a visa. Citizens of these countries will be affected by the new system and are eligible to apply for an ETA. The ETA grants permission to enter the UK and stay for a period of no longer than six months. All travellers visiting for leisure, business or short-term studies will need to apply for an ETA.
Travellers who currently need a visa will still need to acquire one. This includes citizens who want to spend more than six months in the UK and those who intend to work in the country.
How To Apply for the UK ETA
The UK ETA for Portsmouth is a completely digital system. Applications can only be processed online. Travellers will need to have their approved ETA ready when they board their plane, ship or train, as carriers may deny boarding to those who do not have one. For this reason, it’s essential to apply several days in advance.
A list of ETA requirements has been published, allowing travellers to check that they meet the criteria. They will need a valid biometric passport and must supply certain personal details during the application process. This includes basic details covering their address, date of birth and employment status, as well as the disclosure of criminal history or immigration offences. Applicants must also pay a fee and provide information concerning the purpose of their trip and the address at which they intend to stay while in the UK.
The ETA application can take up to 72 hours to process. The fee must be paid before the application is processed. To ensure that the application is approved before beginning their journey, travellers are advised to leave plenty of time for the processing of their application. Review the ETA FAQ page for additional details.
Getting Around With the UK ETA for Portsmouth
Travellers will need to show their ETA to their carrier when they board and once again when they pass through security checkpoints at the airport upon arrival. Once in the country, the UK ETA for Portsmouth allows visitors to travel freely between all parts of the United Kingdom. This means that a visitor to Portsmouth who wants to go to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland can do so without any extra formalities. However, the ETA only covers the United Kingdom. Travellers who would like to visit the Republic of Ireland, France or any other European country as part of their trip should check the specific entry requirements for those nations.
Your Trip to Portsmouth With the UK ETA
Once the UK ETA for Portsmouth has been approved, travellers can enjoy their visit with peace of mind. Portsmouth, with its centuries of storied maritime history, is an exciting destination for visitors from all across the globe. Visitors often come to explore the Historic Dockyard, climb the Round Tower for views across the city, and follow in the footsteps of Henry VIII at Southsea Castle.