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Published October 13th 2017
Discover the best place for a great view of Portsmouth
Having admired the Spinnaker Tower since it opened in 2005, I was delighted when the opportunity arose to visit it as it neared its 12th birthday.
At 170m, the Spinnaker Tower is the tallest publically accessible tower in the UK outside London and dominates the waterfront at Portsmouth between Gunwharf Quays and the Historic Dockyard.
Taking its name from the sail of an ocean-going yacht, the Spinnaker Tower is constructed on two concrete legs, one of which contains the high-speed lift, and the other has the steps - 587 of them. There are 2 cafes and 3 viewing platforms, 2 of which are accessed by the high-speed, staff operated internal lift travelling at 4 metres per second.
Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth
Before you enter the lift, I would recommend watching the short animated video just after the sales desk. It summarises the history of Portsmouth and highlights the famous people that have lived or worked there, like Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and H.G. Wells to list a few but it also refers to landmarks that will become apparent when you step outside the lift.
Despite taking less than 30 seconds to reach the first viewing deck, 100m above sea level, I was barely aware that the lift was moving. However, we were distracted by friendly chatter with the lift assistant.
From the first viewing deck, I could see nearly all the way round, they claim you can see 350 degrees but the guide told me that if you get your position and angles just right, you can actually see 360 degrees. It was decided that the main viewing platform should be 100m because that was the optimal height for the best views of the surrounding land which includes the Historic Dockyard to the west, Old Portsmouth to the east, Portsdown Hill to the north and the Isle of Wight to the south. On a clear day, which I was lucky to experience; visibility was up to 23 miles which meant I could see as far as Bognor Regis, the New Forest and Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
View of Portsmouth Harbour over to the Isle of Wight
A useful multi-language interactive touch screen 'experience' identifies the landmarks and gives a brief history of them too and a static pictorial representation runs along the edge of the floor.
Image of landmarks around the viewing platform
I was really looking forward to trying out the famous glass walkway in the centre of the floor, so with shoes to one side, I stepped gingerly onto the glass and peered down between my feet at the tiny shoppers below - surprisingly it felt more unsettling than I had imagined.
Either the stairs or the lift will bring you out at the Clouds Café on the second deck where high tea is taken literally. But don't worry if you can't stomach lunch at that height, there is always the Waterfront Café at sea level with equally stunning views of the harbour through the floor to ceiling glass windows.
The third deck is accessed by stairs only. It is a small Sky Garden at 110m high with a carpet of artificial grass, comfortable squidgy bean bags, deck chairs and potted aromatic plants. It has no roof and it felt relaxing to sit and watch the shipping in the busy harbour and absorb the feeling of the fresh air at that height. On a windy day, however, I was told, that you can also feel the tower swaying by up to 150mm.
The Spinnaker Tower is one of Portsmouth's most popular attractions making the best time to visit during the months of October to March when there are fewer visitors and the weather is generally clearer. The guide said that in the summer, the Isle of Wight can just disappear in a heat haze but if you fancy an adrenalin surge, the summer is the best time to visit as that is when it is also used for charity abseiling. As it is the highest public abseiling venue in the UK, I would imagine that would be quite a challenge. There are numerous dining and experience packages available at the Spinnaker Tower and all the details are updated on the website.
It is always interesting to see familiar sights from an aerial perspective and the view from the Spinnaker Tower is no exception but being able to look down into Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard and imagine prisoners of war working on the harbour wall and famous battleships arming and setting off from there, is like being able to look back in time through a window into history.
With all the interactive experiences, historical animated video and a guided tour (or a guide book); a visit to the Spinnaker tower is much more than just a tower with a view.