Spinnaker Tower

Taller than the London Eye, Blackpool Tower and Big Ben, the Spinnaker tower has already established itself as a national icon for Britain.

-Source HGB Architects

About Spinnaker Tower


Back in the mid 1990’s the Ministry of Defence had decided to sell off parts of its run-down Portsmouth and Gosport estate.  This kickstarted a £50 million scheme to redevelop Portsmouth Harbour, backed by the UK Millennium Commission.

The focal point of this project and linchpin of the redevelopment was to be a new ‘Millennium Tower’.  The plan being to link a new iconic tower with a leisure and retail destination, right at the gateway to Portsmouth, providing much needed jobs and boosting the local economy.

3 tower designs were selected and put to a public vote in 1998.  The Globe, Triple Tower and Spinnaker.

Over 9,400 people cast their vote and the winner was chosen – Architect Hedley Greentree’s Spinnaker Tower.

Greentree looked at Portsmouth’s status as a world-famous port and looked to the sailing world for inspiration and designed a tower that is heavily influenced by the spinnaker sail.   He created a concrete, steel and composite structure that rises 170m from the sea adjacent to the new Gunwharf Quays development (insert link).  Designed with three tourist viewing platforms at heights of 100, 105 and 110m. It was a design that resonated with the Portsmouth population as it took an amazing 65% of the vote.

A spinnaker sail is designed specifically for sailing off the wind and are constructed of lightweight fabric, usually nylon, and are often brightly coloured.

Spinnaker Tower at night

Spinnaker Tower at night

As usual with large British infrastructure projects, construction overran, missing the turn of the Millennium.  Spinnaker Tower finally opened in 2005. The tower’s sail shape became a world class international landmark, rising 170m high (including the 27m high glass-reinforced plastic spire).

Linking the tower to the surrounding area is the Gosport Millennium Walkway, a 2.6 mile trail that covers the best of old and new Portsmouth with the tower in the centre.  At night the tower and the millennium walk streetlights (featuring a very specific Portsmouth design) shine bright blue.   This is a welcome sight to those returning to the harbour at night.

download the Millennium Promenade leaflet

Our Spinnaker Tower Experience


Just as we entered the Gosport area of Portsmouth along the A3 we caught a glimpse of the impressive looking Spinnaker Tower making it presence known amongst the oncoming skyline.  The tower does not have its own public parking, but as it is situated within the Gunwharf Quays area of Portsmouth, this poses no problem.

Gunwharf Quays is a great shopping and leisure destination, full of designer shops, pubs, cinema and bowling and has its own huge underground car park.   Once parked it was a 2 minute walk through the shops to the base of the tower, which, by the way, was looking resplendent in the early spring sunshine.  As we had just completed a 2 hour drive, Team Hedgehog’s first stop was to freshen up and grab some food at the tower’s ground floor Café, the Spinnaker Kitchen and Bar.

Situated on the edge of the water, the café looks quite inviting with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows and outdoor terrace, wrapping around the base of the tower.  Upon entering the café this impressive visage gave way to a slightly duller ambience.  Inside, the café resembled more of a service station with its small tables, uncomfortable chairs, wooden floor, and basic food menu. The food consisted of the obligatory all-day breakfast, toasties, and baked potatoes.  It was good to see that although obviously a tourist attraction the food prices were fair, charging just £9.95 for a full English breakfast for example.  We ordered food (I had the Hampshire ‘Little’ Breakfast) and the wait was around 20 minutes before the first food came out. Food was perfectly acceptable for such a café, nothing exceptional to rave about, but nothing to upset us either.  The loo’s on the other hand are just weird. You walk through a door in the corner of the café into a oddly shaped, almost triangle area of several other doors that are in fact unisex toilet cubicles. Yes ladies you have to put up with men misses, at least that’s what it was like in the cubicle I visited, it had quite the wet floor!  Having refreshed ourselves it was time to go up the tower.

The tower website suggests that you book to avoid disappointment and in return offers a small discount for booking online.  Booking was very easy and once you have selected a time slot to arrive  it only takes a few minutes to complete.

We exited the café and waked around the tower to the main entrance. I am glad we booked as we witnessed the reception staff having quite the heated conversation with a member of the public who wasn’t being let in. Once that had finished, our tickets where checked and our group warmly welcomed to the tower .   As we entered, we immediately noticed a small seating area and introductory animation, we stayed for a few minutes to watch.  It’s a fun animation, introducing the history of Portsmouth, its locations, and famous residents. Young children would find this entertaining, but us adults are not the target audience and got a bit bored, so we moved on, straight into a green screen area.  Having been to many Merlin attractions in the past I immediately recognised a tourist money grab opportunity, i.e. Stand in front of the green screen and the attraction will attempt to sell you a photo gift, in this case the tower offers a choice of 5 different Spinnaker Tower backgrounds all available as prints, magnets, keyrings and photo blocks. Whilst it would be fun to pretend to stand on the outside edge of the tower we polity declined this experience.  To their credit, we received no hard sell and our wish to pass through was immediately accepted.  We carried on through to the high-speed lift that would take us to level one.   Whilst waiting for the lift we had an entertaining conversation with a very chirpy staff member.

The lift arrived and we were encouraged to enter. Just before it set off a staff member talked us through what we could expect above and with that the lift launched.  I say launched, as the lift only takes 28 seconds to get to Deck 1 that’s 100 metres above sea level. So, it hurtles along at 4 metres per second!

The First Platform

Once the lift had stopped and the doors opened, we got our first look at the deck 1 viewing platform. In front of us was a large futuristic looking atrium, floor to ceiling windows streamed light into the space, giving team Hedgehog views of Portsmouth Harbour from height. Once this initial assault on the senses had subsided, we ventured into this amazing space moving closer to the huge windows that provide a near 360 degree view of Portsmouth Harbour.  In front of the windows the tower has helpfully provided what is best described as a view map that explains features that you can see, such as sailing clubs, and various other important structures. The more that we stayed and looked out, the more we discovered, such as the ferries coming and going, the naval ships being fitted out, and of course amazing views of Spice Island, Gosport, the Solent, South Downs, and the Isle of Wight as well as the old forts sitting proudly by the Harbour entrance.  It’s a view that takes your breath away!

Not content with supplying such an amazing view, the tower has another ace in its sleeve, their ‘Sky Walk’.  A section of floor made up of 3 layers of reinforced clear glass around 60mm thick.  At the time it was built, it was Europe’s largest glass viewing floor.  Whilst walking on it I was reminded of Alton Towers Oblivion slogan ‘’Don’t Look Down’’,(what is it with Towers and looking down?) because if you do, you get a view 100 ft straight down the tower to the harbour below, not one for those with vertigo.   It’s a shame then that the glass floor has seen better days, its surface full of scratches that make the glass slightly diffused, it could do with a decent polish to bring back its full effect.

The View From Level One of Spinnaker Tower

The Second  and Third Platform

Having had our fill of this level myself and the team moved onwards and upwards to the second viewing platform, here we found The Clouds café.  This smaller platform has been converted into a café that was being used for pre booked ‘High’ Teas only, but at other times is reserved for private evets such as weddings.  As we had not booked a High Tea, we carried on up to the final third level – a very small platform in the open air called ‘Sky Deck’.  This compact platform has a glass front to match the appearance of the other two levels but has an open air wire mesh forming a roof, presumably to keep the local wildlife out. The floor and walls are covered with fake grass, and an illuminated logo / selfie opportunity.  As full as this compact bijou space is, the Astroturf made it feel like a little cheap afterthought, rather than a space with any real purpose.


Whilst the aim might have been to build an iconic tower with an incredible view, the owners have sought to monetise the tower in very fitting ways, from personalized lighting and corporate sponsorships, through to hosting comedy nights and weddings. The latest money-making scheme to hit the tower has seen the outside elevator removed and in its place Abseiling has been introduced. The tower providing public and private sessions through the summer season. The Tower says.

‘over half a million pounds raised for charity every year!’

however, details are scarce on how the charity aspect works with the website directing you to pay for your booking.

Our Overall Thoughts On Spinnaker Tower


There is no doubt that the vision to build an iconic tower for Portsmouth was the right one. The Gosport / Gunwhalf Quays area has benefitted hugely from the re-development anchored by the Tower.  The Design of Spinnaker Tower is world class and is as iconic as the other tower that follows the Spinnaker Sail design – the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, albeit with less windows.  Inside the tower the style is minimalist allowing the scenery to be the decoration and it works well. If I have one are of unease, I would say it’s the entry price, an all day Family ticket currently costs £51.00 and a Single adult just under £15 (all discounted for residents). That’s quite a lot of money for what essentially is a lift to a viewing platform providing a very specific experience, that honestly is not going to entertain for long. I think we spent around 25 minutes looking out the windows before exploring the other platforms.

Overall though I am happy that we paid and experienced what the tower had to offer. Maybe one day I will return to try out the abseiling!

The Silver Hedgehog Rating:

Value For Money - 7
Visit Experience - 8
Attraction Facilities - 9



The Design of Spinnaker Tower is world class and iconic

Find Out more about our ratings here


Words Garry

Editor JJ

Photos, JJ and Garry

Post Credit Extras

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This site is a non-profit project..

As a small, independent website run by Garry in his spare time,  we need your help to continue providing great content.

Please donate to help The Silver Hedgehog grow. All funds are put back into the website, and help provide new features.

Buy Me A Coffee

Buy Me a Coffee is a service that allows you to make a voluntary one-off donation in the form of a cup of coffee.

1 x coffee = £3.00



We have several Patreon subscription levels available, starting at £3.00 per month.

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