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A tour of the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and HMS Alliance: 300 years of Royal Navy history

These three vessels are the embodiment of British naval power from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We toured all three at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, England.

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For 800 years the city of Portsmouth built the ships of the English (and later, British) fleets. Today it is the home to, among other things, the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Ships representing over 300 years of that history are here to not only see, but tour.

The oldest, the HMS Victory, was Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar. The HMS Warrior was the first iron-clad battleship. The HMS Alliance was the peak of WWII submarine design.

Here's a tour of all three.

The HMS Victory, commissioned in 1778, is a 104-gun first-rate ship of the line. It must have been awe-inspiring in its day. Today, it looks as if it was completed yesterday. Constant maintenance has kept it from rotting into the sea. That, and a drydock.

You enter on one of the main gun decks, and it's not hard to imagine how dark and cramped the space must have been in action. I'm not quite 6 feet, and there are few places I can comfortably walk upright. The 32-pound cannon poke out from the hull for effect. In their day they'd have been inside unless needed.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The tour is one way, and you weave up and down through the ship. On the quarterdeck there's a plaque noting where Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson fell. He died down below, and his body stored in a cask of brandy while the Victory received repairs in Gibraltar.

Across the museum complex is the HMS Warrior (image at top), launched in 1860. At first glance, it seems like a supersized version of the Victory. That is, until you see the funnels. It's a steep walk to the top deck, and as it spreads out before you, you notice the odd visual mix of the Victory's lines and rigging, with the funnels off a Titanic-type steamship. There's a line connecting ships of those eras, and this is it.

Belowdecks it's more of the same. Massive 68-pound cannon stretch into the distance. There's room to move, though, and stand up. Officers' quarters are lined with gold trim. The captain's quarters could be a hotel suite.

Way below, the broilers seem to go on forever, finally leading to the engine room. Two comically large pistons actually move. It's all a steampunk-like masterpiece of brass and iron.

To get to the HMS Alliance, a short water taxi trip is required. Up out of the water, it's easy to get a good view of the sub. Launched in 1945, it's larger and more streamlined than most WWII subs (having gone through a refit in the late 50s). It lacks the size of the later Oberon class, or the larger nuclear subs. The tour is a straight shot from the bow torpedo room aft, through the officer's quarters, bridge, engine room and finally rear torpedo room.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The three ships are definitely worth the trip to Portsmouth. There's a lot more too that I didn't have space here to cover, including the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship that sank in Portsmouth harbour in the 16th century and was half preserved by its mud.

A pass for everything, good for a year, is £32 (around $49 or AU$69). That's basically the same price if you buy just the Alliance and the Victory alone, so it's not a bad deal to see 300 years of history in one spot.

In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, medieval castles, Abbey Road Studios, and more. You can follow his exploits on Twitter and Instagram, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. Got a tour-worthy spot you think he should check out? Let him know!