Visiting Southampton – A City Guide
Southampton has an impressive range of cultural offerings from museums and art galleries, to parks and concert halls. And though many flock here simply to board their cruise, this thriving city is also home to some of the biggest shopping centres and liveliest nightlife in southern England.
Southampton: city layout
Being a major port city, central Southampton suffered major damage during World War II. The city centre today is mostly packed with modern buildings and where you’ll find the majority of shops, pubs and restaurants. South of the centre, Southampton Docks is an important terminal for cruise ships and ferries to the Isle of Wight. East of the centre, former docklands area Ocean Village is fast becoming a new waterside leisure district, brimming with cinemas, cafés, bars and restaurants. North of the centre, the Cultural Quarter is a focal point for museums, theatres and galleries.
What to see in Southampton
While much of central Southampton is modern, reminders of the past remain there. You can walk along stretches of the original medieval city walls and visit the old stone Bargate, once the entrance to the city. Also dotted around the centre are monuments bearing witness to the city’s maritime significance. The Mayflower Memorial in harbourside Mayflower Park honours the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed from Southampton to the New World in 1620. You can also pay respects at the Titanic Engineer Officers Memorial in East Park, which remembers those who perished aboard the ill-fated liner in 1912.
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Hotels in Southampton
Southampton has a range of accommodation options to suit every taste and budget. You can stay in large modern hotels geared toward business travellers, or pick from a range of short-stay apartments and bed and breakfasts that make perfect bases for any leisurely city break.
Many hotels and apartments are located in the city centre, placing you close to the port and most restaurants, pubs and shops. New hotels are appearing in the rejuvenated former docklands area of Ocean Village. If you choose to stay in the western suburbs, you’ll be in a quieter residential neighbourhood near the M27 motorway and some out-of-town businesses, but still around a 10-minute drive or a short bus journey from the city centre. Staying in the eastern suburbs or in Eastleigh puts you close to both the M27 and Southampton Airport (SOU).
Eating Out in Southampton
Dining options in Southampton cover all bases, from bars and pubs to trendy cafés and fine-dining restaurants. As in other British cities, restaurants serving Indian, Chinese and Italian cuisine are very popular, as is traditional ‘pub grub’ in a local public house.
Central Southampton is a happy hunting ground for places to eat. Try looking along Oxford Street, a trendy a popular meeting point lined with numerous bistros and cafés. You’ll also find an increasing number of waterside eateries at up-and-coming Ocean Village, a redeveloped former docklands district now home to modern wine bars and restaurants. There are more cafés close to smart attractions in the Cultural Quarter. Outer suburbs to the east and west of the centre have fewer restaurants, but you will find plenty of pubs here serving traditional British food.
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Shopping in Southampton
As the region’s largest city, Southampton is a major shopping hub with indoor centres, retail parks and department stores. Besides familiar British chains, you’ll find plenty of independent outlets and boutiques. Haggling over prices is not common, although in some shops you can ask for discounts on multiple purchases.
Southampton’s shopping centres around pedestrianised Above Bar Street, as well as London Road and High Street. WestQuay shopping centre is home to over 100 stores on three levels, while The Marlands has another 50. You’ll find more big stores at nearby West Quay Retail Park, while central East Street is a ‘speciality shopping’ district filled with quirky boutiques. For small outlets, head north of the centre to Bedford Place. You can also try The Boutique Village in the western suburbs, which is home to 150 independent retailers – ideal if you’re in the market for gifts like handmade toys or craft jewellery.
Top markets in Southampton
Culture & Nightlife in Southampton
Southampton has a thriving cultural scene with museums, art galleries and theatres. The nightlife is also eclectic and caters to most tastes, whether you’re looking for a traditional British pub or a modern cocktail bar. You’ll have a wide choice of nightclubs if you want to dance into the night.
Much of Southampton’s daytime cultural attractions are located in the city centre, as are the city’s older and more traditional pubs and bars. Just north of the centre, the Cultural Quarter is home to museums and theatres. East of the centre, waterside Ocean Village is an up-and-coming cultural destination with multi-screen cinemas and plenty of modern bars and clubs. After dark, you’ll find a cluster of lively bars and clubs aimed at a younger crowd in the area north of the Cultural Quarter, bordered by London Road, Carlton Crescent and Bedford Place.
Theatres and concert halls in Southampton
Visiting Southampton with a Family
Whatever the weather, you’ll find a wide range of fun ways to keep the children entertained in and around Southampton. You can visit museums to learn about the city’s past, or head to free parks where they can burn off excess energy. They can even try their hand at a range of winter sports.
Children will love the old aircraft displayed at the Solent Sky Museum and can find out about the city’s links to the creation of the Spitfire. For a maritime history lesson, the exhibits at the SeaCity Museum include an interactive 1:25 scale model of the RMS Titanic. Whether they are novices or seasoned pros, kids of all ages can slip on a helmet and goggles for year-round skiing or snowboarding at the Alpine Snowsports Centre. Or if you just want them to run around a little, the city’s interlinked Central Parks have acres of space for young ones to run around in safety.
Family fun day trips from Southampton