Almost 2 million people cruise from Southampton annually. However, many who come to the UK’s most popular cruise port rush to tourist destinations such as Stonehenge or Windsor Castle which involve hours-long journeys. What are they missing in this port city?
I grew up near Southampton and took the city’s sights for granted. Having since viewed the port as a cruise passenger, I realized that there’s much to see and do here that would appeal to those who have a day or two to linger.
City of Centuries
Although not immediately apparent, Southampton is an ancient city. Beneath the area in which my beleaguered soccer team plays was found one of Europe’s greatest hauls of Saxon artifacts. More obvious signs of the city’s history can be found at the Bargate, a grand stone gatehouse built into the medieval town walls circa 1180 CE. Follow a well-signposted walk along remnants of these immense walls and along the way you’ll come across Tudor buildings and the Westgate, through which Henry V marched his troops on his way to France and Agincourt.
Maritime history is a core part of Southampton’s identity. At Town Quay, you can see a memorial commemorating the Mayflower pilgrims who set off from here bound for America (Southampton’s 2,300-seat main theater is named after the famous ship). Sailing out of the city, you’ll pass the dock from where Titanic departed; there’s an impressive Titanic exhibition in SeaCity Museum, located in the Civic Centre just a 10-minute walk from the main train station. Five hundred and forty-ning of the crew members who perished in the Titanic disaster were from Southampton, and a grand memorial to the liner’s engineers can be seen in East Park, five minutes’ walk from SeaCity.
Southampton was a key departure point for WWII Normandy landings, as well as a manufacturing center for crucial Spitfire aircraft. You can view one of these famous planes in the Solent Sky aviation museum, just south-east of the city center and close to the vibrant Ocean Village area. Among the other aircraft on display are Southampton-built seaplanes, including a legendary record-holding racer.
The 13th- century God’s House Tower recently won an architecture award for its extensive yet sensitive restoration. It too can be found along the city walls, over the road from where ferries depart for the Isle of Wight. Inside the Tower you’ll find art exhibitions and glimpses of the city’s past (free entry). Art galleries can be found throughout Southampton, but the largest is Southampton City Art Gallery, located close to SeaCity museum. Entry is free and the collections include famous 18th – and 19th -century British paintings.
Moving on to culture of a different sort, Southampton is home to 33,000 university students; the nightlife here is therefore plentiful and varied. Vying for the title of Southampton’s oldest pub, the Duke of Wellington is a fine place to stop for a pint — 530 years of customers can’t be wrong.
Visiting architecturally-celebrated Westquay feels as though you’ve already stepped onto one of the large cruise ships that dock nearby. There’s a huge choice of entertainment and dining options and the mall has a fine selection of shops, not least John Lewis — the perfect place to buy gifts. From John Lewis’s cafe you’ll get a good view of the cruise terminals, there’s an even better view from the canteen in Southampton’s prominent IKEA.
I realize that I’ve now suggested enough activities to fill multiple days. If you’ve yet more time, I highly recommend taking the 15-minute train journey from Southampton Central to ….
By Olly Beckett
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