Southampton is the cruise capital of the UK with many ships calling it home year-round. Many cruisers debark here and immediately board a direct train to London. But you can also find plenty to see and door on the doorstep of the port.
I grew up and currently live in Hampshire. This article shares some of my Hampshire and Southampton insider tips for how to spend your time here, including vie the below interactive map.
Southampton holds a central place in the UK’s maritime history. Through the years it has welcomed famous (and infamous) cruise lines and liners, including Cunard’s Queen Mary. The fateful journey of the Titanic in 1912 began here.
Southampton has historically been the starting point for many voyages across the globe to places such as the Americas and Australia. Today it continues to be one of the premier cruise ports in the world, with many UK and Europe cruise line head offices being located within the City.
The port has historically also been at the heart of technological innovation in the UK. Technologies such as the hovercraft and the famous World War II fighter, the Spitfire, were developed here.
The port forms an important facet of the city’s heritage. You can investigate this further this aspect of Southampton at museums across the city. The SeaCity Museum tells the story of the people of the city, their fascinating lives and historic connections maritime tradition. The Solent Sky Museum showcases the international importance of aviation history in Southampton and wider Solent area. The city also hosts the annual Southampton Boat Show each September, one of the world’s largest boat shows, on the port waterfront.
If your preferred port activities include shopping, eating, and drinking, you’ll want to visit West Quay Shopping Centre, which offers wide range of shops and outlets just across from the port. You’ll find ample activities within Southampton itself, but if you fancy going a little further afield, the Hampshire area provides a plethora of choices.
A short train ride will take you to the picturesque historic city of Winchester. Voted as the ‘best place to live in Britain’ in 2016, Winchester provides a glimpse of the classic bustling British market town. Try to schedule your visit to coincide with one of the craft and farmers’ markets which take place several days of each month. The Christmas market held in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral (between November and December each year) is spectacular.
Winchester served as the ancient capital of England, providing the site of many coronations, marriages and funerals of English monarchs. No doubt the crown of Winchester is its famous Cathedral. One of the largest cathedrals in Europe, it boasts the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe, making it a must-see for history and architecture buffs. The history of the cathedral is itself fascinating and worth a visit if you find yourself in the City. The Great Hall within Winchester Castle, is also worth a visit and highlights the history of the city through the ages, including the Winchester Arthurian Round Table.
The Cathedral serves as the final resting place not only of several British kings and queens, but also the author Jane Austen (more on her later!). Chances are you’ve already seen parts of the Cathedral, since it has appeared in many films, including The Da Vinci Code.
How to get there: From Southampton Central train station Winchester is a short 20-minute train journey. If traveling by car, the journey takes roughly half an hour.
This 150-square mile National Park is situated close to the port of Southampton. William the Conqueror designated this beautiful area as a royal hunting ground in the 12th Century AD. In the 1990s, New Forest became a protected area with a rare mixture of open heathlands and ancient woodlands, home to unique wildlife. You’ll find a wealth of places to visit and explore in the New Forest including museums, leisure and wildlife parks. Particular things to note include: the port town of Lymington and the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. You can also opt to step back in time at Buckler’s Hard, where you can discover what it was live to live and work in an 18th Century shipbuilding village.
How to get there: From Southampton Central train station travel westwards. Several stations access the New Forest area. If choosing to travel by car the journey roughly takes upwards of half an hour depending on your specific destination.
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight sits at the mouth of Southampton waters, so many cruisers catch a glimpse of it as their ship approaches the city. You can easily visit the island while in Southampton via one of several ferry services.
The Isle of Wight became a holiday destination during the Victorian era. Queen Victoria maintained a summer home here. The island offers visitors many choices of activities throughout the year.
You may want to check out Queen Victoria’s Isle of Wight residence Osborne House. The long-lived monarch passed away here in 1901. Designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance, the house reflects Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s passions, taste and style. A Royal Collection fill rooms and corridors where Victoria entertained heads of state, inventors, princess and princesses while ruling the British Empire.
In summer, the Isle of Wight plays host to a number of music festivals including Bestival and the Isle of Wight Music Festival. If you have some extended time in the area, and are a fan of any of the scheduled musical acts, you may want to attend one of these events.
How to get there: From the port travel to Town Quay which offers multiple options for travel to the Isle for the day.
Slightly further afield (although still within easy daytrip distance), is the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. Needing no introduction, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth seeing up close.
One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Stonehenge was built in stages starting from around 5,000 years ago. Today it forms the heart of a World Heritage Site, with a unique concentration of prehistoric monuments which includes other ancient sites in the vicinity such as Avebury. Stonehenge belongs on everyone’s bucket list, especially if you have an interest in pre-Christian European history.
How to get there: Most cruise lines offer excursions to Stonehenge. You can also easily visit on your own via train from Southampton Central to Salisbury where you can board one of the regular sightseeing coaches to the site. You can also drive it in around an hour.
Chawton and Jane Austen
The little village of Chawton lies north east of Winchester, near the town of Alton, within the South Downs National Park. Fans of British literature know the town for its connection with Jane Austen.
Austen spent much of her life living in the village. Today, you can visit her house and gardens. Another attraction here is Chawton House in the village, an Elizabethan manor house where Austen’s family lived. You could easily spend at least half a day in the beautiful village picturing the Austen era, complete with men in tight pants. When you work up an appetite, visit one of the excellent pubs or tea rooms in the village.
How to get there: You’ll need to rent a car to get to Chawton. The journey takes approximately 45 minutes.
The City of Portsmouth, home of the Royal Navy, lies to the east of Southampton. Portsmouth has provided the first line of defence for the UK in conflicts ranging from the 1216 invasion of England by Louis VIII of France to the Second World War. This port city has the oldest dry dock in the world.
A visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard offers insights into the history of the naval port. You can also see some of the most significant historic ships in the world here. One of the famous historic vessels here is the Tudor ship The Mary Rose which sank in 1545 outside Southampton. This ship was re-discovered in 1971 and raised from the seabed. The ship offers a Tudor time period time capsule, with many artefacts discovered which have increased understanding of that era. The ship has been painstakingly preserved and can be seen up close within a purpose-built pavilion. If you squint, you almost visualize seafaring Tudor men wearing gold earrings and codpieces manning the yards.
Also open to the public is HMS Victory, flagship of Admiral Nelson. This ship played an important role in the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th Century. The vessel now sits dry dock in Portsmouth, preserved as a museum since 1922. The flagship of the UK’s First Sea Lord, HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned ship in the world. Finally, there is HMS Warrior, the first ocean-going ironclad ship in the world, moored in the Portsmouth dockyard.
In addition to the dockyard, Portsmouth also boasts a large shopping area, Gunwharf Quays, with numerous outlets and restaurants. You can also visit Spinnaker Tower, a 170-metre landmark observation tower at the waterfront.
The choice is yours!
Southampton abounds with places you can see practically on the doorstep of the port, without travelling far afield. This far from exhaustive list will help get you started touring this fascinating area. There’s much more to see and do around Southampton. Each time your ship docks here, you can do something different and see something new!
For more inspiration on what to do you can visit the following websites:
This article is featured here on Meet Me On Board.