Southampton is the UK’s largest cruise port, and as such is the city from which most British no-fly cruisers will start their cruise holiday. Since it serves many of the most popular cruise lines – P&O Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Cunard, to name a few – avid-cruisers will no doubt have crossed Southampton’s path on many occasions before embarking on their journeys.
Due to its hugely convenient location and endless opportunities to see fantastic sights, it’s common for holidaymakers to stay over in Southampton for a night or two before or after your cruise. Not only does it take some of the stress out of getting to the port on time, but it also means you can enjoy some of the wonderful attractions that the city has to offer. For some more inspiration, read on for our top things to do in Southampton.
1. City Walking Tour
Southampton has a very rich and interesting history, many elements of which can be explored on foot. Simply take a wander to the town centre; a recommended starting point here is the Bargate on the High Street, a medieval gate house that was once part of the city walls. From here you can take a left or a right, and on your walk you’ll see more than 30 ancient monuments and 90 listed buildings. Alternatively, a guided walking tour will showcase the very best sights of Southampton, and on some occasions with See Southampton even finishes at the Dancing Man Brewery.
2. SeaCity Museum
Those with an interest in maritime history will be especially thrilled with this museum which exhibits information and artefacts relating to the Titanic. More than 500 families in Southampton lost a family member in the tragedy, and the aftermath is portrayed at the museum through sight, sound and interactive exhibits. Thanks to a 1:25 scale model of the Titanic, visitors can discover the fascinating layout of the ship and learn about the many tasks carried out by crew-members. See the original pocket watch worn by one of the onboard stewards, a life jacket that is thought to have been worn by a survivor, and through a moving account given by survivors, you will step back in time to 1912. SeaCity Museum is also a great place to stop by for refreshments after a busy day, serving lunches, cakes, and hot and cold drinks, including traditional cream teas.
3. Tudor House & Garden
Built in 1495, Tudor House is considered to be Southampton’s most important historic building. The beautifully restored home has seen over 800 years of history after having various uses, including as a family residence, an artist’s studio, a place of business, and now, of course, a museum. With countless artefacts on show, get to know the people of the past through glimpses into their daily life. The garden, initially developed in the 16th century, is representative of the types of plants found commonly in Tudor times, namely herbs and other edible plants. Visitors can enjoy light refreshments at the Tudor House Café and take in the view of the stunning, historically-rich ornamental garden.
4. The New Forest
For those looking to get away from the bustle of the port city, the New Forest National Park is just a 30-minute drive. Famous for the native New Forest ponies, expansive heathland and vast moors, a walk in the peaceful outdoors will leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated. Like many of the highlights in and around Southampton, the New Forest has fortunately retained its ancient history and remained vastly unchanged after almost 1,000 years. Throughout the year, various events and activities are regularly held with something to appeal to everyone, including tours, exhibitions and workshops.
5. Solent Sky Museum
Solent Sky Museum has been growing since 1974 when it first began as the RJ Mitchell Memorial Museum. Now it has expanded to house over 20 important aircraft including a Spitfire and Tiger Moth – both famously integral o the war effort. Southampton built around 8,000 of the Supermarine Spitfires that were used by the RAF in World War 2. There is also a very fascinating exhibition about Flying Boats, which were used as mainstream passenger planes until about the mid-20th century. Solent Sky Museum also showcases the Hampshire Police and Fire Heritage collection, with many artefacts and photographs taking visitors through the history of the force.
6.Cruise Ship Visits
Over the past few years, Southampton has seen several world-class ships, including one of the largest ships at sea, Harmony of the Seas. For those looking for inspiration for their next cruise, a cruise ship visit is the perfect way to see what kind of cruise and ship is for you. Get a feel for the layout, comfort and facilities onboard before enjoying a spot of lunch. Nothing can compare to the excitement as your cruise prepares to set sail, but a visit to the ship can be fantastically informative for your next journey.
This is one for all ship-enthusiasts! Laid down in 1954, the beautifully preserved SS Shieldhall is perhaps the largest operational steamship in the world, and most certainly in Europe. Choose a cruise ranging from 2 hours to a full-day, and experience travel of the past with the help of the knowledgeable volunteer crew. It’s also a great opportunity to see other ships in Southampton’s port, including many larger cruise ships that you will perhaps be embarking on in a day’s time.
8. Southampton City Art Gallery
This free-to-enter art gallery is considered one of the most outstanding in the South of England. Since opening in 1939, the gallery has explored art in all mediums, including sculptures and photography as well as traditional painting. An ever-changing programme of activities and exhibitions provides a fun, educational experience for all ages and its convenient location beside the SeaCity museum makes this a stop you cannot miss.
Where to Eat
As well as countless attractions to be seen, Southampton has a wonderful selection of restaurants, many with great views of the marina. Keeping in with the nautical theme, we highly recommend:
- The Jetty – for al fresco dining with sustainably-sourced seafood.
- The Boathouse Café – for fresh, varied menus each week, with produce local from Hampshire and the New Forest.
- Smugglers Bar & Kitchen – for dishes from land and sea, inspired by worldwide locations.
- Spot in the Woods – for locally sourced, vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes on the doorstep of the New Forest.
Southampton is a vibrant port city that everyone should visit before or after their cruise. With all these fantastic places of interest to immerse yourself in culture, there is also plenty of shopping opportunities for any last-minute essentials.
Westquay Shopping Centre has a huge selection to choose from so you’ll be sure to find everything you need here, as well as a food terrace with plenty of delicious options. For full recommendations on making your stay stress-free and comfortable, check out our guide on cruising from Southampton.
Where to Stay
Adding a pre or post-cruise hotel stay is the most convenient, comfortable way to start or end your holiday. Whether you live far from the port, want to make your embarkation day run as smoothly as possible, or simply want to explore one of the gems of England, a pre-cruise stay allows you to relax and make the most of your time before joining the ship. Within a short distance of Southampton port, there are many fantastic hotels to choose from, and our concierge team is happy to assist you in arranging this part of your journey.