Southampton is a coastal city in the UK situated in the southeast about 2 hours’ drive from London. It is known for its huge port both for goods and passengers. From here you can see new batches of mini coopers being shipped out to the world and fancy cruise ships taking people to the Mediterranean, which often results in traffic chaos in the city centre. The city is also famous for its excellent shopping centre – the West Quay and the medieval Bargate.
However, not many people know, which always surprises me, that Southampton port is where Titanic started its first and last trip to New York!
I made Southampton my home town 15 years ago when I came to the city as a university fresher. Find out all the fun things to do in Southampton from the local, including less known but super cool activities and places!
Best Things to do in Southampton
1. Visit Bargate
Bargate was built by the Normans invaders as a part of fortification to the city in around 11th-12th century. In the subsequent centuries, Southampton became a thriving international port exporting wool and importing wine from France. The river connection to Winchester and a reliable road to London facilitated that function.
Today the Bargate stands majestically on the southern end of High Street, it’s an integral part of Southampton skyline and a prime stop in all Southampton sightseeing tours . You can walk through its archway and imagine how it was in medieval times. Above the entrance, in a niche, there is a statue of King George III.
The Bargate is Southampton’s icon, one of the main attractions in Southampton and also a common meeting point. From here, I recommend finding and exploring the old city wall and to the right of the Bargate.
2. Explore the Historic Walls
The Southampton town walls were built in medieval times to protect the city from foreign invasions. They were two kilometres long with eight gates and twenty-night towers. Today they are one of the best-preserved medieval fortifications in the entire country.
You can find the start of the wall at the southern top of Above Bar Street marked by the Bargate by walking north along the wall. It is possible to walk up the first part of the wall, this can be accessed from Bargate Street. Walk all the way to the tower where you can get a great view of Southampton. There is also an information board with some exciting history fats about the walls.
The next stretch of the wall faces the new part of the West Quay with various restaurants having outdoor sittings. It is great to come here on a summer evening and sit outside facing the historic wall all beautifully lit up.
As you walk on the other side of the wall, you’ll find yourself in a tranquil neighbourhood. It always surprises me how peaceful that area is in the middle of the busy city somehow protected from the whole hustle and bustle.
3. Discover the secrets of the Titanic on a walking tour
For history fans, this tour by Viator is probably the most interesting. You get to find out more about the history of Southampton as a port and its importance today and of course a lot of juicy stories about the Titanic itself!
The tour is about two hours long and takes you along the town walls and main Southampton attractions.
4. Shop until you drop in West Quay Shopping Centre
The West Quay Shopping Centre is probably the most visited attraction in Southampton, especially on the weekend. It is one of the biggest shopping centres in the southeast with a good selection of high street brands including two-storey Next, M&S, Zara, Apple Store and more.
In recent years, a new part called The Watermark has been built with a huge variety of restaurants, a new cinema and bowling isle. The Watermark has quickly become the new place to be for eating out and hanging out with friends. I believe it’s due to its location by the historic wall, which is super cool.
There is plenty of parking space but on the weekend arrive early to avoid traffic.
5. Take a walk at Southampton Common
The Southampton Common covers over 300 acres of land, and it’s one of the places to go in Southampton for walks and picnics. Also, every Saturday morning you can join here a 5 km park run, which is free. The park has two ponds where you can feed the ducks and see different varieties of birds.
There is also a very cosy pub – The Cowherds where you can warm up by the fire in the winter or have a refreshing pint outside on a summer evening. This pub is also great for a tasty Sunday roast.
Funfairs take place around Easter time in the Common grounds and many different charity races at different times of the year.
I used to live by the Common, and I have fond memories of going for early morning runs around the park training for the Race for Life to raise money for cancer research.
6. Learn about Southampton history at Tudor House
Tudor House situated on Bugle Street is one of the most important Southampton tourist attractions. It is also one of the most essential pieces of history in the city, so if you’re a history enthusiast, you cannot miss it. It was built in the 15th century, and over the years it housed artist studios and different tenants. The house includes a Renaissance-style garden from where you can access a Norman House. Today, different interactive displays inside the house are showcasing its history.
If you’re already in the area pop into St. Michael’s the Archangel Church dating back to the 11th century, just across the street from the Tudor House.
7. Have a craft beer at Dancing Man Brewery
Dancing Man Brewery situated next to Southampton docks is a unique place to have a drink. The brewery is located in a 14th century Wool House that until the recent years housed the Titanic Museum. Today, it is one of the best bars in the city with an impressive selection of house brews! They also have a restaurant upstairs with good veggie options and a great view over Southampton harbour. If you’re a fan of brewing, take a tasting tour with them.
The best time to visit is in the late afternoon, sit outside in one of the wooden benches, watch the sun go down over Southampton Water and sample some of their home brews.
8. Visit The Southampton City Art Gallery
The Southampton City Art Gallery is an excellent place to pop in. It is located in the Civic Centre Building of attractive architectural style and just across the road from a small but cute park.
The gallery is internationally renowned and connected to the Tate in London so you can always expect a good quality exhibition. The exhibits change periodically so check their website before visiting to find out what’s on. Oh, did I mention that the entrance is free?
9. Visit the ruins of Netley Abbey
Netley Abbey is one of the best-preserved ruins of an abbey built by Cistercian monks in the 13th century. Visit the romantic ruins, which are situated just across the Itchen River a few kilometres from the city centre. The ruins are located in Netley, by the Southampton Water with some great walking paths along the shore and are one of the best free things to do in Southampton. There is also a vast green area by the water which is perfect for a picnic and some nature time.
I used to live in the area and, walking by the shore in Netley was my favourite weekend activity.
Address: Abbey Hill, Netley, Hampshire, SO31 5FB
10. Watch the sunset at Royal Victoria Country Park
The park is situated on the easter side of the River Itchen about 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre. The park has a picturesque setting by the river with a beautiful red brick chapel standing in the middle of the vast green parkland.
The area is excellent for walking, cycling or picnic. I love bringing a book and just chilling on a sunny day on one of the benches, followed by a Mr Whippy from a traditional ice cream van! The Royal Victoria Country Park is also perfect for an outdoor date. Come with a blanket and a picnic basket, including a bottle of bubbly in the afternoon and stay until the sunset. The open grass area facing the water is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down!
Entrance: free but parking charges apply
Address: Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley Abbey, Southampton SO31 5GA
11. Watch a movie at the Harbour Lights Cinema
Harbour Lights Picturehouse is situated in the Ocean Village overlooking the harbour. If you fancy an alternative cinema experience, then this is the place for you. The Picturehouse cinema displays gripping and thought-provoking films from around the world, not just mainstream Hollywood productions. There is a more intimate and personal vibe there, and the best part is that you can enjoy a bit of culture with a glass of wine in your hand!
Address: Southampton SO14 3TL
12. Have a veggie lunch at Thrive Café
Thrive Café is by far my favourite café in Southampton! It is the only café in the city that is entirely vegan with an exciting menu that will make happy all the carnivores too!
They have a range of amazing salads that come in hearty portions, yummy burgers (you wouldn’t even know that there is no meat in them) and every Saturday they bake pizzas. The place is always packed, which says a lot! I love their smoothies too, try the biscoff milkshake or the super green smoothie with avocado and spirulina. Also, have a look at their cake selection, many are also gluten-free or try their waffles topped with ice cream!
Address: 18 Hanover Buildings, Southampton SO14 1JX
13. Watch a play at the Mayflower Theatre
Southampton city is home to Grade II listed theatre that features West End Theatre shows when they tour the country. The venue’s capacity is a staggering 2,300, and there is always some exciting play or ballet on offer. Check their website to find out what’s on. The venue includes a restaurant and a bar where you can get a glass of wine during the play break.
Address: 22-26 Commercial Rd, Southampton SO15 1GE
14. Go on a ferry ride to Hythe
This is definitely one of the most fun activities and an opportunity to see Southampton from a different perspective! Take a small ferry from Town Quay, and if you’re lucky, you will see big cruise ships like Quin Merry 2 and Quin Elizabeth stationing in the Southampton Water.
You can take your bike on the ferry, and after visiting Hythe, another great option is to spend an active day cycling in the New Forest.
At Hythe, there is a historic train that takes passengers from the boat along the pier. Hythe is a pretty small village and an excellent place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Take a stroll along the Promenade that overlooks Southampton and some luxurious cruise ships that come to Southampton every week. Continue to Hythe’s Georgian High Street with cute shops and some great places to eat.
Return ferry ticket – £7.50
15. Dine at The Watermark restaurants
The Watermark complex has been built in recent years as an extension to the popular West Quay shopping centre. It has quickly become the trendiest place to go for a meal. The choice of restaurants is extensive, some of my favourites include Thaikun, The Real Greek and Bills. Most of the restaurants are facing the city’s historic wall, which is beautifully lit up in the evenings creating a lovely atmosphere.
The city also organises different events in the space in front of the historic wall including ice rink during the Christmas period and cute sun lounger area for watching Wimbledon in the summer.
16. Watch the sunset in the Ocean Village
The Ocean Village is another trendy place in Southampton not to be missed if you’re looking for evening entertainment. In the past, most Southampton football players were known to have luxury apartments overlooking the yacht marina. There are a few places that you can grab a drink and spend the golden hour chilling outside on a summer evening. That includes Banana Wharf, Triago Lounge, Pitchers and Piano and most upmarket of them all situated in the Harbour Hotel.
Best things to do near Southampton
17. Go hiking in the New Forest
I always loved the fact that the New Forest is basically situated on Southampton’s doorstep and living so close, I took the full advantage of this fact, going for forest walks most months!
The New Forest is only a short drive away, and it’s an excellent place to unwind and relax from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The New Forest has a rich history dating back to the 11th century when it was centre for royal getaways and hunting trips. Today it is a National Park and a place of outstanding natural beauty with expansive pastures and beautiful heathlands that turn purple and pink in the early autumn. And if you like animals, you’ll be in for a real treat, there are plenty in the forest! The cutest ones are the New Forest ponies that can be spotted everywhere, fluffy donkeys, caws and wild pigs. In the spring you can see them with their little ones!
There are countless walking paths and great cycling routes to get you moving. For details, check their official website here. Don’t forget to stop in Lyndhurst which is known to be the New Forest capitol with cute tea rooms, local ice creams and a Ferrari salon (that seems to be its main attraction).
18. Buy some plants at Sir Harold’s Hillier Gardens
This garden centre is situated in Romsey a 20 minutes’ drive from Southampton and can be a great place to escape the city for a few hours. There are 180 hectares of a beautiful garden with many interesting types of flowers, trees and decorative bushes. Best time to visit the garden is during the late spring when everything is blossoming or during October time to see the golden autumn colours. There are different events organised throughout the year and various exciting activities for children. Check their website for details.
Entrance – £10.50
19. Have a ‘purrfect’ coffee at Paws for the Thought Cat Café
This is a little more unusual thing to do than your typical things to do in a city type of activities, but it’s so worth it. If you love cats as much as I do, then give it a go. Basically, Paws for the Thought are a cat charity that houses rescue cats and allows you to play with them and get their affection!
This is the perfect place to relax, have a coffee and get some cat therapy. I love the concept because I love cats, but I’m also allergic and travel lots so I cannot commit to having one at home.
You can find the café in Romsey, which is about 20 minutes’ drive from Southampton city centre. Romsey is a gorgeous small town with an impressive abbey dating back to the 10th century and some great traditional pubs.
Address: 4 Church St, Romsey SO51 8BU
20. Eat at Offbeet New Forest Restaurant
This is a styled farmhouse restaurant literally out on a field in Marchwood. All food is vegetarian, with many vegan and gluten-free options. It is innovative and non-pretentious place. If you’re up for trying something different, then I can’t recommend this place enough!
The menu is diverse and frequently changes from Vietnamese noodles, Italian gnocchi to Greek styled tacos. Prepare yourself for a culinary party. They also offer cooking classes.
On my last visit, I remember sitting outside watching the sun go down over the field. It is such a great place with a unique and no fuss vibe!
Address: Sunnyfields Farm Jacob’s Gutter Lane, Totton, Southampton SO40 9FX England
21. Go gin tasting at Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Not many people know that Bombay Sapphire Distillery is located in Hampshire under an hour drive from Southampton. Visiting the distillery in the summer is a fantastic day out. I know a lot of friends that did it for their birthdays and hen parties. The ticket includes a tour of their beautiful grounds where you find out the history and the beautiful art of gin making. In a lab, you will be able to make your own gin using different plants. And for an additional price, you can take part in a cocktail making class which is brilliant and of course involve some drinking too. This is an excellent activity for everyone that loves gin.
You can take a train from Southampton to Overton station and get a taxi or if it’s a nice day take a leisurely walk along the London Road towards the distillery. The distance is about 2.5 miles.
Address: Laverstoke Mill, Whitchurch, Hampshire, RG28 7NR
Best activities in Southampton
22. Go ziplining at Go Ape
Go Ape is situated in the Itchen Valley Country Park in the woods and by the river, and it’s an excellent place to test your balance and fear of heights! The whole trail takes around 2 to 3 hours to complete, and it’s packed with suspension bridges, Tarzan swings and zip lines. Anyone with a little balance can do it, and it’s a perfect activity to do with friends or family.
And when you’re done, there is a café and a picnic area to chill out. The park gets really busy at weekends so I would recommend booking your tickets outside of peak times as the parking also gets filled up quickly.
I did Go Ape for my 30th birthday, and it was great fun. It is definitely not only for little kids, although they are probably the best at walking on robes. Some of the paths were very challenging and a little scary, but my overall experience was very positive!
Address: Go Ape Southampton Itchen Valley Country Park, Allington Ln, Southampton SO30 3HQ
23. Paddle your way through the weekend at Woodmill Outdoor Activity Centre
The centre offers different paddle sports activities such as canoeing, SUP and kayaking. You can either rent the equipment and go explore the nearby river or take part in an organised group event. If you’re new to stand up paddleboarding, you can get onto an introductory course and get a certificate here.
The surrounding area is delightful, and the stream is slow, so even if you’re not experienced, you will be able to manage to paddle just fine. There is also lots of green space by the river which is perfect for a picnic and chill afterwards.
Address: Woodmill Ln, Southampton SO18 2JR
Best Southampton Events
24. Tour the multimillion yachts at Southampton Boat Show
Southampton Boat Show is one of the most significant yearly events that take place in the city and one of the biggest marine shows in the whole country that attracts many visitors.
It usually lasts for a week, and it provides an excellent opportunity to find out more about the marine industry. There are various exhibitors each year, and probably the most exciting activity is to get a tour of some luxury yachts that most of us can only dream about owning.
Address: Herbert Walker Ave, Southampton SO15 1EE
25. Dance away at the Common People Festival (currently suspended)
Common People Festival was a large pop music event that took place every summer in the Southampton Common. In 2018 it had famous headliners such as James Arthur, Lily Allen and Ride. However, in 2019 sadly the organising company went into administration over some massive debts, so the festival hasn’t happened since then. But hopefully, in the future, the event finds new sponsors and resumes its operations.
Best places to stay in Southampton
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