Southampton is one of the UK’s busiest cruise ports and it’s a place close to my heart. The city is my hometown and and somewhere I know very well. I’ve grown up watching (and sailing on) the many cruise ships that arrive in to Southampton on an almost daily basis. We live just five minutes from Royal Victoria Country Park, a coastal haven for cruise ship spotters.
It’s estimated that over 1.7 million cruise ship passengers visit Southampton each year. As well as being the UK base for P&O Cruises and Cunard, you’ll find many other cruise lines using one of the four main cruise terminals.
Although it may not look that exciting, the city actually has a lot to offer and many people are unaware that there’s plenty to do before/after or during a cruise. I’ve put together a few tips on things to do and places to stay when visiting the port.
Where to Stay
Southampton has a range of independent and chain hotels to suit any budget. If you are looking for something economical, consider the centrally located Premier Inn West Quay, Holiday Inn, Jury’s Inn, Ibis or Novotel.
If you want to experience history, stay at the Mercure Dolphin Hotel. Jane Austen used to attend dances here! Next door sits the equally historic Star Hotel, which welcomed members of the Royal family in the 19th century.
The city centre has several high-end hotel options. Grand Harbour Hotel’s iconic glass pyramid will be recognisable to many regular visitors to Southampton. The hotel recently underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment. One of its new additions is the Marco Pierre White Bar and Grill. It also offers reasonably priced spa days, even if you aren’t a guest.
Tucked in to the old city walls, you’ll find the quaint boutique Pig in the Wall Hotel. This is part of The Pig Hotel group, who have luxury accommodation in the New Forest, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. Whilst there is no restaurant, you can get delicious light bites and cocktails in the hotel bar. The 12 quirky rooms are finished to a very high standard. Guests staying here can be transported to the New Forest Pig’s restaurant via Land Rover. I loved my stay at ‘The Pig in the Forest,’ and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
In October, the five-star Southampton Harbour Hotel opened in Ocean Village. Built in the shape of a ship, inside you’ll find a rooftop bar, speciality restaurant and stylish, modern rooms. I’m going to try the restaurant in December and the menu looks really good, particularly the tasting option.
If you don’t mind staying outside of the city centre, the new Hilton Ageas Bowl overlooks the Hampshire cricket ground. As well as an excellent spa, you can dine at Beefy’s, cricketer Ian Botham’s restaurant. The Hilton chain also have a Double Tree just off the M3, on the outskirts of Southampton.
Eating Out in Southampton
Southampton has lots of options for eating out. The recently opened West Quay Watermark consists solely of restaurants and a cinema. You’ll find all of the big chain names, as well as some independent companies. Wahaca, Byron and Casa Brasil and all worth trying.
Guildhall Square is the redeveloped Cultural Quarter. The area has an impressive selection of quirky restaurants, including the delicious Stable pizza and pie restaurant, Tapas Barcelona and the local Mettricks café chain. I recently tried The Artisan which is great for a cheap, tasty lunch.
Bedford Place is a five minute walk from Guildhall Square. It’s a popular student haunt which is best known for its late night bars and nightclubs. For me, Lakaz Maman Mauritian Street Kitchen is a great place to eat. It is run by Masterchef winner Shelina Permalloy. The restaurant is tiny, so make sure you pre-book.
If I go out, I tend to visit Oxford Street, the Below Bar area or Ocean Village. For me, these areas have the better restaurant options and most are independently owned.
Oxford Street is very close to Ocean Terminal and is a trendy, lively street full of bars and restaurants. Most of these are independently owned, including the popular bars Grand Café, Cargo and White Star. It’s also home to the city’s best known pub The Grapes, famed for its connection to RMS Titanic.
A short walk from Oxford Street, you’ll find the pretty Ocean Village Marina. This modern, urban development has a small selection of waterfront restaurants, where you can sit outside and enjoy a cocktail.
West Quay is the main shopping centre in the city, with over 100 shops. Inside you’ll find most of the well-known brands, including Zara, Apple, John Lewis, H&M and Marks and Spencer. There’s also a good selection of lunchtime dining options, including Carluccio’s, Pizza Express and Nando’s. Everything is undercover, so it’s a great stop on a rainy day. The High Street is also packed with retailers, so there is no shortage of shopping choice.
If you want to experience something different, hop on a train or drive to Winchester. It will take you 20-30 minutes, but this medieval city is packed full of upmarket boutique shops, quaint cafés and trendy bars. Whilst there, you can also visit King Arthur’s Round Table at the Great Hall or Winchester Cathedral.
Alternatively, take a train (or drive) to the neighbouring city of Portsmouth. It’s home to Gunwharf Quays, a lovely waterfront outlet centre comprising over 90 big name brands, including Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren. It also has the best Wagamama in the county! Gunwharf is partially undercover, so it’s better to visit on a dry day.
Many ships have set sail from the city on their maiden voyage, including RMS Titanic. You can learn more about the history of Southampton and Titanic at SeaCity Museum. You can also join a guided Titanic walking tour of the city, where you’ll find out more about the city’s connection with the ship.
Other points of interest include the medieval walls, Tudor House and Garden and Southampton City Art Gallery. Sports fans can also do a tour of Southampton Football Stadium, home to the Saints team.
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