Southampton, UK cruise holidays
The city centre is a charming mix of old city walls and a large modern shopping centre. With multiple restaurants, museums, cinemas and theatres there is plenty to be explored. Time spent at embarkation and disembarkation ports may be limited which may restrict availability of shore excursions.
Top sights and attractions
Your guide to Southampton
The well-connected waterfront city of Southampton has an international cruise terminal, its own airport and direct rail links to London and the rest of the UK. It’s easy to get here for your cruise holiday – but don’t just see it as a place to leave! Take some time to get to know this exciting city if you can shop till you drop and satisfy any food cravings at endless places to eat. From axe-throwing pubs, baseball bars and escape rooms to the RMS Titanic exhibition in the SeaCity Museum, you can have a lot of fun here at any age. There’s contemporary British art to see and there are medieval walls to walk in the Old Town. For football fans, St Mary’s Stadium stands near the water’s edge, and the Rose Bowl is home to many a cricket match and live music show. Surrounding Hampshire (regarded by some as the Garden of England) has highlights like The New Forest National Park and Winchester Cathedral and and, in neighbouring Wiltshire, there's Stonehenge to explore. Just along the coast you’ve Portsmouth and the Historic Dockyard; the Isle of Wight is a short ferry ride across the Solent.
New Forest National Park
Hampshire’s New Forest National Park is one of England’s most stunning natural locations and a world capital for wildlife. Here you’ll often see the New Forest ponies and donkeys walking past little cafés in the pretty villages and there’s 90,000 acres of protected parkland for rural walks. Heathland and wading birds, rare butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies and five species of deer call this area their home. The unique landscape is made up of mires and bogs, acid grasslands, mixed farmland, coast and ancient pasture woodland. Insect lovers will be thrilled to know there are 2,600 beetles here too (that’s different kinds of beetle, we haven’t counted them!).
While you’re here, why not check out what’s on at the biggest theatre on the south coast? Set up in 1928, you can now join an audience of over 2,000 in Southampton for dance, drama, opera, comedy and musicals fresh from the West End. As well as being a bingo hall and a cinema in its time, the theatre hosted international stars such as Anna Pavlova, the legendary ballerina, Gracie Fields, wartime songstress in the 1930s, and The Beatles in the 60s. Today, before or after your cruise holiday, you can catch incredible performances to make your holiday even more memorable with a matinee or evening show at Mayflower Theatre.
Things to do in Southampton
In the very centre of Southampton, SeaCity Museum is the port of call for all things maritime. Exhibitions and real-life accounts about the city through the centuries have something new for everyone to learn. Enjoy an educational and interactive visit where visual displays and ancient artefacts bring the history to life right before your eyes. Travel back in time to 1912 at Southampton’s Titanic Story and dig even deeper into its Stone Age and medieval major port status going way back to the Middle Ages.
Visit the Isle of Wight
Before or after embarking on your cruise to islands in the sun, you might like to see what England has to offer here on the south coast. Just a 25-minute catamaran crossing of the Solent takes you to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. From here the highlights to discover by bus or little train include Queen Victoria’s home at Osborne House, the fascinating Carisbrooke Castle and Ventnor Botanic Garden to name a few. Family favourites are the Monkey Haven, Blackgang Chine adventure and theme park and the chair lifts at the Needles Rocks and Lighthouse to the west. It’s an island where tourism seems to have stood still; you can buy traditional sticks of rock at the sandy beaches and a ‘kiss me quick’ hat, but delve a little deeper to find fine restaurants, modern shopping and new ways to spend a day.
Neighbouring cities and sights
There are delights old and new within easy reach of Southampton such as the historic cathedral city of Winchester, home to King Arthur’s round table and around 15 minutes by train from Southampton Central. The mysterious ancient monoliths of Stonehenge stand not too far away, just outside of Salisbury in the next county of Wiltshire. At Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, you’ve the chance to visit the incredible Mary Rose Museum, impressive HMS Warrior and Lord Nelson’s ship HMS Victory all in one exciting day.
Food and drink
Southampton has many square miles of cafés, bars and restaurants offering a tasty and diverse range of cuisine. Westquay Shopping Centre has an entire top floor of fast-food and more fine-dining options. When the sun shines, you can soak up the summer in Southampton’s Oxford Street alfresco dining and many restaurants with outdoor spaces. Bedford Place also has great variety, from sushi to Mauritian street food at Lakaz Maman by MasterChef UK champion Shelina Permalloo. There’s a lively craft beer scene with many independent tasting rooms around town. The Dancing Man, set in a medieval wool house, has outdoor seating for sunny days and summer evenings just a short distance from the main port. Kuti’s Brasserie stands out along the waterfront with its white dome and highly praised Indian menu. Let the scent of the warm spices lead you there!
Shopping in Southampton
If you like to shop, you’ll be right at home in Southampton. The city has so many shops, from the huge John Lewis department store inside Westquay Shopping Centre to tiny independents and the undercover Marlands shopping mall. Westquay sits next to Carnival UK, home of P&O Cruises, in the heart of the city with over 90 stores spread over two floors (the top third floor is a dedicated food court). Traditional British retailers such as M&S are here alongside fashion labels, lifestyle and beauty brands. The High Street runs Above Bar and Below Bar, the ancient walls, with all the usual gift shops and staple stores of an English city centre. The city’s many museums and art galleries are all within easy walking distance.
Culture and history of Southampton
There may not be any songs about this city (other than the local football ones) but music is a big part of Southampton’s appeal. Tributes, local acts, covers bands and touring artists play here throughout the year as well as DJs and club nights at venues such as The Brook, Engine Rooms, The 1865 and The Joiners, to name a few. For a quieter time, try Southampton’s Green Flag award-winning parks, perfect for picnics and the site of the summer circus.
If you’re able to join a Heritage Day guided tour, you’ll hear fascinating historical tales of the vicious French Raid in October 1338, the 7th-century Saxon burial sites and the medieval vaults hidden under the town. Or how about the Roman coin hoard of over 4500 coins buried around AD 293 unearthed at nearby Millbrook during excavations for St Mary’s football stadium. Independently, at any time of year, you can head to the Old Town just off the High Street to admire the 15th-century Tudor House & Garden and the 950-year-old St Michael the Archangel Church.
Further north, in the Cultural Quarter, you’ve Southampton City Art Gallery and the SeaCity Museum as well as the more contemporary John Hansard Gallery. Two theatres (Nuffield and Mayflower) have a host of local and international touring productions throughout the year, and the Solent Sky Museum celebrates Hampshire’s legacy as the birthplace of the Spitfire, just a short walk from Ocean Village marina. This marina in September is part of the waterfront taken over by Southampton’s International Boat Show and the Ocean Globe Race.
Other annual events include Cars in the Square, Roller Land, and an ice rink in the winter near Westquay Shopping Centre. You can catch a skate workshop or a kung fu session, join the Pride parade in August or book an event at The Ageas Bowl.
Now you know how much Southampton has going on, maybe you’ll build some extra holiday time here to enjoy the sights and some of the fun on offer!
The docks are close to the centre of the city, so if you’ve a half day or more in port there’s a lot within walking distance of Southampton’s cruise terminals for you to do. Whatever you fancy – museums, art galleries, excellent shopping and dining – it’s all possible from the port. The Titanic Trail, the QE2 mile and the City Walls are all popular options you might like to try. There are places to store luggage such as Stasher or Biltong and Bangers on the High Street while you go exploring or you can leave your cases at your ship before you board, depending on your departure time. It’s only a short walk to the main shopping areas and Southampton Central train station.