Southampton is one of those cities on England’s South Coast that’s easy to overlook. Heavily bombed in the war, it’s not the most picturesque of places, but as one of Europe’s major cruise ports, millions of cruise visitors pass through every year. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that Southampton offers museums and cultural attractions as well as an interesting old town with medieval walls and houses. The port is gateway to the beautiful Hampshire countryside and the New Forest with many places of interest that can easily be visited in a day. So if you are visiting Southampton on a cruise, here are some of the things I’d recommend you visit in and around the city.
1 Walk Southampton’s old city walls
Just a short distance from the port you can walk the medieval city walls of Southampton that encircle the old town and were built to preserve the town from attack from the sea. You can still see the arcades that formed the entrance to warehouses where wine barrels were stored and walk along the top of the walls that would have overlooked the beach, a fashionable spot for sea bathing in the 18th century. At weekends there are guided tours of the wall starting at Bargate or pick up a self-guided walk leaflet from The Tudor House.
2 Step back in time at The Tudor House
In the old quarter of Southampton, a short walk from the cruise port is the recently restored Tudor House, dating back to the 15th century. An audio guide takes you through the rooms to uncover the history of Southampton over the centuries.
There’s a pretty Tudor knot garden, views over the city walls, a kitchen laid out with food that the Tudors would have enjoyed and a glass-sided cafe overlooking the garden. For another dive into the history of Southampton, visit the nearby Merchant’s House that is furnished and preserved, as it would have been in the Middle Ages.
Getting there: Walking 10 min from cruise terminal. Adults £4.75 Children £3.75, Family ticket £13.50
3 Shop till you drop
If you enjoy shopping for international brands you’ll find them all in one place in the West Quay shopping mall in the center of Southampton. The major stores are John Lewis and Marks and Spencer with a wide range of fashion, lifestyle and technology stores as well as plenty of cafes and restaurants. If you’re looking for designer names at bargain prices you’ll find them in at Gunwharf Quays outlet shopping center near Portsmouth Harbour, which can be reached by train from Southampton, close to the other attractions of Portsmouth.
4 Nautical connections at SeaCity Museum
The SeaCity Museum explores Southampton’s connection with the sea over the centuries, with travellers from all over the world passing through the port. In 1912 the Titanic set sail from Southampton with most of its crew coming from the city. A poignant street map on the floor marks each person lost with a red dot, over 500 people from the city alone.
There are many interactive exhibits such as the Disaster room where the 1930s enquiry into the Titanic’s loss is replayed. An exhibition of Port Out Southampton Home (until June 2017) evokes the romance of the golden age of cruising from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Getting there: Walking 20 mins, Taxi 10 mins from the cruise terminal. Free shuttle bus from the terminal to SeaCity museum running 1 per hour. Adults £8.50 Family £25 Open daily 10am-5pm
5 The Southampton City Art Gallery
Next to the SeaCity museum is the Southampton City Art Gallery in the light and airy space above the public library. Under the high arched ceiling of the main gallery you’ll find everything from contemporary and twentieth century art to old masters and impressionists such as Monet.
The side galleries hold regularly changing exhibitions and look out for the wood panelled gallery with a series of Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones showing the Perseus story from classical mythology.
Getting there: Walking 20 mins, Taxi 10 mins from the cruise terminal. Free shuttle bus from the terminal to SeaCity museum running 1 per hour. Free entrance although a donation is appreciated. Closed Sundays.
6 Beaulieu Motor Museum, Palace House and Abbey
Put together a national motor museum, 13th century Cistercian abbey and stately home of the Montagu family set beside a lake, and you have the ingredients for a fun packed day out for all ages and interests. The Beaulieu motor museum is the big draw, housing over 250 vehicles from motoring history but the house is also beautiful with a lived in feel and interesting displays in the Victorian kitchens.
Wander through the orchards and gardens, or get around on the high-level monorail or the open top vintage bus. If you have time, drive 10 minutes further to Buckler’s Hard, an 18th century village where ships for Nelson’s navy were built.
Getting There from Southampton: Taxi 30 mins, or Beaulieu can be booked as a cruise excursion. Entrance Adults £24, children age 5-17 £12, family ticket £64 with discounts if you book in advance.
7 The Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth
At Portsmouth Historic Dockyard you can visit some of Britain’s most historic ships including Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory and the Tudor warship Mary Rose. Around the waterfront are plenty of pubs and cafes for a bite to eat. The harbor scene is dominated by the 170 metre tall Emirates Spinnaker Tower, for views over the harbor from the skywalk and cafe in the clouds. A short walk away is the designer shopping outlet at Gunwharf Quays and one stop further on the train you’ll find the trendy area of Southsea with boutique stores and independent eateries.
Getting There from Southampton: taxi 30 mins, train 1 hr with 2 per hour.
8 A taste of rural Hampshire in Romsey
For a flavour of rural Hampshire life visit the pretty market town of Romsey, gateway to the Test valley. Behind the tourist office is the medieval King John’s House which brings to life 750 years of history in Romsey, with a pretty garden and tea shop. Nearby is the imposing medieval Romsey Abbey containing beautiful religious art and treasures. You can join the long distance walking path, the Test Way following the River Test, past nature reserves and Broadlands, the home of the late Lord Mountbatten. Finish your day with an ice cream at Sundae’s Child or a traditional afternoon tea in one of the many cafes.
Getting There from Southampton: Bus 30 mins, 2 per hour. Taxi 25 mins. Train 30 mins, 2-3 per hour.
9 England’s ancient capital of Winchester
Once King Alfred’s capital, the small cathedral city of Winchester is a quintessentially English place to visit. At its heart is the ancient Winchester cathedral where Jane Austen is buried and farmer’s markets are held at weekends. Stroll along the river to see a working water mill at Winchester City Mill and the ruins of Winchester Palace, home of the Bishops of Winchester. Further up the hill is the Great Hall with a replica of King Arthur’s round table and the 18th century Peninsula Barracks with several military museums. With plenty of pubs and cafes, Winchester is a great day out for all ages.
Getting There from Southampton: Taxi 30 mins, Bus 1 hour with 2-3 per hour. Train 20 mins with 2-3 per hr.
10 Salisbury and Stonehenge
Stonehenge is one of the best-known pre-historic monuments in Europe, featuring in many a selfie moment. The stone circle is a masterpiece of Neolithic engineering built from stones transported long distances using only simple tools, yet no-one knows for sure why it was built. Start at the new visitor center with exhibitions and Neolithic style houses, and then walk around the stone circle (but not inside it). Your visit is easily combined with a visit to the cathedral city of Salisbury, with elegant houses inside the cathedral close such as Arundells, the home of British Prime Minister, Edward Heath. Read about my visit to Stonehenge.
Getting There from Southampton: Train Southampton to Salisbury 30 mins, 2-3 times an hour, then bus from Salisbury station to Stonehenge 30 mins, 2 per hour. Salisbury and Stonehenge are typically offered together as a cruise excursion.
Guide Prices if you want to arrange your own cruise excursions
Taxis are available at the Southampton cruise port terminal and prices are agreed with each driver but typically a 2-3 hour return trip to attractions within 30 mins drive is £80-100. Train fares for a return ticket to places mentioned are from £5-12 return depending on distance and time of day. Bus tickets are generally a little cheaper than train but may take longer.
More information to plan your visit to Southampton
Note: I originally wrote this article for a cruise website but it was never published and has since closed so I am republishing it here, hoping that it will give some useful tips and advice for cruise visitors to Southampton.
More locations in the South of England:
One of my favourite weekend getaways is to go walking along England’s unspoiled coastal paths. Those sea views, wind and fresh air seem to blow away the cobwebs and leave me rejuvenated to tackle the challenges of daily life. My sister lives on the couth coast, so I was interested to see that Eastbourne have teamed up with TV presenter Michaela Strachan to highlight some of their food, culture and coastal walks.
They have a great series of videos which will inspire you with ideas for your next weekend break, if you’d like to breathe in some of that fresh coastal air. You can explore Eastbourne with Michaela Strachan and watch more videos like the one below.
If you can’t see the video above, watch it on YouTube here
Eastbourne makes the perfect base for an out of season weekend break, with an unspoiled Victorian seafront and 300 metre long pier that was completed in 1872. With colourful beach huts, fish and chip shops, a Victorian tea rooms as well as a wide range of restaurants and cafés, Eastbourne seems to bring back the nostalgia of all those childhood holidays sheltering behind the windbreak, pestering Dad for a 99 ice cream – with flake of course!
At the western end of the seafront you’ll find Holywell beach, which is set at the foot of the South Downs, with a popular café and pretty Italian gardens. At low tide the rock pools are revealed, teeming with marine life, so you may want to bring your wellies and fishing nets to catch a few crabs. From the Sovereign Harbour, with its large marina, you can take boat tours along the coastline, for fishing, diving and to see the famous lighthouse at Beachy Head.
For me, one of the biggest attractions of Eastbourne is its access to the South Downs National Park and the walks up onto the cliffs at the start of the South Downs Way. I’ve walked the Winchester end of this long distance path with my sister but would love to do the whole thing, with breathtaking views over the English Channel. A walk up onto the cliff tops will soon bring you to Beachy Head (it’s also accessible by bike, car or open-top bus tour) with those iconic white cliffs and the striped Beachy Head lighthouse.
A little further along the cliffs you’ll reach Birling Gap, an unspoiled pebble beach enclosed by cliffs, where the low tide exposes rock pools and marine life – it’s a marine nature reserve. The beach is managed by the National Trust and there’s a visitor centre, shop and café, so it’s a good place to stop and admire the white chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters.
If you have a few days to spare you might continue your walk along the South Downs Way, through an unspoiled English landscape of rolling hills and picturesque villages, ending a hundred miles later in Winchester. For our weekend break we might just continue as far as Alfriston for lunch in a country pub or refeshment of afternoon tea, before we head back to Eastbourne.
If this taste of Eastbourne has inspired you to get out and breathe in some fresh air, why not enter my giveaway in partnership with Discover Eastbourne. You could win a £100 Ultimate Gift Card which can be used to buy some great outdoor brands including Berghaus, from stores like Blacks, JD, Scotts, Millets and Tessuti. The giveaway ends on Thursday 1 December. To enter you need to:
- Watch the video in this post and leave a comment below this post to say which attraction/sight featured in the video you’d most like to visit.
For additional chances to win you can;
- Tweet about the Giveaway – using the text given in the Rafflecopter giveaway
- Follow @heathercowper on Twitter
- Visit the Heatheronhertravels page on Facebook
- Visit the Visit Eastbourne page on Facebook
The giveaway has now ended – thanks so much to all who took part
Disclosure: This article is brought to you in partnership with Visit Eastbourne
Westonbirt Arboretum is hidden in the countryside near the historic market town of Tetbury in Gloucestershire — just a 40-minute drive from Bristol. Run by the Forestry Commission and home to over 18,000 tree and shrub species from across the world, the Arboretum welcomes groups and families all year round to explore its leafy pathways and open grounds.
The Arboretum’s roots run back to the Victorian era, when wealthy 19th-century landowner Robert Stayner Holford began planting seeds collected on his travels around the world. As the land passed down the generations, the collection grew and the trees matured. Today, the park explodes into colour during autumn and spring to the delight of the many thousands of onlookers who come through the gates each season.
After stocking up on hearty refreshments at the welcoming café, visitors to Westonbirt Arboretum this autumn can explore two different areas throughout the park; the 1.6-mile Silk Wood trail and the 0.75-mile Old Arboretum trail.
The Silk Wood trail
From the welcome building at the park entrance, The Silk Wood trail runs through open woodland where diverse tree species thrive. Interactive info boards animate the walk for youngsters — shedding light on the trees’ seasonal behaviour patterns — and the impressive Stihl walkway offers stunning views over the leafy canopy.
The highlight however — especially in the autumn — is the Japanese maple collection. Here, a figure-of-8 path loops through an open park showcasing the maples’ breathtakingly beautiful autumn tones. Leaves of bright red, yellow and orange flutter against the brown tree bark, collecting on the ground in piles of vibrant colour.
The Old Arboretum trail
The Old Arboretum trail heads into the forest to the right of the café, and takes visitors back in time to the Victorian era. Enormous lime trees line grand avenues criss-crossing the estate, leaving the visitor feeling like a lady or gent from a bygone era taking a turn in the extensive grounds.
While the colours are muted compared to the vibrancy of the Silk Wood Trail, the peace and quiet here make the Old Arboretum trail a wonderfully relaxing route to follow. (Dog-walkers note, however, that while your four-legged friend is welcome on the Silk Wood trail, the Old Arboretum trail doesn’t allow dogs.)
Westonbirt Arboretum’s doors swing open at 9am every day and early-birds really get the place to themselves. Even by 10am and onwards — as the popular Silk Wood trail busies up a little — the Old Arboretum trail remains a haven of peace and tranquillity. For details on Westonbirt Arboretum’s opening hours, events, volunteer programmes check out the Westonbirt Arboretum Website. Entrance (Autumn rate) Adult £9, child £4
Photo: All photos by Chris Callaghan – more of Chris’s photos of Autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum in our Flickr album here.
Where to Stay near Westonbirt Arboretum
If you’re looking for a luxurious place to stay that’s 10 minutes drive from Westonbirt Arboretum, we recommend Calcot Manor with 35 stylish rooms, swimming pool and spa. We love their cosy Gumstool Inn for a relaxed lunch and a pint or the light and airy Conservatory Restaurant for elegant dining – you don’t have to be staying to eat there. For other affordable accommodation in Tetbury, take a look at The Snooty Fox or The Priory Inn.
Our contributing writer Chris Callaghan is a Bristol-based ski and travel writer, with an inexhaustible list of pubs, galleries, museums and events across the West Country to visit and write about. To read more on the parks and gardens in and around Bristol that Chris has explored, click here.
Disclosure: Chris was given free entry to Westonbirt Arboretum to write about this experience.