8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Southampton
The port of Southampton lies on a peninsula between the mouths of the Rivers Test and Itchen and boasts one of the world's best natural harbors. Until the 1930s, it was England's largest port dealing in trans-Atlantic passenger travel, and giant liners like the Queen Mary were built in local shipyards while hundreds of thousands of emigrants departed the country on ships sailing from here, including the Titanic.
While much of the city suffered during WWII, it has preserved a number of old buildings, including parts of the medieval town walls and two Tudor houses with their characteristic black and white half-timbering. There are excellent shopping facilities both in and around the city, and it's a good base for visits to the New Forest and the Isle of Wight. It's also home to many great cultural events, including the annual Southampton International Film Festival.
See also: Where to Stay in Southampton
1 City Walls
The best views of Southampton's 14th century medieval walls - the third longest unbroken stretch of city wall in Britain - are obtained from the Western Esplanade, also the site of Wind Whistle Tower. The only remaining medieval church in Southampton is St Michael's on Castle Way. Dating from 1070, the church contains Norman relics and a font made of Tournai marble. Follow the walls south to Mayflower Park, which lies opposite the Mayflower Memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers, and Wool House, a 14th century warehouse.
Also nearby is the God's House Tower on Winkle Street, a 12th century hospital dedicated to St Julian. Guided walking tours of the old walls and medieval vaults are available.
Location: Bargate, Southampton
2 Tudor House and Garden
The magnificent Tudor house in St Michael's Square was built in the late 15th century for a wealthy merchant family. Now a museum, it displays exhibits from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, as well as periodic exhibitions encompassing over 900 years of local history. Visitors can use free audio guides while enjoying the reconstructed kitchens and numerous artifacts, including Georgian and Victorian jewelry, and archaeological finds from the medieval and Tudor periods.
Another classic old home to visit is Medieval Merchant's House in French Street, a 13th century townhouse filled with period furniture and wall hangings.
Location: St Michael's Square, Southampton
3 SeaCity Museum
SeaCity Museum tells the story of the people of Southampton and their connection to Britain's rich maritime history, including the stories of those who departed from (or arrived in) the port over the centuries and Southampton's Titanic Story.
The 1930s art deco Civic Centre that houses this fascinating museum is also home to the city's Art Gallery with its interesting selection of old masters and English artists from 1750 to the present, as well as a valuable collection of ceramics.
Location: Havelock Rd, Southampton
4 Ocean Village
East of Southampton's old town, Princess Alexandra Dock has been transformed into a modern leisure and shopping center. Smart yachts are moored in the harbor in front of Canute's Pavilion with its designer boutiques, gourmet restaurants, cinemas (including one for art-house and foreign-language films), boat trips, sailing facilities, and great views of the cruise ships moored in the Eastern Docks.
Location: Ocean Village, Southampton
5 SS Shieldhall
SS Shieldhall is a heritage steamship and part of Britain's National Historic Fleet. The largest surviving working steamship of her type in Europe, this historic vessel - built in 1954 as one of the Clyde sludge boats - has been fully restored and provides a working example of the machinery typical of the great ships that plied the world's oceans between the 1870s and 1960s.
In addition to educational and sightseeing outings, the ship regularly appears in the Southampton Maritime Festival, a two-day heritage event that brings together a host of activities, displays, and attractions, including historic vessels, vehicles and fly-overs by vintage aircraft.
Address: 11 Avonborne Way, Chandler's Ford, Eastleigh
6 Solent Sky Museum
The Solent Sky Museum uses a fantastic collection of models and photographs, as well as 18 magnificent flying machines, to tell the story of Southampton's aviation heritage. The region is famous for its experimental and development work between 1908 and the late 1960s, the most famous being the Spitfire. Showpieces of the exhibition are the huge Sandringham flying boat, and the Supermarine racing seaplane (the predecessor of the Spitfire) that won the Schneider Trophy in the early 1930s.
Location: Albert Rd South, Royal Crescent, Southampton
7 Old Town
Just to the south of the city center, Southampton's Old Town has many unique locations associated with famous residents and visitors including William the Conqueror, Henry V, William Shakespeare, the Pilgrim Fathers, Isaac Watts and Jane Austen.
Originally built as the main gateway to the medieval city, 800 year old Bargate marks the entrance to the Old Town. Numerous plaques have been laid from Bargate down to the waterside to commemorate key events from the early Roman settlement to the opening of the National Oceanography Centre.
Location: Bargate, Southampton
8 Titanic Trail
The Titanic departed Southampton on her doomed maiden voyage to New York, and numerous sites around the city are associated with the vessel. One of the best ways to learn about the city's connections to the vessel is through the informative Titanic Trail (maps are available from the Discover Southampton website, below).
Along the way, you'll visit the remarkable Titanic Engineers' Memorial in East Park, a beautiful bronze and granite memorial unveiled in front of a crowd of 100,000 Southampton residents in April 1914 (none of the ship's 35 engineers survived). Nearby is the Titanic Musician's Memorial dedicated to the ships musicians.
Where to Stay in Southampton for Sightseeing
In Southampton, most of the top attractions are scattered around the city, including the Tudor House and Garden, the old city walls, the SeaCity Museum, and the Titanic Trail. For easy access to all these attractions as well as the port, the center of town makes a great base - especially for first-time visitors. Visitors traveling to the city to board a cruise ship often stay near the southern end of town for easy access to the terminals. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Sleek, bright, and modern, the pet-friendly Novotel Southampton has a fitness center and indoor swimming pool. It's near the West Quay Shopping Centre and an easy five-minute drive from the cruise ship terminals. Also handy to the port and less than five minutes on foot to the Tudor House and Garden, Grand Harbour Hotel has a triangular-shaped glass facade and an inviting indoor pool. Some rooms have sea views. The Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin, in a heritage-listed Georgian building, blends original architectural features with modern decor, steps away from the old city walls and the Tudor House and Garden.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Handy to the cruise ship terminals, Holiday Inn Southampton, with a pool and sea views, is at the top end of the mid-range options, while The Blue Keys, north of the city center, is popular for its great-value rates and friendly staff. In the heart of the city, Premier Inn Southampton West Quay Hotel offers modern comforts near a popular shopping mall, a short hop from the Tudor House and Garden.
- Budget Hotels: The pet-friendly Ibis Southampton Centre offers clean, basic rooms in a convenient location near the West Quay Shopping Centre and Southampton Central Station. Less than two kilometers from the city center, the homey Elizabeth House Hotel has free parking and a bistro-style restaurant, while The Regent Guest House, slightly farther from town, is a B&B with warm, welcoming staff.
The beautiful ruins of Netley Abbey, founded in 1239, have inspired many English writers, poets and artists, including John Constable. The village of Netley is also worth visiting, and is associated with famous people such as Queen Victoria who laid the foundation stone of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital which Florence Nightingale helped design. (It's also where Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional Dr. Watson was said to have trained.)
Location: Netley, Hampshire
Romsey is a small market town located on the River Test, famous for its fly-fishing, and its town center dominated by the massive Romsey Abbey, founded in 907 AD by Benedictine nuns. A Norman church was added in 1125, while the west end with its pointed arches was built in 1225. In the southern choir aisle and outside the south transept are two Saxon stone crucifixes.
Also of interest is nearby King John's House and Heritage Centre, dating from 1206 and containing a museum; and Broadlands House and Mountbatten Exhibition, home to Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy and first governor general of India.
Location: Romsey, Hampshire
Mottisfont Abbey Garden, House and Estate
Mottisfont Abbey Garden, House and Estate is a National Trust property situated on the River Test. The 12th century abbey became a private house after the Dissolution and contains a drawing room featuring a unique 20th century picture collection. The garden and estate grounds includes Mottisfont Village and is renowned for its collection of roses, its walled garden and magnificent trees.
Location: Romsey, Hampshire
Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum
The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum is home to one of England's finest collections of trees and shrubs, particularly beautiful when ablaze with color from spring through fall.
Location: Jermyns Lane, Ampfield, Romsey
Calshot Castle was once one of Henry VIII's coastal defenses. The fort houses an exhibition and recreated pre-WWI barrack room, plus excellent views of the Solent from the roof.
Location: Calshot, Hampshire
Bishop's Waltham Palace
Bishop's Palace is an English Heritage property that includes the ruins of a moated palace built by Bishop Henry de Blois of Winchester in 1135 and extended in the 15th century. Winchester was the richest diocese in England, and properties such as this were grandiose and extravagantly appointed. Today, the Bishop's Waltham Town Museum occupies the ground floor of the farmhouse.
Location: Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire
Andover is an ancient town located on the Anton River 22 miles north of Southampton famous for its watermills. Finkley Down Farm Park has a variety of farm animals and poultry with a children's playground and plenty of space for picnics.
Location: Andover, Hampshire
Ludgershall Castle and Cross
Ludgershall Castle and Cross are the ruins of an early 12th century royal hunting palace and medieval cross situated just 10 miles from prehistoric Stonehenge. The castle was set within two adjacent enclosures surrounded by earthwork banks and ditches. The northern enclosure contained the most important buildings, including the great hall, a tower and domestic apartments, while the southern enclosure had timber buildings including the castle farm, stables and kitchens.
Location: Ludgershall, Wiltshire
Beaulieu, just 14 miles from Southampton, is home to the famous National Motor Museum, one of the world's largest museums dedicated to the automobile. Its wonderful exhibits include the official collection of original James Bond vehicles as well as other famous movie cars, including the flying Ford Anglia from Harry Potter.
Also of note is the fantastic Palace House and Gardens, formerly the 13th century Great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey with its immaculate spreading lawns and walkways overlooking the Beaulieu River. It's also a great place to begin exploring the wonderful New Forest area.
Location: Beaulieu, Brockenhurst, Hampshire