Southampton, frequently nicknamed Soton, is a city rich in maritime tradition. Southampton is a famous port town and best known for being the departure point of the Titanic. Aside from that, it’s also known for its bustling student population, classic museums and top nightlife options.
It’s an oft-underappreciated place well worth a visit on your itinerary, so take a look below and learn a bit more about the wonders of Hampshire’s biggest city!
You’ve likely seen James Cameron’s 1997 epic Titanic, and most people know the passenger liner was headed for New York on its ill-fated maiden voyage. But did you know that the ship set sail from Southampton?
That’s right – the city has one of Britain’s busiest and most famous deep-water ports. RMS Titanic was built at Belfast Shipyard in Northern Ireland and registered in Liverpool, but Southampton is famously the origin of the ship’s 1912 voyage.
A memorial to the engineers who died on board the ship was unveiled in 2010. Over 100,000 local residents attended the ceremony in the city center’s East Park – a powerful showing of just how much of a connection the city has with the ocean.
Southampton also has a proud association with the vessel Mayflower. The ship is famous for transporting pilgrims from England to the ‘New World’ (now modern-day Massachusetts) back in 1620.
The boat was only anchored in Southampton for a number of days before moving onwards to Plymouth, and eventually North America. Nonetheless, the city is still proud of the brief time the ship called the docks home.
3. SeaCity Museum
Southampton is known for its museums, and visitors can learn all about the city’s deep maritime heritage at the SeaCity Museum.
There are two permanent exhibitions here; one on the Titanic and the story of those from the city who perished with it, and another which discusses Southampton’s role as a hub for human migration (being a famous passenger port). There are also interactive exhibits and large model vessels for you to enjoy.
The building housing the museum is worth a mention too for its unusual and unique design.
4. Solent Sky Museum
Hampshire, Southampton’s home county has a long history in aviation.
The Supermarine aircraft company was founded in the city along the banks of the River Itchen, and became one of the most crucial manufacturers for Britain during the Second World War; the company developed the famous Spitfire airplanes.
The Solent Sky Museum showcases the Spitfire among many other planes and engines. It’s a must-visit museum for aviation fans.
5. Southampton Football Club
Southampton is famous for its single professional football team. Although not one of the truly elite football institutions in the country, Southampton FC (nicknamed the Saints) is a club steeped in history and has proud traditions.
Commonly thought of back in the 90’s as ‘everyone’s second team’, Saints have a loyal and passionate fanbase who have stuck with the club through the highs of winning the FA Cup back in 1976, to the lows of relegation to the English third tier.
Now back in the Premier League, the club is internationally famous for producing some of the most successful British footballers in its youth academy. The likes of Alan Shearer, Gareth Bale, and Luke Shaw made their footballing debuts in Soton, and recent Champions League winners Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mane also started their English footballing careers at the club.
Trophies may be hard to come by these days, but a visit to St. Mary’s Stadium is always an exhilarating one. Just don’t wear blue – the color of Portsmouth, Southampton’s eternal rivals.
6. Hampshire Cricket
If football isn’t your thing, then you may want to check out the classic British sport of cricket. The Rose Bowl cricket ground is located just eight miles outside of the main city, and is home to Hampshire Cricket Club.
It’s worth going to a match just for the unique experience and to take in the awesome Rose Bowl – England’s third-largest cricket ground.
7. West Quay
West Quay is Southampton’s premier shopping center. Located in the city center, the complex contains over 130 stores and is the usual shopping destination for not only the local residents, but also for many of the wider county. The likes of Apple, John Lewis, Hollister, Lego, Footlocker, and many more have stores there.
There is also West Quay retail park, which houses a giant Ikea store – make sure you drop in just to try the meatballs – as well as a few other brand stores and restaurants.
The Marlands shopping mall is another, albeit much smaller, retail option.
8. Music scene
Although not as prominent as other famous English musical cities, Southampton has produced its fair share of successful artists and also has a variety of music venues.
Probably the city’s most well-known musical son is R&B singer Craig David – and the man hasn’t forgotten his roots. He regularly talking about the city in interviews, attends local football matches and is a prominent ambassador for the city’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025.
Other famous acts include garage duo Artful Dodger (who collaborated with the aforementioned David on his biggest hit – Re-Rewind) and the indie band Delays. Will Champion of Coldplay and Joe Newman of alt-J also hail from Southampton.
The city is also an attractive destination for artists of all sizes – the Southampton Guildhall is a regular stop on bigger bands’ national tours and has played host to the likes of The Rolling Stones, McFly and Foals over the years.
Small bands are also a regular occurrence in the city; Southampton is known for its indie venues. The Joiners bar is nationally famous for its incredibly intimate live shows, whilst The Brook, Orange Rooms, The 1865 and The Stage Door also put on some great performances from an eclectic range of artists.
9. Mayflower Theatre
The Mayflower is another of Southampton’s famous venues. With 2,300 seats, it hosts an eclectic range of entertainment from West-End theatre, opera, ballet, comedy nights, and more.
Be sure to book ahead of schedule as it’s a popular place for residents and tourists alike – and keep an eye out for the ghost who allegedly haunts backstage!
10. Medieval town walls & towers
Southampton is known for its medieval towers and walls. These are present because very strategically important due to its coastal location, and there are still remnants from this period left over today.
The towers and walls are mainly scattered around the city center and make quite an interesting contrast next to the more modern architecture of West Quay and other buildings.
God’s House Tower is one of the more famous buildings, used to house cannons and hand cannoneers. There is also the Bargate Tower at the southern end of the city center and used to serve as the gateway to the city – and southern England.
11. Tudor House
Tudor House Museum holds the distinction of being Southampton’s oldest museum. It is well worth a visit to take a trip back in time to see the changes the city has undergone throughout the years.
You can see lots of historical relics within the house, go back in time to learn about the city’s history with an interactive presentation, and finally, enjoy the delights of the immaculately-kept British garden.
12. New Forest
Not strictly in Southampton city, but it’s a favorite of the locals anyway. Drive just a few miles to the west of the city and you’ll hit the New Forest National Park, which is one of southern England’s largest forests.
It’s a popular weekend getaway for many residents in the surrounding area to go camping, kayaking, hiking or simply to spot the vast array of wildlife that resides in the park.
There’s plenty of excursions for park-goers wanting a break from the natural delights, ranging from pubs, an archery range, a motor museum, and even a children’s theme park!
13. The Common
If you’d rather stay within city limits but also want to experience some fresh greenery, then look no further than Southampton Common.
It’s nowhere near the size of the new first but it’s still a vast area with walking trails, lakes, play areas, and more. Frequent events such as fun runs and festivals also take place there, but it’s also great for a leisurely stroll on breezy days.
Southampton is famous for being a student city. It is home to two tertiary education facilities – Southampton University and Southampton Solent University.
The presence of both has made Southampton into of the UK’s biggest student hubs with over 30,000 international and domestic students living there at any one time.
A friendly rivalry exists between the two establishments, and this can be partly attributed to the fact that they both cater to different areas of education. Southampton Uni is a regular fixture in the top 20 British university lists (and top 100 worldwide), and ranks highly on courses such as languages, engineering, and nursing.
Southampton Solent on the other hand is a tech college and relatively young university. It is still famous for specializing in certain subjects though, being a world leader in maritime courses.
Southampton is known for its booming nightlife scene, with only local rival Portsmouth being able to offer anywhere near the number of entertainment options within the county.
Much of this is geared towards the large student population. There are plenty of deals for cheap drinks or free entry on particular nights in a lot of bars and clubs.
One of the best areas for going out is the Ocean Village seafront, where you’ll find a selection of cocktail & tapas bars amongst some of the city’s top restaurants. Perfect for a chilled afternoon whilst breathing in the sea air, or for starting your big night out.
For clubs, your best bet would be to take a walk around Bedford Place, just north of the main city center. There’s a large selection of entertainment venues here, from classic British pubs to soul lounges, 80s and 90s music clubs, and indie dive bars.
If you want a more ‘mainstream’ club, take a walk south to Above Bar street where you’ll find Switch and can dance away to EDM until your heart is content.
Finally, you could take a short trip over to Bevois Valley road and check out the infamous Jesters nightclub – cheap drinks but don’t expect a high-class experience!
Like most cities, Southampton has some stellar food options. The multitude of British pubs around Bedford Place offer some great ‘pub grub’, which while maybe not exquisitely prepared or presented, really hits the spot when it comes to comfort food.
For more specific cuisine, Mexifun offers some really delicious and reasonably-priced Mexican street food. Then there is Max’s Brasserie in Ocean Village, which offers some incredible fresh lobster on top of Italian snacks. A personal favorite of mine and hidden gem of sorts is Tariq Manzils. They serve a wide range of amazing Indian cuisine and they’re open until 3am, so you can go straight from your night out to a sit-down Indian meal!
So there you have it! Southampton may not be the first UK city that comes to mind, but this place has a lot of character, history and fun on offer and is well worth a visit. The locals are very welcoming and keen to show off this underrated yet fabulous part of the country to interested visitors. We hope to see you soon!