A thriving and friendly city with a strong connection to the sea, editor Sophie Ritchie shares how to spend a weekend filled with ample cultural, edible and wellness adventures in Southampton
The largest city in the county of Hampshire and estimated to have been inhabited since the Stone Age, Southampton offers many an attraction for a curious explorer – ranging from mooch-worthy museums and beautiful art galleries to fun sporting opportunities and of course, plenty of delicious places to test your cutlery out.
There’s more appeal to this destination than just its interesting buildings and businesses too – you’d be hard pressed to find a friendlier city when it comes to Southampton’s welcoming residents, who fill the city centre like bustling ants by 11am sharp on a Saturday morning as they go about their days.
It’s a city that also boasts many a fascinating fact, especially when it comes to the maritime world. The fated Titanic departed from Southampton port for her maiden voyage back in 1912, whilst in today’s age, around 450 cruise ships drop their anchors and dock up each year, which equates to roughly 1.5 million sea-seeking passengers. But regardless of whether you’re a water baby or a landlubber, Southampton’s sloped streets and cultural attractions offer something for everyone – it’s not difficult to see why they’re thrown their hat into the ring for a bid to become UK City of Culture 2025.
What to Do: for Culture Vultures
1 Southampton SeaCity Museum
Based within easy walking distance of the city centre, this large museum weaves the stories of residents past and present, divulging details of their fascinating lives and historic connections with Titanic. The latter has its own exhibition dedicated to the tragedy, with interactive displays brimming with artefacts and knowledge to digest as you wander through the different rooms. Adult tickets from £9.50, seacitymuseum.co.uk
2 Southampton City Art Gallery
Free for all to visit throughout the week, this intricate gallery is based in Southampton’s Civic Centre and has been around since 1939 – amassing over 5,300 works of art since opening. Ideal for anyone with a creative side, set aside an hour or two to peruse its walls and interpret the wide array of paintings and sculptures accordingly. You’ll find many a famous patron too, with even Helena Bonham Carter CBE’s donated pieces dotted about the space. Free entry, closed Sundays. southamptoncityartgallery.com
3 Tudor House & Garden
History buffs, this way please. A building absolutely brimming with tales, Tudor House reveals over 800 years of history in one fascinating location at the heart of the Old Town. The timber-framed building facing St Michael’s Square was built in the late 15th century, with King John’s Palace, an adjacent Norman house accessible from Tudor House Garden, dating back a further 300 years. Having survived everything from near structural collapse and WW2 bomb raids, explore its walls and step across the creaky floorboards to immerse yourself in different centuries. The pretty garden, re-envisioned by the late esteemed garden designer Dr. Sylvia Landsberg recreates how it might have looked in the 1500s, with formal pathways and even plants relevant to the Tudor period. Adult tickets from £6.00, closed Fridays. tudorhouseandgarden.com
What to Do: for Wellness Worshippers
1 Woodmill Activity Centre
Discover the great outdoors with Southampton Water Activities Centre, powered by Active Nation. This purpose-built watersports centre has immediate access to the River Itchen, Southampton Waters and The Solent, making it ideal for all skill levels of water activities. Hire a kayak, climb into a canoe or say yes to the SUP and get ready to put ‘paddle’ to the meddle. Hire from £14 per hour for a kayak, canoe £20 per hour. woodmill.co.uk
2 The ABP Southampton Marathon
If you love the thrill of a challenge, time your visit with the annual ABP Southampton Marathon, which offers an exhilarating day of running through the city with an incredible crowd atmosphere alongside. If 26 miles doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there’s also a half marathon, 10k and 5k to pull your socks up for too. 23rd April 2023 southamptonmarathon.co.uk
3 The Ageas Bowl’s eforea spa
Seek out a spa session with The Ageas Bowl’s luxury eforea spa, which offers lavish relaxation with plenty of pamper days and treatments. Offering a multitude of thermal experiences, luxurious journeys and even speed spa choices, prepare to leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. ageasbowl.com/eforea-spa
4 Southampton Parkrun
Another one for the runners – pack your trainers and head to leafy Southampton Common on Saturday morning at 9am sharp to enjoy a free 5k event alongside locals and fellow tourists. Run, jog, stroll or stride – the choice is yours – just don’t forget to register beforehand. Free entry, parkrun.org.uk
Where to Stay: The Moxy Southampton
Budget-friendly, this central hotel near the marina and West Quay Shopping Centre is not only kinder on the wallet but ideal for modern explorers, with a sultry art-deco feel throughout and sophisticated meets minimal amenities. Whilst The Moxy is undeniably well-heeled, combining hot pink motifs and industrial chic interiors with nautical themed décor (when was the last time you saw shipping container wall art?) it’s the team that really bring this hotel to life – with surprisingly exceptional service served with a smile alongside.
The 208 stylishly-furnished rooms feature perks such as complimentary Wi-Fi, 42-inch TVs, vibrant wall art, MUK bath amenities and bedding that will make you want to ignore the alarm. Request a room on an upper floor for sweeping views across the nearby marina or simply settle into the hip space between your adventures. A simple but satisfying continental breakfast is also served downstairs in the main lobby, with a variety of staples such as cereals, pastries and drinks available from £12.50pp. Nightly rates with breakfast starts from £79 in June 2022, moxy-hotels.marriott.com
Where to Wine & Dine: for the Foodies
1 Cafe Thrive, City Centre
Vegan food, but not like you might think. Picture juicy burgers, frothy milkshakes and mountains of freshly-cooked chips – this fully plant-based menu (served in a fun foliage-decked space) will have even the fiercest of carnivores eating their hat (and requesting dessert too). Don’t miss out on the weekly-changing specials board and should you feel like something lighter, there’s also some saintlier salads and nourishing tempeh bowls on the menu along with a plethora of tasty side dishes too. cafethrive.co.uk
2 La Regata, Town Quay
If you’re partial to a paella, don’t leave the city without a meal at Le Regata, an award-winning Spanish restaurants serving up tapas, authentic classics and freshly-cooked sizzling skillets of paella. Ideal for an Adagio Sunday lunch, order away and pair your feast with a mix of European wines or some favourite Spanish ones for the ultimate edible experience. laregata.co.uk
3 The Nest Coffee House, The Polygon
Coffee addicts, cups this way please. The Nest Coffee House is a well-loved haunt by locals and visitors alike offering handmade doughnuts and speciality coffee to enjoy – and it’s all plant-based too. From purple latte art to maple-glazed creations, this little pitstop will leave you licking your lips for another visit. instagram.com/thenestatlondonroad
Southampton offers an international airport, Europe’s largest cruise port, two ferry ports plus national rail and coach links. Find out more and plan your visit via visitsouthampton.co.uk
Words by Sophie Ritchie, editor