Port guide: Southampton, United Kingdom
The port of Southampton is major British cargo and passenger port in the south of England. Regarded as the ‘cruise capital of Northern Europe’, the city welcomes some 4 million visitors each year. With a wealth of heritage and history as well as modern attractions to suit all tastes, Southampton is also known as the ‘International Maritime City’.
In the past Southampton was recognised for its prominent ship-building industry, many military ships have been launched from Southampton’s yards, and to this day Southampton and the British military remain intertwined. Southampton is a launch point for overseas troops and equipment, the city has provided a vital role in the export of British forces to foreign fields throughout every conflict that Britain has been involved with.
The city itself has a mix of modern and ancient architecture, walking around the main streets you’ll notice remains of the old city defences, churches and buildings that hark back to centuries before. As well as new cosmopolitan features and buildings that reflect Southampton’s multi-cultural society. The city centre and main attractions are clearly sign posted for visitors and tourists and the public transport system within the city is readily available and easily accessible on almost every street.
If you are into ships and ship watching, Southampton is a perfect place to see some huge ships pull into port. The Town Quay provides a good vantage point to see nearly all of the ships arriving and sailing away. From the Town Quay you’ll get a good perspective on just how busy and industrialised Southampton is, even today.
- Exploring Southampton
There are many tourist attractions in Southampton; all are situated short distances from one another via public transport making them easily accessible for visitors who can fit a number of attractions into a day out.
The SeaCity Museum tells the story of Southampton’s past and the people who have contributed to the city over the years. Southampton and its residents have had century’s long connection to the sea, the SeaCity museum will give you a unique insight into their lives. There is particular emphasis on the Titanic and how this maritime disaster affected so many people of the city. With historic documents and memorabilia on show as well as some immersive and interactive displays visitors leave feeling a sense of deeper connection to the tragedy and tale.
The Tudor House Museum & Garden offers visitors a quaint tour of an original 15th Century Tudor house. Having survived the ages and now open to the public, Southampton’s most important historical building boasts over 800 years of history. This fascinating collection of memorabilia and interactive displays are located close to the quayside and just a few minutes’ walk from the Mayflower Park.
If you were inspired by the Tudor House & Gardens, be sure to visit the Medieval Merchants House just around the corner, if you thought the Tudor house was old, step back even with a tour of this 14th Century building. With its own interesting story to tell, the tale of John Fortin a merchant who traded with Bordeaux, the Medieval Merchants House still stands today and remains one of the earliest surviving merchant buildings in England.
Just walking around Southampton you’ll notice just how much history hides on every street. If you are near the quayside you’ll notice the old defence walls still standing today. As you exit Southampton’s Passenger Terminal you may very well pass God’s Tower Gate, and not too far away situated amongst modern-day architecture you’ll find the impressive Bargate. These old remnant brick built structures expose just how important the city (or town back then) was to England and its overseas trading.
The above simply names a few of the things to do in Southampton. If you are travelling with a family you may want to do something more involved and exciting for your children. Paultons Park (Romsey) is an amusement park and home of Peppa Pig with over 60 different rides. The park is situated outside of the city, it is easily accessible from the main roads in and out of Southampton, but do be aware that it is approximately a 20 minute drive from the ferry terminal.
If you are into walking and hiking, there are a number of walks around Southampton, the QE2 mile is a must for many visitors, this walk will take you throught the heart of Southampton and it’s key features. Nearby to Southampton is the New Forest, for a peaceful, relaxing and nature insipred day out.
- Getting around
There is a comprehensive and frequent bus service that operates within Southampton; waiting times for busses never really exceed 15 minutes. There are also half hourly services to neighbouring cities and towns, with Southampton being in close proximity to Portsmouth the public transport between these two maritime cities are well established.
Southampton is known for its ferry service (Red Funnel), from the Town Quay foot passengers and cyclists can quickly hop across to the Isle of Wight using the high-speed ferry departing each half hour. Travellers with a car can also use one of the regular ferry charters to take their vehicle with them, although the foot-passenger ferry is the better option if you are only docked in Southampton for the day.
Southampton being a major port is well connected by rail which not only provides direct trade routes out of the city, they also double as passenger routes. Trains depart from Southampton on a regular basis to the 7 local stations, surrounding cities (this includes London) are easy to get to from Southampton Central.
- Beyond the port
Southampton being a major port is well connected to neighbouring cities and towns. Travelling outside of Southampton is easy by a well-established network of major roads, rail and shipping routes. Portsmouth is a nearby and equally prestigious British maritime city, packed with things to; full of heritage and history it is worth more than just a day visit. The Historic Dockyards is a must-visit for any ship-lover. Gunwharf Quays is an ideal place to shop, eat and be entertained against the back drop of sailing boats and the iconic Spinnaker Tower.
The Royal Victoria Country Park Chapel (Netley Abbey), is a landmark building overlooking Southampton Water. If you are sailing into Southampton during the day you’ll catch the tower on the starboard side, easily recognised by the aged copper dome a-top the tower. The chapel is an affordable day out, with some splendid grounds and regular local events.
Southampton sits right on the doorstep of the New Forest National Park; 19,300 acres of ancient unspoilt English woodland, with 143 miles of walkways and tracks. Visitors are free to explore this natural and peaceful landscape either on foot, bicycle or horseback. The New Forest Authority offers guided walks which are a safe, informative and humbling experience.
- Popular shore excursions
Cruise lines that visit here offer the following shore excursions. Please check with your cruise line to see if they offer them and remember some excursions may be seasonal only!
The QE2 Mile
The QE2 Mile is a pedestrian route that runs through the heart of Southampton city, it will take you from the Cenotaph to the Town Quay. The QE2 mile links Southampton’s most popular parks, the walk will take you passed the Titanic Memorial and the Holy Rood church, passed the Bargate and high street shopping and on to the ‘old town’ and waterfront. You will even get to see the original anchor from the Queen Elizabeth 2, weighing 13 tonnes; it was unveiled in 2011 by the city mayor, Leader of the council and the Cunard President.
The Solent Sky Museum
The Solent Sky museum just a stone’s throw from Ocean Village is a wonderful aviation themed museum with many aircraft on display. Southampton was once a world leader in experimental aircraft both civil and military as the dawn of air travel began to unfold. The museum documents the history of British aviation in and around the Solent, and of course features a working Supermarine Spitfire.
Bargate is the ideal place for a bit of shopping, if you are lucky enough to be visiting Southampton on a Friday or Saturday there are regular continental stall-markets available at the Bargate as well as the fashionable retail outlets and restaurants that are located there all year round.
- Local cuisine
As a vital port city Southampton has embraced a multi-cultural society, although English is the main language spoken do not be surprised to hear French, German, Polish, Turkish, Ukrainian or Urdu during a visit. This type of society brings with it many culinary influences, and you’ll find a good mixture of restaurants reflecting different menus from around the world. Southampton’s historical age also means that it offers a good number of traditional English pubs, who serve what the British like to call “honest food”. These dishes are cooked from basic ingredients, typically consisting of potatoes, meat and vegetables, there’s nothing fancy about English menus but they are cheap, hearty and ‘honest’.
- Where you are docked
Southampton has four main passenger terminals, with a fifth planned to open in 2015. Depending on which cruise line you are travelling with you will arrive into one of the following:
Mayflower Cruise Terminal, Berth 106, Herbert Walker Avenue, Western Docks
Mayflower plays host to Carnival Group ships, including P&O Cruises, Carnival, Cunard and Princess Cruises. Fred Olsen, Saga and Regent Seas also dock at the Mayflower. The departure lounge has adequate seating, an on-site café, and news stand where you can purchase UK tabloid press and various entertainment magazines.
QE2 Cruise Terminal, Berth 38/39 Test Road, Eastern Docks
QE2 Cruise Terminal is visited by Cunard’s fleet of ships, Fred Olsen and P&O Cruises. There is a fully licensed café and bar in the departure lounge, adequate facilities and seating to accommodate a large number of passengers.
Ocean Cruise Terminal, Berth 46/47, Eastern Docks
Opened in 2009, Southampton Ocean Cruise Terminal is the first purpose built cruise facility (funded by Carnival UK) to be built in Southampton for almost half a century. The stylish and elegant building has excellent check-in facilities, more than adequate seating to accommodate passengers and an on-site licensed bar and cafe.
Southampton City Cruise Terminal, Berth 101, Solent Road, Western Docks
Playing host to some of the largest cruise ships in the world, the City Cruise Terminal welcomes Royal Caribbean passengers through its doors. The departure lounge has a fully licensed bar and café. Adequate facilities and seating to accommodate a large number of passengers.
- Regional weather
Being located in the South of England, Southampton has a mild climate compared to most UK cities. Just in-land, it does not escape rainfall being blown in from the sea, however, it is not buffeted by the North Winds much like other UK cities and therefore Southampton winters appear slightly warmer.