This post was most recently updated on January 13th, 2022
Southampton is the busiest cruise port in the United Kingdom. So it’s no surprise that the cruise you’ve booked is sailing from this historic port city.
If you haven’t yet booked your cruise, you can find a cruise that sails from Southampton and then spend a few days exploring the city before or after your cruise.
Wondering what there is to do in Southampton? Whether you like history and museums, beautiful scenery, shopping and dining, or outdoor activities, there is something for everyone. Let’s explore Southampton together…
Southampton’s Sailing History
Romans settled in the Southampton area in 70 AD and established a busy port. In the 700’s, Saxons settled here and started trading wool, wine, and pottery with France, Greece, and the Middle East. In the 10th century, Normans entered the scene. Southampton still traded by sea, but it had also become a jumping off point for English armies going to France.
In the 1400’s, a shipbuilding industry sprang up to build ships for the 100 Years’ War. New trade routes were established with Venice and Genoa, with traders bringing such luxuries as spices, silk, and perfumes. in 1620, the pilgrims departed from Southampton on the Mayflower and the Speedwell to make the crossing to North America.
The 1800’s brought a railroad from London and a much-increased demand for shipping from Southampton’s docks. More docks and piers were built, a Harbor Police Board was created, and the first deep-sea shipping company began operating here.
In the 1900’s, even more docks were built to accommodate larger ships, like the HMS Queen Elizabeth. On April 12, 1910, the Titanic set sail from Southampton on its maiden and only voyage. By 1936, Southampton handled nearly half of all United Kingdom shipping and sailing. Today, Southampton sees nearly 2 million passengers a year at four dedicated cruise terminals.
Historic Sites in Southampton
With all the emphasis on sailing, you might be surprised to learn there’s more to Southampton’s history than ships and sailing.
- Southampton became a fortified city in the late 1300’s. About half of the length of wall built to protect the city is still standing today.
- Southampton’s most important building is the Tudor House and Garden. Here you find 800 years of history in one location — a timber framed building built in the late 1500’s and an adjacent Norman house 300 years older. Interactive displays, gardens, and family-friendly activities teach you about the residents who lived here over the years.
- The Medieval Merchant’s House is a 14th century residence and place of residence, restored to its original appearance and furnished with period furnishings
- Southampton’s Old Town is definitely worth taking a self-guided tour, to see places like the Holyrood Church, the Bargate, the Castle Vault, and much more.
- Jane Austen made Southampton her home for three years, from 1806-1809, and many fans enjoy taking a self-guided walking tour of Jane Austen sites of importance.
Museums in Southampton
Southampton has many museums, designed to showcase its history in shipping, aviation, industry, farming, art and heritage. Here are a few of the most popular museums you’ll want to visit:
- The Seacity Museum has extensive exhibits on the Titanic and its effect on Southampton, as well as the history of its early settlers and development of the city as a gateway to the world.
- The Solent Sky Museum was created primarily to highlight the Supermarine Spitfire, which was designed and built in Southampton. However, you will find much more including a giant flying boat, racing seaplanes, and other relics of Britain’s aviation legacy.
- At the City Art Gallery, you can view the history of European art from the Renaissance to the present. The core of the gallery’s art is British impressionism and contemporary art. Another plus: admission to all exhibits is free.
Beautiful Scenery in Southampton
Besides all of the beautiful architecture you’ll find in Southampton, there are plenty of great places to take a photo.
- At the north end of the city, you’ll find Southampton Common and its 365 acres of woodland, grassland, ponds, and parkland. There is an amazing abundance of wildlife, with the largest population of the rare great crested newt. Take a picnic and enjoy strolling this beautiful park space.
- A one-hour hovercraft ride takes you to the stunning Isle of Wight, where you can enjoy gorgeous beaches and dramatic cliff formations. A must-see is The Needles Rocks and Lighthouse — there’s even a spectacular chairlift ride to the beach and sandcliffs.
Outdoor Activities in Southampton
Some of the best outdoor activities can be enjoyed on the Isle of Wight, including paragliding, bicycling, tree climbing, fishing, kayaking, fishing charters, and more. But you don’t have to wander far from Southampton to have fun outdoors.
- Families will be especially delighted with the high ropes adventure course available at GoApe adventures, where kids and adults can also zipline, tree-climb, rent a boat, or ride on a steam train.
- Or you can visit the converted Woodmill Outdoor Activity Center and learn how to paddle, fence, or shoot an arrow.
Southampton Shopping and Dining
If shopping is your thing, you’ll find plenty of options in Southampton. Shopping malls and villages are abundant. You’ll find great quality and variety of merchandise, too — whether you’re looking for fashions or souvenirs. Your dining choices are excellent as well. Check out some of these options:
- The Westquay Southampton mall boasts popular brand-name fashion and jewelry stores, shoes, toys, gifts, and sports items. Over 30 restaurants, cafes, and fast food stops include Italian, Greek, Thai, and many other cuisines.
- The Ocean Village Marina is a mixed-use development with a leisure marina, shops, restaurants, cafes, cinema, and housing. The Southampton Harbor Hotel even looks like a ship. It’s especially beautiful at night with the marina all lit up!
Southampton has much to offer to all who visit. Whether you are there to explore for several days, or just looking for a few things to do before or after your cruise, you’ll be glad Southampton is on your itinerary.
**This post is in partnership with ROL Cruise**
You said a couple of magic words for me – Tudor and Jane Austen. I’d love to see the house and do the walking tour. And, then there is the high ropes course. Those are such a blast! I had no idea there was so much here, thanks for all the great tips!
Wow, the pictures of the architecture. My husband would love to go there! We have been thinking about a cruise. Thanks
I had no idea how much shipping history was in Southampton, to be honest I have never even heard of Southampton. Where do most of the cruises go to from there? Into the Med? or other European destinations?
Those, and even transatlantic cruises!
Southampton is damn busy for sure, a great place to set sail from. I’ve never tried the Ocean Village Marina though, maybe next time!
Well apparently after several cruises out of Southampton, I’ve been missing out. Each time, my friends and I have a small day trip when traveling to the port but have never ventured out into Southampton. Big mistake, though I will say the Winchester is a great side trip. 😉