Southampton is immortalized in fictional and historical books as a port for famous ships and cruise liners. Thanks to its tradition of sailing and shipping, visitors to the city are treated to scenic attractions like
Entrance to the City
One of Southampton's most attractive features is the abundance of green open space. If you enter the city on the A33 and travel down The Avenue, which was once a perilous road frequented by highwaymen, you will come to
Continue down The Avenue and you will eventually arrive at the top of town (about 25 minutes walk). Just off the main high street on Commercial Road you will find the
Walk back to the main high street and carry on into the center of town, past the busy shopping precinct, and you will come across the historical Bargate, one of the surviving gateways to the city. Look up when you are walking through and you may see the damage caused by trams, which attempted to pass through the middle until 1949 and sometimes didn't quite make it. Carry on down the high street and you may want to stop off for a drink at
Other places of interest in the lower part of town are the
At the bottom of town you will come to Southampton's waterfront, where there is much to see and do.
Outskirts of Southampton
Just a twenty minute drive from the center of Southampton, or a short train or bus journey, is the
Southampton was once known as the gateway to the world and people have long traveled through the city on the way to distant and exotic locations. But as one of the country's foremost commercial ports, Southampton has a unique cultural heritage and a few treasures of its own to offer.
The 20th century put the town on the map, when the magnificent but ill-fated Titanic sailed from Southampton docks on 10th April 1912. Glamorized on both television and celluloid, most famously in James Cameron's lavish Hollywood blockbuster, the doomed maiden voyage and its victims have long been honored with the city's own monument. Located in East Park, the Titanic Engineer Officers Memorial is a true testament to those who died, particularly to the locals - in one school alone, 140 children lost a father, brother, cousin or uncle.
But not all of Southampton's sea-faring past has been blighted by tragedy. The Mayflower, which proudly bore aloft America's founding Pilgrim Fathers, set sail from here in August 1620. The Mayflower Memorial, outside the Maritime Museum, and Southampton's premier theater The Mayflower commemorate this historic quest.
From Canute to Henry V
It was in Southampton, in 1014, where the Viking Canute defeated Ethelred The Redeless and was pronounced King of England. According to a famous tale, Canute commanded the mighty waves of the Solent to retreat and had an impromptu paddle.
Following the Norman Conquest, Southampton grew prosperous as the main port of transit between Winchester and Normandy. During this time the town walls began to take shape, the remains of which are some of the finest examples in the country. But this is largely due to the fortifications which took place after the devastating raid by the French in 1338. The town became one of the strongest fortresses in the land - its encompassing wall measured up to 30 feet high in places and had no less than 29 towers and seven gates.
In 1415, Henry V left with his troops for France and the Battle of Agincourt. Prior to their departure, however, the King had to deal with a plot for treason. The traitors were tried and executed outside the Bargate, the medieval entrance to the town, and their heads were gruesomely displayed on spikes for the delight of the public.
From the 1700s to the 20th Century
Southampton's seawater hasn't always been the reason behind its popularity. From the 1750s to the 1800s, Southampton enjoyed its heyday as a spa town. People flocked to drink from the mineral springs and enjoy sea-bathing. The original queen of the spa town, Jane Austen, is said to have visited in 1807 and danced the night away at the The Dolphin Hotel, which survives to this day. The patronage of George II's son, Frederick Prince of Wales, who bathed there in 1750, probably did nothing to harm Southampton's reputation either. Sadly the water does not seem to have returned the favor, as he died the following year.
The 20th century was a turbulent time for Southampton. For the first time since 1338 the town was devastated by enemy attack. The German bombers of the Third Reich reduced 630 buildings to rubble and damaged a further 3500. But Southampton was not defeated, for it was from its docks that more than three million troops left for Normandy in the D-Day landings of 1944.
Alternative glories Southampton has since enjoyed include the football team's FA Cup win in 1976, a triumph yet to be repeated, but hopes have been lifted with a new state-of-the-art premiership stadium about to open. A city facelift in general has enhanced a broad spectrum of facilities, including the Quays Swimming and Diving Complex and the country's seventh largest shopping mall – the enormous WestQuay shopping center.
So while travelers pass through Southampton's port on their way to distant cultural capitals, shoppers flock to the High Street, which is actually on the site of an old bull-ring and just around the corner from the site of a Norman Castle, which in its time was host to Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Richard the Lion-Heart, who spent his only Christmas in England there. The parks, popular for picnics and walks, were once the town's arable land and main source of food. Their preservation makes Southampton unique among English towns.
And finally, whilst some visitors may stop to admire the QE2 harbored in Southampton's docks, it could possibly surprise them to know that Southampton is also the home of the fighter plane "Supermarine Spitfire" or "Spitfire" for short designed for use by the RAF in World War II.
TOUR 1 - Titanic Tour
Even if you are unfamiliar with Southampton, you'll soon find out that it is most famous as the port from which the Titanic started its ill-fated journey. Whether Titanic buff or curious tourist, this tour is a good way to discover the city.
Start at the High Street Post Office, which is below the Bargate on the left hand side. Inside at the back there's a bronze tablet, made from a reserve propeller blade of RMS Titanic, honoring the memory of "British Sea Post Officers and their American Colleagues".
Walk down the High Street and just past The Dolphin Hotel you'll see Holy Rood Church, which contains a Titanic Memorial paid for by close friends and relatives of the crew.
St Michael's Square
Cross over the road and head up St Michael's Street. At the end of the street go down a little alleyway, to the left of St Michael's Church, and you will come out onto St Michael's Square. Turn left onto Bugle Street and walk past St Joseph's Catholic Church. This holds the Titanic (Ritz) Restaurant Memorial, honoring the memory of the mostly catholic chefs and waiters on The Titanic who worshiped here.
At the bottom of Bugle Street you will come to the Maritime Museum. Admission is free and upstairs you will find a Titanic exhibition, which includes a video of survivors and locals talking about the tragedy, plus such curiosities as the ornate panel Honour and Glory Crowning Time from Titanic's sister ship Olympic, Captain Smith's sword and a crew member's pocket watch stopped by icy Atlantic waters.
Turn left out of the museum and keep walking, past The Pier and Town Quay, until you reach the Platform Tavern. This is where that infamous game of cards (or chance) took place in James Cameron's film. In real life it was Thomas Hart, a young fireman, who gambled with his ship's papers. Mr McCready, a steward, lived here and was lost in the disaster.
Carry on walking left, past Queen's Park, until you reach Dock Gate 4 (clearly signed). The crew had to be through this Dock Gate by 6am. Captain Smith came through by taxi at 7:30a. Look straight through the gate and imagine The Titanic moored on the right. Continue on up the road until you see South Western House. This used to be South Western Hotel. You may have seen it in the film, superimposed behind Dock Gate 4 as Jack ran for the ship. Bruce Ismay slept here, as did Thos Andrews who wrote to his uncle Lord Pirrie from one of the top bedrooms. A dozen or so other millionaires also spent their last nights at the hotel and its grand staircase was the model for the one on Titanic.
To the left of South Western House you will see Stanley Casino. This was formerly Terminus Station, which witnessed the return of the very few of the crew who came home on the nights of the 29th and 30th April 1912.
Cross over onto Oxford Street, opposite the casino. This is crew heartland, with the Spinners, Lawrences, Taylors, Mullers and Hills all hailing from this street and losing their breadwinners in the tragedy. The Grapes pub is a must-see. The Slade Brothers had one bevy too many here before the ship set sail and were turned away on the gangplank. Pop in for a drink and learn the full story.
Continue past The Grapes until you reach the end of Oxford Street, then cross over onto Bernard Street and head west back towards the High Street. If you're familiar with crew lists you'll recognize Orchard Lane, Orchard Place, Canal Walk and Back of the Walls as a few of their addresses. Walk to the end of the street and you will find yourself back at Holy Rood Church. If this hasn't sated your appetite for Titanic trivia, book a tour by a Blue Badge Guide. You may also wish to visit the Titanic Engineer Officers Memorial, which sits at the edge of East Park. It honors the memory of local officers who served as engineers on the Titanic and were lost in the disaster. The memorial can be viewed from Above Bar Street.
TOUR 2 - Walk the Western Walls
Start at the south side of theBargate, next to Bar Risa. This is the landward entrance to the old town, which swept from the Bargate down to the sea behind you. This toll - or Bar-gate - replaced a wooden Saxon gateway some time after the Norman conquest of 1066. The original stone arch dates from 1175, while the lockups date from the l4th century. Look up and you will see one of five watch bells dating from 1605, as well as a sundial dating from 1705 (six minutes out of GMT) and a statue of George III, in the classical style of the emperor Hadrian.
Head north under the arch and you will be following in the hoof prints of all the Kings and Queens of England since Henry II. When the latter set off for Canterbury on foot, as penance for getting rid of St Thomas A Becket, it set up a trail for pilgrims through the Bargate arch. Now look at the Bargate's north face. You'll see 18th century shields, lions dating from 1743, arrow slits and the windows of the museum (open on Central and Eastern Guided Tours) where Shakespeare's plays enjoyed early performances. Gruesomely, arms and legs were once tacked onto the Bargate after being dunked in tar. Arundel Tower
Use the pedestrian crossing and then cross the road towards the walls opposite Littlewoods. The great gap you will see was not caused by bomb damage but town clearance, to help traffic flow in the 1930s.
Take the iron stairway next to the jagged section of wall, pass the statue of Mr Le Fleming, a medieval mayor, and go up the steepish steps to the top of Arundel Tower. The tower is named after a governor of the castle, Sir John de Arundel, who on an expedition to France threw sixty women overboard to save his own life, but still drowned as the storm grew fiercer. His descendants, the Dukes of Norfolk, live at Arundel Castle. Look south and follow the western stretch of walls to the corner. The sea came up to the walls until the middle of the 19th century, when a promenade was built.
Go down the spiral steps and head left along the walls. Whilst the north walls were built in the 13th century, these western walls were constructed after the French Raid of 1338, when invading pirates (led by Grimaldi, who founded Monaco with Southampton's silver) murdered anyone they saw – man, woman or child. King Edward III was so livid he ordered the walls to be built.
Keep walking until you come to Catchcold Tower. It has defended Southampton for 600 years, including during World War II when it contained an anti-aircraft gun to shoot down low flying enemy bombers. Further along the walls, to the left of the tower, are the Forty Steps, built in 1851 during the fashionable Spa Period. There used to be a wonderful forest view from here, a scene sketched by Constable and Turner. Walk down the steps to street level and follow the stretch of walls south. Just round the corner, look up and you'll see an overhang. This was a garderobe (or toilet) used by the sentries.
Keep going until you come to an old wooden door with a large padlock. This is the entrance to Castle Vault, which stored the King or Queen's wine, before onward shipment to court at London, Oxford or Wilton. Alongside the vault is the entrance to the Castle or Banqueting Hall, where Richard the Lionheart had his only Christmas dinner as King in 1194. King Henry V also feasted here before Agincourt.
Go up the steps by the Castle Garderobe (clearly marked) and walk past the flats onto Bugle Street. To your left you will see Bosun's Locker Pub. This was the site of Jane Austen's house, where she lived between 1806 and 1809. Walk to your right until you see Simnel Street. Under the houses on this corner is a superior medieval vault, used - as were approximately seventy others - as an air raid shelter during World War II.
St Michael's Square
Carry on up Bugle Street until you get to St Michael's Square. St Michael's Church to your left is the oldest building in Southampton, founded by the Normans in 1070. Pop in to see a host of interesting artifacts, like the Tournai font (dating from 1170), old lecterns, chained books and Philip of Spain's treasure chest. You could also call into Tudor House on your right, which is the town's main museum and has a lovely herb garden plus some excellent exhibits. Head down Blue Anchor Lane, alongside Tudor House. At the bottom of the lane, try to spot where merchants once lived, before Edward ordered their front doors to be blocked in. This stretch of arcaded medieval wall is the longest in the world, apart from the Pope's Palace at Avignon, France.
Turn left and walk south along the walls until you reach the Westgate. This was the most heavily defended gate on this stretch of walls and the most historic. It had a double portcullis, so enemies could be trapped like rats in a cage; count the holes above you through which you could be stoned, shot or have burning tar thrown on you. Edward III and the Black Prince left here for Crecy, Henry V for Agincourt in 1415, the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 and servicemen during World War II.
If you walk through the gate, you will see the adjoining Tudor Merchants Hall. This used to stand in St Michael's Square, but the smell of fish drove it out against the walls. It is said to be haunted by the happy ghost of a nine year old girl who has allegedly been heard skipping and dancing over the beams!
Continue following the walls westwards and you will come to the Mayflower Memorial. Erected in 1913, it commemorates the sailing of the Pilgrim Fathers from Southampton in August 1620, on the Mayflower and Speedwell. Just by the memorial is an old gateway with steps. This is the entrance to the Earl of Southampton's Town House, Bugle Hall (Shakespeare used to visit), which burnt down in 1791.
Carry on heading west and just opposite The Pier you will see the old woolhouse, now the Maritime Museum, built in the late 14th century to store wool for the Cistercian monks of Beaulieu. After Henry dissolved the monasteries, it became a spice store and then a prison. The area at the front was the exercise yard. There's a small Titanic Exhibition inside and admission is free.
Continue westwards, cross French Street and head down the small lane in front of you. This is Porters Lane, so called because the medieval porters used to carry loads from the ships on their donkeys here. To your left are the remains of The Long House, which was once a very posh Upper Hall house, built circa 1170, complete with minstrels, wine, silver and servants. At the end of Porters Lane is the Watergate, the seaward entrance to the old town. Its rent was a single red rose every June 21st. The Watergate was similar to the Bargate, arching over the road and replete with lions and shields, but it was demolished in the 18th century because of traffic.
Turn left by the Watergate and head back up the High Street. Under your feet are 12th to 14th century vaults. Before returning to the Bargate stop off at the historic Red Lion, where trials of plotters against Henry V in 1415 are supposed to have taken place. A courtroom is actually still there.
For more information go on a free guided tour and get inside some of the vaults, 10.30a and 2.30p from the Bargate during the summer.
Isle of Wight
When you're in Southampton don't miss the opportunity to visit this jewel of an island right off the southern coast. Restaurants, pubs, shopping and sightseeing cover this beautiful piece of land and make it a must see part of your trip while in Southampton. For further information on the island please visit the Isle of Wight Tourist Guide.
Whatever your reason for visiting Southampton, whether you are visiting friends or family, enjoying the Boat Show, negotiating a sale or planning a conference, you will find accommodation that suits all tastes and pockets, ranging from small family run bed and breakfasts to luxury waterfront hotels. And you don't even have to stay in the city.
The larger and more luxurious hotels are located around the town centre and waterfront areas. The five star De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel boasts a quayside location, yet is within walking distance of the town centre shops, art galleries and museums, as well as being close to the Isle of Wight ferry terminal, the docks, Ocean Village and Mayflower Park. For those preferring something a little less grand, the Hotel Ibis just along the road has good quality two star accommodation from just £52.00 per room per night. Hotel chains such as Forte and Novotel are also represented in this area of the city.
The Southampton Park Hotel in Cumberland Place, north of the Civic Centre, is a three star hotel situated opposite one of the Central Parks and is very convenient for the railway station, the Mayflower Theatre and the City Art Gallery. Nearby, in the area known as the Polygon, there are a variety of reasonably priced guest houses, such as Acorn Lodge Guest House and Linden Guest House, both with parking facilities - an asset in any city center location. You have a good choice of places to eat in this popular part of the city and nearby Bedford Place also has a wealth of cafes, bars and restaurants.
Out of Town
For those wishing to stay on the outskirts of town, perhaps near the University, the Common, or the General Hospital, there is a good choice of hotels and guest houses. This area is easily accessible from the airport and the motorway. Areas to look for include Bassett, Highfield, Shirley and Portswood. As well as privately run hotels and guest houses, such as the Nirvana Hotel or the Carmel Guest House, you can also find lodge-type accommodation, particularly convenient for those arriving in the city from the motorway. Try the Granada Travelodge off Junction 12 of the M3.
If you'd rather have the peace and quiet of the countryside, whilst at the same time enjoying good access to Southampton, why not try the Marriott Meon Valley Hotel and Country Club, which is set in acres of countryside and offers opportunities for a round of golf after lunch. You could even stay in a lovely New Forest village hotel, such as the Watersplash at Brockenhurst and maybe have a swim at the end of a long day's sightseeing or watch the ponies, donkeys and other forest wildlife from your bedroom window.
There is plenty of good quality, reasonably priced bed and breakfast accommodation in the New Forest area, in towns and villages such as Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Beaulieu. These all have good access to Southampton. Dale Farm House, built in the 18th century and set on the edge of the New Forest, has six rooms and offers a warm welcome at reasonable cost.
If you enjoy your food, perhaps a restaurant with rooms would suit you. Try the Old Well Restaurant at Copythorne.
Apartments and Self-Catering
For those wanting to stay a little longer or perhaps thinking of relocating to the area, fully serviced hotel apartments, such as Pimm's or Town or Country, provide your own space, with the option of self-catering. Self-catering accommodation is also available at Riverside Park, Hamble, which has touring pitches and luxury self-catering lodges.
Of course, not everyone wants to stay in a hotel or guest house and for those who want to spend their nights under canvas or in a motorhome, New Forest camp sites like Holland Parks are ideally located for anyone visiting Southampton. There are ten very well equipped sites in the forest, all within easy reach of Southampton and the local beaches. Call Southampton Tourist Board for information.
Staying in Southampton can cost as much or as little as you want to pay for it. Starting at £16 per person for bed and breakfast accommodation, to over £300 for a suite in a waterfront hotel, there is something to suit everyone.
Whether you decide to stay in or out of town, on the waterfront or in the heart of the city center, in a tent or in a luxury hotel, you will find an excellent choice of accommodation for your visit to Southampton. If you require any assistance in choosing somewhere to stay, Destination Southampton offers a free booking service.