The city of Southampton is in Hampshire on England’s south coast and has been an important sea port for centuries. Today Southampton is the UK’s leading cruise port. The Mayflower initially sailed from here for America in 1620, before stopping off at Plymouth. The Titanic sailed from Southampton in 1912, and author Jane Austen lived in the old part of the city at one point. Although many of Southampton’s buildings were destroyed by bombing during WWII, some interesting historic sites remain, and it’s a place which rewards exploration. My daughter’s a student at Southampton, so I’ve got to know the city better recently. Here are some of most interesting things to see and do in and around Southampton for families with kids and teenagers.
SeaCity Museum is a fascinating museum in a splendid Art Deco building in the heart of Southampton. It tells the story of the people of the city and their connections with the sea and with the Titanic. When we visited, I found the Titanic exhibition very moving. A highlight is the room with a huge 1912 map of the city on the floor, showing households which had someone on board the doomed ship. More than 500 Southampton households lost a family member in the disaster. There are interactive exhibits at the museum and you can listen to recordings of local people talking about their experiences on the day that the news broke about the ship’s sinking. There’s also a coffee shop at the museum.
If you’re interested in the Titanic, you may enjoy this post from our trip to Belfast, when we went to the Titanic Experience there:
Six great things to do in Belfast
Southampton City Art Gallery
Right next to the SeaCity Museum, in the same Art Deco building, is Southampton City Art Gallery. The gallery is free to enter and is home to more than 5,000 works of art from the Renaissance to the present day. The impressive collection includes works by Turner, Monet and Sickert. There are gallery trails around the exhibitions and, if you book in advance, there are art activity sessions for children to take part in as well as talks, workshops and tours for all ages.
God’s House Tower
God’s House Tower is an arts and heritage venue at the entrance to Southampton’s Old Town. In medieval times the building was an important part of the city’s defences, at other times it’s been a sanctuary for pilgrims, the town jail, a mortuary, a mill and a warehouse. In the attraction’s immersive four-floor heritage experience, Stories Behind the Stones, each floor takes you on a journey in time, from the 14th century sacking of Southampton to stunning views over the modern-day city. God’s House Tower offers an interesting programme of exhibitions, talks and workshops, and also has a good cafe.
Tudor House & Garden
The building which is home to the Tudor House & Garden Museum dates from the 1400s. At the museum you can discover the stories of the people who have lived here over the centuries, from the Tudor Lord Chief Justice to a Victorian milliner. Apart from the house, there’s a beautiful Victorian knot garden and a real WWII air raid shelter to explore. Audio guides are included in the admission price. The museum is just a few minutes’ walk from the cruise terminal.
Jane Austen Heritage Trail
Jane Austen lived in Southampton from 1806 to 1809, with her mother and sister. Their garden backed on to the medieval city walls and, although the house where they lived is there no longer, its location can be visited. The Dolphin Hotel, which was a coaching inn in Jane’s time and is where she attended society dances, is still in the High Street. Southampton’s Jane Austen Heritage Trail covers these and other key locations in the city which are associated with the author. The trail starts from the Bargate, a medieval gatehouse in the city centre.
Read more: Jane Austen tour: the places where she lived and wrote
SS Shieldhall was launched in 1955, and today is the largest working steam ship in Britain. The ship is typical of the cargo and passenger ships that plied the oceans of the world from the 1870s until the mid 1960s. You can visit the ship in Southampton, and you can also book a trip on her – sailings range from two-hour to full-day excursions.
The city’s Mayflower Theatre is a large, independent theatre which offers a mixture of spectacular touring productions, from musicals – many direct from the West End – to dance, opera, drama, ballet and comedy.
Woodmill Outdoor Activity Centre
There’s a range of outdoor activities on offer in the North of the city at Woodmill Outdoor Activity Centre. Activities include archery, climbing, canoeing and kayaking. Water activities take place either on a lake or on the River Itchen and there are conditions to suit all abilities.
Isle of Wight
You can take a ferry from Southampton across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. You can travel either as a pedestrian or with your vehicle. The journey takes less than an hour and there are many family-friendly things to do on the island. Highlights include the award-winning beaches, Queen Victoria’s Osborne House, and fossil hunting.
Read more: Things to do in the Isle of Wight with kids
The edge of the New Forest is just five miles west of Southampton. The New Forest is a primeval oak wood which was used by William the Conqueror as a hunting ground. Today there are shaggy New Forest ponies living in the woodland as well as fallow deer and it’s a lovely area for walking and cycling. The New Forest is home to some popular family attractions including Peppa Pig World at Paultons Family Theme Park, the New Forest Wildlife Park and Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum.
Read more: 7 great outdoor activities in the New Forest
If you’re looking for vegan food in the city, check out this post which shares our tried and tested recommendations:
Six great vegan places to eat in Southampton
Where to stay in Southampton
Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin Hotel – a four-star hotel in a Grade II listed building in the city centre. This is the oldest hotel in Southampton, and is where Jane Austen once attended dances.
Leonardo Royal Southampton Grand Harbour Hotel – a four-star modern luxurious spa hotel on the waterfront. The hotel boasts an indoor pool and the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill.
The Pig in the Wall Hotel – a stylish boutique hotel in a Georgian building, with just 12 bedrooms, set in Southampton’s medieval city walls.
Over to you
Have you been to Southampton, or do you live there? Do you have any recommendations to add?
Jonny Blair says
What a marvellous post here and possibly the first time I have seen Southampton mentioned on a travel blog in a main post. I used to work nearby at Lymington and often got those Wightlink ferries to the Isle of Wight and back. Southampton is a cool city but I actually prefer nearby Bournemouth. Safe travels. Jonny
We have friends with a house in Southhampton that are always inviting us to visit! Now that I know there is so much to do, I will take them up on the offer!
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