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 waterfront developments , alongside older historical landmarks such as the Bargate.
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 The Common , a great expanse of open land encompassing 325 acres on which to stroll, picnic and relax. Its attractions include a wildlife center , a boating lake, a fishing lake, a duck pond and a large paddling pool complex, which is a great place to take the kids. It also hosts events such as the Ordnance Survey Balloon and Flower Festival, held in July each year, and Power in the Park . Common Conservation Walks , which are free, are held regularly.
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 City Art Gallery , which boasts a collection of over 2700 works of art, spanning six centuries. The gallery is accessed through the same entrance as the city library. Just around the corner, in the same complex of buildings, is the Guildhall , which is the city's major venue for rock, pop and classical concerts. A five minute walk away, following down Commercial Road, is the Mayflower Theatre , the main venue for great musicals, ballets and opera. Just behind the theater is the Gantry Arts Centre , which holds numerous live musical, theatrical and comedy performances.
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 The Dolphin Hotel , which was a popular place to stay during the 18th century, when Southampton was a very popular spa. Famous guests include Jane Austen, who is said to have danced there. A couple of minutes walk away is another historical place to stop off for a drink or bite to eat - the Red Lion , which is the oldest pub in Southampton and still retains its 14th Century vaults.
Other places of interest in the lower part of town are the Tudor House Museum , which gives a fascinating insight into 15th Century life, and the Maritime Museum . This gives a history of the development of the port and tells in detail the story of the famous Titanic, which began its ill-fated voyage from Southampton in 1912. Also around this part of town you can walk along the old walls. For an informative stroll take a guided tour of Old Southampton. These are organized by the tourist office and last for about an hour and a half. They are free, start from the Bargate and are held throughout the year.
At the bottom of town you will come to Southampton's waterfront, where there is much to see and do. Mayflower Park sits on the water's edge and is a popular place to watch famous cruise liners, such as the QE2 and Oriana, as they set sail from their home port. It also hosts the annual Southampton Boat Show each September. Adjacent to the park, ferries leave for the Isle of Wight , just in case you fancy a day trip. Further along you will find Town Quay , which replaced Southampton's pier. It sits out on the water and is a lovely place to enjoy a drink or evening meal. Walk further along the waterfront (about ten minutes) and you will come to Ocean Village , one of Britain's biggest marina developments. It has many attractions including cinemas , restaurants and bars. Major sailing events start from here, such as the BT Global Challenge yacht race and the Volvo Ocean Race, giving the waterfront a packed and lively atmosphere.
Outskirts of Southampton
Just a twenty minute drive from the center of Southampton, or a short train or bus journey, is the New Forest , which is not to be missed. Covering 145 square miles of woodland and open heathland, it is a place of true beauty. There are numerous attractions to be found, such as Furzey Gardens and Beaulieu . A good way to explore is by bicycle; if you don't have your own you can hire one in Brockenhurst. There are hundreds of places to walk, picnic and enjoy, whilst trying to prevent the New Forest ponies from eating your sandwiches!
Revolution is not a word readily associated with Southampton, a city more famous for its maritime tradition and the mercurial talents of its football hero, Matthew Le Tissier. But over the past decade a quiet revolution has taken place in Southampton's leisure industry, with the emergence of giant complexes such as WestQuay , Ocean Village , Leisure World , the Marlands Centre and the Bargate Shopping Centre . In their wake they have caused an explosion of new bars, pubs and restaurants, as major chains have moved in to feed and water the hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking to the new centers.
Dining in Diversity
At the heart of Southampton's leisure complexes are restaurants that offer an astonishing variety of choice. In Ocean Village alone, along with a prime waterfront view, you have the choice of Spanish tapas at Los Marinos , French cuisine at Cafe Sur la Mer and tex-mex at Mustang Sally's , not forgetting traditional English fish and chips at Henry Ramsden's .
This type of diversification can be found across the city. You can take Italian at Piccolo Mondo in Windsor Terrace, sample Mediterranean flavors at the Olive Tree in Oxford Street or grab a pizza at the nearby Pizza Express . Alternatively, you can choose Chinese at Ocean Dragon on Above Bar Street or experience Indian food at restaurants throughout the city, such as Spice of India on Commercial Street.
Pick a Theme
Themed restaurants have taken off in recent years. The Chicago Rock Cafe on Vincents Walk offers classic hits to enjoy with your steak or burger. Or there is the American themed TGI Friday's on Harbour Parade or the yachting themed Around The World at Town Quay .
If you are just after a coffee and a sandwich, try Cafe Soleil on the High Street or Del Marco on Above Bar Street. Or if it's a chip butty and a tin of mushy peas you crave, take a walk up Bedford Place, which is crammed with fast food outlets.
The biggest development in the city's bar and pub scene in recent years has been the rise of the pre-club bar. As Southampton's club scene has grown, with clubs such as Ikon & Diva at Leisure World and The Rhino Club in Waterloo Terrace attracting top name DJs, stylish pre-club bars have emerged, offering smart, modern surroundings and a soundtrack of house, garage and funk. These include The Lizard Lounge in Bedford Place and Bar Risa (with comedy club Jongleurs upstairs) and Bar Med on the High Street. Most of these bars have strict dress codes; smart casual dress is compulsory, jeans and trainers are forbidden. The Chain Gang
Many major chains have opened up pubs in the city in the past few years. Yates's now have a Wine Lodge on Above Bar Street and the Firkin brewery have a Ferryman and Firkin on the High Street, next door to one of the Walkabout chains' Australian themed pubs. In addition, the Just So brewery has opened a Tavern in the Town on Above Bar Street and from the JD Wetherspoons chain there is the Giddy Bridge on London Road.
Southampton's gay scene has also expanded in recent years. Popular gay pubs include Smugglers on Bernard Street, The Victoria Inn in St Mary's and Voltz on Above Bar Street. Arguably the best of all is The Edge on Compton Walk.
Despite this explosion of new bars, as a university and college town Southampton still has plenty of long established student institutions. These include Bedfords and The Ostrich in Bedford Place, The Mitre in Portswood and The Hobbit in Bevois Valley.
If you enjoy watching a band as you drink, several pubs in the city offer live entertainment. The best of these are The Brook and Talking Heads on Portswood Road, which have named acts and acoustic/Irish music respectively, and The Joiners Arms in St Mary's Street, which features up and coming bands.
Finally, it is worth remembering that many of Southampton's best pubs can be found in the countryside villages a few miles out of the city centre. For some pleasant scenery with your beer, try the Bishopstoke River Inn just outside Eastleigh, the Old George in Fairoak or the famous Jolly Sailor on the River Hamble.