Looking for things to do in Southampton?
From the old city walls to the parks dotted across the city, the famous port of Southampton is the gateway to adventures. And it’s the home to some big events and pretty impressive maritime history.
Southampton’s origins started with being a key market town and in essence it still is with West Quay shopping centre at its heart.
But, you might not know that it’s got a quietly thriving arts scene, it’s peppered with parks and some wonderful historic trails.
Here’s your guide to fun, historic and cultural things to do in the city, to help you plan your next trip.
Days out in Southampton
These are my recommendations and all things I’ve done in the city. I really like to write mostly from experience so I know what I’m recommending is fun, or I can be honest.
You’ll find in-depth posts about each by clicking the link in the title. If I’ve not written a post yet there will be a link directly to the website instead.
To make this post easier to navigate I’ve added subsections
Within walking distance in central Southampton there is…
Art & Exhibition Spaces
The John Hansard Gallery
📍142 – 144 Above Bar Street
This newer gallery in the city is a contemporary visual art gallery and part of the University of Southampton. The space is clean, light and everything you’d expect of a modern gallery.
The collections regularly change throughout the year so there’s something new to see. And, I think there’s something quite dreamy about adding an art gallery trip into any city trip.
God’s House Tower
📍Town Quay Road
God’s House Tower really is something special and one of the top things to do in Southampton. The city is lucky to have this space which is part art gallery and part museum. Not only does it have regular changing exhibitions and galleries but also a cafe, and local heritage library.
And, as you might have guessed it’s all based in one of the city’s historic towers! The space is stunning and the restoration just incredible, do not miss the view from the top either. This is one of my favourite places in the city.
Southampton City Art Gallery
I’ve been going to this art gallery since I was a child. It’s part of the Southampton Guildhall building which is also connected to the Sea City Museum, the public library and the O2 academy music hall. The space is impressive but not large, meaning it’s a very manageable addition to a day out in the city.
The Art House
📍178 Above Bar Street
While not an art gallery this spot hosts arts night from live music to poetry, storytelling, comedy, performance and crafts. It’s a community run project and just a brilliant spot if you’re looking to do something completely different in the city. There’s plenty of local art on the walls too.
Museums & Historic
The Bargate & Medieval Old Southampton Walls
📍Above Bar Street
Kings, Queens, and market sellers alike have passed through this Grade I listed medieval gatehouse since it was built in the 12th Century, once a key entry point to the city. It won’t take long to visit this historic monument as it really is right in the centre of Southampton’s High Street.
The Bargate is also a great starting point to walk the Old Southampton Walls, a trail guide is featured in a later section of this blog.
You can still walk sections of the walls, some of which offer some height giving a different perspective of the city.
The Watergate Ruin
This spot doesn’t require long but the impressive ruin of the tower forms part of the historic medieval walls of Southampton. The Watergate was a collection point for taxes and duties built in the early 14th century, to accommodate goods that at the time were unloaded directly onto the shore. It sits opposite the Red Funnel Ferry Terminal.
Sea City Museum
At the Sea City Museum you’ll find 200,000 years of Southampton’s history including the city’s Titanic story. It also has a space which in the past has been home to touring exhibitions like the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year. My favourite part of the museum is the touring exhibitions space and what that attracts, the other historic elements are a little too traditional for my taste.
Tudor House and Garden
I swear every Southampton child and probably every Hampshire child has visited the Tudor House and Garden on a school trip. And, there’s a reason why, this historic building perfectly encapsulates the era of the tudors and houses 800 years of history.
The traditional museum set up has a real charm about it and plenty of detail for history fans. Plus, it’s stark architectural contrast compared to its modern surroundings makes for quite a sight. You don’t expect to see such a historic building surrounded by structures from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Don’t the pretty Westgate Hall which is also a part of this offering.
Solent Sky Museum
Hampshire and Southampton’s aviation history is curated in this hanger stashed with plenty of chocks away tales. Key to the war effort and significant aviation advancements Southampton’s place in the skies is showcased at this museum. Again, it’s very traditional but there’s a lot to look at.
Walks & Tours
Southampton’s Heritage Trails
📍Various routes through the city centre
Travel back in time with these great walks highlighting Southampton’s history and some even include art. It’s a great way to discover the city.
- Jane Austen Heritage Route
- QE2 Heritage Route
- Walk the Medieval Walls
- Titanic Trail – download available below
- Mayflower Mosaic Trail – This walk takes you around the Old Town to find 12 charming mosaic ships created by local artist Will Rosie. It was commissioned by the Mayor in 2019.
Southampton Ghost Tours
📍Various Southampton Locations
I’ve been on many a ghost tour through Southampton and it’s a fantastic way to explore the city and learn about its history.
📍Various Southampton Locations
Visit Experience Hampshire’s website for unique Southampton experiences. My favourite, unique to Southampton is touring the city’s hidden historic vaults.
Southampton is peppered with lots of green spaces and parks which really does make it stand out from other cities. I’ve picked a handful here and highlighted my favourite bits of them.
My favourite Central Park is Watts Park for the famous wisteria arch which is a total marvel when in bloom.
This park sits between Southampton Solent University and is home to the bandstand and tennis courts.
Hoglands Park & Houndwell Park
📍Central Southampton, 563 Vincents Walk
Home to a skate park and big play park, accessible from West Quay and the main high street. Very pretty in Autumn.
The biggest park in central Southampton, great for running, longer strolls and picnics.
Not the nicest park, but very accessible from the high street, has an excellent annual firework display and gives quick access to the shoreline.
A pretty little park opposite the ports and just down from the Old Town. Especially beautiful in Spring, Summer and Autumn.
East Park & Watts Park
📍Above Bar Street & 21 Cumberland Place
These connected parks are home to the famous wisteria arch, sculptures, a fountain and war memorials. Well kept flower beds makes a statement late Spring and Summer.
Town Quay Park
A small space well tended by a ‘Friends of’ committee, I’ve done yoga here over the years and it’s a tranquil little spot away from the hustle.
Other nearby parks
Royal Victoria Country Park
📍 Netley Abbey
A fantastic park that runs from Southampton’s shoreline up into woodland trails. The historic old chapel landmark makes a great focal point and place to explore too.
📍Manor Farm Road
A beautiful park that wraps around the river, perfect for strolls, runs and picnics.
- Shopping? If you love a bit of shopping, head to West Quay on the main High Street for clothes and all your commercial favourites, East Street for an incredible Oxfam Music shop, and just off it Vinilo, an awesome record shop.
- Night out? If you’re looking for a night out, head up to Bedford Place. This is where you’ll find the bulk of bars and pubs.
- Eating out? Restaurants are scattered across the city, check out my other posts for recommendations.
- You could easily combine some of these shorter cultural experiences in the city for a longer day out.
If this guide has helped, let me know in the comments below and follow me @r_henders on Instagram for more great things to do in Hampshire and beyond.
If you liked this, take a look at these other great places to visit and things to do in Hampshire…