Novelist Mehmet Murat Ildan wrote: “A journey to the unknown shores needs a port, a ship, a wind; but more important than all of them: Courage; courage to leave the known for the unknown!” As a port city, the shores of Southampton have watched some of the world’s most famous ships set off for the new world. From the Mayflower (which celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers passing through the West Gate in 2020) to the Titanic, the spirit of adventure is forever intertwined with the city’s cultural heritage.
Our group of three is staying at Moxy Southampton, an easy 10-minute walk from Southampton Central station. Instead of an official front desk reception, we check in at the bar where a barista doubles as the concierge. Early on we’re pleased by how walkable Southampton is and how close all the main sites are from one another. The city has a lively young vibe, largely due to the University of Southampton’s 22,000 enrolled students. Everywhere we go, restaurants, bars, and cafés are busy with families and large groups enjoying meals together and basking in the sunshine. Tables are strewn onto the streets of trendy Bedford Place for al fresco brunching and the historic Oxford Street comes alive in the evenings with residents dressing to the nines as they dine and bar hop.
After an evening enjoying the city’s nightlife, we’re up early to meet our guide Godfrey Collyer from See Southampton. He begins our walking tour by telling us about Southampton’s history as a gateway to the south of France, to the Isle of Wight, and for the British army, to war. We hear about how the phenomenon of ‘double high water’ gave incoming ships an advantage and solidified Southampton as a favoured port.
We make our way around the city, past the timber-framed Westgate Hall, through the beautiful East Park with its floral arches, and around the old wine vaults that doubled as bomb shelters, and learn not only about places of historical significance, but the remarkable people who once called Southampton home, such as artist Philip Brannon, suffragette Janie Terrero, and father of hymnody Isaac Watts. In fact, one of the key individuals who helped paint a picture of Southampton’s past was Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen, whose personal letters helped historians visualise what the town was like back in the early 1800s.
Our time in Southampton showed us how the past and present can live in a playful balance, from the pop-up summer bar by the city’s old walls to the Dancing Man Brewery housed in a 14th century wool house, the city makes for the perfect break for anyone looking to sail back in time, even if just for the weekend. Read below for LLM – Luxury Lifestyle Magazine’s top tips to see the best that Southampton has to offer.
Where to stay
Looking for a playful hotel in the city centre? Make a beeline for Moxy Southampton by Marriott. Check in at the bar, grab your key, and you’ll find a welcome cocktail waiting in your room. This dog-friendly property has a young, colourful, and fun vibe and is perfect for people on-the-go who enjoy all the modern comforts. Book a Moxyfied family room if you’re taking the kids or are travelling with a group. With a 43-inch LCD TV, free Wi-Fi, a Queen-sized bed, and an especially comfortable pull-out sofa bed, it’s the perfect space for entertainment and relaxation.
A night’s stay at Moxy (breakfast included) starts at £123 based on three sharing a room.
Hidden within the city centre’s medieval walls, THE PIG (playfully referred to as The Pig-in the Wall) has 12 rooms, rustic charm, and an in-house deli restaurant that celebrates the best local ingredients. Every corner of the hotel has the distinct luxury country house feel that the group is known for, but The Pig-in the Wall, the smallest of the bunch, has that extra dose of cosiness with plush chairs and antique furnishings.
Rooms start at £149 per night.
Where to eat and drink
With locations in Southampton, Bournemouth, and Brighton, XOXO is the place to go for a boozy brunch. Perfectly located in the bustling Bedford Place neighbourhood, XOXO has seating for 100 and an al fresco area that’s ideal for sun-trapped dining. Using fresh, local, and high quality ingredients is the name of the game and the wide variety of menu items ensure there will be something for every member of your party. Pair your spicy Bloody Mary with a cooling blue banana smoothie bowl or have a traditional Bellini with the outstanding potato stack with chili, spring onion, truffle mayo and a poached egg.
Reminiscent of a trendy New York pizza joint, pam pam, a pizza restaurant and cocktail bar sits within a red-bricked building on buzzy Oxford Street. Favoured by a young and glitzy clientele, the menu features crowd favourites like salt and pepper squid, mushroom and truffle pizza, and caters for dietary requirements with items like the vegan chickpea cracker with beetroot salsa and herbed cashew cheese and gluten-free pizzas.
Ruby’s at The Grand
As you make your descent past the floral-printed wall and into the basement, you’ll quickly realise that Ruby’s at The Grand is beating to its own drum. From its quirky paintings to its eclectic menu, Ruby’s is a cocktail lounge with attitude. Each cocktail is characterised by three words, so whether you’re feeling tarty-fruity-tropical (that’ll be the Mango and Basil Margarita) or savoury-punchy-balanced (try the Miso Martini with forest mushroom oil, if you dare), there’s always a drink to match your mood.
Within the self-proclaimed group of ‘restaurants with rooms’, each member of THE PIG has home-grown food at its core. With an ethos that focuses on staying local – all produce and suppliers are from within 25 miles of the restaurant – THE PIG-in the wall has a glorious deli-bar with a daily-changing offering. Cosy up fireside as you munch on piggy bites like the moreish soft cheese with herbs and sourdough croutons; a confit duck salad with asparagus and radish from Sopley Farm in Christchurch; Moroccan-spiced chicken thighs; and a vegan dark chocolate tart.
If outdoor drinking is what you’re after, head on over to Spritz Social on The Esplanade, a picket-fenced Aperol Spritz summer pop-up bar. Prop yourself up on a bar stool for some craft beer or book a beach hut for your group. If you’re feeling peckish, fear not, as there are burgers, light bites, and milkshakes to curb your cravings.
What to do
Take a step back in time at the SeaCity Museum
Learn about the city’s maritime history and the people who call it home at the SeaCity Museum. Hear about the industries that fuelled the port city, the local troops who fought for their freedom, and the area’s strong sports history. Dive deep into the city’s most famous luxury liner, the ill-fated Titanic. With interactive exhibits, numerous artefacts, and video interviews with survivors, you’ll be captivated by the magic and mystery that has surrounded the Titanic for decades. Ticket prices for all exhibitions are £9 for adults and £6.50 for under 16s.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm (Last entry 2.30pm).
Float away with a Stand Up Paddleboard lesson
Zip up your wetsuit and get that core working at the Woodmill Activity Centre, a 15-minute drive from the city centre. With a range of activities to choose from, from kayak polo to a high ropes course, the centre has everything an outdoor lover could want. One of the highlights of our trip was a Stand Up Paddle (SUP) board lesson with instructor Tieghan (boards are £15/hour to hire; a two-hour session with a British Canoe Association certified instructor is £35 including all equipment).
After learning different strokes, finding our balance, and making a few laps around the lake, we ended our lesson with an attempt at snaking through a course of floating gates. All kit and equipment is provided, so you only have to bring yourself and your sense of adventure. Woodmill Masterclass sessions are also on offer (£15.50 pp for 2 hours), with weekly-changing disciplines like kayaking and canoeing.
Unlock the city’s secrets with a See Southampton walking tour
As a not for profit group of independent guides and volunteers, See Southampton delivers fun and educational tours with passionate guides. Whether you’re after some wine tasting in secret vaults or a behind-the-walls walk around the old town, you’ll always find a tour to join or arrange for a custom experience for you and your group.
Getting there: South Western Railway covers multiple routes to Southampton Central Train Station. A direct train from London Waterloo will take you just over an hour.
For visitor information and answers to frequently asked questions about the city, check out the Visit Southampton website: visitsouthampton.co.uk.