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Guide to Southampton - Places to Visit

Updated on March 9, 2013
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Background

Southampton is one of Britain's most historic ports, for one it is where Titanic set sail from. Since the Medieval times it has been an important port for trading. The commerce encouraged industrial action as well as becoming a strong military site. However, Southampton became a strategic point in World War II and was extremely damaged. This did not stop the city from becoming prosperous in the future.

Southampton

First Things First...

Have you ever been to Southampton?

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Southampton Water Gate

These are the ruins of the Water Gate in the old Southampton city wall, which was the main gate on the south side of the city and opened onto the docks.
These are the ruins of the Water Gate in the old Southampton city wall, which was the main gate on the south side of the city and opened onto the docks. | Source
This hand drawn map shows the extent of the city's walls after 1338.
This hand drawn map shows the extent of the city's walls after 1338. | Source
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The City Walls

The City Wall started its construction in the thirteenth century. The first stretch covered the north and east sides of the city as the south and west was protected through the Solent waters. However, in 1338 Southampton was invaded by the French and the wall did not hold up it's duty to protect the people. After the invasion the King decided that the wall should be extended to cover the western side of the city.

Unfortunately, over time the walls have been neglected and fallen into disrepair. Since the 1500s the city was trying to find a balance between keeping it's defenses and making and income. Parts of the tower and walls were rented out as apartments to try and do both but as time went by and invasion became a much smaller threat the walls collapsed.

The walls are still available for tours and viewings but as the city has grown the walls have essentially become part of the furniture. They are often hidden behind shops, car parks, or in some places do not exist any more. The Tudor Museum has helped to promote the walls but there is still much to be done.

Reference: In Pursuit of History

The Tudor House and Garden

This museum has to be Southampton's most important historic building as it contains over 800 years of history. You can find the Tudor House in the heart of the Old Town facing St Michael's Square.

The House has so much to offer from history and often has collections on show. For example they are showing the following:

  • Glass planes from the Banqueting Hall decorated with birds
  • The Book of hours: a personal prayer book
  • Penny Farthing: a high bike
  • Sedan chair: an early form of taxi for transporting wealthy people around town

There are also a series of temporary exhibitions where the local museums share their collections.

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Memorials

Southampton has quite a few memorials dotted around the city centre. Many of them are war memorials from all the hardships the city has been through. There are, however, three memorials that I would like to point out.


  • The Cenotaph: this is Edwin Lutyen's first permanent cenotaph (monument) dedicate to those who died on Word War I. It can be found in Watts (West) Park.
  • Titanic: this is a memorial to the engineers of the RMS Titanic and is placed in Andrews (East) Park, on Above Bar Street. There is also another memorial dedicated to the musicians on that ship opposite.
  • Isaac Watts: this is dedicated to the hymn writer who was born and raised in Southampton

Churches

There are plenty of places to worship in Southampton but these two churches are the most popular venues to visit due to their wonderful construction.

  • St. Michael's Church: the central tower dates back to the Norman times.
  • St. Mary's Church: the largest church in the city traces its roots back to the first Saxon settlements of the 7th century.

Art Galleries

Art plays a very big role in Southampton's culture. The two most popular galleries to visit are:

  • John Hansard Gallery: based on the Southampton University Highfield Campus. The gallery runs exhibitions and events throughout the year.
  • City Art Gallery

Theatre

When you have such a vibrant city such as Southampton it would be hard to think of it without it's two biggest theaters:

  • The Nuffield Theatre: based on the Southampton University Highfield Campus it hosts performance from Shakespeare to contemporary dance.
  • The Mayflower Theatre: the largest theatre in Southern England that hosts West End musicals, opera and ballet companies.

Both have such a great atmosphere and the prices are reasonable too.

Music and Entertainment

So far you have got art and theatre so where would we be without music?

  • The Guild Hall: hosts performances of comedy to punk rock. You name it, it's been there.
  • The Turner Sims: based at the University of Southampton's Highfield Campus, this concert hall is great for hosting music of the classical and modern era as well as student performances.

There are plenty of local pubs and bars that have regular music nights such as Soul Cellar, The Hobbit, and The Joiners.

Shopping

Nothing compared to London but Southampton has a great centre for shopping in. The city centre has a great balance between main stream shops and fantastic little places that are tucked away and hold their own secret treasures.

The four biggest shopping centers are:

  • West Quay
  • Marlands
  • Above Bar
  • Bargate

In between these centers are so many brilliant shops. Now that you have an outline of the city with the shopping centers as landmarks you can explore all the little shops without getting lost.

The Markets

Throughout the year Southampton plays host to many different types of markets. At the moment (Winter 2012) Southampton is hosting the Winter/Christmas Market which has many stalls selling their delicious food, stalls selling trinkets and other fun items, and there is even an ice skating rink down near the Bargate Shopping Center.

During the rest of the year you'll find Farmer's markets, German markets, flower markets, clothes markets, and loads more. There is normally a market on at least once a week at any given point and I can highly recommend going into town to visit the different markets.

Where to Eat?

You really wont go hungry in Southampton there are so many places to eat. The best places to eat are:

  • Bedford Place: the business hub and student area full with independent restaurants and select bars.
  • Below Bar & Old Town: pubs, themed bars and restaurants
  • Oxford Street: the restaurant quarter

Sport and Activity

If you're coming for more of an active visit then there are plenty of things you can do. Here are some of the most popular activities:

  • The Quays: this is a swimming and diving complex features a gym and fitness studios
  • Bitterne and Chamberlayne Lesiure Centers: both sport gyms, pools, martial arts, racket sports, gymnastics and many more.
  • Southampton Outdoor Sports Centre: it has 2 synthetic sports pitches, 12 tennis courts, a new cross-cycle track, along with a number of football and cricket fields.
  • Southampton Water Activities Centre: anything to do with the water can be done here - power-boating, sailing etc
  • Southampton Alpine Centre: the place to be for winter alpine sports from skiing to snow boarding.
  • Southampton Golf Course: an 18-hole course that is open to everyone.

And Finally ...

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