Southampton. It’s known as a place you sail away from, isn’t it? The cruise port city. It is a fabulous place to kick off a cruise, no doubt about it. But it’s much, much more than just that. I recently spent a day walking round the city, getting to know the place a little bit. Off the back of that, here’s my thoughts on why Southampton is the city to go to, not through.
It’s a Port City
This might feel like starting with the obvious, but Southampton is a port city. That makes it a rich and vibrant tapestry of a city, find a thread and see what you discover. Ports tend to be full of history, character, diversity and stories. Southampton is no exception. And, of course, this city has the Titanic connection. The ship was built in Belfast but departed for her maiden- well, only- voyage from here.
The Titanic connection is strong, but not all is always as it seems. Take the Titanic pub, pictured below. It’s the only pub in the country to carry the name of the White Star liner and it looks like it has been about since the day she departed. However the pub used to be called something else and was renamed and rebranded to mark the 100th anniversary of the sailing. And now it’s a nice little place tucked into the drinking scene and the history of the city.
It’s a Great City for Walking
I think walking is the best way to see a city, and Southampton is a good one for putting one foot in front of the other. It’s fairly compact and well sign posted. There are two easy-to-follow routes around the old town, The Titanic Trail and City Walls Walk. We set out to walk the Titanic trail, went off piste, spotted the quirky signs inviting us to ‘ Walk the Walls’ and ended up merging them together. It worked out well because, like I said, this is a great city for walking.
If you are after a walk that takes you through the history of the place, I’d recommend a look at Historic Southampton. It’s got suggested walking routes, interactive maps and some fascinating stories from Southampton past.
I guess the idea of , ‘drinking like a sailor’ has its roots in truth because every port city I’ve ever been to has had enough pubs to ensure you’ll never go home thirsty. Or sober. Southampton is no exception. It has haunted pubs, one that was home to Jane Austen and one that was the venue for a trial of traitors in the 1400. FYI, the traitors were found guilty and executed along the road at the city gate. Hopefully they got a last tipple of choice before they met their end.
There’s also a historic pub with a story in the form of The Grapes. It goes like this; The Slade Brothers of Southampton- Alfred, Bertram and Thomas- signed on to sail on the Titanic as firemen. They reported onboard at 08.00 on sailing day and were dismissed with instructions to be back by midnight. They did what any group of young brothers might have done, and went off for a few drinks. Maybe a few too many, ending up at The Grapes with some of their shipmates. Long story short, the brothers stayed for one drink too many and missed their sailing. The Titanic went down with the Slade brothers still safely ashore. There are various versions of this tale but I like this one. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
The moral of the tale seems to be, always say yes to one for the road. You never know, it might just save your life.
If old stones could speak, Southampton would be a chatty place because there are historic buildings by the bucket load here. Old city walls, pubs, historic hotels, a former courthouse. Street after street takes you to a different time and place in the story of the city. The really nice thing is the number of places where the modern city has just woven itself around its historic past. Modern blocks of flats mingle with castle remains and office blocks back onto old city walls. It’s fabulous.
The Tudor House & Garden is a Grade I listed beauty that has survived boom and bust, the Blitz and slum clearance and is now a museum. From a different era but just as impressive, former hotel South Western House. I thought the place looked a bit abandoned and ripe for exploring, but apparently it’s been turned into luxury apartments. Mr THL was relieved, I would have talked him into doing something that was probably a Very Bad Idea.
To be fair, very few good stories begin with, ‘remember that day we decided to be grown up and sensible?’ do they?
The City that Remembers.
On a serious note, this is a city that has known loss. Any city that sends it’s sons and daughters to sea is likely to lose a few. Conflict, the Titanic connection… historical events have taken their toll on the old place. Southampton can’t rewrite it’s history, but it makes sure it isn’t forgotten. Holy Rood Church, is a beautiful example of this.
Holy Rood, also known as The Sailors Church, contains a family of memorials to the men of the Merchant Navy who died in WW2 and also to those of the Merchant fleet who served in the Falklands. It’s also home to Titanic Crew Members memorial. It’s a humble, beautiful memorial and one of many you’ll find around the city.
It’s Looking Forward
Historic port, historic walls and stories of the past… but Southampton isn’t resting on the history. This city is looking forward. Gods House Tower, a historic building that has been a defensive tower, a prison and a museum has been reinvented as an arts and heritage venue. Next year, Southampton will host the group stage games for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022.
And even more excitingly, as if new developments and major sporting events aren’t enough to shout about, Southampton is bidding to become City of Culture 2025. The city moved a step closer to achieving this when it became one of the eight longlisted locations out of twenty initial bids. Good luck, Southampton.
If you’d like to know more about Southampton, find Visit Southampton here and on Instagram as visit_soton.
If you enjoyed this post you might also like to read about Kiel & the Laboe Memorial.
I think Southampton is an underrated city as it has so much more to offer than just ferries to the Isle of Wight and its cruise terminal. Some lovely photos Helen.
Thanks Marion- it’s definitely got a lot going for it. Hopefully the City of Culture bid, regardless of result, will bring publicity to the people and projects that make Southampton an interesting place.
As a teenager back in the 70s it was a place for some fun, underage drinking and… well, not much else. But yes there are some beautiful bits. The Above Bar gate for some reason always pleased my father, I think because from memory its position caused a degree of traffic chaos. And it is also the place where I first watched Hampshire play cricket (1970) and football (ditto) saw Pink Floyd Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and lost my hearing (I also saw the Carpenters and the New Seekers so not completely cool) and the best grafitti – on a poster outside a church there was a huge Jesus Saves! under which some wag had painted ‘and Lorimer (Leeds United forward with the hardest shot in football) hammers in the rebound’. Got to live Southampton and its denizens. Thanks for the memory jogs Helen..
I’m glad I brought back some good memories, it sounds like you had some good times! The city still has some rough edges I think, and I’m hoping they won’t smooth them off entirely.
Indeed a good city, is a mix of the serene and the Sh£€ty
I think port cities, like neighbouring Portsmouth, have a certain tough grittiness that makes them very attractive. They take both work and pleasure very seriously.
A girl after my own heart, I love a port city… rough edges and all!
I can see I shall have to make a return visit as you’ve uncovered far more than I did when I last walked that city. I agree with you, it’s got a lot going for it and deserves its place in the sun, but I think it gets a bit of attention now that the cruise ships are coming back, don’t forget cruise passengers also disembark here to ‘tour the city’.
There was a flippin’ huge cruise ship coming in when we were there and it was great to see. I don’t imagine the cruise world is operating fully again yet but it’s good to see that people are sailing again. I really enjoyed a wander round Southampton and hope the place finds success going forward- fingers crossed for City of Culture!
I would love to visit here! I was just looking at tickets not so long ago. Thanks for sharing
It’s definitely worth a visit, I’m hoping to get back soon to explore some of the museums.
It looks like an interesting city with lots of history and fabulous architecture. I love the Old Sailors Home. Maggie
Thank you so much- yes I loved the Old Sailors Home too. It’s a beautiful old building and I’m glad it has been cared for.
I used to like walking through the old town and walls – Southampton has played a massive part in our lives – Art College, Met my future Wife, Sons treatment, and work opportunities… Not that I’d want shake to off, but its never far away from us!
You’ll always feel a little pull to Southampton, then! It’s a fabulous city, I feel very much at home there. I’m so sorry for the late reply, I somehow missed your comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, very much appreciated!