Things to do in Southampton: medieval city walls, top-end theatre and Peppa Pig World
Found yourself in the bustling town of Southampton for the day? Our Local editor Shelley shares her knowledge of the city where fish fingers were first tasted (fact), the Titanic set sail and Craig David grew up.
Whether you're a local looking to explore the city or you're taking a family trip to the UK's south coast, make the most of your time with our pick of where to go and things you must see.
Tell us a bit about the area - what are Southampton's best features?
Southampton is an ancient city dating back to the Stone Age. It boats a rich history, which despite heavy bombing in the Second World War is still evident from the medieval city walls, recently restored Tudor House and the Victorian Docks. The Docks are now home to SS Sheildhall, the largest working steam ship of her type in Britain. Many famous ships have sailed from Southampton, the most notable being of course the Titanic and Mayflower.
If the weather is nice, where should we go to make the most of it?
Southampton has some beautiful outside spaces. In the centre of the city you will find Southampton Common, home to the Hawthorns Wildlife Centre and cafe. It's a beautiful place to walk and take children, and the common is also a site of special scientific interest.
Southampton's central parks have recently been awarded prestigious Grade II listed status on the English Heritage register and St James' Park, Weston Shore and Mayfield Park were awarded Green Flags in 2013, ranking them among the best green spaces in the country.
If you head down towards Netley, you'll find the Royal Victoria Country Park, complete with miniature railway, heritage visitor centre, sensory garden, museum and a brand new adventure playground.
We hear that Southampton has a strong community vibe. Where's the best place to make the most of this?
A subsidiary charity of Solent Mind, Mayfield Nurseries takes pride in promoting mental health through horticulture. Mayfield is a working plant nursery complete with shop and cafe in Mayfield Park, close to the city centre. Through volunteer work at the nurseries, people with mental health problems or learning disabilities can gain skills and confidence, giving them a boost towards gaining employment or simply improving their mental health. The shop stocks all you need for your garden and together with plant sales helps to raise funds to keep the nurseries going.
Can you give us a tip-off about your favourite hidden gem in the city, which only a Sotonian would know about?
Perhaps not quite hidden, but certainly deserving of being highlighted is The Pleasure Park in Bassett. This is a park dedicated to rides and attractions for younger children and features all sorts of rides including a helter skelter, swingboats, chair-o-planes, snake slide and more.
We've got pocket money to spend - where should we head to do some shopping?
The city centre is dominated by the WestQuay Shopping Centre, which offers more than 100 shops including John Lewis, Hollister, Apple, French Connection, Marks & Spencer and other big brands.
Close by is the Marlands Shopping Centre, home to the Disney Store, Matalan and a number of boutique stores.
For a more unique experience, you could try Oxford Street for boutiques, salons and bars, or Bedford Place for independent shops, cafes and restaurants.
LouLou's Vintage Market takes place regularly in Southampton, featuring all things vintage and vintage-inspired. You can also purchase local produce from the farmers' markets held on the third Saturday of every month at Nelson Gate.
We might have spent a bit too much in all those shops <blush>. Where can we go for some free entertainment?
Spanning eight centuries, the permanent collection at Southampton City Art Gallery tells the story of Western art from the Renaissance to the present day. Regularly changing exhibits ensure a fresh experience every time you visit and the Gallery frequently runs workshops for families and children, as well as monthly art clubs and gallery trails through the exhibitions.
On the outskirts of Southampton to the west you will find the beautiful Lepe Country Park on the coast, and to the east lies Manor Farm Country Park, with 400 acres of ancient woodland to explore and walks along the River Hamble. Both also feature playgrounds, picnic areas and some truly stunning scenery.
The kids are getting hungry after all that exploring, where's best to take them to eat?
For a child-friendly eating experience, try Dock O' The Bay, which offers a kids' menu, great facilities and fantastic sea-themed scenery. If the kids' menu doesn't appeal, the restaurant will do half-sized portions of most meals on the main menu.
If you're on more of a budget then you can't go far wrong at Ikea's restaurant, just next to the busy shopping centre at West Quay. They offer a kids' box with a sandwich, yoghurt, fruit and snacks, or you can order a child's portion of the hot meals.
And if we manage to ditch the kids for a night, where can we go to let our hair down?
The Mayflower Theatre regularly attracts major West End shows and Broadway productions. Look out for Rock of Ages, Singin' In The Rain, and Wicked this autumn.
If it's music you're after, Southampton Guildhall hosts major national rock, pop and comedy tours; The Brook in Portswood offers a more intimate experience for smaller acts and The Joiners hosts some big names in rock, punk and metal.
For a quieter night out, visit Harbour Lights Picturehouse cinema, which was opened as a partnership between Southampton City Council and the British Film Institute and offers great alternatives to mainstream blockbusters.
If we've exhausted the attractions of the city (which would be hard!) and have time to explore a bit further afield, where can we go for a day trip?
A short drive from Southampton will bring you to
Nature lovers should head to the New Forest Wildlife Park where you can mix with deer and wallabies, see wolves, otters, badgers and many more. The park holds regular animal encounters throughout the day with their knowledgeable staff. The adventure playground should be a huge hit with older children, and there is also a smaller playground with varied equipment and a sandpit for the under fives.
If however, like me, you have a child who is tractor-obsessed, then you are going to have to visit Longdown Activity Farm, where you can also see all of your children's favourite animals, take part in feeding them, and get to cuddle the rabbits.
"We love the library in Swaythling; the food that can be bought along Burgess Road and the Common which is close by too.
St James Park which is not too far away has a great play area and Parklife Cafe which sells kids' hot chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles for a super-cheap price as well as great brownies, coffee and hot snacks." BlueDoorEA
"Hedge End is nice for families - good schools, shops, parks, paddling pool, Manor Farm Country Park. Botley is nice and has a more rural feel." Trebletrouble
"Romsey has a proper town centre with local shops. It's lovely but £££" Jenijena
Beaulieu, the National Motor Museum, offers a wealth of attractions including World of Top Gear, On-Screen Cars, Classic Cars and plenty of rides for the children including a monorail and vintage bus. You can also visit the Palace House and Beaulieu Abbey.
We loved our visit so much - we never want to leave. Where would you recommend living in the city?
Southampton is a large city, but one thing is certain - wherever you live, you will not be far from beautiful green space.
If you want to be close to the university try Highfield and Portswood. Netley has a beautiful country park on its doorstep. Botley has a more rural feel, and Hedge End is particularly good for families and close to Manor Farm Country Park. Come and post on our local talk page and find out more from people who already live here.
About the Local editor
My name is Shelley and I recently took on the role of Local editor for Southampton. Formerly a solicitor, I now work from home around my two children, aged one and five, and I'm really enjoying finding out more about Southampton and what it has to offer children and families.
I'm always on the lookout for interesting things to add to the site and blog, so if you know of an event or great place to go, don't keep it to yourself - tell me and I'll share it.
Last updated: 8 months ago