Sea City Museum

Weekends Away: Southampton

Weekends Away: Southampton

We take a trip to the bustling port city

I must admit that up until recently I knew very little about Southampton, other than its role as a major port for cruises around the world. For a quick weekend away from London, I’d always been drawn to its neighbouring countryside and all the charms of the New Forest. But clearly I’ve been missing a trick, particularly when the weather forecast means that a wander in a National Park is anything but alluring, well, for my family anyway.

A search on the Southampton tourist board website revealed its potential – there are several historic sites (all indoors), plenty of pubs and restaurants, plus a couple of big shopping centres for pre-Christmas gift-buying.

Located in an impressive art deco building, our first stop was the SeaCity Museum, where the city’s connection to the Titanic is brought to life. The fateful ship departed from Southampton docks for New York on April 10, 1912. Many of the crew were from the area, and hundreds of passengers spent the night here.

Through personal stories, an incredible range of photographs and a ‘courtroom’ inquest at the end, you realise the heart-breaking impact on the city. Particularly poignant is a simple street map covering the floor, displaying red dots on the households which had lost someone. The museum doesn’t need to rely on high tech wizardry or gimmicks and is all the more effective for it. The stories speak for themselves.

Smaller exhibitions in the museum trace the history of the city and look at the communities from around the world that have made Southampton home. An impressive model of the Queen Mary takes centre stage.

Just five minutes’ walk away is the Marlands shopping centre, home to a range of off-beat shops such as a vinyl store, a Japanese anime specialist and a shop packed with film and music merch. The kids could have spent an afternoon here. It is also where you’ll find Stakks, which is dedicated to all things pancakes. There are as many permutations as you can think of, and we were very impressed by light fluffy American versions topped with brunch favourites. It’s also excellent value and generous too.

We checked in to room2, a small group of ‘hometels’ that are getting great reviews for offering cool design-led affordable places to stay that work perfectly for families. Our family Master Loft room offered a futon on an upper level for the kids, a kitchenette, a big comfy double and a rather lovely long sofa along the large window overlooking a beautiful park. There’s a trendy café (a favoured haunt of freelancers with their laptops) which turns into a lovely low-lit bar for an evening tipple. It’s handy for snacks and coffee in the morning or you can order a simple bag of breakfast staples to be delivered to your door.

The rain had stopped so we took a blustery wander around the marina, which is lined with restaurants and bars, and would be a fabulous spot to sit outside and admire the yachts in the summer.

The autumnal weather propelled us to find a pub instead. Our walk took us past the former White Star Line offices where families anxiously crowded the steps each day to await for news from the Titanic. Only 212 of the 897 crew survived.

If you head to Oxford Street, home to independent restaurants and bars, you’ll find pubs associated with the Titanic, where passengers would have stayed, such as the White Star Tavern (formerly The Alliance Hotel) and The Grapes, which was used as a backdrop in the Hollywood film. Legend has it that several men missed the boat as they were too waylaid by their beers.

We’d booked in for dinner at The Pig In The Wall, part of the popular Pig hotel group, which is known for informal yet cool boltholes and has a big emphasis on home-grown and locally sourced in its restaurants. This outpost has a smaller dining offering and a limited menu but is no less appealing. It’s an atmospheric and historic spot in the Medieval walls themselves and the bar/deli restaurant is all elegantly mis-matched furniture and floral lampshades. We enjoyed a local beer – a Unity Conflux pale ale, which was delish. Between the four of us, we tried the sausage roll and sweet chilli pork belly bites – utterly divine, plus a cured meat selection of English charcuterie, which was a wonderful offering of perfumed hams and sausage. Brownies off the cake display were also eagerly devoured.

The next morning we headed around the corner to God’s House Tower, which was built in the 15th century to protect the town. It was also a debtors prison. We climbed to the top for a view over Southampton, which gives you a sense of the city. Don’t miss the lovely café which has fabulous pastries.

Next stop was the Tudor House. This is an incredible half-timbered building, with its upper levels suspended over the street. What’s quite surprising about Southampton is its range of buildings. Among the post-war structures (the city was heavily bombed in WW2 with over 4,000 houses destroyed) you’ll find some historic treasures. You can even walk along the Medieval walls. Inside the Tudor House, there is a vast range of things to see, from a banqueting hall to Victorian and Tudor kitchen exhibits.

You can then take a wander up to the West Quay Shopping Centre. It has all the usual brands but curiously, it is also home to an impressive dinosaur skeleton, Big Sara the Allosaurus, which was discovered in 2015 in Wyoming, and is on loan there until next summer.

We wanted to wander back to Stakks for pancakes again for lunch but immediate hunger pangs got the better of us and we munched on burgers overlooking said dinosaur.

All of the family were impressed with our city break. It was just the tonic before the Christmas rush with plenty to occupy a range of ages, whatever the weather. Southampton is easy to discover on foot – and discover it you should. It’s home to some historic and cultural gems– if we’d had more time, we would have also gone to the art gallery and The Mayflower Theatre is a popular host to touring productions, from dance to West End shows. We also passed the Dancing Man Brewery – a 14th century woolhouse now home to a restaurant and microbrewery that looked fun. And, of course, you can watch the vast cruise liners come and go, which is an impressive sight in itself.



  • room2 Southampton prices start from: £119. A breakfast bag delivered to the door is £9.50pp per night