In such a historic city, the best place to start is the Museum of Archaeology, which has displays from prehistoric, Roman, Saxon and medieval Southampton. If this whets your appetite, then head to Westgate Hall, a Grade I listed property in the Old Town that gives a glimpse of 14th century life.
Nearby you’ll see the town walls – built to protect the city from seaborne attacks – and the Bargate, built in Norman times as part of the fortified city walls, and once the main gateway to the city from the north.
Look out for the 15th-century Tudor House and Garden when it reopens this summer, and the Southampton City Art Gallery with its collection of Monet, Lowry, Gilbert & George and Antony Gormley. The Maritime Museum, housed within a 15th-century Wool House, is home to a Titanic exhibition – all are well worth a visit
The Titanic tragedy had a devastating effect on the city – of the 1,523 people who died, 549 came from Southampton – and the Titanic Trail is a self-guided walking tour available from the Tourist Information Centre for £1 that will take you to memorials and locations associated with the ship. If you’re visiting on Sunday 17 April, you can even pay your respects at The 2011 Civic Titanic Commemorative Service, at St Mary’s Church.
The QE2 Mile is another good walking trail, which runs through the heart of the city from the cenotaph down to the waterfront at Town Quay. It takes in some of the city’s parks and Holyrood
Church; the original QE2 anchor will be added to the trail later this year.
Shopping is another good way to spend a day in Southampton. Not only are there three shopping centres – Marlands, Bargate and the enormous WestQuay with over 90 stores – there are also the specialist shops of Bedford Place and Bargate Markets.
Friday is the best day for a bargain here, and there’s an Arts and Crafts market on the last Sunday of each month.
Come the evening, head to the Harbour Lights Picture House, the award winning independent cinema in Ocean Village, or The Mayflower a theatre dating back to 1928 which today hosts large-scale touring musicals, opera and ballets.
If you’ve got time to venture out of the city, the New Forest makes for a perfect day trip. Cycling, horseriding and watersports await less than 10 miles west of Southampton, in 145 square miles of ancient forest, complete with indigenous ponies. William the Conqueror termed this his “new hunting forest” in 1079.
It’s here that you’ll also find Beaulieu, home to the world-famous National Motor Museum, the Palace House (home of the Montagu family) and historic Beaulieu Abbey. Netley Abbey is another historic gem, a massive Cistercian abbey founded in 1239, and a source of inspiration for both Jane Austen and John Constable.
Finally, 20 minutes away is the lovely cathedral city of Winchester The climb up Cathedral Tower in the city centre is well worth the effort for the panoramic views it offers of this ancient landscape.
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