Southampton (Photo:main: Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock)
3.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Southampton

Located on the south coast of England, Southampton served as the historic ocean liner gateway for the British Empire and the intense North Atlantic passenger trade to the U.S. and Canada. Today it is the U.K.'s - and indeed Europe's -- leading cruise port.

About Southampton


Pro

Excellent Titanic Museum; historic center; minutes from beautiful countryside and Isle of Wight

Con

Southampton was bombed heavily in WWII and much of the city is blighted by ugly architecture

Bottom Line

If you have just one day in the U.K. you are best off getting a train to London for the day rather than staying here


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Best known as the homeport of Cunard's Queen Mary 2, Southampton now hosts a wide variety of cruise ships in the booming European cruise market with the principal lines being Cunard, Fred. Olsen, Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises and Saga Cruises.

For most cruise passengers, it's the first and/or last port on a European cruise or Atlantic crossing. But New York it ain't, and the first thing you see as you approach is not the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, but a giant IKEA.

A pleasant, bustling city of around a quarter of a million inhabitants, Southampton has several areas of interest, though much of its historic medieval character was destroyed during World War II. In 1620, the Mayflower left from just outside the existing city walls, and the waterfront recalls this historic voyage. From Mayflower Park, you can enjoy watching the container ships pass en route to and from the freight terminal beyond the Western Docks, cruise ships departing from three separate locations, and excursion boats and cross-harbor ferries flitting around the port. Today, it is a modern shopping destination, business center and university town (the University of Southampton is a major British research university; among its well-known alumni is QM2 designer Stephen Payne with a large commercial port in addition to its year-round cruise operations.

It's not somewhere you want to hang around (unless you want to pick up some flat pack furniture), and most visiting cruise passengers will use Southampton as a gateway to nearby London (an hour and 10 minutes away by train). It is also a good starting point for the Isle of Wight (reachable by ferry) and the surrounding county of Hampshire and Wiltshire, with their numerous attractions.

Where You're Docked

Southampton has four widely separated cruise terminals. Two -- Ocean Terminal and QEII Terminal, accessible via gate 4 -- are located at the Eastern Docks, while the others -- Mayflower Terminal and City Terminal, accessible via gates 8, 10 or 20 -- can be found at the Western Docks. Both are about a five-minute taxi ride from the Southampton Central railway station, which is close to the city center.

Port Facilities

There is no reason to hang around the port area, and you can either walk (10 minutes) or jump in a cab (there are ranks outside each terminal) to the city center.

Good to Know

If you come from the U.S. and land here for the first time, please remember that people drive on the left-hand side of the road in the U.K. When crossing the streets, it is always best to look both ways. Drivers have the right of way, and they take it unless you cross at a lined or "zebra" crossing.

Getting Around

In Southampton: AutoEurope (800-223-5555) is a good first call. It represents a range of car rental agencies such as Avis and Hertz (and often offers better rates than the individual agencies). Hertz has a rental agency on West Quay Road and Southampton Central Station.

Between Southampton and London by train: Go to Southampton Central Station for Southwest Trains to London. You have the option of four departures an hour (some are direct to London; check timetables) with journey times of 70 to 90 minutes. To check schedules, visit Southwest Trains or National Rail Enquiries online. You can also call 0871 200-4950 for train timetable information. Fares are cheapest for departures after 10:00 a.m., so ask for a "cheap day single" (if you're not planning on coming back) or "day return" if you're planning on returning to the ship.

By bus: National Express coaches operate between Southampton's bus station and London's Victoria Coach Station, as well as between Southampton and the Central Bus Station at Heathrow Airport. Allow about 2.5 hours.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The local currency is the British Pound; for current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. You will find ATMs at many bank branches. Banks usually take a commission from exchanging currency, while some travel agents and exchange offices advertise commission-free exchange. Check the rates as they can vary) Credit cards are widely accepted, but please note that many taxis do not take them.

Language

This is England, so English, of course! But you'll hear many different accents by both native speakers and immigrants.

Food and Drink

Head over to Southampton's upscale district -- a few block stretch along Oxford Street -- where places like the Oxford Brasserie (33 Oxford Street, (023 8063 5043), for bistro fare. The White Star Tavern and Dining Rooms (28 Oxford Street, 02380 821 990) started life as a seafarers' hotel, and since opening early in the new millennium, it has proven itself to be a flagship establishment in Southampton. The interior pays homage to the history of the building, with chandeliers and comfy leather sofas. and cuisine is "modern British" with familiar names such as local sausages and mash, beer battered fish and chips and healthier options, such as pan fried fillet of salmon or breast of free range chicken. There are also three different canape menus. There are numerous other chain and bistro-style eateries in this stretch, including pizzeria Prezzo; Chimichangas, for Mexican food and Caf? Brazil, on adjacent Latimer Street.

On the Quayside, the Italian Ennio's (Town Quay Road, 02380 221 159) is a favourite for lunch and dinner. Cuisine is hearty, service is lovely, and the ambience is charming. Another popular choice on this stretch of road is the Spanish La Regata (Town Quay, 023 8022 3456 ) for tapas and seafood; it's open for lunch and dinner and has outside seating. Cuccini's on the Quay (023 8033 5045, open 11 a.m. until late) is another Italian option for lunch and dinner; evenings it features a jazz musician.

Newly-opened The Pig in the Wall is primarily a hotel, but is also serves hot and cold tapas-style piggy nibbles from its Deli counter at lunch and dinner.

Other recommendations in the city include Que Pasa (104-108 Above Bar Street, 023 8023 5930), a lively bar cafe right in the center of the city. The location is good if you've worn out your feet while shopping, as it is only a stone's throw from the West Quay Mall. The restaurant overlooks a small park, and it has tables outside as well. This is a casual place that starts to serve lunch at 11:30 a.m. and remains open past midnight each day. The food is nothing special -- burgers, fish 'n' chips etc. -- but at very reasonable prices.

Shopping

Southampton is where Titanic set sail for New York and the town celebrates this link with a dedicated exhibition at the SeaCity Museum. You can pick up everything here from Titanic models to mugs, books and tea towels.