Once you’ve got your holiday plans firmly in place, there’s every chance you’ll be looking for things to do in Southampton before your cruise. Whether you want to make sure you’re close by to the cruise port ready for embarkation (we all want to maximise those precious minutes in the buffet restaurant, right?) or simply extend your break, there are benefits to arriving extra early.

The good news is that Southampton is brimming with ways to spend those pre-holiday hours. Explore the city on foot or head a little further out of town – here’s some recommendations of what to do in and around Southampton before your cruise.

Explore the New Forest

It might look and feel like something from a fairy tale, but parts of the New Forest are only a 20-minute drive from Southampton.

The ancient woods and rolling heathlands that make up the New Forest’s 220 square miles once spread across an even greater area of Southern England, but whilst its extent has diminished, its beauty hasn’t. Bluebells bloom in spring and purple heather appears each autumn. More than 6,000 wild horses and ponies roam free in the forest, the result of a centuries-old law that dates from 1079 and remains in place today. You will happen across the ponies every few minutes, grazing on the gardens of grand Victorian mansion houses and drinking from babbling brooks, entirely undeterred by your presence.

The unique appeal of the New Forest is that it remains largely untouched and nowhere more so than on the Northern Commons. The Foxbury, Rockford and Ibsley Commons are steeped in history, various Bronze Age burial grounds and military bunkers breaking up leisurely walks through wild heathland and ancient woodland.

Step Inside Buckler’s Hard

Less remote than the commons, but no less charming, is the maritime village of Buckler’s Hard. Sitting on the banks of the Beaulieu River, one of the few privately owned rivers in the world, this historic hamlet has a lengthy naval history. Oak from the surrounding woodland formed the backbone of Royal Navy ships during the shipbuilding yard’s heyday, with fifty built here in the early 1800’s and sent to fight in the Battle of Trafalgar. Visitors can find out more at the Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum, before strolling a scenic couple of miles along Buckler’s Hard Yacht Harbour to the Beaulieu Estate.

Since the very first opening day of Beaulieu Estate to the public, it has become something of a tradition to display vintage cars in the grounds. Nowadays, this is done on a far larger scale at the National Motor Museum, where the tale of British motoring is told through a collection of 285 classic cars and endless memorabilia. The museum is a must for motor heads, with everything from the World Land Speed Record-breaking Bluebird, to J.S Irving’s Golden Arrow and the ‘is that even roadworthy?’ single-seater Peel P.50 displayed on any given day.

Sample Village Life

There are countless villages worth a visit in the New Forest, some of them beachy and bustling, others almost silent and home to more animals than humans. If you’re looking for the former, the coastal town of Lymington is quaint British seaside at its best. Elsewhere, Burley is the epitome of a New Forest chocolate box village. It has remained largely untouched over time and days here tend to be spent planning which of the thatched cottages you’d buy with a lottery win, drinking local cider in 16th-century pubs that once hid smugglers and highwaymen, and holding on tight in horse-drawn wagon rides through idyllic glades.

After a day in the New Forest, going back to normality sure isn’t easy. Luckily for you, you’re going on holiday in the morning.

Stroll Southampton’s Streets

If you’re wondering what to do in Southampton before your cruise that doesn’t involve leaving the city, you could always start the day with a cobweb-banishing stroll along the windswept Quayside. Once that’s fully woken you up, walk up French Street until you reach the Medieval Merchant’s House. A residence and a place of business, located in what was once the heart of the city, this building has now been restored to its late-13th century glory, complete with period furnishings. If it is open (usually only on Sundays), don’t hesitate to head inside.

If not, walk on to the nearby Tudor House & Garden. One of the city’s most important historical sights, this 15th century timber-framed building offers a rare insight into mercantile life in Tudor England. In fact, the story here goes back even further, as the garden conceals an old Norman house dating from the late-1100s.

For those craving more medieval history, a short walk from this house is The Bargate, an important Norman gate that was originally constructed around 1180. This Grade I-listed monument, made from stone and flint, was once the main gateway to the city and part of an extensive fortified wall, some of which remains today.

Take in a Spot of Culture

When you’re ready, take a stroll up through Southampton’s Central Parks (Houndwell Park, Palmerston Park and East Park) until you reach SeaCity Museum. The city’s most fascinating exhibition, SeaCity recounts the rich seafaring history of this city through all of the people involved, with focus on maritime topics as diverse as international trade, immigration, shipbuilding, and the city’s indelible ties to the tragic tale of the Titanic.

Next door is the Southampton City Art Gallery, with one of the most extensive art collections anywhere in the south. The permanent and temporary exhibits feature fine art from the Renaissance to the present day.

Looking for your next cruise from Southampton? Check out the latest itineraries here.


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