Southampton offers all the experiences and opportunities you expect from any modern metropolis, all within walking distance of the station. From the mega-shopping experiences of Westquay, through theatres, cinemas and music venues, to great eating and drinking, Southampton caters for everyone. And don’t forget that Southampton, a major port for centuries, is still the setting off point for many an exotic cruise, not to mention the beautiful Isle of Wight. Southampton is also home to a Premier League football club – St Mary’s is a friendly, welcoming ground – and you can enjoy world-class cricket at the Ageas Bowl.
Outside Southampton Central train station you can catch a bus up the hill into the centre. For best value, get a PlusBus ticket when you get your train ticket - you can hop on and off any bus in the city for the entire day. There are lots of local cab companies, such as Radio Taxis too.
The Ocean Cruise Terminal is just under a mile away, and is next to Red Funnel Ferries – trips to the Isle of Wight could cost you as little as £8.60 each way, and Red Funnel even lay on a free shuttle bus between the station and the ferry terminal if you have a ferry ticket. The Red Jet high-speed catamaran can get you to the Island in just 25 minutes. The station car park has over 180 spaces and almost 400 bicycle spaces.
Up the hill from the station is the bustling city centre with streets of shops, restaurants and offices. Turning left takes you to the entertainment heart of the city, with the Mayflower Theatre, O2 Guildhall, and the City Art Gallery Turning right onto Above Bar street takes you into the shopping quarter, which borders Palmerston Park. It's great for a picnic spot, especially if you visit on a Friday or Saturday in the spring, summer and autumn, when the city centre market is on.
If up-and-coming music artists is more your style, head to The Joiner’s Arms in St Mary’s, a 200 capacity music pub that’s been wowing discerning music fans with new discoveries since 1968 – both Radiohead and Ed have played there in the past.
Southampton is also the gateway to The New Forest. Book cheap train tickets for the 13 minute ride out to Brockenhurst and you’ll find yourself slap in the middle of this glorious greenery before you know it, with miles of trails to walk as well as the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and the wonderfully-preserved shipbuilding village of Bucklers Hard easy to reach by bus.
Westquay is a short walk from Southampton Central station. Westquay offers top household name shopping, and with over 100 stores could be reason enough by itself to visit Southampton for the day. And as well as the market on Fridays and Saturdays, the centre of the city offers great shopping all week round.
For something a little more boutique you can head out to Bedford Place, just a little north of the main shopping quarter, where you’ll find independent fashion retailers, shoe makers and a lovely wine merchants.
Being on the coast Southampton is a great place to sample some terrific seafood. For those looking for something glitzier, Soleto, just a stones-throw from the Mayflower Theatre, offers excellent local produce.
If you're on a budget, then Mike’s Fish & Chips is a local’s city centre favourite, serving Britain’s national dish as well as anywhere in the country.
As well as all the major chains, some of which offer fantastic rates – especially midweek – there are plenty of boutique hotels dotted around the city. The Blue Keys is a big hit with visitors, a tranquil, family-run hotel just out of the city centre.
The Pig In The Wall is a fabulous former Georgian townhouse and pub stuffed full of charm and character.
Those looking for peace and quiet while seriously indulging themselves could consider Careys Manor in Brockenhurst, right in the heart of the New Forest and just 13 minutes away by train.