More synonymous with cruise ships than Jane McDonald, Southampton is often overlooked as a stopover on the sail to somewhere more exciting. But stay a while – a weekend, to be precise – and you’ll be treated to trend-setting shopping, head-tilting art and fine dining that’s worth dropping anchor for.

One of the best things about Southampton is that all of the city’s major attractions are within walking distance of each other and the main train station, saving you the hassle of taxis or transfers. Board a direct service from London and you can be supping on sea air and settling into hip harbour life in just over an hour. To help you on your way, follow our guide to the ultimate things to experience in Southampton in 48 hours.

Day one

Admire artwork at the city’s main gallery

Buy a coffee and a bite to eat on the train en route, so you can arrive in the city perked up and ready to explore. Your first calling point is just a short stroll from Southampton Central train station: Southampton City Art Gallery (Commercial Road).

Amongst the 5,000 pieces on display, spanning eight centuries and a whole globe’s worth of influences, you’ll see there’s a strong accent on British art here. So whether you’re into mind-bending Surrealist shapes, or strokes of Cornish landscape by the St Ives clan, there’s plenty to ponder at this free art gallery.

Explore SeaCity Museum

After lunch, submerge yourself in Southampton’s maritime history at the SeaCity Museum (Havelock Road). This attraction is a brilliant choice if you’ve got kids in tow, thanks to its three interactive, permanent exhibitions that tell the city’s sea stories in fun new ways.

You’ll be transported back in time to 1912 Southampton with the sights, sounds and model replica centrepiece at the Titanic Exhibition. Count the decks and appreciate the small-scale splendour of the dining hall, or listen in on the excited voices that coursed through the city the morning of her maiden – and only – voyage over a century ago.

The museum is right next door to the iconic Clock Tower, where you can climb from the depths of the city’s sombre history to enjoy fantastic views across Southampton.

Browse Southampton’s independent shops

Now it’s time to move on to a different kind of artistic expression, starting with a browse at Beatnik Emporium (Above Bar Street). This kooky vintage shop is a history tour in itself, selling quirky threads from the 1940s through to the 1990s. If clothing and accessories aren’t your bag, check out their fabulous selection of vinyl records.

Pre-loved bargains in hand, wander up Above Bar Street, past two of Southampton’s parks (Watts on your left, East on the right) towards the next stop on your shopping tour. Hooch and Candy (Bedford Place) is a magical land where alcohol meets sweets. If you know your Hershey’s from your Reese’s Pieces, then this will hit the spot. Alternatively, pick up one of their craft beers for later.

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Afternoon Tea

HarBar

As the light softens and your energy takes a dip it’s time for a refuel. If anything is going to wake you up then it’s the kaleidoscopic display of soft furnishings at HarBar – not so much a riot of colour as a full blown uprising. From 12 till 4.30 you can choose form a variety of menu choices including egg and cress sandwiches, scones, meat platters and there’s even a fizz-based option.

The Undercroft

One way you can see how Guildford has remained true to its roots is the Undercroft on the high street. Back in the 1200s wealthy importers created these semi-subterranean spaces to ply their wares from. A fascinating glimpse at the past.

Theatre

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

There’s something for most people at The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. With touring comedians, seat-fillers like The Mousetrap as well as more highbrow theatre pieces, you should definitely check the What’s On? pages to ensure your visit isn’t coinciding with something you’d love to see.

G Live

With classical concerts by the likes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, kids shows, dance performances, tribute acts and high-calibre comedy, G Live is covering a lot of bases. But check the itinerary as you may be able to surprise them with tickets to steal their heart.

Evening Meal

The Kitchen

A 10-minute taxi ride away you’ll find the Asperion Hillside Hotel and in there, The Kitchen. The restaurant has just 10 tables so it’s an intimate affair and reasonably priced, too, with the most expensive dish just £23.50.

Live Music

The Back Room

In the back of The Star Inn you’ll find… you’ve worked out the name already haven’t you? This has been small music venue for some time now – The Stranglers famously played their first gig here. Today The Back Room still showcases new talent as well as cabaret acts, so keep an eye on their website for details.

Sunday Lunch

There are plenty of places in the town centre to get a Sunday lunch fix, from pubs to posher fare. But why not build it into a walk? If you head to The Seahorse in Shalford you can get there after a 30 minute walk down the river Wey. It’s everything you want from a country pub: exposed beams, a garden and, at the time of writing, the ability to order a trio of roasts. That’s why we’re here right? (Vegetarian options are also available.)

If you fancy a more energetic wander then there are lots available. Godalming is found south down the river and then west out of the town and has numerous establishments. North of Guildford there’s The Jolly Farmer which is a wonderful Fullers country pub that’s a little over an hour’s walk away.

Heading Home

Once the lunch is done and you’ve got back to your hotel it’s time to start thinking about extrication but luckily the line to Waterloo and Portsmouth remains very regular and will deliver you at home after a restful sit down in short order. Now, when was that report due?

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