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Southampton is an International Maritime City, located centrally on the south coast of the United Kingdom. Underrated in its water-related things to do, there are lots of water activities and waterfront locations to enjoy. Many new leisure and residential developments are popping up around the Southampton waterfront, bounded by three sides of water – Southampton Waters, and the rivers Itchen and Test. Much of the access to the waterfront has been taken by previous commercial enterprises, however this is changing as the city realises the opportunities that lie within. There are a number of marinas and wharves that have developed into destinations in themselves.
Southampton is also known as the cruise capital of Northern Europe. With a cosmopolitan atmosphere borne from centuries of international trade, Southampton is one of the UK’s leading ports and liveliest cities. It combines medieval walls and buildings, modern shopping and entertainment complexes, marinas, culture and nightlife. Explore the city’s rich culture and long history. Try the wide range of leisure activities in the surrounding countryside. All before relaxing to recount the day in one of Southampton’s many harbour-side restaurants, cafés and bars.
And don’t forget, Southampton was where the Titanic left the White Star Dock, later known as Ocean Dock in 1912. Needless to say, Cruise Ships leaving Southampton now have a lot more luck and success in their sailings. There are a lot of Titanic related things to do in Southampton so if this part of history interests you, you will be in the right place!
£ – inexpensive option, great for being budget-conscious
££ – mid-priced, good value for money
£££ – high end, unique experience
Southampton Water Activities
Summer or winter, Woodmill Outdoor Activities Centre is a great way to get out on the water and is a great thing to do in Southampton with kids. Enjoy the fresh air with one of their many paddle activities. Whether that be a canoe, kayak or even Katakanu, you can enjoy one of four waterways, all year round. Hire your own or take a guided tour. Paddle around on the private, secluded lake which is nestled within the Woodmill forest or if you’re a more seasoned paddler, head out on the River Itchen and down to The White Swan pub for a beer or two. This really is one of the best places to go kayaking in Southampton.
With easy access to all main routes, public transport and local hotspots, nestled in the heart of the city and affordably priced, there really isn’t a reason not to visit and discover your own adventure. You can even have a go at fishing!
Calshot’s Activities Centre is part of the Hampshire Outdoor Centres group. It’s located 16 miles from the city centre. Situated right on the doorstep of The Solent, this area is ideal for watersports, including windsurfing.
Kids and adults will love the paddleboard and kayak hire in Southampton and they also offer a range of courses to build experience. Take lessons in windsurfing, powerboating, paddlesports and dinghy sailing.
Southampton Water and its adjoining rivers are perfect for a blast on a jet ski tour. No experience or licence is needed for these tours.
Get kitted up, go through a safety briefing, be shown the jet ski controls and off you go! Explore The Solent at your own pace whilst jumping waves and taking in the views. You won’t be disappointed with this experience.
Check out this best jet ski hire in Southampton post for more information.
Southampton has a number of lovely beaches to explore, they just might not be as sandy as you may expect from the UK’s south coast. Most beaches are shingle beaches along Southampton Water and are perfect for a stroll, a relaxing picnic or fun with the family for the day. Don’t miss the opportunity to head to Calshot beach – one of the best beaches in Southampton with gorgeous colourful beach huts overlooking The Solent and Isle of Wight.
Wanting a sandy beach? Check out our guides to Portsmouth (30 minutes drive) and Bournemouth (50 minutes drive) for some of the best beaches along the south coast of England. Travelling around the county? Check out our full guide to the best beaches in Hampshire.
Float Hampshire, located in the beautiful Hamble region of Southampton, just 6 miles south-east of the city centre is a great way to get out on the water to explore some of Hampshire’s best rivers, coastline and marinas. They offer kayaks and stand up paddleboards to hire by the hour. Extended hire is available if you want to take the equipment away with you.
Take the passenger ferry from Town Quay across to Hythe, a village that nestles between the edge of Southampton and the New Forest. An ideal place to visit, Hythe is known as ‘The Waterside‘ with its waterfront, boasting fantastic views across Southampton Water and the River Test, especially of the majestic cruise liners which come into the port most days.
The ferry leaves from Town Quay,a 10-minute walk or short ride on the Quayconnect bus from Southampton city centre. It departs every half an hour during the week, and hourly on weekends.
This is a perfect way to see Southampton from the ocean, sailing across smooth waters whilst taking in the true size of Southampton waters and its port.
Visit the beautiful Isle of Wight for the day with Red Funnel Ferries. Choose from the hi-speed Red Jet service that takes less than 30 minutes or the larger vehicle ferry that takes one hour to cross The Solent. Both are unique experiences, especially when coming side by side to the number of yachts in this sailing mecca of the UK.
Whether travelling by foot or vehicle, there are plenty of waterfront cafes, restaurants, shops, marinas and natural spots to soak in the relaxed coastal and nautical vibes of the Isle of Wight.
Red Funnel Ferries depart from Town Quay, a 10-minute walk or short ride on the Quayconnect bus from Southampton city centre.
Blue Funnel Cruises offer day cruises and party nights, departing close to Southampton city centre. Their vessel “Ocean Scene” is fully heated with a bar, sundeck and amenities onboard. They offer day Hamble River Cruises, Isle of Wight Cruises, themed party nights and are available for public or private charter services.
This is a great way to explore Southampton from the water, whilst enjoying the water wellness experience of being out on the boat.
Andark Lake is an outdoor water lovers dream, located in Lower Swanwick, 6 miles east of Southampton city centre. Here you’ll find a purpose build inland diving and swimming lake, the size of an Olympic swimming pool. There is a beach-style sloped entry with orange buoys that make a 100m loop, or open swimming can be at the middle or edges of the lake.
The lake is ideal for diving training, being 7 metres in max depth, with 2 platforms at approximately 1.2 metres and 3.5 metres. There is an underwater world with objects such as a bow section ribs of a 17th-century barge, a sunken jet-ski, a mirrored wall to check out your kit and tie-down points on the bottom of the lake.
Andark Lake also offers triathlon training and paddleboarding in Southampton.
On-site there are also some great facilities. These include modern changing rooms with showers, a cafe, free wi-fi, shop and classroom/conference room. The shop includes swimming and diving gear, gas and air and they can also carry out repairs if needed.
If luxury is more your style, charter the beautiful “Euphoria”, 55 feet of luxury motor yacht for half or day hire. The vessel can accommodate up to 12 people, (excluding the skipper and host) whilst you cruise the stunning Solent in privacy. Perfect for that special occasion, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Sail the solent on a beautiful, modern and spacious yacht. Set off from Lymington, 18 miles southwest of Southampton, with a glass of English sparkling wine. Explore the ideallic sailing waters before anchoring off the Isle of Wight for a delicious freshly prepared 2-course meal. Relax on deck or jump off for a swim. The choice is yours. This is a great afternoon or evening experience where you can join in as much as you like, or sit back and soak up this water wellness experience.
This activity is popular so book now to avoid disappointment.
Experience the heritage “Steamship Shieldhall”, the largest working steam ship in Great Britain. Over 65 years old and run by proud volunteers, it continues to uphold the tradition of ‘steam at sea’. You can experience the golden age of steam by booking an excursion or visiting her in Southampton. Take a tour onboard with its original engine room, the bridge, traditional instruments and gleaming brasswork with true admiration.
Located in Southampton city centre, Limitless Float offers float tanks for that ultimate water wellness experience. Unplug from the world, remove the distractions and reconnect with yourself as you float in their giant space pods, filled with quality Epsom salts, allowing you to freely float.
If you haven’t heard about floating before, check out their website for the reasons behind it and why it is so beneficial.
This experience by far is one of the most relaxing water-relating things to do in Southampton.
Stay on dry land and explore the Secrets of the Titanic on a guided walk. Hear stories and secrets of the Titanic aswell as about the past and present of Southampton’s Port. Walk from the modern bustle of Town Quay, through Mayflower Park where the famous Pilgrim Ship departed, around the historic Southampton Town Walls and discover the ships famous connections with the QE2 Mile.
Accessible to all, this is a great way to explore Southampton.
SeaCity Museum is based in the heart of Southampton, which tells a story of the historic connections with the Titanic, the sea, the people of the city and their fascinating lives. This interactive experience designed for all ages brings maritime history alive.
There are a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions at SeaCity Museum with a Gift & Souvenir store available.
Town Quay is the public waterways transport hub of Southampton. Where the sea meets the city, there is so much to see and watch from this quay. Grab a coffee, take a stroll, jump on a ferry, soak in the maritime vibes, enjoy the panoramic views or tuck into a stunning meal.
Take a visit to Mayflower Park, Southampton’s largest waterfront park on the outskirts of the city centre. As part of the old City with views over the River Test, it’s a popular place to watch famous cruise ships set sail along with maritime vessels coming and going. Sit along the park benches along the waterside, or relax on the numerous grassy areas. Plenty of parking is available and you might even spot an ice cream van!
If the weather is not looking so great, head indoors to The Quays Swimming Pool. Here you’ll find a wide 8 laned 25m heated swimming pool, diving springboards at 1m, 3m, 5m, 7.5m and 10m platforms, a spa, sauna and steam room. During the school holidays, they have the huge inflatable Aqua Warrior – the ultimate aqua assault course!
Public and family sessions as well as diving taster sessions are available for all.
Southampton Waterside Dining
Experience stunning Ocean Village Marina views from Harbar on 6th at the Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa, located just outside the city centre. Enjoy exceptional food and drink in elegant surroundings, whilst soaking in the marina vibes with the sunlight reflecting off the oceans’ surface and gleaming yachts.
Take waterside dining to the next level at The Jetty, also located at the Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa, close to the city centre. Join locally-renowned chef patron Alex Aitken’s, specialising in locally caught seafood with sensational seasonal ingredients, eclectic wines and ocean views to relax with.
Waterfront seafood dining does not get any better than this in Southampton.
Ocean Village Waterside Dining
Ocean Village is home to a number of Southampton waterside restaurants. Relax and dine here as you admire the number of stunning yachts floating in the modern marina.
Check out the popular Banana Wharf, known for its waterfront al fresco dining with plenty of options on the menu for everyone. Book a table at the dog-friendly Maritimo Lounge and you won’t be disappointed with their Breakfast Club or Tapas specials. Pitcher & Piano have great views from their raised restaurant and bar, with the perfect cocktail waiting for you after a day exploring Southampton.
Blue Jasmine is popular with locals, known for its contemporary Southeast Asian Fine Dining. Where east meets west, its seasonal ingredients offer premium Asian dishes whilst you sip through the bespoke range of cocktails with a distinctly eastern twist.
Another marina favourite is the independent The Bistro in Shamrock Quay. It has that dockside vibe, whilst serving modern quality food with its own individual twist. This bistro is tucked away on the outskirts of Southampton’s city centre, but it’s well worth the find.
Take a trip to the other side of the River Test and you’ll find Seashells Restaurant in Hythe. This lounge bar and restaurant have some of the finest waterside views of Southampton with sensational seafood dishes.
Located 11 miles from the city centre by road, this restaurant is also accessible from Hythe Ferry.
Love Indian food? You’ll love this award-winning Indian restaurant right on the waterfront at Town Quay. Located right at the end of Southampton High Street, it is unique as it is set within the old Royal Pier Pavillion and certainly makes a statement. Follow them on social media and you’ll get a sense of how proud the owner is of his quality restaurant.
Don’t miss what is known as one of Southampton’s best Indian restaurants, with undoubtedly the best waterfront views.
It goes without saying that most Yacht clubs that have restaurants often have the best waterside views! The Royal Southampton Yacht Club, located close to the city centre is no exception. Their appropriately named restaurant and bar, Gins Clubhouse, is open to the public for premium waterfront dining. Overlooking the beautiful Beaulieu River, it is accessible by both road and water.
As if one Banana Wharf in Ocean Village wasn’t enough, there are two in Southampton, both offering exceptional views. Head to Hamble, 6 miles east of the city centre and you’ll find another in Port Hamble Marina. It’s the perfect mix of tropical and oriental dishes, with traditional favourites, seafood, pizza, pasta and a good breakfast to start your day.
If you are looking for something a bit more casual, check out Mettricks cafe in Woolston, just 3 miles from the city centre. Within the newly developed area of Centenary Quay, this cafe has some of the best views in Southampton. Any coffee lover will love Mettricks, and if you love brownies, you are in for a real treat!
Southampton Waterfront Stays
Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa is Southampton’s only 5* hotel. Its unique design feels like a huge yacht welcoming you as its guest onboard the middle of Ocean Village. Located just outside Southampton city centre, the hotel includes luxurious bedrooms overlooking Southampton Waters, hotel spa, hot tub, pool, sauna, fitness centre and choice of 2 restaurants with outside terrace dining.
This IHG Hotel sits proudly next to the Southampton Cruise Terminal, right on the edge of the city centre. Well located to a number of attractions and things to do, it also boasts panoramic views of the Southampton waterfront. Clean and modern bedrooms invite you for a good nights sleep with parking available onsite.
This hotel scores well for couples travelling to Southampton.
Stay in the picturesque Hythe, across the water from Southampton city centre. This relaxing location is perfect for a balcony overlooking the Hythe marina, watching as the pleasure vessels come and go. The adjoining Boathouse Restaurant is ideal to dine in whilst overlooking Southampton Waters with a good value for money, British menu with a seafood flair.
Stay in the heart of Southampton in style at Ennio’s. This luxurious, inviting hotel overlooks Town Quay with calming waterfront views. Their contemporary rooms with oversized showers and exclusive bathrobes, feature solid oak furniture, working desks, the finest Egyptian cotton bedding, L’Occitane toiletries, large flatscreen televisions, business laptop safes, complimentary wi-fi, air conditioning and Cafe Du Monde hot beverages.
Ennio’s also has its own Italian restaurant located on the ground floor. Facing directly onto the old Southampton waterfront, this traditional homemade cuisine has been voted the best Italian restaurant in Hampshire. It’s also one of the top 10 in the UK. If you fancy Spanish Tapas, check out La Regata next door, a small authentic Spanish restaurant. Its interior decor,part of a lovingly converted old Victorian warehouse is unique with its European flair, whilst keeping the old nautical feeling alive.
Have you been to Southampton recently? Thinking about visiting this international maritime city? What are your favourite water-related things to do in Southampton? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
Water loving British girl who moved to Australia and seriously caught the travel bug! Loves to explore and share destinations that inspire others to spend more time on the water and in the great outdoors. Typically, you’ll find her on a boat or next to the ocean, often in a daydream!