My nine-year-old son and I were invited down to Southampton recently to see what the city has to offer for families. It’s somewhere I’d not actually visited before so I was eager to see how much we could cram in during our stay. We had a really good time, and I thought I’d now share with you my top tips for things to do with kids in Southampton.
We’d been invited to spend 48 hours in the city by Go!Southampton and would spend the first day exploring the four sectors of the city – the cultural quarter, city centre, old town and maritime quarter. I’ll share our highlights with you, but I’m not sure we really did more than scratch the surface on this first visit. It definitely left us wanting to come back for more.
Everything is well signposted within the city and there are information boards dotted around, making it easy to work out where you are and what there is to see close by. We found the city very walkable, I’d checked ahead to see if we could park at our hotel early, which we did and we spent the rest of our day on foot. There are pay and display car parks around the city as well as metered on-street parking.
In the cultural quarter, our top pick was the SeaCity Museum which has a fantastic Titanic exhibition, showcasing the lives of those who lived and worked aboard this iconic vessel.
The displays are interactive and we both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I do love museums that bring school work to life, and the SeaCity Museum does just that. Anything that makes history that little more real for children has to be a good thing. My son got to stoke the boilers, navigate the ship (with some useless guidance from his mother) and even got to sit in judgement at the court hearing held after the Titanic sank. It really is very good. There was so much to take in, this is somewhere I can see us revisiting in the future.
But the SeaCity Museum has more to offer than just learning about the Titanic. There is also the Gateway to the World and Southampton Stories exhibitions, which both offer more interactive displays and a chance to learn about Southampton from prehistoric times through to more modern times.
Right next door to the SeaCity Museum is Southampton City Art Gallery, which is free to visit. As well as the art to see on display, there is an area for children to create their own masterpieces, as well as a playhouse.
There are five parks that feed into each other which run along the top of the cultural quarter and down the side of the city centre. They offer some tranquillity in the midst of the city and space for children to run free. We walked through Watts Park, East Park, Palmerston Park, Houndswell Park and Hoglands Park and viewed Mayflower Park from the city walls when we explored the old town.
Top tips for things to do with kids in Southampton over the next few weeks include the Urban Beach at Seaside in the Square (Guildhall Square) where a range of 100 free events are taking place until 11th August 2019. We got to sit back and relax on some sun loungers, feel the sand beneath our toes and enjoy a refreshing drink whilst listening to the entertainment. If we’d been feeling a little more energetic we could have tried the surf simulator or placed Boccia on the day we visited. We also saw that you could use pedal power with the YMCA to make your own fruit smoothies which looked like great fun. You could make sandcastles or just chill out.
We didn’t venture shopping at all on this trip, but both the Marlands and West Quay shopping centres are centrally located, offering a range of retail options.
I always think that one of the best ways to get to know a city is to grab a map (yes I still prefer a paper map to an app on my phone!) and go for a walk. I’d looked on the SeaCity Museum website before our trip and downloaded details of the Titanic Trail, we also picked up a tourist map in the City Art Gallery and decided to track down a few of the different Titanic memorials along with a few other points of interest as we walked our way around the cultural and old town quarters of Southampton.
We found the memorial to the Musicians and Engineer Officers as well as the Titanic Crew along our walk. My son loves map reading and following a trail, it’s also a great way to get him reading when we find each point of interest! We found ourselves walking the QE2 Mile at one point and he was very excited to find a huge anchor or two as well.
You can’t fail to notice the Bargate Monument as you walk along from the High Street into Above Bar Street. It was the medieval gateway to the city and still looks impressive today.
It’s a great starting point to explore the old city walls and find traces of Southampton Castle. My son loves climbing ancient walls and he couldn’t wait to see Southampton from a different viewpoint.
We found a few little gems on our walk through the old town, including the 15th century Tudor House, Westgate Hall, a Merchant’s House and signs of long lost housing. There was also a memorial to Jane Austen.
My son loves old aeroplanes and he’s building quite a collection of model aircraft so I knew he’d enjoy getting up close to some real ones at Solent Sky.
The area is home to the iconic Spitfire and the museum celebrates this and Hampshire aviation in general. The Flying Boat was quite a hit with my son and they have a quiz trail for children to complete which he enjoyed. As well as the range of aeroplanes to admire there is also an exhibition showcasing the Hampshire Police and Fire Heritage collection which is well worth a visit in itself. The staff are knowledgeable and welcoming and again, it’s somewhere we’ll definitely enjoy revisiting in the future.
In the maritime quarter of the city, you will find Ocean Village, which has a host of eateries looking out across the marina. We were invited to try a meal at Banana Wharf, which is somewhere we’ve not tried before.
They have an outside terrace as well as the main restaurant and offer a selection of choices including pizza, steak and fish. We decided that the size of the pizza on the kid’s menu would be too small for my son so we ordered his meal from the main menu. But we were eating with a group of families and their kid’s meals were really quite large, so worth asking for info when ordering. I opted for tempura prawns as a starter, moules frites for main and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. All were delicious.
At the end of a busy day, we found Room2 the perfect location for a city break stay in Southampton. Found on Queen’s Avenue, in the old town, we thought the hotel was a great location. It took us twenty minutes to walk from the hotel to SeaCity Museum at the top end of the cultural quarter of the city, and Ocean Village was within ten minutes. You can check-in from 2 pm and you don’t need to check out until 2 pm the next day, again making it a great choice for a city break, so you can really maximise the time spent in the location.
There is an onsite chargeable car park, the whole ethos is home from home and it works really well, especially for children. Check-in is with an iPad and the rooms come complete with a small kitchen, sofa and dining table, so handy for family travel. It’s always the little touches that make any stay memorable, and we had a box of bits in our room, containing stationery items and games such as dominoes and happy families included. A nice little touch.
We both slept really soundly and enjoyed the buffet breakfast the next morning. A range of cereals, pastries, breads and cooked breakfast options are available, you can even make your own waffles. The informal atmosphere was just what we needed and my son relaxes so well in this sort of environment.
Our top tips for things to do with kids in Southampton would also include a visit to Paultons Park. the family theme park is only a twenty-minute drive from the city and has something to offer all ages.
Home to Peppa Pig World which will keep younger children entertained for hours, we headed to the Lost Kingdom for a date with the dinosaurs. My nine-year-old isn’t the biggest thrill seeker and I wasn’t able to persuade him to try out the larger roller coasters – Flight of the Pterasaur and Velociraptor, on this trip. I need to borrow an adrenalin junkie to join me on the larger rides!
But we did had a day full of laughter and smiles, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of queues and we had multiple goes on rides such as Cat-O-Pillar in Critter Creek, which he absolutely loved. We tried the go-karts (extra charge applies) for the first time on this trip. Whilst my son isn’t old enough to drive me around yet, he spent most of our drive telling me to drive faster!
It’s always nice to find a quiet spot in the gardens and have a break from the main park, and we look forward to seeing the Tornado Springs park extension which opens in May 2020, offering another five rides and a diner.
We had a wonderful mini-break enjoying everything that Southampton has to offer and we are looking forward to visiting again to delve a little deeper. Have you been before? Where would you suggest we should visit next time?
disclosure: we were guests of Go!Southampton during our stay with tickets to attractions, evening meal and hotel accommodation provided in exchange for an honest review of our trip. My views, as always, remain my own honest thoughts.