How to spend one day in Southampton UK

It was 39 degrees celsius on the UK’s hottest day in history as I waited for a train to Southampton from Gatwick Airport following my trip to the South of France. Having missed the original train I’d booked via The Trainline due to a 90 minute luggage delay, and with serious delays on subsequent trains, I began to seriously question my commitment to my plan to head south and spend at least one day in Southampton.

I stuck with it, arriving at Southampton Train Station three and a half hours later than intended and grateful to be there. With stunning Summer weather, a university graduations and a cruise ship departure it turned out to be a busy week in Southampton and there was plenty happening in this UK port city.

How to spend one day in Southampton

Check out the Southampton Bargate

The medieval gatehouse or Bargate in the city centre is Southampton’s most significant historical attraction – important to prioritise as one of the first things to see in Southampton. The Bargate was built by the Normans invaders as the main gateway into the city through the Southampton town walls in around the 11th or 12th century, however it is no longer attached to the remains of the walls.

Exterior of medieval Southampton Bargate with flag flying top centre and lion statues either side of central door

With monumental lions, plaques and a statue of King George III on the outside of Southampton’s Bargate, there’s far less to see inside it, but you can walk through the passageway between the two gate entrances.

Walk the Southampton town walls

Once around 2km in length and entirely enclosing the town the Southampton town walls had 29 towers and eight gates. Less than 1km remains as the walls were destroyed or adapted make way for roading and development before being recognised in the 20th century as a historically important feature and conservation projects began. The Southampton town walls are now a tourist attraction and are some of the best preserved in the UK.

Circular stone tower in Southampton town wall

To the right of the Bargate on Bargate Steet is a decent sized section of the Southampton town walls which remains in tact and there are informative plaques to read along the way. At the top of the tower you’ll get views of Southampton. From here the wall stretches along past the West Quay shopping centre and restaurants, before ending in a nearby neighbourhood.

Shop at the West Quay Shopping Centre

If you’re looking for the likes of H&M, Marks & Spencer, Sketchers, Apple and Lush you’ll find them in the modern West Quay Shopping Centre. An extension to this is the Watermark, where you’ll find restaurants and bars with outdoor seating. Visiting during the 2022 Commonwealth Games there was a bar with a big screen set up in front of the town wall which was lit up and had quite a vibe.

Take the ferry to Hythe

My return ferry ticket on the Jenny Blue cost £8 and included a ride on a historic train down the pier at Hythe. Only a handful of us were waiting for the ferry to Hythe while there was a queue of people dressed d far more glamorously and trailing wheelie bags were heading to Cowes on the Isle of Wight on the next dock over.

Small white ferry with blue, white and red flags with the name "JENNY BLUE" printed on it. Southampton ferry terminal in background.

I sat outside on the Jenny Blue, lapping up the sunshine and received a message from a friend informing me that Hythe had once been named one of Britain’s “most crap towns”.

Looking into wooden Heritage train with green detailing and wooden bench seats, town of Hythe visible outside far window

You don’t need to spend too long in Hythe before catching the ferry back to Southampton, I enjoyed the charity stores, walking the length of the promenade that looks out to Southampton and having a coffee and slice of cake at Millie’s Tearoom.

Street in Hythe, Hampshire decorated with triangular bunting printed with the Union Jack

Visit Dancing Man Brewery

Housed in an old woolhouse opposite the Southampton ferry terminal, Dancing Man Brewery is obviously a popular spot as it was booked out for graduation dinners, however you don’t need a booking to stop in for a look inside and to try one of their award winning beers.

Old Stone building with central front doors, two windows downstairs and two upstairs, bench tables and chairs in front of building

Ocean Village

Ocean Village reminded me of Auckland’s viaduct basin with bars, restaurants, multi-million dollar apartments with waterfront views. I wandered around, grabbed a meal deal from the Tesco and watched the sun set in Ocean Village, the ideal way to end one day in Southampton.

Around 20 yachts and boats docked in harbour with apartment buildings in background