Cruise from Southampton – the essential guide

We stayed near Southampton cruise port and explored southern England before our cruise. The Jurassic Coastline is spectacular – a highlight of our trip!

Southampton – an ideal base to explore Southern England before your cruise

Located in the middle of the southern coastline of England, Southampton is a regular port of call for a vast number of cruise ships. It is one of the world’s largest ports and is still growing. Southampton’s maritime history stretches back hundreds of years, made famous in 1912 as the home port of the Titanic.

Many of the major cruise lines offer Southampton cruises that leave daily out of the port. Incredible destinations include northern Europe, such as Norway with the Norwegian Fjords, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean including the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria, France, Spain, and Italy, and ocean voyages across the Atlantic to New York and the Caribbean. Not least, cruises around the British Isles and further on to Iceland.

Cruise capital of the U.K.

As the U.K.’s largest seaport, cruises from Southampton are on some of the biggest cruise ships in the world. The deep water allows cruise lines such as P&O, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, and Cunard to offer you the perfect cruise holiday. You will find cruise deals and exciting offers with luxury cruises such as Regent Seven Seas.

Southern England has sweeping areas of outstanding natural beauty. Its spectacular countryside, vast coastline, cozy pubs, and welcoming villages make it famous. Southampton is an ideal place to explore this part of Great Britain. The longer you stay, the better, as the further west you travel, the more riches you will discover. We urge you to spend time here before you set off on your cruise and offer expert advice on how to spend your time here. We promise you will want to come back again.

Where to stay before your cruise from Southampton

Below you will find your ideal hotel stay in Southampton before you sail.

  • Ennios Boutique Hotel
  • Leonardo Royal Southampton Grand Harbour
  • Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa
  • Premier Inn Southampton City Centre Hotel
  • Holiday Inn Southampton
  • The Elizabeth House Hotel
  • Double Tree by Hilton

Walk into the center of Southampton, where you can see the remains of the city’s medieval walls. Shopping is excellent in the town, with all your high street favorites including the iconic British department store John Lewis, whose flagship store is on Oxford Street in London. Restaurants of all price ranges are abundant, as are caf├ęs and pubs in the city.

To walk the city, start at Town Quay and walk along the medieval town walls through the Old Town. You’ll find cozy cobbled streets and Tudor timber-framed buildings reminiscent of famous visitors such as William Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

Before starting your cruise from Southampton, you will need a car for local day trips to make the most of the spectacular south coast. Europcar is reliable if you need to rent a car. If you are visiting from abroad, remember to check if you need to apply for an international driving license before you leave home.

4 fantastic ways to see the best of England’s south coast

Day 1: Isle of Wight and The Needles

Take a boat ride over to the Isle of Wight! This little island visible from the beaches of southern England was once the summer home of Queen Victoria. You can visit her home, Osbourne House, north of the island.

Stunning sandy beaches and beautiful walking paths cover the island, which is famous for its dinosaur fossils. It gets busy in the summer, so if you are starting a cruise from Southampton in June, July, or August when kids are on school vacation, start early to avoid the crowds.

Open top bus for the best views of the Isle of Wight

From Southampton, you can either ride the passenger ferry, which takes about 20 minutes, or drive your rental car onto the car ferry for a pleasant 50-minute journey. You can leave your car, sit on the top deck in the sun, and enjoy the trip.

Once there, you will cover more sights in your vehicle than the slower public transport, but both options are viable. If you prefer to be a foot passenger, we recommend buying a bus ticket that gives you a day pass to travel around the island as much as you want within 24 hours. There are some great bus routes to try out – try the open-top ride on the Needles Breezer for breathtaking views.

On the island’s western point, you can see The Needles – three enormous white chalk rocks standing in the ocean and guarded by a 19th-century lighthouse.

In the center of the island stands Carisbrooke Castle, earlier an artillery fortress, a king’s prison, and a royal summer residence. There are many walking paths and hiking trails over the island. Check out the Isle of Wight’s official visitor’s website to help you plan your day.

Stonehenge is a 45-minute drive northeast of Southampton, located just outside the historic city of Salisbury and the iron-age site of Old Sarum. Start your day at the visitors center and museum, a short walk from the car parking area. A shuttle bus takes you out to the site. Built of welsh stone over 4000 years ago, Stonehenge is surrounded by myth and legend, and its meaning and purpose have been long debated.

A pub dinner in historic Salisbury

At the end of your visit to Stonehenge, drive to Salisbury and park in one of the city’s parking garages. Enjoy an evening meal at one of the many pubs before your return to your hotel in Southampton. We recommend the historic Haunch of Venison for great gastropub dishes.

We do recommend that you rent a car and drive out to Stonehenge yourself. But if you don’t feel you can tackle driving on the left, book a tour. Viator does a good one; you can even plan to visit on your final day after your cruise. Leave the port of Southampton after you disembark and visit Salisbury, Stonehenge, and even Windsor Castle on your way back to London for your flight home. Alternatively, ask your cruise company. Many of them offer Stonehenge as an excursion pre or post-cruise. It’s a great day out!

Day 3: The New Forest, Lymington, and Beaulieu

Walking trails in the New Forest

Just a 30-minute drive west of Southampton through country lanes, The New Forest offers many adventures, from rugged country walks to lazy picnic days. Once the hunting ground of King Henry VIII, the ancient woodland is packed full of pretty villages. Start in the village of Burley.

Begin early and pick one of the named walking paths to follow, and you’ll come across free-roaming cattle, deer, donkeys, and the famous New Forest ponies.

Try our favorite walking trail, Castleman’s Corkscrew Walk, which starts in Burley Forestry Commission car park on Burley Road and takes you across pretty heathland. The local hotel Burley Manor is a good spot for coffee and snacks.

English riverside delights in Lymington

From Burley, drive 20 minutes to the coast and the quaint town of Lymington.

You may want to eat an early lunch here, preferably at one of the small restaurants by the river at the bottom of the Georgian-style high street. Try The Kings Head Inn or The Ship Inn on the quayside for pub-style food.

Stop for delicious ice cream at the New Forest Ice Cream Parlour before renting a bike to cycle along the coast and through the forest. Helpful staff will provide you with great bikes and a route map.

Beautiful Beaulieu – a hidden forest gem

From Lymington, head to Beaulieu, located on the southeastern edge of the forest.

Beaulieu Village and Buckler’s Hard – a unique 18th village where Nelson’s warships once were built –  are fantastic to explore. Beaulieu is home to Britain’s National Motor Museum, and your kids can sample go-kart racing and see the cars in The World of Top Gear.

There is so much to see and do at Beaulieu; you could make this a full day out and leave Lymington for another day. See if you can squeeze in both before you start your cruise from Southampton.

Day 4: The Jurassic Coastline – our top pick for the best day out

 If you have time for only one day out before the start of your cruise from Southampton, choose The Jurassic Coastline. We have left the best till last. And for a good reason.

This part of the coastline along southern England stretches 96 miles east to west and starts from Old Harry Rocks on the Isle of Purbeck in the county of Dorset, all the way to the next county, Devon. It will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Southampton to get to Old Harry Rocks, so an early start is essential.

This is possibly one of our favorite spots in all of England. You can travel as far as you want, stopping at seaside towns as often as you like.

But even better is if you can stay the night on your way to make the most of this fabulous coast. Called the Jurassic Coast due to its 180 million-year-old historic rock formations, the landscape will take your breath away. Here are our top stops to explore:

Old Harry Rocks

Located at Handfast Point in Studland, this marks the eastern point of the Jurassic Coast. The whole area is a UNESCO world heritage site. On a clear day in the distance, you can see The Needles on the Isle of Wight. Park at the South Beach car park to walk out to see Old Harry. The village of Studland is a short drive away.

Corfe Castle

Rich in history and an exciting place for children to run around, Corfe Castle is fantastic to visit on a sunny day.

Over a thousand years old from the time of William the Conqueror, the castle ruins sit on a hill at the top of Corfe Village. You’ll pay for entrance at the gate to access the ruins.

Visit the 16th village for a great pub lunch – we love The Greyhound in the center of the town. There is even a model village signposted, which your children will love exploring.

Lulworth Cove

The entire cove is part of the Jurassic Coast and is very popular with hikers and walkers. It is bustling in the summer months. Arrive early to get the closest parking spot, and take a picnic to relax and enjoy the view. The beach is full of rock pools and caves waiting to be explored.

Durdle Door

You can follow the footpath from Lulworth Cove and walk about 30 minutes to Durdle Door. Perhaps one of the most photographed spots in Southern England, this rock formation juts out at the end of the stony beach. If you don’t want to venture onto the beach, drive to the Durdle Door lookout instead for spectacular views.

Chesil Beach

From Durdle Door, drive towards Weymouth Bay. If you didn’t have lunch at Corfe, then Weymouth Bay has plenty of seaside eateries to tempt you along the way. From Weymouth, continue driving towards Portland. There are plenty of opportunities to have a great view of Chesil Beach.

Chesil is no regular beach – rather a shingle barrier separated from the mainland by a shallow tidal lagoon. It has to be experienced to be believed. The beach is at the mercy of mother nature as the rough seas swirl up stones along its 28 km stretch. Wear good shoes and enjoy the walk. It’s windy and fabulous.

Lyme Regis

This little seaside port deserves an overnight stay if you have time to spare. Its history dates back to the 8th century, located in the middle of the Jurassic Coast. You are now in the county of Devon. Shop in the tiny winding streets, try fishing and water sports, or you can even join an organized fossil hunting trip. This is a gem on the south coast, especially if you are traveling with children.

Getting to and from the port or your hotel in Southampton

The Port of Southampton currently operates five passenger cruise terminals. Check your cruise ticket to see which terminal your cruise ship is berthed for boarding. Here are the current four passengers terminals:

  1. City Cruise Terminal
  2. Mayflower Cruise Terminal
  3. Ocean Cruise Terminal
  4. QE II Cruise Terminal
  5. Horizon Cruise Terminal

Private Transfer

A private transfer is the most costly way of traveling but the most convenient. Book before you leave home with one of our trusted suppliers. The price will be lower if there are more of you in your travel group so you can share the cost.

Train from/to central London

If you are staying in London before or after your cruise from Southampton, you can book a train ticket between Waterloo Station and Southampton. The journey is around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Buy your ticket online before you travel to save money. From Southampton train station, you will need a taxi transfer to the cruise port (about 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon traffic). There are plenty of waiting for taxis at the train station.

Train from/to London Heathrow airport

There is no direct route from/to London Heathrow and Southampton by train. You will need to change lines, but it is possible.

From Heathrow airport, you must first take the Heathrow Express direct to Paddington Station. Then take the underground train (the Tube) to Waterloo to get the train to Southampton.

The train between Waterloo and Southampton takes 1 hour and 20 minutes. Buy your ticket online before you travel for a better price. From Southampton train station, you will need a taxi transfer to the cruise port (about 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon traffic). There are plenty of waiting for taxis at the train station.

Train from/to London Gatwick airport

If you fly from/to Gatwick, you can get a direct train to Southampton. The journey is just under 2 hours. Buy your ticket online before you travel to save money. From Southampton train station, you will need a taxi transfer to the cruise port (about 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon traffic). There are plenty of taxis at the train station.

Coach from/to central London

You can get a direct coach between London Victoria coach station (a short walk from Victoria train station) to Southampton. The coach service is called National Express. Book before you leave home to get a guaranteed reservation. The journey time is about 2 hours.

Southampton coach station is close to the port. It takes 15 minutes to walk to the port from the coach station or a 5-minute taxi ride.

Coach from/to London Heathrow and Gatwick

If you are traveling to London Heathrow or Gatwick, there is a coach service to Southampton, and the journey time is around 2 hours. Book with National Express.

Southampton coach station is a 15-minute walk to the port from the coach station or a 5-minute taxi ride.

Cruise parking option at Southampton port

If you live in the U.K. and plan on driving to the port, here are some options for parking your car for the duration of your cruise:

  • Penguin Cruise Parking, Southampton, is the closest off-site car park to the cruise terminals. You check in your car, and they will transfer you and your luggage to your cruise terminal a few minutes away. Penguin Cruise Parking is an excellent way to avoid the queues you often find at the cruise terminal car park. Book online on the website. Transfers are included in the cost of your parking.
  • A.B. Parking is the official cruise car parking provider at Southampton port and gives you easy access to City Cruise Terminal and Horizon Cruise Terminal. A.B. Parking offers parking in the open air in a secure compound.
  • Triangle Car Park is a great option if your cruise ship departs from Ocean Cruise Terminal. It takes just 5 minutes to walk to the cruise terminal from the car park.
  • Airlynx Park offers a cheaper option for parking. The car parks are not close to the port however, it’s a ‘park and ride’ service with a shuttle service to your cruise terminal when you have parked your car.
  • Hotel parking is worth inquiring about when you book your hotels. Often hotels close to the port will offer parking for the duration of your cruise and a shuttle transfer to the port. Ask the price and compare this to the above parking options.

Need more tips on cruising? We’re here to help!

Cruise Norwegian Fjords from Southampton

Cruise from London – the essential guide

Questions to ask to kick-start your planning

Cruise packing list essentials our best tips

11 Top tips for booking a cruise and avoiding common mistakes

The 8 best cruise ships for families and kid-friendly cruises

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..