Cruise from Southampton - the essential guide - Cruise Trail

Cruise from Southampton – the essential guide

“We chose to stay near Southampton cruise port to explore Southern England before our cruise started. The Jurassic Coastline is spectacular – a highlight of our trip!”

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

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

Southern England has sweeping areas of outstanding natural beauty. It is made famous by it’s spectacular countryside, vast coastline, cosy pubs and welcoming villages. Southampton is a an ideal place from which 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. We promise you will want to come back again.

Where to stay before you cruise from Southampton

These are our recommended hotels that offer service and convenience to Southampton Cruise Port.

  • Leonardo Royal Southampton Grand Harbour
  • Novotel Southampton
  • Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa
  • Premier Inn Southampton City Centre Hotel
  • Holiday Inn Southampton
  • The Elizabeth House Hotel

Walk into the centre of Southampton where you can see the remains of the city’s medieval walls. Shopping is excellent in the city, 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 cafés 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 cosy cobbled street and Tudor timber framed buildings, reminiscent of their famous visitors such as William Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

You will need a car for local day trips before you start your cruise from Southampton to really make the most of the spectacular south coast. If you are not driving to the port, and need to rent a car, Europcar is reliable and has a pickup centre at the cruise terminal.

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

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, on the 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 try and avoid the rush.

Open top bus for the best views of 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 the pleasant 50 minute journey. You can leave your car and sit out on the top deck in the sun and enjoy the journey over. Once there, you will cover many more sights in your car than using 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 wonderful bus routes to try out – try the open top ride on the Needles Breezer for breath-taking views.

On the island’s western point you can see The Needles –  3 enormous white chalk rocks standing in the ocean and guarded by a 19th-century lighthouse. In the centre of the island stands Carisbrooke Castle, earlier an artillery fortress, a king’s prison and a royal summer residence. There are an array of walking paths and hiking trails to choose between over the island. Check out their official visitor’s website to help you plan your day.

Day 2: Stonehenge – one of the most popular cruise excursions

Stonehenge is just 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 fantastic visitors center and museum, just a short walk from the car parking area. After this introduction a shuttle bus takes you out to the stones. Built of welsh stone over 4000 years ago, Stonehenge is surrounded by myth and legend and it’s meaning and purpose has 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 you 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 really don’t feel you can tackle driving on the left, book a tour. Viator does a good one if you want to tag this day out onto your final day after your cruise. You 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 holds a special place in my heart as my stomping ground for many adventures growing up.

From rugged country walks in the winter to lazy picnic days in the summer, the New Forest is an ancient woodland packed full of pretty villages. And was once the hunting ground of Henry VIII. Start out 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.

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

English riverside delights in Lymington

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

It’s here you’ll want to eat an early lunch, 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 some delicious ice cream at the New Forest Ice Cream Parlour before buying a fishing rod in the quayside shop to fish for crab off of the quayside.

Nearby you can even rent bicycles to cycle the coast and back through the forest. Super helpful staff will provide you with great bikes and a route map.

Beautiful Beaulieu – a hidden gem to add to your cruise excursion bucket list

From Lymington head to Beaulieu, located on the south-eastern edge of the forest.

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

In fact 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 depart on your cruise from Southampton.

Day 4: The Jurassic Coastline – our top pick for the best day out before you cruise from Southampton

 If you have time for only one day out before the start of your cruise from Southampton, choose The Jurassic Coastline. I have left the best till last. And for 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. From Southampton it will take you about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to Old Harry Rocks, so start early.

This is possibly one of my favorite spots in all of England. You can travel as far as you want, stopping at often as you like on your day out.

But even better is if you can stay the night on your way to really make the most of this fabulous coast. Called The Jurassic Coast due to it’s 180 million year old historical rock formations, the landscape will take your breath away. Here are my top stops to explore:

Old Harry Rocks

Located at Handfast Point in Studland, this marks the very eastern point of the Jurassic Coast. The whole area is a UNESCO world heritage site. On a clear day into the distance you can even see The Needles, on the Isle of Wight. Park at 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 a great playground for kids, Corfe Castle is fantastic to visit on a nice 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.

Visit the 16th village for a great pub lunch – we love The Greyhound in the center of the village –  and do visit the model village if you have kids in tow.

Lulworth Cove

The entire cove is part of the Jurassic Coast and is very popular with hikers and walkers and really busy 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. In fact the whole surrounding is fantastic for walks, exploration and views.

Durdle Door

From Lulworth Cove you can follow the footpath 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

Drive towards Weymouth Bay from Durdle Door. 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. Although 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 fabulous.

Lyme Regis

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

Getting to the port for your cruise from Southampton

The Port of Southampton currently operates 4 passenger cruise terminals. And a 5th terminal which is being built in partnership with MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line is going to open soon. Check your cruise ticket to see which terminal your cruise ship is berthed for boarding. Here are the current 4 passengers terminals:

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

Private Transfer or taxi

If you have a hotel booked near the port then you can walk to the cruise terminal. But if you are staying in central Southampton, or if you are coming into the centrally located train or coach station, you will need a private transfer or taxi to take you to the port.

Train from central London

If you are staying in London before your cruise from Southampton, book a train ticket from Waterloo Station direct to Southampton for the fastest route. The journey is around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Buy your ticket online before you travel to save money.  Southampton train station is located in the heart of the city close to shops and hotels.  From Southampton train station to the Southampton cruise port you will need a taxi transfer.

Train from London Heathrow airport

There is no direct route from Heathrow to Southampton from London Heathrow by train. You will need to change lines, but it is possible. You must first take the Heathrow Express direct to Paddington Station. Then take the Underground train to Waterloo in order to get the train to Southampton. The journey is a couple of hours. Buy your ticket online before you travel, so to save money.  Southampton train station is located in the heart of the city close to shops and hotels.  From Southampton train station to Southampton cruise port you will need a taxi transfer.

Train from London Gatwick airport

If you are flying into 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.  Southampton train station is located in the heart of the city close to shops and hotels.  From Southampton train station to the Southampton cruise port you will need a taxi transfer.

Coach from central London

You can get a direct coach from London Victoria coach station (a short walk from Victoria train station) to Southampton. Coaches are offered by National Express. Book before you leave home because you will get the best price. The journey time is about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Southampton coach station is located in the heart of the city close to shops and hotels. From Southampton coach station to the Southampton cruise port you will need a taxi transfer.

Coach from London Heathrow

If you are travelling to London Heathrow there is a comfortable coach service direct to Southampton. Coaches are offered by National Express. This is a journey I have done many times. The coaches are clean and comfortable with wifi and toilet facilities on board. The journey time is about 1 hour and 40 minutes. Southampton coach station is located in the heart of the city close to shops and hotels. From Southampton coach station to the Southampton cruise port you will need a taxi transfer.

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Meet the Author

Mattias has nearly 2 decades of travel industry expertise, working with cruise lines, tour operators, airlines, IT providers, hospitality suppliers and everything else in between that makes the travel industry tick. more..