A major city – and the largest in the ceremonial county of Hampshire – Southampton is a vibrant metropolis offering a wealth of culture, history and places to visit. Read on to discover our favourite things about this celebrated coastal city!
City of Historical Importance
Archaeological investigations indicate that there has been a settlement in the Southampton area since the Stone Age. Thousands of years later, Roman settlers founded the fortress of Clausentum in the area – where the present-day suburb of Bitterne is now located. The Saxons also developed their own settlement on the other side of the river (in the present-day St Mary’s area), hundreds of years after the Roman Invasion had ended. They named it ‘Hamwic’ – which later became known as ‘Hampton’ and gave the modern city – and the whole of the county – its name.
Through Medieval times the settlement continued to thrive, growing in population and size. By the late Middle Ages, the town (as it was at that time) had become very important as a centre for shipbuilding, a transport hub for the army (King Henry V marched his troops through the Westgate – which still stands today – to sail for France and the battle of Agincourt) and a port to facilitate international trade. Though the town suffered several centuries of decline after the 16th century, it still continued to see several important historical events – including the launch of The Mayflower in 1620, which took British settlers to the New World of America.
By the 19th century, the city had rallied and had become prosperous once more, remaining an important location for national and international events. The famed – and doomed – ocean-liner The Titanic famously set sail from Southampton in 1912, whilst the Spitfire took its maiden flight from what has now become Southampton Airport.
Southampton continues to play a key role in historic events – next year the MSC Bellisima will be launched in the city, becoming the largest cruise ship ever to be christened in the UK.
Surrounding Areas of Natural Beauty
Startlingly close to the busy city centre lies the picturesque New Forest National Park. Famed for being William The Conqueror’s favourite hunting ground, the New Forest was awarded National Park status in 2005 and offers stunning countryside vistas stretching across 219 square miles to the neighbouring counties of Dorset and Wiltshire. The forest offers the perfect place to escape the busy city – there are hundreds of forest trails to explore and a host of beautiful villages to discover, including Lyndhurst, Beaulieu and Brockenhurst. The forest is also home to over three thousand New Forest ponies, who can be found roaming freely around the countryside! They are extremely friendly creatures and have become a defining feature of the New Forest landscape.
Southampton also offers a gateway to the Isle of Wight which boasts 57 miles of picturesque coastline studded with some of the best beaches in the UK. The island is also home to ‘The Needles’ – an iconic site which is one of the most photographed rock formations in the world.
A shopaholic’s dream, Southampton is home to Westquay – one of the largest retail developments in the UK. Over 100 shops are operational within the shopping centre, offering a broad selection of retail options to cater for every interest!
Alternatively, venture past the shopping centre to find a host of independent retailers along the high street and in the newly regenerated Cultural Quarter located near the Guildhall.
Leisure & Culture
Southampton offers plenty of attractions to keep culture vultures entertained.
The Mayflower theatre provides a comprehensive schedule of large scale productions, including touring productions direct from the West End. Meanwhile, the Nuffield and newly opened Nuffield City theatres offer the best of local and fringe theatre, performing to audiences nightly.
If live music is more your scene, there are plenty of opportunities to watch bands and artists in the city. The O2 Guildhall has a regular programme of high profile music and comedy acts, whilst smaller venues The Brook, The Joiners and The Talking Heads regularly host smaller bands and artists on their stages. St Mary’s Stadium has also played host to several world-famous artists and bands over the years – perhaps most notably American rockers Bon Jovi and the legendary Rolling Stones (who are due to appear in the spring of this year). Meanwhile, the now-annual Common People festival provides a mini-festival vibe (minus the tents!) on Southampton Common– a large municipal park to the north of the city – each spring Bank Holiday weekend. The inaugural festival took place in the summer of 2015 and the event brings some of the UK’s biggest acts to Southampton each year.
Furthermore, the newly created public plaza ‘The Esplanade’ offers a space in which innovative public events can be hosted. Since its opening, The Esplanade has functioned as an outdoor cinema, a 9,000sqft maze and a Wimbledon screening area, complete with Pimms tent and hotly-contested table tennis tournament!
City of Economic Success & Innovation
With excellent transport links by road, rail, sea and air Southampton is well-equipped to be one of the leading economic centres on the South Coast. Over 7,400 businesses operate in the city – among them the household names of Cunard, P&O, Ordnance Survey, Garmin and B&Q.
Southampton is the cruise capital of Northern Europe and the most productive port in Europe, able to accommodate the largest container vessels and ocean-liners in the world.
As well as being commercially successful, the city continues to demonstrate its relevance in terms of research and development. Southampton General Hospital is at the cutting edge of research for medical advancements into cancer, heart disease and strokes. Meanwhile the Oceanography Centre is considered amongst the top 4 oceanographic research institutions in the world.
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