For years, Southampton has been little more to me than a pitstop on my way to somewhere else, from my home on the Isle of Wight.

I know the route to the train and coach stations like the back of my hand, and if I’m stopping in the city, it is usually just for a quick visit to Primark, IKEA or Westquay – and the occasional trip to St Mary’s, accompanied by a Saints-loving family member or friend.

But to spend a weekend in Southampton as a tourist? That seemed implausible and something I'd never considered doing.

However, when I was invited to explore the city’s history and attractions, I was intrigued.

Could I, an Islander just 11 miles away across the Solent, truly appreciate Southampton as a tourist destination? I set out to find out.

On a sunny Friday, I packed light, boarded the Red Jet at Cowes and arrived in Southampton 20 minutes later.

A short walk from the terminal brought me to The White Star Tavern on Oxford Street. 

Isle of Wight County Press: The White Star Tavern in SouthamptonThe White Star Tavern in Southampton (Image: IWCP)

This five-star inn boasts an award-winning pub, restaurant and hotel, promising a ‘true taste of Hampshire hospitality’. 

I found a warm, inviting atmosphere and friendly staff. My spacious room, complete with a host of complimentary items, was perfect for my weekend stay.

Isle of Wight County Press: My room at The White Star Tavern in SouthamptonMy room at The White Star Tavern in Southampton (Image: IWCP)

Eager to start my adventure, I headed to Grumpy Monkey, a vibrant cocktail bar on Above Bar Street… I was on holiday, after all.

Inside the modern venue, decorated with monkey-themed decor, I ordered their most popular drink, the Monkey Punch, made with spiced rum, Kraken and various fruit juices.

Grumpy Monkey also offers a late-night bar experience with special events. The venue was quiet and calm during my early evening visit, but I would expect the party atmosphere to ramp up for weekend revellers.

Isle of Wight County Press: Grumpy Monkey on Above Bar StreetGrumpy Monkey on Above Bar Street (Image: IWCP)

Returning to The White Star for dinner, and with fish and chips being somewhat of a Friday tradition in my household, I indulged on the tavern's popular beer-battered haddock.

The restaurant area buzzed with a mix of accents, from an Australian family planning their city centre visit to an American couple excited about their upcoming Caribbean cruise.

Isle of Wight County Press: Dinner at The White Star TavernDinner at The White Star Tavern (Image: IWCP)

My evening ended at God's House Tower for the GHT Lates event. The old gatehouse, steeped in centuries of history, offers a unique night time exploration experience with live music and the opportunity to learn about the building’s use as a jail.

The cosy setting featured performances by Winterfalle, Nick Hilder and March while talented artist Chris Riddel sketched – with his incredible real-time drawings shown on a screen behind the musicians, earning a few laughs with his humorous depictions throughout the evening.

GHT Lates, held on the last Friday of every month, is a must-visit for art and music enthusiasts.

Isle of Wight County Press: Nick Hilder performing and Chris Riddell sketching at GHT LatesNick Hilder performing and Chris Riddell sketching at GHT Lates (Image: IWCP)

After a peaceful night’s sleep, I set out in full tourist mode.

My first stop was Carlton Place Market, a quaint community market with a handful of independent stalls, held on the first Saturday of each month.

The community-focused market showcases local businesses, with stalls selling baked goods, jewellery, scents, clothing and much more.

Isle of Wight County Press: Carlton Place MarketCarlton Place Market (Image: IWCP)

Next, I visited the free-to-enter Southampton City Art Gallery. Its contemporary and historic exhibitions were a delight, even for a novice art appreciator like me.

During my visit, a couple were preparing to be wed at the far end of the Main Hall, undisturbed by the various art connoisseurs perusing the gallery silently.

The gallery is a must-see for art lovers, offering a glimpse into the city’s diverse collection of fine art.

Isle of Wight County Press: Main Hall of the Southampton City Art GalleryMain Hall of the Southampton City Art Gallery (Image: IWCP)

A short walk away is the SeaCity Museum, a major attraction, which opened in 2012 to mark the centenary of the Titanic’s departure from Southampton.

The museum’s artefacts, relics and interactive displays provide a deep dive into the Titanic’s story and Southampton’s maritime history.

It also features a wall listing the names of all the crew aboard the liner, including Islanders H Broom from Cowes, a bath steward, 1st class, and Henry Fairall from Ryde, a steward, 1st class, both in their 30s and both lost at sea.

Make sure you allow yourself a few hours to fully explore the museum.

Isle of Wight County Press: Titanic model at the SeaCity MuseumTitanic model at the SeaCity Museum (Image: IWCP)

  • Find links for the Southampton attractions, bars, hotels and restaurants below

For lunch, I headed to Ocean Village Marina, a classy, modern and clean area with impressive yachts and sailing boats moored up.

Banana Wharf, one of the many restaurants overlooking the marina, offered a delicious “BFC” burger with the eateries’ own ‘secret spice mix’ and their ‘famous’ Banana Colada cocktail.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lunch at Banana Wharf in Southampton's Ocean Village MarinaLunch at Banana Wharf in Southampton's Ocean Village Marina (Image: IWCP)

After a stroll through Westquay, Marlands and a customary trip to Primark, I arrived in Southampton’s Old Town, home of Tudor House and Garden.

This historic attraction reveals over 800 years of Southampton’s history. I was ushered into the banquet hall for a welcome experience, where the house’s spirits explained the story of the building before I roamed the creaky hallways and lush garden.

The interactive experience and family-friendly activities make for a fascinating visit.

Isle of Wight County Press: Tudor House and GardenTudor House and Garden (Image: IWCP)

Heading back across the city, Saturday night began at Rita’s bar, where I tried the Silver Fox cocktail, an ever-present feature on the menu due to its overwhelming popularity.

With its classy atmosphere, Rita’s struck me as an excellent chill-out spot, or, if you’re heading out onto the town, a great place to start the night, with many nearby bars.

Isle of Wight County Press: Rita’s bar on Oxford StreetRita’s bar on Oxford Street (Image: IWCP)

The highlight of the evening was dinner at Ennios, an award-winning Italian restaurant and hotel.

The Brodetta Di Pesce and Lasagna al Forno were superb, and the experience was made even more memorable thanks to some of the friendliest waiting staff I have ever met.

If you find yourself in Southampton and fancy an authentic Italian experience and traditional cuisine, look no further than Ennios – not far from the Red Jet terminal.

Isle of Wight County Press: The bar area inside Italian restaurant, EnniosThe bar area inside Italian restaurant, Ennios (Image: IWCP)

My weekend concluded at Dancing Man Brewery, which describes itself as ‘not your typical British boozer’ and is located in a 700-year-old former Wool House on Town Quay.

Many Islanders will have spotted the brewery and the accompanying grassy hill to the side, usually dotted with patrons, directly outside the Red Funnel car ferry – possibly whilst turning left towards IKEA, I’d wager.

Once again, I tried the venue’s most popular offering, an IPA brewed on site called Big Casino, which packed a citrus punch.

Isle of Wight County Press: The Dancing Man BreweryThe Dancing Man Brewery (Image: IWCP)

Plan your stay 

A one night stay in a snug cabin for two starts from around £98, including breakfast, at The White Star Tavern. Visit

  • Grumpy Monkey:

  • God's House Tower (GHT Lates): - Admission to the changing exhibitions and galleries, cafe, library is free. Admission to special events carry a separate charge. 

  • Southampton City Art Gallery: - entry is free

  • SeaCity Museum: - Adult: £11.00, child five and over: £8.50

  • Banana Wharf:

  • Tudor House and Garden:

  • Rita's:

  • Ennios:

  • Dancing Man Brewery:

For more information go to  

My weekend in Southampton was filled with miles of walking, discovering new streets, far away from the High Street, and experiencing the city’s rich art, history and culinary delights.

To my surprise, I found that an Islander can be a tourist in Southampton.

The city’s charm and vibrant offerings make it a hidden gem right under our nose, worthy of a weekend getaway.