After Christmas Southampton will be returning to a form of lockdown by entering Tier 4. We might be limited in what we can do, but it’s important to look to the little things in life to bring us moments of joy in hard times. This series will highlight little lockdown pleasures that can be experienced right here in, or within walking distance of, Southampton.
To start with, we’re going somewhere that everyone knows but that offers plenty to discover and can surprise even the most seasoned visitor – Southampton Common. A literal oasis of nature in the city, the Common is much wilder than the pampered Victorian Central Parks, with large open plains, three lakes, and plenty of forest to get lost in.
Stretching over 2km from Southampton Old Cemetery to the north east quadrant, Southampton Common’s 1.48km² is slightly larger than even central London’s biggest – Hyde Park. The underpass from the less well known but equally beautiful Highfield side of the common to the main section hosts a constantly evolving open-air street art gallery.
Southampton Common is home to the rare great crested newt, and a part of the common is thus recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Tucked in to the South-Western corner, though technically a separate entity, Southampton Common opens into the grade 2 listed Southampton Old Cemetery. With elegant Victorian memorials, Belgian war graves, memorials to those lost on the Titanic, and even a tomb of an exiled 19th centaury Argentinean dictator – a walk around Southampton Old Cemetery is a walk through the city’s part in world history.
I’m still discovering new parts of Southampton Common, from enchanting forest clearings to paths following the little brooks that criss-cross the site. Even on a busy day, you can find a quiet area of solace on The Common.
Winning ‘City of Culture’ is not easy, and an amount of our fate is out of our hands, but Southampton is among a small handful of cities still in play. With the support of our citizens we can make it – here are are the first 6 of 12 reasons that Southampton should be City of Culture 2025:
1. Our story reaches through the ages Southampton’s is a story of resilience. Our city has been rocked by events throughout the ages, as can be witnessed from the monuments in the city. The cenotaph and the Titanic Engineers’ Memorial almost gaze at each other in the city centre, representing two of our toughest periods.
Even though destruction in the war was on a horrific scale, the heart of the city, our medieval walls and much of the medieval street layout, the Bargate and our Civic Centre still stand. Southampton has much to uncover on your walk around the city, home of some of the most intact medieval walls in the country.
Southampton has embraced the modern age, and recently has found a way to balance the new and the old in a much more harmonious way, as can be witnessed at Guildhall Square or at the walls by West quay.
2. The arts flow through our city Southampton invested millions of pounds into the arts at the height of the recession, bucking the trend across the country. The city has recently opened a new art gallery and theatre on Guildhall Square, the Sea City museum at the Civic Centre, as well as an arts and heritage centre at Gods House Tower. A space arts, who run Gods House Tower, support grassroots culture in the city. Recently, they hosted a lucky dip awarding £500 to 10 artists in the city to produce anything they like – we can’t wait to see what they come up with.
From the birth of Southampton Pride, supported by excellent fringe theatre The Stage Door, to recent installations by a-space arts, we have shown that our creatives can make funding go a long way – creating rich experiences for residents and visitors to the city.
3. Our galleries are world class From the art deco Southampton City Gallery boasting one of the most extensive art collections outside London, to the modern and intriguing John Hansard Gallery, to a post box near the old castle walls, Southampton is right to be proud of our art galleries. The City Gallery’s collection includes Monet, Lowry (including a piece set in the city), and Renoir. Southampton’s was one of twelve galleries entrusted with displaying part of the Queen’s Leonardo Da Vinci collection on the 500th anniversary of his death.
The Showcase Gallery exemplifies the creativity of the city, with student-led exhibitions ranging from a giant map of Southampton across the entire gallery floor for people to scribble their memories on, to stories of blues parties in the city in the 70s, to the literal painting of the city’s bins and benches.
4. We are a green city (figuratively) In 1986, after funding was cut from central government, the local council persevered on their own to create the only city-centre geothermal power scheme in the country. The council has recently refreshed much of its van fleet with electronic replacements, has paved the way for a complete ‘green way’ walking and cycle network across the city, and in 2021 cruise terminal 5 will become home to the only on-shore electrical solution for visiting cruise ships. From the grassroots perspective Southampton is home to a wide array of campaigns to improve the health and sustainability of the city, from safe space campaigns to local branches of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as eco-friendly stores such as Rice Up vegan supermarket, Café Thrive and Art House vegan cafes, and October Books. The city has a way to go, and the recent Green City Charter maps out how to achieve our goal of becoming carbon neutral over the coming decades.
5. We are a green city (literally!) According to the Ordnance Survey’s greenspace data (not biased of course as the home of the OS!), Southampton is the South’s city with the most access to green space, making up over 10% of the city. The Central Parks that run alongside the High Street are Grade II listed and provide a green oasis in the heart of the city, where historical sights intermingle with ornamental, exotic, alpine and rose gardens, as well as large open spaces for sports and cultural events.
Riverside Park offers gorgeous strolls along the Itchen, and connects to a wider walk that stretches all the way to Winchester. The millennia-old Southampton Common, over 2km corner-to-corner, includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest, home to the elusive great crested newt, as well as a beautiful Victorian cemetery and 3 large bodies of water. There will be a specific article on the parks of Southampton in the future, as from St James Park to Peartree Common, there are simply too many to mention here.
What isn’t in doubt, is that Southampton – city of parks, is also surrounded by nature, including the Itchen Valley and Victoria country parks, and the only city in the UK so close to two national parks – the New Forest and the South Downs.
6. Southampton is the Heart of the South Southampton boasts excellent connections, with direct train links to London, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and even Newcastle. Our location makes travelling to Southampton incredibly easy for the majority of residents in the South, meaning everyone can take part in our City of Culture festival.
Southamptoners can never be sure whether to click “South West England” or “South East England”. The fact is we are both. Sometimes our accents delve into Westcountry, and making cider has always been popular here, but sometimes we turn to the South East and our connections with the ancient and modern capitals of England – Winchester and London.
Southampton is where East meets West, it’s a melting point and a port of entry and exit. It’s where journeys begin and end. However long you’re here for, you’ll always get a warm welcome in Southampton.
When I started writing this list, I had no idea how long it would become. It could get even longer, but I had to stop myself somewhere.
This page is here to shout about all the amazing locally owned options we already have on our doorstep, and it turns out for coffee shops there are many. They may not have the marketing budget of the larger chains, but they put a lot of heart into their offerings, and we will shout about them instead. When you spend money at Southampton-owned venues, the money stays in Southampton and may well be further spent at other local businesses.
I’m only listing coffee shops that I have verified are open are open in the current Tier 2 restrictions, but please double-check opening times before you make a journey.
Mettricksmettricks.com 1 Guildhall Square / 8 Centenary Plaza, Woolston Every self-respecting list of coffee shops in Southampton really has to start with Mettricks. Living up to its name as Southampton’s living room, both the Guildhall Square (recently refurbished) and Woolston locations offer cosy sofas, great local and guest coffee, and a warming food menu. Both sites are a great location to take visitors – Woolston overlooking the Itchen and over to Ocean Village, and Guildhall being right in the heart of the city between the Central Parks and the Civic Centre.
Docks Coffeedockscoffee.com 44 Oxford Street Docks Coffee on gorgeous Oxford Street is home to some of the city’s best brunches and brownies. The staff are lovely, and they also do a great brunch, as well as a gift shop and afternoon tea platters for delivery.
The Nest Coffee Shopthenestcoffeehouse.co.uk 129 High St, Old Town (inside Robins’ Nest) / London Road You can find The Nest Coffee Shop inside one of Old Town’s best kept secrets opposite Holyrood church – Robins’ Nest Emporium (a treasure trove of antiques, gifts, clothes, art and furniture in spaces rented out to local sellers). Known for their homemade soups, unique doughnut flavours, coffees and milkshakes (with vegan options), they have also recently opened a second venue on London Road.
Muse Coffee 14 The Broadway, Portswood If you’re looking for coffee and pastries in Portswood, look no further than the recently opened and comfortably furnished Muse Coffee.
No. 329 Coffee House329coffeehouse.co.uk 329 Shirley Road Here’s an admission – I haven’t been to No. 329 Coffee House yet. But this will not be the case for much longer, their Facebook page is full of mouth watering photos of winter spiced cappuccinos, chocolate orange cupcakes, and yes – baileys espresso martinis. Conveniently located in the centre of Shirley High Street.
Make & Brewmakeandbrew.co.uk Methodist Church, St James Road, Shirley Recently Make & Brew have moved further up one of my favourite mini-High Streets in the city, St James Road (towards St James Park), Make & Brew’s new location in the foyer of the Methodist Church offers a welcoming, open space. The staff are friendly and the coffee game is strong. I also really enjoyed the rhubarb crumble slice they had on offer when I visited.
Songbird Cafesongbirdcafe.uk 23 Manor Farm Road, Bitterne Park If you haven’t visited Riverside Park, the cafés and shops of the nearby Bitterne Park Triangle should be enough to tempt you. Songbird Café was originally known for its ice cream, but is also home to winter spiced late, chocolate orange hot chocolate, and in more normal times to craft workshops.
Il Picchio 33 Manor Farm Road, Bitterne Park Another excellent café on Bitterne Park Triangle, Il Picchio serves up authentic Italian cuisine alongside home made cakes, and of course authentic Italian coffee. You’ll feel like part of the family in this café – due to its limited space it’s worth calling ahead.
Café Thrivecafethrive.co.uk 18 Hanover Buildings If you’re vegan, you already know about Café Thrive. If you’re not and haven’t heard of it, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit for some a hearty and healthy (but often still naughty) take on ‘junk food’ whilst sipping their gorgeous hot drinks. Café Thrive is located at the end of Houndwell Park, just a couple of minutes walk from the Bargate (it’s also right next to Rice Up Supermarket – which is well worth popping into whilst you’re in the area). Their pumpkin spiced latte blew me away that it didn’t have any dairy in, and their blondies are divine.
Retro Café 34 Bedford Place Family run and recently given a new look, Retro is an intimate and gorgeously furnished café. If you bring a winter-proof coat why not enjoy your coffee al fresco with friends, taking advantage of Bedford Place’s new pedestrianisation.
Parklife Community Café, St James’ Park St James Park, Shirley Parklife will re-open on Saturday December 12 for Christmas. Offering excellent value for money and getting involved in countless community programmes and events, the café is located right on the corner of the gorgeous St James’ Park.
The Art Housethearthousesouthampton.org 178 Above Bar Street The Art House is not currently open in its usual guise, but they are selling freshly prepared meals and have hot drinks available for takeaway on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. In more normal times this is a great place to relax over a book, soak in some art, and enjoy a hot drink.
Romano Caffe Pizzeriaromanodeli.com 4 Canute Road, nr Ocean Village Is there anything this place isn’t? They offer a gorgeous delicatessen, amazing pizza, and yes – great Italian coffee. Their chocolate and hazelnut filled cannoli are the perfect match to a coffee. The only ‘problem’ is the smell coming from behind the counter makes it’s hard not to get tempted into ordering a pizza too…
Mad Cafe and Deli 208 Shirley Road I challenge anyone to visit Portugal and not come back with a taste for Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts). Alongside Diego’s in Bedford Place, this is my go-to for a Pastéis de Nata hit. They also have freshly cooked food, a Portuguese deli for you to take your favourite products home, loaves of bread, cakes, Portuguese beer, and of course banging Portuguese coffee. The ‘Mad’ in ‘Mad Cafe’ stands for Madeira, and this place truly feels the closest you can get to Portugal without leaving the city.
Halladay’s Tearooms 6 Bedford Place On paper this is a tea room, but walk inside and you’ll also find a world of toffee nut lattes, peppermint mochas, freshly baked carrot cake, brunch and cream tea options. Halladay’s has updated its offering whilst keeping the traditional tea room experience that its customers come back for. Located in Southampton’s boutique Bedford Place district.