Southampton – the city from which the Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage – is now well known for its two universities, the vast expanse of the Common and (everybody’s favourite shopping destination) WestQuay. However, Southampton is, in fact, a treasure trove of hidden gems which, unless you were actively searching for them, would remain known only to the locals.
Now picture this: you’re new to the city, a couple of hours in between classes or maybe your lectures finished early today. You’re not ready to go back to your accommodation, but you’re excited and curious about Southampton. Where do you go?
Never fear, your unofficial tour guide is here to point you in the direction of the ten best-hidden gems Southampton has to offer.
1. Café Fumée
As scared little Freshers, my flatmate and I stumbled across this cute little café in the French Quarter. While the café primarily specialises in hearty breakfast and yummy sweet or savoury crepes, they have an extensive smoothie & herbal tea collection which won’t burn a hole in your wallet. The eclectic décor also makes the perfect backdrop for a coffee date, a catch up with friends or an ambient and alternative work environment.
2. Ocean Village Book Exchange
This one really puts the ‘hidden’ in hidden gems! Nestled past all the fancy restaurants and behind the yacht clubs lives a little blue telephone box that, when you open it, is stacked full of books. If you haven’t encountered one of these little book exchanges before, the basic premise if that if you want to take a book, you have to donate or return another one. There are some real good-quality books stashed away in here – so far I’ve scavenged two perfect condition hardbacks and some James Bond books!
If you’re looking for a more sustainable approach to clothes shopping AND enjoy well-priced, statement pieces then Beatnik Emporium near Cenotaph is the place for you. The people who work there are passionate about curating the perfect selection of both vintage and slightly more modern clothing. Everything I’ve bought from there has earned a tonne of compliments, and every single thing in there is wholly unique. Beatnik is the perfect place to browse, buy from and come back to if you love fashion.
This quirky microbrewery is only a couple of minutes walk from both Avenue and Highfield campuses. The beer garden is absolutely gorgeous in warm weather with flowers and beach hut booths to enjoy the evening in. The Brewhouse does a specialist selection of ales and even hosts beer brewing and gin masterclasses. Personally, I could think of nothing better than sitting in the beer garden, cider in hand, with one of Brewhouses’ deluxe fish finger sandwiches. Perfect!
At £9 for an hour of Pool, Rocket Ronnie’s is a great place for you and your mates to enter into a bit of friendly competition. Conveniently positioned next to the Standing Order Wetherspoons in Southampton City Centre but also has its own bar inside so is perfect for something a little different on a casual night out. Even if you’re awful at Pool (like me), it’s a laugh to stand around and laugh at yourself when you completely miss the ball or send it flying off the table.
I like that boulder [shack climbing gym], that’s a nice boulder. The climbing gym comes highly recommended by my flatmate and is situated in a large warehouse not too far away from Sobar (a hotspot, as I’m sure all Southampton students are aware). Climbers of all ability are welcome – from absolute beginner to expert – to, well, climb. They have an excellent café and host different exercise classes, so there’s something for everyone!
This one is more ‘hidden in plain sight’. Ed’s is my favourite of the WestQuay restaurants, but I’m certain it doesn’t get as much hype as the other restaurants around it. The classic 1950s diner, complete with booths, red bar stools and a jukebox, makes eating here extremely fun and the burgers are simply TO DIE FOR. It comes approved by my almost 80-year-old Canadian grandfather, who said that eating there brought him right back to his teenage years.
This vegan café in the city centre makes an amazing selection of baked goods, specialist drinks and burgers so good that, as a meat-eater, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Cafe Thrive is passionate about the environment and the belief that ‘good food shouldn’t cost the Earth’. All of their products are made from organic, fairtrade ingredients, and their plant-based menu caters for a variety of different dietary restrictions. Tasty & good for the environment!
9. Oxfam Music Shop
The Oxfam Music Shop just past Bargate is an absolute gold mine for vinyls, CDs, sheet music and regular fiction books. I once got three almost-new books (including a hardback) for just £5! It’s a great place to take your time and browse through in search of (even more) hidden gems. Plus, you won’t feel guilty about buying a huge stack of things from here because it’s for a good cause.
This newly opened Indian in Portswood serves a wide range of delicious curries and other dishes. Offering both takeaway and student discounts, Viceroy is the perfect place for a cheeky meal out and is conveniently situated (for me, at least) in an area brimming with student houses. I had a venison Passanda last time I went and would recommend it to everyone and everything. Reasonably priced and happily full at the end of the meal, Viceroy is definitely one of Southampton’s hidden gems.
So, there we have it! Now you’re ready to go off and explore Southampton, hopefully stopping off at one or more of these hidden gems along the way.