A feast of fun awaits NI football fans when they visit Southampton
SOUTHAMPTON will be transformed into 'Northern Ireland South' for this first fortnight in July as the host city for all three group A games at UEFA Women's EUROs 2022 for Kenny Shiels's girls in green.
Northern Ireland's matches at the St Mary's Stadium (https://www.uefa.com/womenseuro/event-guide/southampton/stadium/) will be the main focus for fans, starting on Thursday July 7 against Norway, followed by Monday July 11 versus Austria), then Friday July 15 against tournament hosts England.
The excitement isn't just limited to the stadium, however but will spill out across the southern coastal city with a series of FREE fun-filled Fan Festivals, exhibitions and things to do.
From midday until just before kick-off, the events will feature live music, roaming performers, football activities, food and drink and space to chill out with fellow fans across several the city-centre locations including Houndwell Park, Palmerston Park and Above Bar Street.
To make it easy for visiting Irish fans, Visit Southampton has a produced a handy, and ready to download, PDF https://visitsouthampton.co.uk/euros22-fanguide detailing all the essentials including a map of the easy to navigate 15-minute walk from the city centre to St Mary's Stadium – highlighting all the key sights on the way. For discounts and other suggestions of what to do pre and post match, visitors can collect a special leaflet featuring a 'pop-out' 'SO' card from various retail outlets and attractions across the city or download a version here: https://visitsouthampton.co.uk/offers
Football aside, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Southampton this summer including fun activities like a paddle to the pub and steam boat excursions through the Solent.
For a touch of history and culture, it's worth taking the time to discover Southampton's past which focuses in and around the Old Town – with its Medieval wall and 800-year-old Bargate (the original gates to the city). There are plenty of hands-on galleries and museums; plus great shopping, restaurant options and a buzzy night-life to experience.
Cultural Quarter highs
In the Cultural Quarter there are two free to enter galleries - the Southampton City Art Gallery, home to one of the finest, centuries-spanning art collections in the south of England www.southamptoncityartgallery.com as well as the John Hansard Gallery, for contemporary art lovers www.jhg.art
The city's theatres are also there, including MAST Mayflower Studios and the Mayflower Theatre. While at the SeaCity Museum, with a nod to the Euros, there's a new exhibition exploring the history of women's football in Southampton – which goes back to the First World War when teams were formed by women workers in the local factories.
Visitors to the museum can also learn about Southampton's fascinating maritime heritage. With a different take on the tragedy to the Titanic Belfast Museum, the Sea City explores the devastating impact the sinking of the Titanic had on the port and its people (it was home to some 500 crew and passengers). There are also plenty of interactive exhibits plus a free to download self-guided Titanic walk from the museum, which re-traces the city's connections to the doomed vessel. www.seacitymuseum.co.uk (adults £9.50).
The Hares of Hampshire
The Hares of Hampshire have bounded into Southampton on a free to experience charity art trail. Perfect for posing alongside, there will be 30 brightly-painted and larger-than-life statues scattered across various locations in and around the city and beyond, with each giant sculpture sponsored by a business and individual artists haresofhampshire.co.uk
Pic: Ryan Stanikk
Get Knitted: Art and history unite at God's House Tower
God's House Tower has welcomed a new art installation by acclaimed British-Ghanaian textile and performance artist, Enam Gbewonyo this summer, exploring the many reincarnations and history – from prison to wine vault - of the heritage arts venue located in the city's medieval wall.
Gardez L'Eau draws on themes of trade, travel, colonialism and piracy; and uses materials from God's House Tower's past to create a knitted artwork that runs through the entirety of the building. Gardez L'Eau will be on display at God's House Tower, Southampton until Sunday August 14; see www.godshousetower.org.uk
One of Southampton's biggest cultural celebrations, the Mela Festival, is a huge free event showcasing a colourful fusion of Asian music, dance and family activities. On July 16 at the city's Hogland's Park, international musicians and dancers together with local talent, will provide festival goers with live on-stage performances, with an arts and craft market, food pop-ups and a children's activity zone adding to the festival programme. https://artasia.org.uk/mela-festival/
On the water activity
No trip to Southampton would be complete without an on-the-water trip, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Located 10 minutes from the centre of Southampton, Woodmill Activity Centre is a woodland oasis beside the river Itchen. Making the most of the centre's waterside location, there's a selection of activities to enjoy from axe throwing to kayaking and canoeing plus stand up paddle boarding and a paddle to the White Swan pub session. http://woodmill.co.uk/
Those with an interest in history can book an afternoon trip aboard the steamship SS Shieldhall. As a member of the National Historic Fleet and a registered charity, it offers one of the most novel ways to experience this stretch of water. Bringing the golden age of steam to life, the vessel and its crew of experienced volunteers offers regular summer excursions often accompanied by a live band. As well as the sea vistas, visitors can head below decks to admire the impressive engine room with its original steam engines at work, join the captain on the bridge and admire the traditional instruments and gleaming brass work. www.ss-shieldhall.co.uk (from £38).
Shopping, pamper and play at Westquay
If retail therapy or a makeover is what is needed then West Quay Retail Park (https://www.westquayretail.com) and the Westquay Shopping Centre (www.west-quay.co.uk) – with personal styling and the Beauty Society services at John Lewis & Partners are a must. The striking-looking venue also has a VIP bowling experience at Hollywood Bowl https://www.hollywoodbowl.co.uk (from £10.72 for two games per session) and a Locked in a Room escape session (from £25 per person) https://lockedinaroom.co.uk/escape-room-southampton. For those seeking an independent shopping experience, the Marlands Shopping Centre is a great pit stop. https://www.marlandsshoppingcentre.co.uk/
Gamers can take a trip to the action packed High Score arcade, a free-play amusement centre with over 60 games from old school classics like spaces invaders to sports games and the latest arcade fun.
Nightlife - food, drinks, music, dance, and theatre
No trip would be complete without some night-time action and Southampton doesn't disappoint. Current hotspots include the newly opened Gin & Olive offering hundreds of hand-picked gins as well as other spirits and cocktails plus non-alcoholic alternatives, the fabulous Ruby's at the Grand cocktail lounge, Grumpy Monkey and art deco inspired Rita's Bar and Kitchen.
Other evening options include the Dancing Man Brewery, a popular micro-brewery cum restaurant right on the front by the sea, while Speakeasy lovers will enjoy the sophistication of the '1932' venue.
Alternatively, there's live music, DJs and dance at Cafe Parfait, Switch, Orange Rooms, Popworld and Trilogy plus theatre and performance at Mayflower Theatre, MAST Mayflower Studios or The Stage Door. God's House Tower offers GHT Lates an after-hours evening of music, art and heritage on the last Friday of every month.
Summer of Sport on Westquay's The Esplanade
With Southampton's old city walls as a backdrop, some of the summer's main sporting events can be enjoyed FREE on The Esplanade, at Westquay from June until August 7. Featuring deckchairs, a pop-up village bar plus mini-golf, ping-pong and big outdoor, Southampton's 'Summer of Sport' offers the perfect day out to watch the tennis and big events such as Royal Ascot, UEFA Women's Euro Football, the Commonwealth Games. For more information visit: https://www.west-quay.co.uk/events/summer-of-sport
For news and inspiration about what's on and what to do in the city www.visitsouthampton.co.uk
Room2: A heavenly self-catering hometel, www.room2.com is ideally located beside quiet and leafy Queens Park yet close to the marina and buzzy Oxford Street – lined with restaurants and bars. Stylishly decorated, each room has an en suite shower room, fully equipped kitchenette and seating area for 'pres,' plus an on-site bar and café area. Stays are for 24 hours with check in and check out at 2pm. Sleeping four, the M Loft is an ideal friend-sharing space. Prices from £184 for the night on room only. www.room2.com
The Moxy: 'Industrial chic meets nautical' is the theme at Southampton's Moxy. In a prime central location, the experiential Marriott International hotel brand is close to the West quay Shopping Centre and the marina. As well as receiving a complimentary Moxy cocktail on arrival, guests can make use of the hotel's 24/7 self-service food and beverage concept. Prices start from £90 per room night based on two sharing room-only. Tel: 0238 168 0269 www.marriott.co.uk
Many fans will have their flights booked, but if not, Eastern Airways are now operating twice daily from Belfast to Southampton, Sunday–Friday, with a single rotation on Saturdays. Flights start from as little as £78.99 for a single flight with all reservations including as standard 15kg of hold baggage and 10kg of hand baggage. For the best fares, book direct at www.easternairways.com