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The historic UK port city of Southampton sits in the fork of the Test and Itchen river confluence. Iconic landmarks in town include the 700-year-old God's House Tower, WestQuay Shopping Centre and the Tudor House. Southampton is at the heart of the shoreline of southern England and is a comfortable base from which to take car rental daytrips to the New Forest, historic Chichester and the heritage seaside towns of Brighton and Bournemouth. It is also possible to take a Red Funnel car ferry across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and then drive through the pastoral vistas of one of the UK’s favoured holiday hotspots.
Who to Book With
Global vehicle hire companies with offices in Southampton include Hertz, National, Thrifty, Alamo and Enterprise. Local companies such as AVRental also offer a range of vehicles for hire. Booking online saves a lot of legwork and can also offer savings on both local and global suppliers listed daily rates.
Best Time to go
Southampton is definitely a summer destination and looks its best when the sun is shining. In July and August, there is always a massive influx of tourists. Rates for hotels, bed and breakfasts and car hire are at their highest during these two months.
Need to Know Essentials
Before hire companies release their vehicles, they ask renters to produce these articles:
- An international driving permit or a current UK driving license
- Some form of identification such as a passport or household bill
- The credit card the hirer used for the booking
- The confirmation voucher with the reservation number
Southampton’s streets can get congested at peak holiday times and when annual events such as September’s boat show are on. There are 1,600 on-street parking places in the city and around 40 car parks in and around the centre. In the environs of the Quays, parking costs around £1.20 an hour. On the north side of the city, the M27 bypass links to coastal destinations while the M3 motorway is the route for Winchester and London.
The region around the Quays and the old medieval walled precinct is most easily explored on foot, as the principal draws are fairly close together. Buses or taxis are the transport options for reaching the outer suburbs of Southampton. For convenience and the freedom to stop at will, car hire is the best choice for any destination beyond the city limits.
Southampton Central, to the north of the centre, is the city’s main railway station. It has intercity services from London Waterloo, Winchester, Bournemouth and Portsmouth. The station is also a hub for South West Trains’ suburban services. There are spaces for 200 cars at the station car park with daily rates starting at £6. The station also has a taxi rank and is a stop on local bus routes.
Both Hackney carriages and private-hire cars provide taxi services in town. Hackney carriages are white in Southampton, and drivers wait at designated ranks or can pick up passengers on the street. Private-hire taxis have to be pre-booked. Radio Taxis has the biggest fleet of cars in the city and accepts telephone, online and even text bookings.
Six different bus companies serve Southampton. There is no real bus station in the city centre which makes it quite difficult for non-locals to find specific bus stops. Services call at various locations in the centre on their way out to the suburbs or nearby towns such as Salisbury. The council website has a map of bus routes and their departure points.
Although Southampton is home to one of the UK’s oldest ports, it no longer runs ferry services to mainland Europe. Both high-speed catamarans and car ferries for the Isle of Wight sail from the Town Quay. Red Funnel is the chief ferry operator. There are also passenger-only ferry services from the quay that cross to Hythe.
Southampton’s central location, adjacent to the eastern edge of the New Forest and in close proximity to some of the country’s oldest cities and heritage attractions, makes it an ideal base for sightseeing in this unique corner of the world. Public transport does not cover draws such as the Beaulieu Motor Museum and Paultons Theme Park, so car hire is really the only means of getting to them.
Beaulieu - This is an abbey established by Cistercian Monks in the early years of the 13th century. The historic buildings, lovely gardens and Britain’s finest car museum draw countless visitors every year. As well as vintage Rolls Royces, the museum houses Ron Weasley's Ford Anglia and cars that have starred in James Bond films.
Winchester - Epitomising an ancient English city, with a street system designed by Alfred the Great and lots of amazing architecture. The Great Hall of Winchester Castle and its 13th century replica of the Round Table, the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, an 11th century cathedral that is the final resting place of England’s greatest kings, and a profusion of speciality shops keep the tourists coming back year after year.
Arundel Castle - This is a palatial 11th century structure set in verdant grounds. During the eight months it is open every year, visitors can marvel at the ancient motte and the lavish staterooms packed with priceless paintings, portraits and artefacts, such as a carved rococo triptych.
Hayling Island - This offers tourists a three-mile stretch of Blue Flag beach and picturesque ports. It is a popular destination for sailing and windsurfing enthusiasts. The island is linked to the mainland at Langstone by a single-carriageway bridge and ferries from Portsmouth Harbour.