All aboard the good ship Southampton Harbour Hotel – this dry-docked luxury stay is built into a lively marina rather than set afloat, but its upcoming launch is reason enough to smash a champagne bottle in celebration – or order one in the rooftop bar, chased with a round of fantastical cocktails. The vessel, moored by the south coast and overlooking the Isle of Wight, has mod-nautical rooms in sun-and-sea shades for nesting; boatswain beauticians in the sleek spa to keep you barnacle-free; and – in lieu of lashings of rum – free decanters of sherry and gin. A stay suited to those who lub land or water: we like the cut of its jib.
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A candle from the hotel’s own range of spa products
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £139.50, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast, a buffet with pastries, fresh fruit, yoghurt, granola and juices; or a full-english with farm-fresh eggs and organic bacon.
The lower deck has cosy couple-sized relaxation pods to sit in and watch the waves. Afternoon tea, served in the lounge, fills its tiers with sweet-and-savoury scones, praline éclairs and small pots of trifle.
At the hotel
Cinema, spa and gym, promenade deck with relaxation pods, lounge, laundry, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, free decanters of gin and sherry, Nespresso coffee machine, minibar, tea- and coffee-making kit, and the White Company bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each room gets a glimpse of the calm waters and boats bippity-bopping about in the harbour. However, aspiring cap’ns can admire the British coast uninterrupted from the Deluxe Suite’s panoramic terrace. First mates can bunk up in the equally marina-facing Deluxe Doubles for a few less pieces of eight.
The indoor heated pool is the hotel’s watery ballast, ensuring doses of splashy fun and serenity, and has set times for both adults and kids. Floor-to-ceiling windows along one side look out over the marina, and water-babies can wallow – or get pummelled with massage jets – in the adjoining hydrotherapy pool.
HarSpa takes a beautifying tip from the ocean, using luxurious Espa rituals with seaweed and salt, and offering sea-shell massages in seven sleek treatment rooms. Scrubbing, rubbing, and moisturising masks are a speciality, but a spot of rhassoul-mud slinging, reflexology or holistic hopi-candle cleansing can be booked too. Couples have their own space; men and mothers-to-be have specialised signature treatments; and you can get a superfood fix in the juice bar and café.
Wellies for countryside wanderings. Leave the seasickness pills and patches at home, this stay is on a level.
All areas are wheelchair-accessible, and there are specially adapted rooms on the second and third floors, accessible by lift.
Children of all ages welcome, but the hotel’s best suited to juniors, tweens and teens. There are set splash times for kids in the hotel pool, and the cinema often screens family favourites.
Juniors, teens and tweens.
Suites and Deluxe Doubles have the most space for trios or quartets. For added privacy book tweens and teens into their own Standard Twin room.
Kids will adore playing pirates on the ship – there are decks to run around on and several tiers to explore. On rainy days, head to the luxurious cinema room where you can self-serve from the popcorn machine. Off-board, arrange a family boat trip along the coast, spy ponies in the New Forest or hit the Isle of Wight. Filled with child-friendly fun, the Isle has amusement parks (such as Blackgang Chine and the fairground and 4D-cinema by the Needles), farmyard animals to pet, beaches with calm waters and fossil walks where dino-enthusiasts can hunt down souvenirs.
The pool in the spa has set times for kids. Parents will need to keep a watchful eye on fledgling water-babies.
The Jetty is fairly laidback, so suited to family dining. Children will like snack-y cockle or chicken popcorn, and simple fish dishes with chips.
No need to pack
There are no baby-monitors to borrow, but it may be worth bringing your own if you’re staying on one of the lower decks, near the restaurant.
There’s little kit for babies-on-board so pack all you think you’ll need.
The marina has some rejuvenation to go before it rivals Monaco, but few can deny the view’s lure – take the bait and sit on the terrace.
Sail on silver girls (and boys).
The Jetty Restaurant sits on the ground floor of the hotel and spills out onto the boat’s ‘deck’, affording peaceful views of moored boats at rest. Harbour Hotel chefs rival Aquaman for fish-mastery; the coastal setting ensures fine sea-sourced dishes: signature cockle popcorn, oysters any-way, creamy fish soup and pies, and off-the-quay catches of the day. For those sworn off the sea, twice-baked soufflés; venison with pear, walnuts and haggis; and sumptuous cuts of steak keep things carnivorous. There’s a special menu of salads and noodle dishes for vegetarians and vegans, too. Embark on a voyage through the lengthy wine list – there’s sure to be a few shanties along the way.
Water, water everywhere and leagues of cocktails to drink… HarBar on 6th (on the sixth floor, naturally) mans the hotel’s poop deck with talented and imaginative mixologists. The menu is awash with infusions, syrups, essences and aromas, and sprinklings of bee pollen, salt or chocolate shavings. Alongside requisite dark ‘n’ stormies, Manhattans and martinis, are remixes: a Nutty Old Fashioned fixed with walnut-infused bourbon, and a Negroni pepped up with smoked salt and thyme. Smoothies and juices are equally tempting and the kitchen rustles up salads and small plates (tacos, arancini) and wood-fired pizzas – the one with veal meatballs, sage and prosciutto is our pick. Things crank up a notch after sunset, when the locals arrive and the DJs start spinning.
Breakfast is served 7am to 10am weekdays, 8am to 11am on weekends. Lunch runs from noon to 2.30pm, dinner from 6pm to 10pm. The spa cafe runs from 7am to 9pm and HarBar serves till 11pm.
Whether you’re hankering for a wrap or salad, or a full-on lobster feast, you can have an in-room meal anytime of the day or night.
The hotel sits on the south coast, docked in Southampton’s marina, where the surrounding Ocean Village development is fast becoming a lively leisure hub of restaurants, shops and cinemas.
Southampton Airport is the closest to the hotel, a 20-minute drive away. Flights from major European destinations arrive here direct; international flights usually connect via Dublin. London airports Heathrow and Gatwick are around a 90-minute drive away (Stansted and Luton are two hours away by car); the Smith24 team can arrange flights and transfers on request.
Southampton Central station is a 10-minute drive from the hotel. The fast train from London Waterloo arrives in just over an hour; and there are direct routes to cities in the west of England, including Birmingham, Bath and Bristol.
Port city Southampton welcomes landlubbers; it’s easily explored on foot. However, the city’s sandwiched between two prized patches of British parkland: the New Forest lies to the west, the South Downs to the east. Unless you’re a hardened rambler, hire a pair of wheels and seek out Shetland ponies, woodland paths and cosy pubs. There’s valet parking at the hotel (£12 for 24 hours).
A ferry service runs from ports in northern France and Bilbao to Portsmouth, a 40-minute drive (or a short train or boat ride) from Southampton. A ferry service also runs frequently from Southampton to the Isle of Wight. If you’ve commandeered your own vessel, the hotel has private moorings for guests.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you’re missing the motion of the ocean, the next best thing is a cruise over the Solent strait to the Isle of Wight. In late June, the isle’s famously chilled-out, yearly music festival kicks off. Otherwise, ogle the Needles Rocks, waft through Queen Victoria’s country home Osborne, or explore the local galleries. Film buffs may leave with square peepers after they’ve stopped at the Harbour Hotel’s cinema room, and Ocean Village’s Cineworld and Harbour Lights Picturehouse, the city’s indie stalwart. West Quay will keep shoppers happy. The SeaCity Museum spins many maritime yarns, especially poignant is its Titanic exhibit – the ship set sail from here and many locals who joined its crew were lost. The University Botanical Gardens have rows of neat cypress hedges and fir trees, fragrant herb gardens and elegant post-war greenhouses – there’s a badger sett hidden in the hillside too. Beyond the city, find abundant greenery, dramatic white cliffs (including infamous Beachy Head) and petite ponies in the New Forest National Park and the South Downs.
Fellow Smith hotel, The Pig in the Wall is a mere 20-minute walk away. The restaurant’s porky snacks (scratchings, aged ham, pork belly with honey and chilli) will be snuffled up fast; for further foraged, garden-harvested or reared grub, request a Land Rover transfer to The Pig in the New Forest. A staunchly local menu stars blackcurrant-oil-drizzled lamb, fennel-poached mullet and whole dressed crab; or just-plucked veggie fare. Dishes change daily in The White Star Tavern, a 10-minute walk away, but you’re assured hearty portions of deliciously simple gastro fare: a beefburger with toppings you can trace to a local farm, steak from a nearby herd and salads plumped up with heritage tomatoes.
Café Thrive serves sandwiches, salads, waffles and organic coffee for extremely reasonable prices.
Metro tiles, barn-wood panelling, beardy barmen: The Social on Lower Banister Street meets all the requirements of a hip drinkery, including a lively student crowd. For potent microbrews and a traditional boozer feel, head to the Brewhouse & Kitchen on Highfield Lane.
In desperate need of a break from the DIY back home, and not quite able to stretch to a cruise, Mr Smith and I found ourselves checking into the Southampton Harbour Hotel for a couple of nights of R&R.
After a very friendly check-in in the so-new-you-can-smell-it hotel foyer, we’re shown to our room overlooking the choppy Solent below. Huge embroidered pillows decorate the giant bed, spelling out our plans for the weekend: shh shh. Resisting the urge to jump right in, we slump into the twin armchairs instead, pouring ourselves a good measure of the complimentary sherry and gin from heavy crystal decanters.
Having left his reading material at home, Mr Smith particularly appreciated the coffee table laden with vintage seafaring books. There are binoculars, too, though I’m not entirely sure what we should be looking out for – this being Titanic town, we check for icebergs on the horizon just in case. The lighting proves a little too clever for us, but we manage to dim them – more through luck than choice. After the long drive down from London, the double shower beckons and we lather up using the miniature White Company products left for us.
On our way down to the Jetty for dinner we notice various pieces of cheeky nautical art – Hello Sailor! indeed – adorning the walls. The old and new are pleasingly mixed, with neon signs placed next to wetsuits from yesteryear. They must have spent a small fortune in Taschen, given the piles of coffee table books left in every available space.
Ready for a reviving glass of champagne, we bag a spot right in front of the modern fireplace – the only place to be on this chilly winter night. Once the mercury hits the double digits we’d happily trade in the velvet sofa for a relaxation pod on the promenade deck but, for now, they are purely decorative. The atmosphere is warm and relaxing, with a quiet buzz – it’s clearly a popular spot for local landlubbers and hotel guests alike.
Moving through to the dining room we find ourselves slightly overwhelmed with menus, all of which champion the local catch of the day. The chef whets our appetite with deep-fried oysters and bread so delectable they have to refill our basket twice. We begin with ‘Tuna Tuna Tuna’ – so good they named it thrice, apparently. An Asian influence flows through each element: belly is cooked with sake, seared with ginger and chilli and accompanied with avocado ice cream in a mini cone. We’re back on British soil for our main: lemon sole, caught on the South West coast and doused with the creamiest beurre blanc sauce. We order a side of dauphinoise potatoes to further up the decadence…
Leaving our wine pairing in the very capable hands of the sommelier, we’re brought generously-filled glasses from around the world, ending with yet more sherry with dessert. Speaking of which, you really must order their signature – ‘Oops, I dropped my ice-cream’ – complete with seaweed and edible sand, it needs to be seen to be believed.
On our return the turn-down team have tidied away the blankets and pillows, leaving room for two weary sailors to hop up into the king size bed.
Breakfast is similarly theatrical, taking place in the HarBar on the sixth floor. Full-height windows seem to soak up the rays, letting in the welcome winter sun. Thinking of the bikini I’m about to spend the afternoon in, I order the avocado on toast with extra greens and a poached egg before Mr Smith challenges me to a rousing game of table football on the vintage prop. We spy a pizza oven outside, waiting to be fired up on warmer days.
Ready to hit the spa we find thick fluffy robes in our wardrobe and slip down to the HarSpa (you’ll notice there’s a theme with the names, here). We’d pre-booked the couples treatment room and I instantly get the giggles at the sight of Mr Smith in disposable pants. After a bit of confusion over our booking we quickly relax under the expert hands of our therapists who thoroughly pull and pummel us into oblivion. A few ooohs and aaahs escape as I’m pressed with piping hot tiger-striped clam shells sourced from the Philippines and Mr Smith enjoys his Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage (it means ‘To work in and out, as the paws of a contented cat’ if you’re wondering).
The next few hours are happily spent moving from relaxation room to sauna, to hydrotherapy pool, stopping only for a quick smoothie in the juice bar (and pointedly avoiding the gym at all costs). It looks like we’ve found a harbour we’d be quite happily moored in for some time…