After a gorgeous autumnal day out there, I decided to write up some of the best things to do in Southport. I grew up in a village near to Southport, so I spent a lot of time there when I was younger and used to know it really well. But since I moved away over 10 years ago, SO much has changed. I’ve only ever been back on flying visits rather than for a full day out (usually just drunken evenings to be honest). So returning for a day in Southport this autumn was like visiting an entirely new town for me.
If you don’t know it, Southport (or ‘Sowie’ as locals used to call it – possibly still do) is a seaside town in the North West. It was a popular Victorian holiday destination and like most coastal towns, had its fair share of shops closing down and an air of faded grandeur. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to return, sober and in the cold light of day, to find it’s actually a nice day out. Southport even has pockets of real brilliance in the form of art, craft beer and food.
Side note: Just to be really clear for anyone who has found this post through Google, this is a list of things to do in Southport, the UK seaside town and not any of the towns in the US with the same name. [You wouldn’t believe the confused emails I get about other places I’ve written about that have American ‘twins’…]
Anyway, onto 20 things to do in Southport in no particular order…
1. See local art and culture at The Atkinson
The real jewel of Southport has to be The Atkinson. It’s a museum, art gallery, library and theatre. If you’re familiar with places like Bury Met, it’s a similar kind of vibe. The Atkinson also a lovely café on the ground floor called A Great Little Place, where I got a tea and the best vegan peanut butter cake I’ve ever had.
When I visited the Atkinson, there was a brilliant art display on called The Art of Noise. You get a set of headphones and viewed a gallery of paintings with a piece of music attached to each painting. The idea is that you experience the art and music as one and it affects your perception of the art. I’ve been to a lot of art galleries all over the world (probably one in nearly every city I’ve visited to be honest!) and have never experienced anything like this. It was unique and really good. If it’s still on, go.
Serious praise aside, the other thing worth keeping an eye out for in the Atkinson is the hilarious piece of equestrian art pictured below. As a horsey person, I spotted it a mile off. That’s how I feel on my horse after a big meal…
2. Go to the lawnmower museum (yes, really)
Your eyes do not deceive you, there is such a thing as a lawnmower museum. I don’t know why the British Lawnmower Museum isn’t more well known (maybe it is in the right circles) because novelty museums can go down a storm. I’ve done some of the famous quirky museums – the Phallological Museum in Iceland, the Kitsch Museum in Romania, and the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia. This is up there with them and is weirdly hilarious along with having a good bit of social history in there too.
It’s £3 to get in and takes about 15/20 minutes to have a look round. It’s just a collection of lawnmowers with an audio commentary, but features some amusing celebrity lawnmowers belonging to Brian May, Paul O’Grady (the best one) and Princess Di. Of course it’s slightly bonkers, but worth popping in.
3. Walk down Southport Pier and around the Marine Lake
How gorgeous does Southport look here? You could be in Sweden or somewhere. Let’s be honest, the chances of visiting anywhere in the North West and getting weather like this are slim. But I got lucky and ended up with 200 photos of the lake, the bridge and the pier (the second longest in the UK – what a claim) looking absolutely beaut.
It also made for a really nice afternoon walk. You can walk through the gardens by the lake and loop back into town via the bridge or the pier (they run parallel to each other). If it’s a windy day, I apologise for recommending this…
4. Treat yo’self at Susan Hayward Vintage
Susan Hayward Vintage is one of the best quality vintage clothes shops I’ve ever been to and exceptionally well curated. You don’t have to visit Southport to peruse the wares because she’s on Etsy and also goes round vintage fairs across the North West. But if you’re in the town, it’s worth popping in for a ‘browse’ (aka spending lots of money).
As an aside, if you enjoy vintage shopping, you would probably also like a trip to Stockport (similar name to Southport, but very different town in the North West and FULL of vintage shops).
5. Wander down Lord Street
Lord Street is the main shopping street in Southport. It’s all tree-lined and has proper Victorian wrought-iron covered boulevards one one side – v chic – and lovely gardens on the other. It’s worth walking down and having a browse in a few of the shops, but to be honest it’s more about the cafés and bars for me. A few things worth checking out:
- Tobi – A little gift shop on the first floor in Royal Arcade (in the photo below); it does Liverpool/Merseyside themed bits and pieces (there was a very cute Liverpool wooden Christmas bauble I had my eye on and a mug that said ‘Stick your spreadsheets up your arse’ – excellent office Secret Santa present)
- Remedy – Southport’s very own gin bar. It has an AMAZING gin selection, which obviously I had to sample before we got the train home, but I also noted it had some good vegan/veggie options on its lunch menu for next time. Check out the lampshade display too…
- Veronica’s – This is really more of a restaurant IMO, but you can also pop in for a drink at the bar. It a small but quality cocktail menu and I can vouch for the Pornstar Martini being a solid 10/10.
6. Visit the model railway village
Is anyone watching The Great Model Railway Challenge on Channel 5 at the moment? Apparently it’s surprisingly popular for something so er, niche. It’s one of the weirdest yet strangely engrossing things I’ve ever seen. This is in no way connected to my trying to visit Southport’s Model Railway again while I was there recently… It was of course closed for winter (great planning by me).
But I went a few years ago and there was a little equestrian part of the scene, which was of course was more exciting for me than any of the trains or elaborate buildings. There was also a lot of brilliant detail and the whole thing was really lovely. Is it weird that I quite enjoy a model railway despite being neither an old man in an anorak or a screaming child? There’s something very pleasing about them.
7. Have a cheesy time at the amusements
This would have been my idea of hell when I lived locally. But weirdly I’ve since been converted to the cheesy joy of a British seaside amusement arcade. The experience goes best with some fish and chips and/or ice cream, with a side serving of freezing to death in the coastal wind. I blame going on hen dos in Brighton for getting me into this kind of thing.
There are retro penny slot machines at the end of the pier, which are more vintage than garish – they need to make more of this I think. At the start of it is the bigger amusement arcade, featuring 2p machines, a so-naff-it’s-amusing hall of mirrors and a cute golden carousel that I wanted a go on. I chickened out of asking if adults were allowed.
8. Eat (and drink) at the Auberge Brasserie
The Auberge was open when I lived locally, but I’d not visited since I moved away. But we were treated to a gorgeous lunch there on this particular day out – I was really impressed. It’s a small menu with good veggie/pescetarian options. Although it feels quite upmarket, it was all really reasonable (<£10 for your mains).
We shared all the dishes so that we got to try more (standard). This involved whitebait and the mushrooms to start – both very good. Obviously, being at the seaside meant that fish and chips were non-negotiable as one of our mains. The other main was probably my favourite thing we ate there – a roasted pepper and goat’s cheese frittata. Despite our earlier cake at the Atkinson, there was miraculously room for crème brûlée after. It was all lovely. I know the Auberge has been going solidly for years, so it’s definitely somewhere I can recommend.
Oh and we had a bottle of wine, which I’m definitely not used to in the middle of the day any more. This possibly set the tone for the rest of the afternoon and definitely contributed to me to buy a highly unnecessary leopard print berét in Primark.
9. Have a craft beer or three at Tap and Bottles
This was my favourite new find and my biggest recommendation of all the things to do in Southport on this list. Tap and Bottles is a little craft beer heaven tucked away in the otherwise-quiet Cambridge Walks arcade. It didn’t have huge amounts because it’s only a tiny bar, but everything was of a high quality vibe. If I was being pretentious, I’d say it was a thoughtfully curated craft beer collection (kill me now).
Regular readers will know that we always hunt out craft beer wherever we go around the world: sour for me and IPA for Chris. We hit the jackpot here (especially me). It really does my head in when something is billed as sour but isn’t. The sour they had on draft was properly sour and very very good indeed.
Also, our favourite haunt back in Manchester, Cloudwater (which we live in), is doing a night at Taps and Bottles in December! I found this out by stalking Tap and Bottles over on their Facebook page. So if you’re reading this before then and you’re near Southport, GO. Cloudwater is the best beer in the world and this lovely little bar would be a perfect spot to sample far too much of it.
10. Eat some local potted shrimp
Southport’s local delicacy is potted brown shrimp, which is also a great method of eating your own bodyweight in butter.
A pot of these bad boys, 30 secs in the microwave, pour on a breakfast muffin, add some salad on the side and you’ve got one of my favourite lunches (and one of many reasons my jeans are too tight at the moment).
You can order Southport potted shrimp online at the above site, buy them in local fish shops (try Wesley Fish – apparently this is where my mum found them!), or eat them at the Fishermens’ Rest pub in Birkdale (a single easy train stop from Southport centre).
11. Have a mooch round Wesley Street
This little street is a new one to me (and be warned, it is only little – if you’re after a proper shopping session, you’ll need Lord Street). It’s been turned into a real quirky little village-style affair with bunting, flowers and pastel-coloured shops. All the shops are independent.
We had a look in a traditional sweet shop and almost went into a little café that looked really nice but we’d only just had cake so exerted some unusual self-control. The rest of the shops were more for locals (watch repairs, barbers etc). It’s worth having a wander down though.
12. Admire the amazing setting of Wayfarers Arcade
Wayfarers Arcade is a unique Victorian shopping centre. Aside from an incredibly photogenic setting, it has a few nice cafés and a handful of good independent shops. I like:
- Strawberry House Pottery – some really nice handmade pieces
- Gentle Cosmetics – cruelty free/vegan beauty
- Ideal Accessories – I think this is what it’s called (no website); loads of fascinators and costume jewellery
- Beales – this is a department store and used to be called Broadbents & Boothroyds when I lived locally. It’s still the same kind of stuff – makeup, clothes, homeware.
13. Walk down Rotten Row
If it’s a nice day, I’d recommend walking over to see Rotten Row. It’s a flowerbed running alongside a road outside a park (where they host the Southport Flower Show – see #20 of this list). I don’t think I’ve ever recommend a flowerbed on this blog before and probably never will again, but this one is worth having a look at.
It runs for ages and is really pretty – probably not worth making a massive effort to go and see if you’re pushed for time, because it is just flowers, but if you’re walking around the Marine Lake and the pier anyway you should do a detour. If you’re driving, make sure you go out of your way to pass it.
14. See [what was once] Britain’s smallest pub
Having had its title as the smallest pub in Britain cruelly overtaken (currently by something in Bury St Edmund’s apparently), the Lakeside Inn is no longer a Guinness World Record kind of place. It is, however, quite small and quaint. The inside is nothing to write home about, but you can sit out with a view of the lake on a hot day.
Things to do in Southport a bit further afield
15. Visit Birkdale village
I’ve already touched on Birkdale a little bit with the potted shrimp reference, but it’s a lovely little village. It’s on the Southport to Liverpool train line so dead easy to get to. Its main thing is having plenty of independent shops and bars etc. Unlike Formby village, it’s not just full of charity shops. Some places to note are: Birkdale Cheese Centre; Birkdale Distillery (GIN!); and I have to mention Verve bar, which is a local go-to for cocktails.
16. Meet red squirrels at Formby woods and go to the beach
Every time I go ‘home’, I go for a walk on Formby beach and through the woods. I must have more photos of it than anything else. Really should do a blog post on it [will insert here if I do].
Formby beach is an excellent day trip if you’re staying in Southport or Liverpool (again, it’s on the train line). There are two main things to note about it:
- RED SQUIRRELS – There are not many places left in England (Scotland fares better) where you can see red squirrels. Formby is one of them – and is also the best one. I am definitely not biased. Having grown up in Formby, red was the norm for me. I am still horrified that greys are rife where I live now in Cheshire. Red squirrels are infinitely cuter, fluffier, and just superior in every way. If you’re unlucky enough to live somewhere populated by grey ones, I seriously do recommend a trip to Formby or somewhere else that has reds. Anyway, Formby squirrel reserve is a little haven for these majestic beasts. It’s set in a pine wood, which gives them their cuisine of choice (pine seeds), and is maintained by the National Trust. You can buy squirrel food from the National Trust hut to lure them out for a selfie. They’re very used to people so as long as you’re quiet, you’re likely to get quite close.
- Beach – If you like your beaches sandy and sweeping, you’ll enjoy Formby. It’s not a craggy or rockpooly beach at all, but it has very impressive sand dunes and you can walk for miles. I’d recommend walking through the pine woods, along the beach a bit, and then back through the other side of the woods (this explanation would make more sense with a map). It’s dog and horse friendly, too.
17. Go back in time at Rufford Old Hall
Rufford Old Hall is not that accessible by public transport (although doable), but if you have a car it’s about 25 mins from the centre of Southport. It’s unusual that I’ll recommend somewhere that’s best to get to with driving, but this is a good one and worth seeing if you’re in the area. It’s a National Trust Tudor house from around 1530. Of course, it’s very beautiful and historical. But the two things that always strike me most about it are:
- the priest hole – this is above the Great Hall and was only discovered in the 40s (it’s a secret chamber). Priest holes were concealed spots created especially for priests to hide in when Catholics were persecuted under Queen Elizabeth I. Another National Trust house in nearby Liverpool, Speke Hall, also has one.
- the fact it’s HAUNTED – obviously I don’t believe in ghosts (ahem) but am still up for being scared sh*tless at the thought of them. Most Haunted has even investigated the creepy goings on there. There’s apparently a ‘Grey lady’, the thought of which is enough to give me the creeps. Despite not believing in ghosts.
18. See the Anthony Gormley art installation at Crosby beach
These Anthony Gormley life-size human sculptures are world famous. There are 100 of them looking out to sea along the beach in Crosby (another one that’s on the same train line). The message behind them is about humankind’s relationship with nature.
Bring your camera, because the sculptures and the changing coastal light will make for some excellent shots. You may find some of the sculptures wearing hats and scarves. This probably annoys art purists. But to be fair, it can get very windy on Crosby beach so they probably need it.
And some seasonal things to do in Southport…
19. Go to the British Musical Firework Championships
It sounds weird but this is really a thing. The British Musical Firework Championship happens annually in early autumn, usually late September, in Kings Gardens. It lasts for three nights and actual firework professionals battle it out with displays set to music to win.
20. Have a day out at Southport Flower Show
Southport’s flower show is the largest independent flower show in the UK (do one, Chelsea). It’s in Victoria Park (where Rotten Row is too). This is easy walking distance from the train station and the town centre. If you like Tatton Flower Show in Knutsford and that kind of thing, you’ll love Southport’s version. It has all the usual show gardens, plants to buy and celebrity guests etc. Also, there are more bargains than Tatton. Last year, my friend got a very cute wheelbarrow full of plants being sold off for a pittance at the end of the last day.
A good day out to take your mum to or just if you need garden inspo.
Things to do in Southport – useful information for your trip
Where to stay in Southport
While I normally stay at my parents’ when I visit Southport, I’ve stayed in a few hotels for weddings over the years and so I have some tips.
- I’d recommend the Lord Street Hotel (a boutique-style one), or the Lord Street Apartments (if you don’t want a full hotel). Both are central and well priced.
- If you’re after a bit of a splurge, the Vincent Hotel is swankier (and often not that expensive at all).
How to get to and around Southport
Southport has a well-connected train station, so there’s no need to drive (something I avoid at all costs). Trains to/from Liverpool are every 15 minutes and it takes 45 minutes. Trains to/from Manchester are either one or two an hour and if you get a direct one, it’s only an hour and 15 minutes.
Once you’re in Southport, the centre is completely walkable, and it’s a very short walk to the beach and pier too.
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I was treated to a lovely lunch at Auberge thanks to the tourist board Visit Southport after they were aware I was visiting the town. I’m trying to write more about local places in the North West; this gift did not affect my visit or my writing. Views on Southport are all my own. My blog is always 100% honest and I cannot be bribed with food, although feel free to try.