Independent guides for the modern tourist
Independent guides for the modern tourist
Historic Winchester is one of the gems of southern England.
This charming and ancient city was the medieval capital of Britain. It was from here that Saxon (730-1066) kings ruled over the Kingdom of Wessex, and the early Norman kings used as their primary stronghold to govern England. Later the city became an important religious centre, home to the powerful Bishop of Winchester and as the revered pilgrimage site of the bones of Saint Swithun.
Remnants of the historical importance of Winchester are found throughout the city. There is the magnificent 11th-century cathedral, the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, The Great Hall and Winchester College, England’s oldest school.
Modern Winchester is just as captivating as the historical side. The city has a young, vibrant population due to the university, while the affluent nature of the region has made Winchester a centre for fine dining and eating out.
Winchester is a varied and fascinating city, which makes for a wonderful destination for a day trip, and can be easily visited from London by train.
Winchester Cathedral – Europe's largest medieval cathedral, with ornately carved choir stalls, beautiful stained-glass windows and a frequently flooded crypt.
The Great Hall – A magnificent medieval hall and all that remains of Winchester once-mighty Castle. Hanging in the hall is a 14th-century replica of King Arthur's fabled Round Table.
Winchester Highstreet – The bustlingly shopping street Winchester, lined with traditional and characterful buildings.
Priory Gate and Kings Gate – A pair of gateways, through the city walls (King's Gate) and the cathedral walls (Priory Gate) surrounded by some of the most delightful buildings in Winchester
Winchester is a wonderful destination for a day trip. The city boasts fascinating historical sights, a traditional city centre, along with tranquil walks that follow the River Itchen.
Winchester is a compact city and can be easily explored in a couple of hours of sightseeing. To extend your day trip, you could visit the Winchester Cathedral, Winchester College and The Great Hall, but all require paid admissions. For a pleasant walk, you could follow the River Itchen south out of the city to the "Hospital of the Cross" or to Saint Catherine's Hill.
Below is an interactive map for a suggested tour of Winchester, which begins and ends at the train station.
Sights of the tour: 1) The Great Hall 2) Westgate 3) The High Street 4) Buttercross Monument 5) Winchester City Museum 6) The Guildhall 7) Statue of King Alfred the Great 8) Abbey Gardens 9) City Mill 10) Weirs pathway 11) Wolvesey Castle 12) Winchester College 13) Priory Gate 14) Winchester Cathedral 15) Keats' Walk 16) Hospital of the Cross
The former law courts of Winchester
Generally, it is better to catch the train to Winchester than to drive, as the city has limited car parking and the city centre can get very congested with traffic. Winchester train station is only a 10-minute walk to the north of the Great Hall, and provide direct services to London (45min) or Southampton (20min).
The largest car park in Winchester is "Chesil Street Multi-Storey" (postcode SO23 0HU), which is to the east of the city.
For long stays in Winchester (more than 4 hours), it is much better value and easier to park at the "Park and Ride" and catch the bus in. The most convenient "Park and Ride" car park is at "Saint Catherine" (postcode SO23 9NP), as it is close to the M3 motorway.
Winchester's affluent nature and popularity with London commuters, has attracted many outstanding restaurants and fine-dining locations to the city. Winchester is often regarded as Hampshire's best location for eating out.
These fine-dining restaurants include; The Chesil Rectory (classic English), Kyoto Kitchen (Japanese), Rick Stein (Seafood), Brasserie Blanc (French) and the popular "The Ivy".
Winchester also boasts many historic and characterful pubs such as the "Eclipse Inn" and "The Bishop on the Bridge". The most unique pub is "The Black Boy" with its bizarre décor of collectables and taxidermy.
The Great Hall is the impressive medieval hall of Winchester Castle. It was from here that early Norman Kings ruled England, medieval kings dinned in, and later, as an important court, which was in use until 1874.
The Great Hall is the only remain structure of Winchester Castle, which was dismantled during the English Civil War (1645) by Oliver Cromwell to prevent it be used against his forces.
Hanging within the Great Hall is a replica of King Arthur's fabled round table. This round table dates from the 13th century and was re-painted in the 16th for King Henry VIII, to combine the myths of King Arthur with Henry VIII's ego.
The Great Hall has a £4 admission fee which includes a medieval garden and a small historic gallery
The main tourist attraction of Winchester is the cathedral, and this was an important medieval pilgrimage destination as it contained the bones of Saint Swithun.
The present cathedral was constructed by the Normans in 1089 and was one of the largest medieval cathedrals in Europe, with a nave of over 169m long. The building appears squat and is without a spire or tower (which collapsed in 1107) as it is constructed on marshy and waterlogged land.
Insight: In 1906, the eastern side of the cathedral was close to collapsing due to the rotten timber foundations submerged below the water level. William Walker, a deep-sea diver, spent six months replacing the timber foundations with concrete, and a statue of him can be found inside the cathedral.
Inside the cathdedral, there is a lot to see, including the tomb of Jane Austen (the famous 18th-century writer), a crypt that frequently is flooded, and the beautifully carved oak choir stalls. Exhibited in the cathedral museum is the "Winchester Bible", a beautiful 12th-century bible containing detailed Romanesque illuminations.
Insight: The cathedral once had a stunning stained-glass window at the western entrance, but it was destroyed during the English civil war. To replace the window, a mosaic using the broken glass was installed in 1660.
The entrance fee to the cathedral is £9.95, and the ticket allows re-entry for up to 1-year, so your visit can be spread throughout the day.
Cathedral Close is the historic area of Winchester that lies within the Cathedral walls. This is one of the most charming areas of the city and is a joy to wander.
Found within Cathedral Close is the Deanery, the cathedral office and the ancient buildings of Prior school. A highlight of Cathedral Close is Priory Gate, which leads through to Kingsgate, the original gate in the Norman city walls.
Insight: The foundations of the Saxon "Old Minster" cathedral (660 to 1093) are marked on the north side of the cathedral.
The ruins of Wolvesey Castle were once a magnificent palace used by the Bishops of Winchester. Originally it was part of a Saxon castle but was transformed into a luxurious palace by Bishop Henry of Blois in 1129.
Its status was so highly regarded that it held the wedding breakfast of Philip II of Spain to Queen Mary in 1554. The palace was destroyed during the English Civil War at the same time Winchester Castle was dismantled.
The ruins of Wolvesey Castle
Winchester lies in a beautiful region of rolling chalk hills. On the eastern side of the city is Saint Giles Hill, and from the hill is a wonderful viewpoint overlooking Winchester.
Saint Giles Hill viewpoint is a 10minute walk from the city centre, and the uphill path leads off from the base of "Magdalen Hill" Road. The view is worth the uphill walk!
Winchester College is England's oldest school, being established in 1382. The school was created by the Bishop of Winchester to prepare boys for priesthood training (at New College, in Oxford), after the Black Death plague killed many priests.
Today it is still a highly respected boys school, and certain sections can be viewed via organised tours, which can be booked at the main entrance.
The Saxon king Alfred the Great (848-899) ruled the kingdom of Wessex from Winchester, and today is much celebrated by the city.
Alfred is regarded as the finest Saxon ruler as he halted the advances of the Vikings (who controlled most of eastern England in 870) and eventually united all of England's kingdoms.
Alfred's greatest victory was at the Battle of Edington, which led to the Viking leader Guthrum being converted to Christianity, and relative peace with the Vikings.
A statue of Alfred the Great stands outside of the Guildhall and has a unique pose as he is holding his sword as if a religious cross.