7 Top Things to Do in Winchester, England

Although I had never heard of Winchester until recently, after spending 2 days there I’m convinced that Winchester should be on every visitor to England’s agenda.  Winchester is a historic city dating back to pre-Roman times and is only an hour southwest of London.  While I enjoy the energy of London, I found myself relaxing and slowing down in Winchester and the slower pace of the city.  Not that there is a shortage of things to do in Winchester in fact it’s just the opposite, but yet it still maintains a feeling of tranquility.  Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Winchester:

Visit Winchester Cathedral.  Winchester Cathedral is Winchester’s most famous landmark and it is truly breathtaking dating back more than a 1000 years.  Winchester Cathedral also has the claim to fame of being Europe’s longest medieval cathedral.  Although Winchester Cathedral is spectacular in itself, it really comes to life through the 1000 years of stories its walls hold.  There is a free children’s trail in which I saw the most enthusiastic children I’ve ever seen in any cathedral, so what they were doing obviously held their interest.   For adults I would highly recommend either the guided tour or the self guided audio tour in which you can hear some of these stories for yourself, like how Bishop Samuel Wilberforce got the nickname “Soapy Sam.”  Jane Austen lovers will also be interested to learn that she was buried in Winchester Cathedral and you can visit her grave here.  For more info on Winchester Cathedral see the official website of Winchester Cathedral.  To enjoy a view of Winchester Cathedral dine at Wessex Restaurant or have a drink in the King’s Lounge, both located in the Mercure Winchester Wessex Hotel where a fine selection of international food is served.

things to do in Winchester, England: Check out the Winchester Cathedral ceiling
Winchester Cathedral is the longest medieval cathedral in Europe. I couldn’t stop saying “wow” as I explored the cathedral.

Go Back to School at Winchester College.  Who knew that school was so much fun?  Winchester College is England’s oldest continuously running school in England, dating back to 1382.  It’s an exclusive school for boys aged 13 – 18.  Scholarships are available to the top students, called scholars who live at the College and are distinguished by the long black robes they wear even in hot weather.  The other students must pay their own way, with tuition at £30,000 (~$49,000 USD) per year and live just outside the College.  I wasn’t sure what to expect about a tour of a college, but I found it fascinating.  Besides the tour itself of medieval buildings and chapels, I was pleasantly surprised to see how little has changed.  In the dining hall, even the benches are original!  Winchester College may also look familiar to Harry Potter fans as two of the buildings were used in the films (well part of the buildings, the tops were transplanted onto other larger buildings).  While I likely won’t be sending any future children I may have to Winchester College, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and our guide, Chris was lively and humorous as she told us about the history and the surviving medieval traditions.  Entrance to Winchester College is by tour only.

Things to do in Winchester, England: Visit Winchester College
Part of this tower from Winchester College was used in the Harry Potter movies.

The Great Hall and King Arthur’s Round Table.  The Great Hall is the finest preserved Great Hall in all of England today and is one of only two buildings remaining from Winchester Castle.  It dates back to 1222 and is in pristine condition.  In the Great Hall visitors will also find King Arthur’s Round Table.  After seeing so many movies that focused on King Arthur, I found it exciting to actually see the original Round Table.   It’s impressive with a diameter of 5.5m, and weighs  1200 kg.  The last time it was taken off the wall was in the 1970s, not an easy feat I would imagine.  I also love King Arthur’s idea of the Round Table – that at a roundtable all of his knights would be equal.  Admission is by donation.
Things to do in Winchester, England: Visit King Arthur's Round Table

City Museum.  The City Museum takes visitors through Winchester’s history starting on the third floor with the Iron Age, as you work your way down.  It’s a small but interesting museum and I really enjoyed the models of the town, showing how it had changed over the ages.  There were lots of interactive activities and the kids we saw seemed to be enjoying themselves.  It was here that I also learned that Winchester was the first capital of England.  Admission is free.

Things to do in Winchester, England: Visit the City Museum
The City Museum in Winchester does a good job of explaining the roots of this historic city.

The City Mill.  The Winchester City Mill is a rare example of a surviving city mill.  Sitting over the Itchen River, it was built in 1744, at the same site as an earlier medieval mill, closed for 90 years and then reopened again in 2004.  We were fortunate enough to see flour being made and the machines in action (flour is made on Saturdays and Sundays).  From a volunteer miller we learned that it takes anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes to produce one bag of flour.  The City Mill is very kid friendly with lots of interactive activities.  Besides the milling, one of the highlights for me was seeing footage of otters that sometimes hang out near the waterwheel.  I also enjoyed the gift shop, filled with many books and I couldn’t resist buying one on otters.

Things to do in Winchester, England: Visit the City Mill
The flour making demonstration at the City Mill in Winchester.

Walking in Winchester.  Another thing I loved about Winchester is that it is compact enough that you don’t need a car.  We arrived by train and walked every where we went.  There are also a couple of themed walks of interest to   visitors including the Keats Walk, in which you can retrace the footsteps that the English Romantic poet, John Keats took during his 1819 stay in Winchester.  Or for couples there is the Sunset Walk through the most romantic parts of Winchester including along the Itchen River and up to St. Giles Hill to watch the sun set.   Romance was definitely in the air, everywhere we went we saw couples holding hands.

Things to do in Wincherster, England: Explore the city on foot
Winchester offers many walking paths and is easily explored on foot due to its compact size.

Talk to Locals. Or Wintonians as they’re called.  During my short time in Winchester I met some of the friendliest people I have met anywhere, and I loved the community pride that showed up in so many ways from well maintained houses and gardens, to helpful locals.  I was also impressed by the number of volunteers that we met, from our friendly greeter Chris who greeted us at the train station and gave us an orientation to Winchester (more in an upcoming post), to the helpful volunteer at the City Museum to the Volunteer Miller who entertained visitors while milling flour.

After two days I left Winchester feeling rejuvenated, content and wondering when I will return and have named Winchester my “Best International Destination”  in my Best of Travel 2011.

Have you been to Winchester?  What were your impressions of it?

This trip was made possible by Visit Winchester,  but as always all opinions expressed are my own. 

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About Author

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Laurel
Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their hiking, cycling and wildlife vacations in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her hiking in the mountains on most weekends.

Comments

June 7, 2011
Certainly worth a visit. The cathedral is something to behold.
June 7, 2011
Winchester sounds like a great place to visit. I always love to tour colleges, so would definitely put Winchester College on my list. I've heard about Winchester Cathedral and would love to see it -- great photos!
June 7, 2011
What a lovely town! Glad you had a great trip here. It's towns like this that make me want to explore England. I know many people are excited about the big cities but it's towns like this that really are fun for me!
June 7, 2011
I too love London but do enjoy getting out of the city. I visited Winchester as a day trip from London many years ago and I can definitely see I need to go back! The inside of that Cathedral is breathtaking.
June 7, 2011
Britain is so full of absolute jewels. Haven't visited Winchester yet, but have had it on my list a while.
June 7, 2011
Nice post. Really old cathedrals are awe-inspiring.
June 8, 2011
I used to live nearby but you have brought it to life in a way I never appreciated before :)
June 9, 2011
I went to Winchester recently, too! It was a lovely little town, and that Jane Austen was buried there was an unexpected surprise!
Laurel
June 16, 2011
@Inka - Agreed, I loved Winchester and the cathedral was a stand out.@Cathy - I think you would really enjoy it, and it does have that College Town feel, which I also enjoy, but also a family friendly and romantic feel at the same time.@Jeremy - I agree, I also prefer the smaller places over the big cities, especially ones that are as charming as Winchester with such friendly people.@Debbie - Glad to hear that you've been there. Watch for an upcoming post just on the cathedral. I've been to quite a few cathedrals but this one still took my breath away and the audio tour was excellent.@Sophie - Agreed, visiting Winchester makes me want to explore more small English towns and cities.@Scott - I agree.@Robin - You were so lucky to live close by. It looks like there's so much to explore in the surrounding area as well. Sometimes I think tourists see more than locals do. I've visited more museums in Germany in one year than I have in my entire life in Canada.@Mega - Glad to hear that you've been to Winchester. I was also surprised to learn that Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral. Did you see her house as well? Next time I want to visit the house where she grew up.
Kathy Grin
June 18, 2011
I have never been to Winchester. The places that are posted in this blog are wonderful! Thanks for sharing it.
Laurel
June 21, 2011
@Kathy - I would highly recommend visiting Winchester if you get the chance, I loved it.
Chris
June 30, 2011
Wow. Thank you so much for putting up these posts on Winchester. I have a week or so to spend in the vicinity of London this fall--looks like I have a new spot to visit. Your pictures and descriptions drew me in. How can I pass up visiting the Round Table?
January 10, 2012
Never been to Winchester and it looks as though we missed out. I've heard lots of stories about how beautiful the cathedral is but your photo shows that well enough! :) Julia
February 9, 2012
Winchester was my first overseas visit, so I remember it fondly and with great pride. I was very young (21) and had a young baby with me and I was all alone (husband was in meetings at IBM) I did go to the Cathedral after I hailed my own taxi and changed money and navigated the streets alone. It sounds silly now, but it was a big deal for me then. I would love to go back. I am so much braver now:)
October 28, 2012
[...] Londontown when living there because it was so cool, but based on the fact that there are so many things to do in Winchester, in Oxford, Brighton, Scotland and hundreds of other UK cities, the next time I find myself there, [...]
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October 2, 2015
I don't know about the winchester until i read this blog, its really nice.
October 4, 2015
@Luton to Dorset Taxi - It's definitely worth a visit!
March 26, 2018
Super fun to see one of my hometowns on your blog! I grew up about twenty minutes away and went to college (age 16-18) in Winchester (though not at Winchester College). You definitely found the top sights and pinpointed why Winchester is so lovely. I'd also recommend people to visit the ruins of Wolvesey Castle and go for a walk up St Catherines Hill.
March 30, 2018
@Gemma - Thanks for the recommendations. Now I want to go back :)
Kathy Whittle
March 27, 2018
Thank you for this wonderful introduction to Winchester! I had never considered visiting until my Mother said the Cathedral is magnificent and the Round Table is there. My husband and I will be exploring Bath and Cornwall in May for our 50th anniversary and will definitely be going through Winchester on our way back to London. We have limited time to spend there so your pictures and comments are very helpful. Thanks again!
March 30, 2018
@Kathy - Thank you for your lovely comment. Happy Anniversary! I wish you a wonderful anniversary trip and so glad that you'll be stopping at Winchester on your way back to London. I really enjoyed my weekend there.

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