One of England’s flagship Cathedral cities, Winchester makes for the ideal historic day trip or weekend getaway.
With one of the oldest high streets in the country and a religious building that’s famous the world over, there’s no question, this place is big on the heritage gems!
Set in the county of Hampshire, it’s pretty near London and can also be fairly easily reached from many places in the southwest too, which makes it a great option for a short trip.
With the South Downs National Park also beginning on its doorstep and the peace of the New Forest, the beauty of Dorset and the wonders of Salisbury and Stonehenge not far away, there’s plenty of options if you want to extend the adventure too.
So here, to fire up your wanderlust for Winchester, is my list of the top 13 things to do in this beautiful city…
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#1 Head to the Cathedral
It’s almost certainly no surprise that the number one entry on this list of the top things to do in Winchester is to head to the famous Cathedral.
With its official title being The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Swithun, you’d be forgiven for finding that a bit of a mouthful and just sticking to the easy option, which is referring to the Cathedral by its location!
But whatever you choose to call it, there’s no question this guy is impressive!
One of the largest Cathedrals in Northern Europe, with parts that date back to 1079, this structure is absolutely massive when viewed from the outside, however it’s going inside that really allows you to get a sense of just how enormous this building is!
Open daily with an entrance fee, there’s nevertheless a lot to do here (including exhibitions, a crypt, some gardens and even a café) that make it worth the price!
#2 Snap the Great Hall
Next up on this list of the top things to do in Winchester, we continue the heritage trail with a visit to a neighbouring building, the Great Hall.
Dating back to the 13th century and one of the best-preserved examples of “aisled halls” (seems they were a thing back in the day!), this is a Winchester classic.
However it’s rarely the building which pulls the crowds here, rather it’s what’s held inside because, legend has it, King Arthur’s Round Table lives here – the only remnant of the once-standing Winchester Castle, which was actually built by William the Conqueror.
There’s also a fab array of period costumes you can try on here and take selfies wearing (which was honestly my favourite bit!), as well as some beautiful gardens to stroll.
The Great Hall is open 7 days a week and costs just a few pounds to enter.
Tours are also available if you want to learn more about the history of this Winchester icon.
#3 Wander the Historic High Street
At once a modern shopping district and an antiquated lane from hundreds of years ago, Winchester High Street manages to combine both the old and the new in a delightful blend of ages.
With parts dating back as far as the Roman period, The Square, The City Mill, Kingsgate and Hyde Abbey are all historic parts you can’t miss as you wander down.
Interspersed are the modern shops and bustling cafes of a lively city, which really helps this place feel like a living museum.
But the jewel in the crown for me has to be the Winchester Clock, which dates back to the 19th century and now proudly looms out over the High Street.
#4 Enjoy the King’s Walks
And once you’re done wandering the high street, how about taking a walk through one of Winchester’s best markets?
Yes, the King’s Walk Antique Market is just minutes from Winchester High Street and a short walk from the Cathedral too.
Running from Thursday to Sunday, this is a community hub with food and produce also on offer.
#5 Discover the Keats Walk
And once you’ve wandered the high street and to the market, it’s time to wander a little further afield and explore the charming Keats Walk.
Inspired by the famous British poet who strolled this path daily when he lived in Winchester, this trail is a gorgeous 2 mile circular through and around Winchester which celebrates not only this city, but also the famous writer who resided here, as well as his incredible poem Ode to Autumn, which is said to have been inspired by the beauty of Winchester.
How can you not give it a go after this?!
#6 Stroll Big in the South Downs
But if you want something a bit more hardcore, then it’s time to head out on a big hike and thankfully Winchester offers plenty!
Set at the edge of the South Downs National Park – one of the best places to walk in England in my opinion thanks to its dramatic rolling countryside – the multi-day South Downs Way actually starts from Winchester.
Otherwise, there’s loads of one day options to select from here that will also take you into this delightful protected area.
My suggestion is to use the free version of the AllTrails app, which gives loads of great walks from Winchester with difficulty levels. length and reviews all built in!
#7 Take a Coffee with a View
And once you’ve enjoyed all that fresh air and exercise, it’s probably time to settle down with a coffee and, if you’re lucky, a slice of cake!
Thankfully the centre of Winchester is chockful of great cafes and independent bakeries that can offer you just that!
My pick of the bunch include Hoxton Bakehouse (yes biased because I live in Hackney!), 4th Street Kitchen and The Hatch.
Oh and if you fancy a takeaway – the Abbey Gardens (just off the High Street) are a great place to relax with a picnic on a sunny day!
#8 Hit Up a Museum… or 2!
Then, once you’re refreshed and revived, it’s time to get back on the sightseeing trail and to hit up at least one of Winchester’s museums.
After all, you can’t come this far and not learn a bit about the history you’re seeing around you.
Definitely one of the top things to do in Winchester, from the Winchester City Museum to the Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum, the Westgate Museum to the Gurkha Museum, there’s stacks to choose from.
My top pick however is a little out of the city, but well worth the effort if you can get there.
Yes the Jane Austen House’s is a must-visit for period drama lovers everywhere (hands in the air please!), as this is the exact house where the famous British author spent the last years of her life and penned some of her most renowned works.
Set in a beautiful village, this spot regularly gets top reviews thanks to both its attention to detail and the fascinating insight it provides into Jane’s and her sister’s lives.
#9 Check Out the Wolvesey Castle
And on with the historical tour we go!
Next up in this guide to the top things to do in Winchester, we head back in time and into town to tick the 12th century sight of Wolvesey Castle off our lists.
Also known as the Old Bishop’s Palace, as this is where the Medieval Bishops of Winchester lived, we are just a short distance away from the Cathedral here.
Now owned and managed by English Heritage, this set of ruins are free to enter and it’s well worth strolling around them and imagining the grandeur and power they conveyed at the height of their importance in the Middle Ages
#10 Say Hello to Alfred
And while we’re on the subject of wealthy and powerful historic male figures, it’s time we had a quick chat about Kind Alfred!
You can see his statue at the end of Winchester High Street, which commemorates this most famous of Anglo-Saxon Kings, who strongly defended the Kingdom of Wessex (of which Hampshire was the capital) against the marauding Vikings.
He also made a heap of sweeping reforms that are said to have benefitted the common man greatly – hence why he is known as Alfred The Great – and this monument was built to mark the 1000 years since his death.
#11 Eat with Rick Stein
Moving to a rather more modern figure now, Rick Stein also has a spot on Winchester High Street, namely in the form of a restaurant!
This famous eatery is always a hit with visitors, so be sure to book in advance if you want to grab a table here!
#12 Visit the City Mill
Continue down past Rick Stein and King Alfred and you’ll eventually get to the National Trust treasure that is the City Mill.
Certainly one of the best things to do in Winchester, this beautifully preserved working mill is actually the oldest in England at over 1000 years old.
Wonderfully restored in 2004, this is now a working mill powered by the River Itchen and paying a visit to this heritage gem will actually allow you to see how flour was stoneground for centuries using the force of water alone.
You can then sample the produce in the onsite café, before you head off to wander the grounds and spot some of the magnificent wildlife that call this place home – including kingfishers.
A great one for the whole family, this top thing to do in Winchester is free to enter for National Trust members (if you’re late to the party, sign up here) and is open every day except Tuesday.
Set on the edge of the South Downs, you can either walk here along one of the trails from Winchester (The Itchen Way is a hot choice!) or else catch a local bus or drive, although it’s worth noting there’s no onsite parking.
#13 Do Your Christmas Shopping!
And last but least, one of the top things to do in Winchester is to time your visit to this quintessentially English city to coincide with your Christmas shopping.
Yes Christmas is probably when Winchester Cathedral – in fact, this whole city – is at its most charming and magical!
Set in the Cathedral grounds, this festive spectacle has over 100 stalls of hand-picked producers who set up shop in cute winter chalets – plus there’s an ice rink, craft village & even a food court too!
Inspired by the German Christmas markets, Winchester is one of the most famous alternatives outside of that country and is the perfect way to get into the festive spirit!
Top Winchester Travel Tips
Winchester is located in the county of Hampshire in the south of England.
Getting from London to Winchester by train is probably the most common way of getting to the city, especially for those on public transport.
There are several direct departures every day from London Waterloo station and the journey takes just over an hour.
The train station in Winchester is very close to the centre of the city and you can easily walk from there to all the main attractions in around 10 minutes.
You can also take the National Express bus to Winchester from London, but it takes a fair old while, which is why it’s definitely not advised for day or weekend trips.
This option is usually for longer excursions however, or when budget is a greater consideration than time, so it’s useful to know National Express runs the service from London Victoria Coach Station to Winchester bus station, which is brilliantly located just off the high street!
As always, I book all my train and coach travel in the UK using Trainline – I like the way they compare multiple journeys and use split-fare technology to get you the best prices.
If you’re travelling from London, there are also a number of day trip tours that will not only take you to Winchester (meaning you don’t have to worry about transport), but include a guided experience in parts of this city too!
This is a winner if you’re short on time, so check out this top option for a Winchester tour from London as a superb option.
When to Visit & How Long to Stay?
No question in my mind that you should definitely visit the historic city of Winchester during the summer season.
This will allow you to get the most from the city’s lovely setting because, let’s face it, England is exponentially more beautiful when the sun shines!
The other option for visiting Winchester is during December when the Christmas markets are in full flow and the city takes on a beautiful festive flavour.
You can actually probably enjoy most of Winchester’s attractions in a day, but if you really want to get under the skin of this city, and perhaps enjoy some of the surrounding attractions, including the South Downs National Park, then why not make it a weekend… you won’t regret it!
How to Get Around Winchester?
The centre of Winchester is easily walkable on foot and I honestly wouldn’t advise any other method of transport, especially given the traffic!
If you’re going slightly further out of the city, then thankfully there is a great local bus service that should be able to get you to most places.
Check out the Stagecoach website to plan your journey.
If you’re continuing on elsewhere after Winchester, like across to the New Forest as I was, then it’s probably best to hire a car, which will allow you the flexibility to explore more rural and remote areas.
As always, I recommend Discover Cars for the job.
Where to Stay in Winchester?
And if you’re looking at staying overnight in Winchester then here’s my top suggestions…
Winchester Premier Inn certainly also offers great value accommodation within strolling distance of the city centre and the train station.
This is well-suited to overnight stays, where you just want somewhere to lay your head and aren’t too worried about the feel of the place.
If you want something with a more independent spirit, then check out the quirky Black Hole – very central and with a great breakfast, it also has a lovely roof terrace!
Don’t be put off by the name… it’s a great spot!
For more ideas, check out this list of other recommended spots.
5 Essential Packing Items for Winchester
And here’s 5 packing essentials you shouldn’t head to Winchester without…
#1 A Good Camera
No doubt you’re going to be snapping like crazy in this iconic city and need to ensure you have a good camera to do the place justice.
I love my Sony A6000, which is light, compact and great for travel.
#2 Decent Walking Shoes
You’re likely to do a lot of walking within the city of Winchester, let alone beyond it, so ensuring you have a decent pair of walking shoes is a must.
These trainers from New Balance are ideal (and totally stylish) for the job.
#3 Light Waterproof Jacket
Whatever the time of year, you have to remember this is England after all, a country in which the heavens can open at any point!
Don’t get caught out and ensure you have a good lightweight and waterproof jacket with you!This North Face one is great.
#4 Compact Hiking Day Pack
I never go on any trip, no matter how short, without a sturdy backpack to ensure I’ve got everything I need and that the weight is equally distributed across my back and shoulders,
This super featherweight Kompressor from Marmot is my go-to, because it folds down to nothing and is water-resistant – perfect for travel!
#5 Portable Charger
And finally, I would never head off anywhere without my trusty Anker Portable Charger, which keeps my phone charged meaning I can take all the snaps and use all the maps I need wherever and whenever I am!
Where to Head to After Winchester?
Finally, over to the southwest, it’s just a short drive on until you reach Dorset and the excellent number of things there are to enjoy in this county too.
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And that’s my guide to the 13 best things to do in Winchester, plus my top travel tips when it comes to visiting this city.
Have you visited this beautiful Hampshire destination before?
What was your favourite thing to do there?
Please help other travellers out by sharing any tips you have below…