Lovely Winchester is one of the must-see towns of Southern England. Located in a valley, what is now the River Itchen originally ran through town along what is now the high street.
The Romans decided to move the river east in order to build Winchester in the valley.
In Saxon times Winchester was the capital of England and home to the treasury. London and its much larger Thames River eventually beat Winchester out to become the capital of the UK.
However, this time as the capital resulted in some stunning architecture and the establishment of important institutions like the Cathedral, Winchester University and Winchester College which are still very active today.
And best of all, Winchester and the area around it are very photogenic. Here are my top 14 things to do in Winchester and around Winchester.
14 Best Things to do in Winchester
Table of Contents
- 14 Best Things to do in Winchester
- 1. Visit Winchester Cathedral
- 2. The Great Hall
- 3. Walk the River Itchen
- 4. St Catherine’s Hill
- 5. Wolvesey Castle
- 6. St Cross Hospital
- 7. The 19 Bollards
- 8. The Hampshire Jubilee Statue
- 9. Visit Winchester High Street – the oldest in the UK
- 10. The Winchester Mill
- Winchester Town Guided Tour
- Whilst in Winchester you might also enjoy this great low-cost fun tours:
- Days Out Winchester
- 11. Sir Harold Hiller Gardens
- 12. Chawton House
- 13. Jane Austen’s House Museum
- 14. Visit the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
- 15. Enjoy Africa in the Countryside
- 16. The Wykeham Arms
- The Rooms at the Wykeham Arms
- The Food at The Wykeham Arms
- Other Restaurants in Winchester:
- How to Get to Winchester
- Who Paid for What in this Post
1. Visit Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral must be at the top of any list of great places to see in Winchester. Construction of this world-famous cathedral was begun in 1079 by William the Conqueror.
Indeed, Winchester was the first city which he visited after 1066 as it was the location of the treasury at the time.
William was keen to show the Saxons how amazingly advanced the Normans were and the construction of Winchester Cathedral was one of the ways – something we can still appreciate today.
Winchester Cathedral is still a working cathedral and a critical part of the Winchester community. The exterior of the building is stunning.
I found late afternoon was the best time to photograph the front of the cathedral. The interior is also very photogenic – particularly the stained glass windows.
Free guided tours of Winchester Cathedral run on the hour between 10 and 3. I took one of these and it is the best way to find out more about the Cathedral and to find some good photo opportunities.
It is easy to miss the lovely relatively newly restored stained glass windows in the east of the building.
Winchester Cathedral is literally in the heart of historic Winchester and almost impossible to miss. The Cathedral is open every day of the year.
There is no fee for those who are only coming to worship but there is a fee for those of us wishing to come and take photos.
Although the Cathedral is open every day, there are events on etc so do check which parts of Winchester Cathedral are and aren’t open on the day that you plan to visit.
The website for Winchester Cathedral is excellent and will tell you everything you need to know for a great visit. And once you buy your ticket it is valid for a year so you can visit the Cathedral at different times of the day and in different lights for photos.
And Winchester Cathedral now appears on the British £10 note – next to Jane Austen appropriately.
2. The Great Hall
The Great Hall of Winchester has quite the history. Winchester never got the castle it was intended to have as it was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. However, he did let the Great Hall go and it is still standing.
One of the Great Hall Winchester’s many claims to fame is that it is the “home” of King Arthur’s Round Table. Indeed, it has been said that Winchester could well have been the model for Camelot.
Anyway, we will never know – but we do know that the round table on display at the Great Hall isn’t old enough to have actually been King Arthur’s Round Table but it is still very photogenic.
The steel gates on the other side of the Cathedral were erected in honour of the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981. And there is the lovely Queen Eleanor’s garden out the back.
Plus there are ye olde time costumes galore – including crowns – if you would like to dress up for some old-style selfies. Great if you’re looking for fun things to do in Winchester.
Oh and some scenes from the Netflix show The Crown was shot here.
There are some fantastic UK City and Sightseeing passes which offer free entry to all must-see attractions & great deals.
3. Walk the River Itchen
The River Itchen runs for 28 miles from mid-Hampshire to Southampton. A walk along this lovely chalk stream is one of the nicest Winchester attractions.
I started my walk from the Mill at the end of Winchester High Street. You can’t miss the stream below.
It is home to many of the sites of Winchester (see below) as well as weirs and lovely foliage.
There are many different options for walks along the River Itchen – check out this post from a blogger local to the area for 5 of the Best River Itchen Walks.
4. St Catherine’s Hill
St Catherine’s Hill is a small chalk hill just outside Winchester. It provides some terrific views of Winchester and is a lovely little walk. Join the River Itchen at the end of Winchester High Street as above.
Follow the path along the river for about a mile (you’ll go past St Cross Hospital – more information below) when you’ll reach a path of big steps to your left that will take you up to the top of St Catherine’s Hill and some wonderful views.
5. Wolvesey Castle
Wolvesey Castle sits on the River Itchen. The building of Wolvesey Castle began in 1107. It was home to Kings and Queens but was demolished in the 1680s. Today, it is a decent amount of rocky ruins located next to Wolvesey Palace (where the Bishop still lives).
It is worth popping into for a couple of nice ruins photos but not worth taking a lot of time unless you are a passionate student of castle ruins.
6. St Cross Hospital
St Cross Hospital was founded in 1132. It was intended to provide sustenance and a bed for the poor, pilgrims, crusaders and anyone else who needed a rest and snack. St Cross Hospital is actually the oldest charitable institution in England.
It is still home to 25 brothers and it still continues to provide alms! And it is one of the more photogenic points of interest in Winchester.
The nicest way to visit is to walk down the Itchen River on what is known as the Walter Meadows Walk – it is 1 mile from Winchester.
7. The 19 Bollards
The Bollards are located on one of the cutest streets in Winchester – somewhat confusingly the street is called The Square. I assume it was a square at one point and the name stuck but not the shape.
The Bollard Projects, as it is known, began in 2005 as part of the Winchester Hat Fair celebrations. It encouraged artists local to the area to paint the bollards along The Square in tributes to their favourite artists.
The inspiring artists cover everyone from Hockney to Klimt to Da Vinci and many more. And the bollards are, of course, very Insta-friendly and were my favourite of the arty things to do in Winchester UK.[easy-image-collage id=13326]
8. The Hampshire Jubilee Statue
Located outside the Winchester Law Courts, the Hampshire Jubilee Sculpture was inspired by all things Winchester. It has some striking colours – particularly the shades of blue.
I photographed it during the day but saw some shots taken at night online and they looked fantastic. Email me if you take night shots.
9. Visit Winchester High Street – the oldest in the UK
Reported to be the oldest High Street in the UK, Winchester high street is a bustling area with something for everyone.
There is fantastic architecture, buildings dating back to the early 1100s, the Winchester High Street Clock (which dates back to 1714), the Horse and Rider statue of a naked man on a horse, loads of great restaurants and lots of shopping.[easy-image-collage id=13327]
10. The Winchester Mill
The Winchester City Mill was built in 1743 and once ground grain for the bakers in the area. I must admit, I didn’t go in but I really liked the building from a photography point of view. I particularly liked it as seen from the River Itchen.
The Mill is located where the High Street meets the River Itchen.
Winchester Town Guided Tour
A great way to check out some of the best things to see in Winchester is to take one of the 2 daily tours on offer by Winchester Tourism. The morning tour – usually around 11 but this does change – covers Upper Winchester.
This means the Cathedral, the High Street, the Great Hall and the site of Winchester’s castle. The second tour is in the afternoon and follows River Itchen before heading to Wolvesey Castle, Winchester College, Jane Austen’s house and the Cathedral Close.
I took the morning tour. This tour meets at the tourism office on the high street and lasts about 90 minutes. Our guide was excellent. I highly recommend taking one or both of the tours.
There is a charge so do buy your tickets at the tourism office on the High Street – which is also where the tours begin.
Whilst in Winchester you might also enjoy this great low-cost fun tours:
Days Out Winchester
11. Sir Harold Hiller Gardens
The world-famous gardens Sir Harold Hillier Gardens Hampshire were established by Sir Harold Hillier in 1953. He visited all over the world to source his diverse plant collection which grew to 180 acres.
In 1977, Sir Harold Hillier gifted his amazing gardens to the Hampshire County Council.
hese stunning gardens are now open to visitors year-round. The speciality of Harold Hillier Gardens is its seasonal plantings – and upon arrival, visitors receive a guide as to what is currently in bloom.
The gardens are extremely photogenic – but the highlight for me was the Art in the Garden sculpture exhibition. The gardens run different exhibitions each year featuring a mix of art and greenery.
The gardens are very well set up for visitors with lots of parking, restaurants and very easy to follow maps of the grounds.
12. Chawton House
Chawton House was owned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward. When he inherited Chawton from a distant relative the property also included a house in the town which he gave to his mother and two sister’s rent-free for the rest of their lives.
This is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum (next up on this list)
Chawton was known to Jane as “the Great House” and she often wandered up the lane and visited the house.
Many believe that it was an inspiration for some of the homes in her novels, particularly Mansfield Path.
Chawton house itself is lovely. I had lunch in the gorgeous Old Kitchen Tearoom. This is well worth a visit as it is quite picturesque and they have a nice menu which changes daily.
And the homemade cakes are pretty fantastic. The outside dining area is very insta friendly.
The house itself wasn’t so photogenic inside but the gardens were terrific – particularly the lovely Walled Garden. This was built by Jane’s brother and was referred to in some of Jane Austen’s letters.
13. Jane Austen’s House Museum
Jane Austen’s House Museum is just down the road from Chawton House opposite the pub in the centre of Chawton. This is where Jane Austen lived with her sister and mother and was where she wrote the majority of her novels.
Jane Austen lived here for the majority of the last 8 years of her life and it is where she revised and wrote most of her major works.
Today, it is possible to tour the house and see many of her letters. There is an area where she wrote that contains her original tabletop – the rest has been re-created.
As a big Jane Austen fan, I very much enjoyed being in the place where she experienced her most productive period. Combined with Chawton House, this is an easy Jane Austen themed day tour from Winchester.
PS – the Jane Austen House in Winchester is just a house with a blue plaque – it isn’t any type of museum. And she did only live there for 6 weeks before she died. It is super close to the Wykeham Arms (up next) so easy to wander by and take a photo.
14. Visit the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Just outside Winchester is the home of the world famous Bombay Sapphire Gin. There are two different options available for a visit. The first is to take the Discovery Experience. This includes exploring the botanicals kept in glass houses before visiting the Botanical Dry Room and finishes with a complementary drink in the bar.
The second option is an interactive Gin Cocktail Masterclass. You’ll create and sample two gin cocktails and then finish with a drink in the bar.
15. Enjoy Africa in the Countryside
The well respected Marwell Zoo is just a quick drive from Winchester. This 140 acre park has everything from penguins to giraffes to tigers as well as three adventure playgrounds.
16. The Wykeham Arms
Great news. The final thing to do in Winchester is also somewhere you can sleep and eat. The Wykeham Arms ticks a huge amount of boxes which makes it a brilliant place to stay in Winchester.
You know those awful soulless hotels where you could be anywhere in the world and it all feels like somewhere people come to commit suicide?
There should be a word that is exactly the opposite of that. And if there was I would use it to explain the wonderful Wykeham Arms.
It’s a brilliant pub, it’s a restaurant, it is a boutique hotel, it is a local tourist attraction as it is filled with character and quirk – the Wykeham Arms is so many different things and I just loved staying there.
The Wykeham Arms is a coaching inn that was established in 1755 – so it’s also one of the Winchester historical sites. It takes its name from William of Wykeham, the founder of the very nearby Winchester College – which has been in many movies (as have many of Winchester’s most popular spots).
The long bar is called Nelson and the smaller bar to its left is called Hamilton. It is rumoured that Nelson actually stayed at the Wykeham Arms on his way to Portsmouth but alas there were no credit card slips or opt-ins for email newsletters back then to provide evidence.[easy-image-collage id=13329]
Much of the Wykeham Arms is covered in framed photos, portraits and lots of interesting memorabilia. This was all collected by the former licensees of the Wykeham Arms Graeme and Ann Jameson.
They also added the Cathedral donation slots which are on every table.[easy-image-collage id=13330]
One of my favourite things at the Wykeham Arms was Colin. Colin has come into the Wykeham Arms for a drink or two every day for the last 51 years.
He is also the pub handyman and the ultimate regular. When Colin isn’t at the Wykeham Arms his stool is literally cordoned off – with his photo on top of it.
No one sits on that stool apart from Colin. Now that is a regular! [separator type=”thin”]
The Rooms at the Wykeham Arms
Each room has its own character and design. I stayed in Hamilton. I loved that the walls were filled with interesting frames – as well as a nice modern flat screen tv, a Dyson fan and a cool wall fridge.
The wall fridge contained fresh milk to go with the Nespresso machine – I do love it when hotels provide fresh milk.
My lovely bed had a 1600 individual pocket sprung mattress topped with a mattress cover. The duvet is a luxury microfibre and the pillows are both luxury microfibre and goosedown – but do call reception if you prefer another pillow option.
I love that they have this information about the bedding next to the information about the coffee machine – every hotel should provide detail on their thread counts.
And then I had a gorgeous claw foot bathtub in my bedroom in front of an old fireplace and mirror. They even provide a wicker screen if you would like some privacy within the bedroom.
My bathroom was down a step and off to the left – and it also contained a fireplace. I love how both the bedroom and the bathroom have an original brick feature wall.
The shower is a modern rain shower with two shower head options and there are also nice toiletries as well as fluffy towels.
The Food at The Wykeham Arms
Oh, where to begin? OK breakfast. Breakfast is a buffet offering with a menu with hot items.
The menu covers the full and vegetarian English, eggs any way with or without bacon, an avocado offering, steak and eggs, porridge, smoked salmon AND American style pancakes.
The buffet features fresh fruits, yoghurt, granola and pastries plus juice. My first morning I had poached eggs and bacon. Oh, the bacon! so flavoursome, just perfectly grilled – complete and utter bacon heaven.[easy-image-collage id=13328]
Sunday is a different menu from the rest of the week – distinguished of course by its roasts. I had to order a roast – how could I not?
After an extremely difficult decision between the slow-roasted pork and the lamb, I went with the lamb. So the lamb was fantastic – full of flavour, not much fat, tender to the touch – all good. But what really blew me away were the sides.
They really weren’t sides – they were like sides for about 5 people but they were all for me. There were 2 separate wooden planks to hold all of my sides.
The first contained a fantastic and very large Yorkshire pudding and then a mix of broccoli, carrots, parsnips and something else green. I don’t know what they put on those vegetables but wow wow.
The second plank held about 10 roast potatoes, a pea gratin and my absolute highlight cauliflower and cheese. I think I may be managed to eat 45% of what was brought to me and I so wished for a bigger stomach to be able to eat even more.
This was one of the best Sunday Roasts I have ever had. And I have lived in the UK for 16 years.
The next evening I ordered the signature dish of the Wykham Arms – the cottage pie. It was outstanding. And my waitress was good enough to suggest adding more Worcestershire sauce – an outstanding addition.
I finished off with a breakfast of American style pancakes. They were SO thick and fluffy – I barely made it through one. [separator type=”thick”]
I appreciate that I have gone on quite a bit about the Wykeham Arms in this post. They did sponsor my stay in Winchester – which was lovely thanks guys. But I often have sponsored stays and I don’t often go on this much about a hotel.
I used to work in this area about 4 or 5 years ago and I have stayed at several Winchester hotels – including the Hotel Du Vin in Winchester. Funnily enough, I was taken to the Wykeham Arms for dinner one of those evenings and told it was the best pub in town for food.
So I can say with some decent authority that this is absolutely the best place to stay if you are heading to this area. And that is just my opinion :-). [separator type=”thick”]
Other Restaurants in Winchester:
If you have more room after your fabulous breakfast at the Wykeham Arms, have had their Cottage Pie as well as the Sunday Roast there are some other places to visit for food in Winchester.
- I had a lovely lunch at the Rick Stein Winchester restaurant. It is located on the Winchester high street and has all the lovely fresh seafood you would expect from Rick Stein.
- I heard/read good things about Josie’s for brunch
- Piecaramba of course for pies
- River Cottage Kitchen (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall)
- Black Rat (owner of a Michelin star)
- Black Bottle wine bar where it is possible to try up to 140 wines through self serve machines.
- Hoxton Bakehouse for donuts and more
How to Get to Winchester
Winchester is just 65 miles south-west of London. It is very easy to get to Winchester via train from London and other destinations.
I rented a car with Sixt Car Rental – my favourite London car rental company – to get down to Winchester.
Or if you’d like to fly the nearest airport is Southampton.
⇒ Heading to London? Check out my posts on 13 Unusual Experiences in London, the best London Food Tours, my virtual London Travel Blog, some great Earlsfield restaurants, 14 Things to do in Notting Hill, restaurants near Clapham Junction and Victoria Station restaurants, 16 Famous Landmarks in Europe, a mad hatter afternoon tea party and a day trip to Brighton, 67 Fascinating Facts about London, 18 Landmarks of London from a local, 15 Places to see Sunsets in London, 9 Places to watch the Sunrise in London, 10 Bridges in London Not to Miss and Cotswolds tour from London options.
Who Paid for What in this Post
The lovely team at Fuller’s covered my stay at the wonderful Wykeham Arms, my dinner and breakfasts and car hire and petrol to get there. I paid for my own activities and lunches. As always, all opinions are my own.
This post contains affiliate links. That means that when you click on them and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. Just wanted to make sure that you knew.
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