Are you planning to explore the county of Hampshire? Then look no further than Winchester in England! This charming city has a market-town feel, beautiful architecture, gorgeous monuments, trendy bakeries and numerous festivals. Winchester has all the ingredients you need for a relaxing break and is worthy of its renowned reputation. Whether you come here for one day or spend a weekend in Winchester, there is no shortage of quirky things to do in Winchester. You will find plenty of attractions to keep you occupied here.
Winchester in England is just as pretty as we imagined it would be.
What is Winchester known for?
Why is Winchester famous? Because Winchester was once the capital of England. It lies on the edge of South Downs National Park. The formal royal capital is home to King Artur’s legendary Round table and one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. It is also an excellent gateway to Hampshire.
Winchester is worth visiting because it is one of the gems of southern England. This cathedral city was the seat of Alfred the Great and is the resting place of Saxon royalty. Today Winchester is one of the best day trips from London because it has a rich history.
Did you know much of England’s early history was based in this city? As you already know, Winchester was once the capital of England. Scholars believe that the remains of twelve English kings are buried here. Because of that, Winchester could be the first Royal Mausoleum.
Best things to do in Winchester, England
You’ve made the easy decision to travel here. Now comes the harder part, when you need to decide what to do in Winchester. Here is our list of the best things to do in Winchester that you cannot miss.
Things to do in Winchester for history lovers
1. Winchester Cathedral
One of the first attractions most people head to in Winchester in England is Winchester Cathedral, and there is a reason for that. Winchester Cathedral is not just a pretty building. It is also one of the largest cathedrals of its kind in Northern Europe. This beautiful church is the city’s most recognised landmark. It has a rich history and colourful past.
Winchester Cathedral is one of the popular filming locations. You may know it from the Crown (Netflix) or the Da Vinci Code when it doubled up as the Vatican.
Winchester Cathedral History
Did you know that Mary Tudor (also known as Bloody Mary) married Prince Philip of Spain in Winchester Cathedral? Yes, that is right, the daughter of King Henry VIII, who ruled England for 5 years, had her wedding here. But she is not the only famous person whose history is connected with this place.
Maybe you do not know it, but Winchester Cathedral is the resting place of the famous English novelist Jane Austen. You can also find here the remains of King Cnut the Great. He was the king of Denmark and won the throne of England in the 11th century. Even King Alfred the Great’s remains used to rest here before they got lost during medieval times.
The history of this site stretches back to 642 AD when a small church dedicated to Saint Peter stood here. The current structure dates back to Norman times (11th century).
This iconic cathedral has the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. Winchester Cathedral is more than 170 metres (558 ft) long. Winchester Cathedral also has over a thousand carved wood and stone bosses in the vaulted ceiling. But these are not the only reasons why visiting Winchester Cathedral is one of the best things to do in Winchester, England.
As you already know, Winchester Cathedral is famous for the tombs of several Saxon kings and also for its architecture. Other highlights are the Winchester Bible and Mary Tudor’s wooden chair on which she sat during her wedding. Also, do not miss the Holy Sepulchre Chapel with 12th-century wall paintings.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The entrance fee to Winchester Cathedral only costs £10 for an adult. If you want a tower tour of Winchester Cathedral, expect to pay £15. You do not need to pay for the Crypt tour.
At the moment, the Crypt tour is not available. It is due to organ restoration works. Also, the Crypt regularly floods during the winter months.
Winchester Cathedral opening times:
CATHEDRAL: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 12 pm – 3 pm
THE CRYPT: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 12 pm – 3 pm
KINGS & SCRIBES (including the Morley Library): Monday – Saturday 10.30 – 4.30 pm, Sunday 12 pm – 3pm
Guided tours of Winchester Cathedral start each hour from 10 am – 3 pm. The crypt tours are only available from Monday to Friday (10.30 am, 12.30 pm and 2.30 pm).
2. Winchester Bible
Winchester Bible is not just any bible, but the largest of its kind. You are right to think that it is the largest surviving 12th-century English Bible. This colourful bible weighs 32 kg and is one of the oldest English bibles in the world. Winchester Cathedral has been home to this beautiful book for over eight hundred years. It is one of the highlights of the cathedral.
3. Great Hall Winchester
On any list of the best things to do in Winchester, visiting the Great Hall should not be far from the top. William the Conqueror built here one of the first Norman castles in England almost a thousand years ago. The castle became the seat of the government of the Norman Kings for more than a hundred years.
Unfortunately, Winchester Castle, which played an important role in English history, has been destroyed. All that remains of it is Winchester Great Hall and the underground Castle Passageways, which allowed defenders to return safely to the castle.
Did you know that Winchester’s Great Hall is one of the finest surviving examples of 13th-century halls? The Great Hall, which you can see today, replaced the original hall. It is a Grade I listed building.
Winchester Round table
Many myths and legends are associated with Winchester Castle and its Great Hall. People believe the Great Hall in Winchester is home to the legendary King Arthur’s Round table. However, Winchester Round Table is not original – it is only a medieval replica of King Arthur’s table.
If you do not know, scientists carbon-dated this table. They found out that it dates back to the 13th or 14th century. Scholars believe somebody made it for the Round table tournament for the engagement of one of King Edward I’s daughters. The artwork with the Tudor Rose at its centre dates back to the reign of Henry VIII.
Look closely and spot a portrait of Henry as King Arthur on his throne. There are even 24 legendary names of the knights. The Tudor rose symbolises that the Tudor dynasty were true descendants of King Arthur. Some say that this painting was supposed to strengthen their claim on the throne of England.
The legend has it that King Arthur and his knights used this legendary table that hangs in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. Now we know that this table romantically linked to King Arthur is just one of the best symbols of medieval mythology. Winchester Round table measures 5.5 metres in diameter and weighs 1,200 kg.
Other highlights in the Great Hall are marble columns and old stained-glass windows. Do not forget to visit Queen Eleanor’s garden with 13th-century plants.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The entry fee to the Great Hall in Winchester costs £4.00 for adults and £3.00 for children (5-16 years old).
4. Wolvesey Castle
Wolvesey Castle was once an opulent palace with a defensive tower.
It is also worth visiting Wolvesey Castle, which you can find just a short walk from Winchester Cathedral. Even though it is in ruins, visiting Wolvesey Castle is well worth a visit. The peaceful ruins in a beautiful setting were once a fortified palace of one of the most powerful men in the area.
Yes, that is right, Wolvesey Castle was once the main residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Medieval and Tudor monarchs frequently visited this beautiful building in the past. Even Queen Mary and Philip II of Spain held their wedding breakfast in Wolvesey Castle in the 16th century.
You are right to think that Wolvesey Castle (or Old Bishop’s Palace) was once one of the greatest medieval buildings in England. Because of that, exploring Wolvesey Castle is one of the free things to do in Winchester. The Old Bishop’s Palace is an English Heritage property.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can visit Wolvesey Castle every day between 10 am and 4 pm. Guided tours are only on Sundays at 2 pm (charge applicable). Expect to spend here about half an hour.
5. Statue of Alfred the Great
Statue of Alfred the Great weighs 5 tons. One of the most famous kings in England has a Saxon helmet on his head. He also has a sword (the symbol of Christianity) in his right hand.
If your little ones are interested in history, finding a statue of Alfred the Great is one of the best free things to do in Winchester, England. This bronze statue of the famous King of Wessex is one of the most beautiful memorial statues in the county. The citizens of Winchester erected this 4.5 m (15 feet) high monument a thousand years after his death. You can find it in the centre of the city.
Alfred the Great was one of the most influential figures in British history. King of the West Saxons formed important laws of the land and spread education. He was England’s first true king and ruled Wessex for 18 years in the 9th century. King Alfred faced the Vikings and is famous for his defence of southern England against the Vikings. Winchester became the capital during his reign.
GOOD TO KNOW:
A free downloadable King Alfred City walk guide takes you on a tour where you can see some of the most important landmarks of the king. Yes, that is right, King Alfred’s walk traces the footsteps of the famous monarch. You can see the streets he laid out and the walls the king repaired to keep the Danes away. There are three loops to choose from, depending on how much you want to cover.
6. Highclere Castle
If there is one more castle you should visit when exploring Hampshire, it is Highclere Castle. Ask everyone who visited Highclere Castle, and they will tell you that it is an experience of a lifetime.
This famous tourist attraction was the main filming location in the successful Downton Abbey TV show. But that is not all, Highclere Castle with more than 200 rooms, has a rich history and stunning natural surroundings. This Grade I listed building houses more than 5600 rare books in its library. Because of that, exploring Highclere Castle is one of the best things to do in Winchester.
GOOD TO KNOW:
This massive building with beautiful parkland surrounding the castle lies about 25 miles north of Winchester. Do not forget to check opening times, as they vary during the year. Highclere Castle is usually open to the public during the summer months. There are different tours throughout the year. Do not forget to book in advance as the tickets often sell out.
Quirky things to do in Winchester
7. Hospital of St Cross, Winchester
If you find yourself in Winchester, visit the Hospital of St Cross. This Winchester attraction lies a mile south of the historic centre. The main reason why tourists flock here is that the Hospital of St. Cross is one of the oldest charitable institutions in the UK. In fact, the Hospital of St. Cross is the oldest continuing almshouse in England.
The grandson of William the Conqueror founded it to provide accommodation for a small number of elderly men, known as the Brothers.
If you visit this attraction, explore its pretty grounds and gardens. The Hospital of St Cross has beautiful architecture, particularly its Norman chapel. There is a gift shop and also a tearoom.
The Hospital of St Cross also has a tradition of providing the Wayfarer’s Dole. Everyone who requests the Wayfarer’s Dole will get a piece of bread and a horn of beer. It is an old custom founded by a monk.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The entry fee to the Hospital of St Cross is £7.50 for adults (as of March 2023). Check opening times before you visit, as they vary throughout the year.
8. Winchester City Museum
If you want to soak up the city’s rich past, visiting the City Museum is one of the best things to do in Winchester in England. You are right to think that Winchester City Museum tells the story of the city which is over a thousand years old. It documents the history of Winchester from its origins in Iron Age until the more recent days (Jane Austin).
Did you know that Venta Belgarum was the fifth largest city in Roman Britain by the 3rd century AD? It was also England’s ancient capital and the seat of Alfred the Great. You can also learn more about Anglo-Saxon history when you explore this museum.
Winchester Museum has rich and fascinating collections spread across three floors. It is one of the best museums in the city because it houses unique artefacts, such as Roman mosaics and jewellery dating from Roman and Anglo-Saxon times. You can even find the detailed scale model of Winchester city from Victorian times here.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Although Winchester City Museum is not large, it has fascinating exhibits. Expect to spend here about an hour or a little longer. The entry fee to Winchester City Museum costs £6 for an adult. Get a joint ticket for £8 if you want to visit the Westgate Museum.
9. Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium
It is easy to see why many visitors put Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium on their list when they spend a weekend in Winchester. Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium is one of the largest planetariums in the UK. Visiting this interactive science and technology attraction is one of the best things to do in Winchester for anyone interested in science. No wonder it is one of the top family attractions in the city.
Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium is home to various exhibits relating to space and technology. Their exhibits cover every topic, from meteorites to the human body. The planetarium hosts various workshops, even evening stargazing shows.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can find Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium on the city’s outskirts. Entry ticket to Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium costs £15 (adults/children).
10. Westgate Museum
If you have a spare hour when spending a weekend in Winchester with children, stop at the Westgate Museum. As the name suggests, this historic building was once part of the gateway to the city. In fact, Westgate is the last of Winchester’s main gates into the city that remains to this day.
Westgate from Middle Ages stands on the site of earlier gates dating back to Roman times. The beautifully refurbished fortified gateway is now a grade-one listed building. The architecture of this gate goes back to Anglo-Saxon times.
Did you know that this building was home to a debtors’ prison for 200 years? You can find old graffiti carved into the soft chalk by prisoners. Later the prison turned into a museum which houses exhibits from Winchester’s Tudor and Stuart history. The museum is mainly for children.
The museum also has a beautiful painted Tudor ceiling, which is one of the highlights of the museum. It was crafted on the occasion of the wedding of Queen Mary Tudor and Phillip of Spain in the 16th century. The Westgate Museum also holds a unique set of standard weights and measures, which prevented traders from giving short measures.
- The little ones can try a suit of armour when they visit the museum.
- The Westgate Museum offers beautiful rooftop city views.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The entry ticket to the Westgate Museum costs £ 3 for adults and £1.50 for children (5-15 years old). Buy a joint ticket for £8 if you are planning to visit the City Museum.
11. Winchester College
Afterwards, visit Winchester College, which is one of the most famous English schools. Did you know that Winchester College has the longest continuous history of any English school? This famous school has educated students for over 640 years.
Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, William of Wykeham, founded this prestigious school in the 14th century. Today visiting Winchester College is one of the best things to do in Winchester for everyone who wants to learn more about this college.
When you visit Winchester College, you will also learn about its architecture and the history of education in England. The highlights are the Gothic Chapel with an original fan-vaulted timber roof and medieval stained glass.
On a guided tour, you will also see the beautifully preserved Flint Court, Chamber Court and medieval cloister. There is also the historic Seventh Chamber, where the boys studied in the 19th century. Some say it is the oldest schoolroom in the country. Do not miss the Winchester College Treasury with the collection of art and archaeology with artefacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome and even China.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The guided tours at Winchester College last one hour and cost £ 10 (no charge for children under 11). Tours of the college are only a few times per day (check before visiting). Winchester College Treasury is open between 2 pm and 4 pm every day (free entry).
12. Jane Austen’s House
Jane Austen’s House is, by all means, one of the most popular places to visit in Winchester for lovers of this famous novelist. This world-renowned English author spent the majority of her life in the county of Hampshire. For the last few years, she lived in a creamy-coloured house at number eight College street in Winchester. Jane Austen came to the city with her sister because she needed better medical care. She spent her last weeks of life in the house, which is now a private home. Hence, there is no visitor access, only a blue plaque above the door.
However, Jane Austen House in nearby Chawton is open to the public. This pretty cottage with garden in the village of Chawton was also once home to Jane Austen. She lived here with her sister and mother before she moved to Winchester.
Exploring Jane Austen’s House in Chawton is one of the best things to do in Winchester because this house is one of the most important literary sites in England. One of the most popular writers wrote six novels in this house. Her home is now a museum where you can see the rooms where she lived, her writing table, and even the first editions of her novels.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Entry fee to Jane Austen’s House in Chawton costs £12.75 for adults and £10 for the younger generation (17 -26).
Free things to do in Winchester
13. Winchester City Mill
If you spend a weekend in Winchester with little ones, find Winchester City Mill. According to the National Trust website, Winchester City Mill dates back at least 1000 years to the reign of King Alfred. This restored water mill on the River Itchen is a rare surviving example of an urban corn mill in the city.
Believe it or not, Winchester City Mill is most likely the oldest working watermill in the United Kingdom. Early public records show there was a water-powered mill on this spot since at least the 11th century. The city mill, which you can see today, is from the 18th century and remained in use until the early 20th century.
Nowadays, the National Trust looks after Winchester City Mill, and you can visit it between Wednesday and Sunday.
Visiting Winchester City Mill is one of the free things to do in Winchester. This National Trust attraction is popular for flour milling and baking demonstrations. There is also an educational workshop, and kids can bake their own food. They can even learn more about the rich wildlife in the area. Observation cameras track the movements of the otters that live in the river by the mill.
14. River Itchen
If you want to escape the busy city centre, we recommend a walk along the River Itchen. Maybe you do not know, but the River Itchen helped Winchester to develop. The River Itchen was an important route for trade and transportation in the past. It connected other rivers and waterways in the region. Today, Winchester has numerous trails – some of the paths by the river lead around old structures.
When we visited Winchester, we found Weirs Walk by accident. Weirs Walk is a lovely walk along the riverside. It is a well-kept path in a peaceful environment, ideal for a shorter stroll. If you follow this path, you will get to the Great City Mill and Wolvesey Castle.
Why walking along the River Itchen is one of the best things to do in Winchester? It is because the River Itchen is a very special type of waterway where a river flows over chalk bedrock. Hence its name, a chalk stream.
These types of rivers are, in fact, very rare. Did you know that there are only about 200 chalk streams on our planet? 160 of them are in England (especially South and East), and the River Itchen is one of them.
The River Itchen and other chalk streams are famous for their clear waters because they do not have sediments and pollutants. The chalk acts as a natural filter and removes impurities from the water. The Chalk streams also have a more consistent flow and a lower risk of flooding. They are ideal habitats for wildlife that would not survive in other types of waterways.
15. St Catherine’s Hill
If walking is your thing, hiking St Catherine’s Hill should be on your list of things to do in Winchester, England. St Catherine’s Hill is a historic site and an ideal place for everyone who wants to escape the busy city centre.
This round chalk hill is a nature reserve. It is a popular destination for hiking and walking, especially during the warmer months. Several trails lead to the top, which is perfect for birdwatching and enjoying nature.
Look out for 25 species of breeding butterflies and rare orchids dotted around the slopes and meadows. This flower-rich hill fort also offers stunning views of Winchester and the surrounding countryside.
St Catherine’s Hill has even historical significance. This beautiful chalk hill has a rich history dating back thousands of years. You are right to think St Catherine’s Hill was once home to an Iron Age hillfort. There are remnants of the fort’s ramparts and old archaeological remains from the Norman and Middle ages. Find the remains of the 12th-century Chapel of St Catherine and a Mizmaze from the 17-18th century.
GOOD TO KNOW:
St Catherine’s Hill lies just south of Winchester. Winchester College owns it, but it is open to the public. 7.4 km moderately challenging circular trail takes approximately 2 hours to complete.
16. Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market
If you want to get into the Christmas spirit, visit Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market. Did you know that Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is the most popular festive market in Hampshire?
Many people regularly vote Winchester Cathedral Christmas market as one of the best Christmas markets in the UK. This famous festive market brings joy to hundreds of thousands of people every year. Because of that, spending a day in the magical Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is one of the best free things to do in Winchester.
If you do not know, traditional German Christmas markets inspired this bustling market. The market, located in the Cathedral’s historic Close, is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city. The wooden chalets with festive lights sell everything from mulled wine to unique gifts and treats. There is even an ice rink, and Christmas carols sing famous tunes.
17. South Downs Way Winchester
You cannot spend a weekend in Winchester without exploring the South Downs Way. Did you know the South Downs Way is a long-distance footpath running along the South Downs in southern England? This long-distance hiking trail (160 km) runs from Winchester to Eastbourne on the East Sussex coast. The South Downs Way is one of 16 National Trails in England & Wales. The trail lies inside the South Downs National park and is one of the natural and cultural treasures in the country.
Because of that, hiking the South Downs Way is one of the best things to do in Winchester, England. Walking the part of the trail from Winchester gives you an opportunity to immerse yourself in this stunning scenery.
Now you know what the best things to do in Winchester in England are!
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