Compact Winchester is super-easy to navigate and what’s more, it’s only an hour from London making it an ideal day escape from the big smoke. Here are five reasons to visit Winchester.
1. See King Arthur’s Round Table
Winchester’s Great Hall is within spitting distance of the train station and is home to King Arthur’s Round Table, which weighs a hefty 1200kg and is made from English oak. It’s a fake (King Arthur was a myth, after all) but it dates back to the 13th century so still oozes wow factor. Nearby is the Westgate Museum, a former debtors prison, which affords sweeping city views and has centuries-old prisoner’s graffiti scratched into the walls and floors.
2. Winchester Cathedral is pretty famous
Winchester Cathedral is crawling with history and is the city’s top draw, providing the atmospheric setting for a slew of movies and TV shows, including Tom Hanks blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, and, ahem, Songs of Praise. Building work started on the cathedral in 1070 and was completed in 1093. Look out for celebrated author Jane Austen’s grave, who died in the city in 1817.
In the early 1900s, the cathedral was close to collapse due to shoddy workmanship and waterlogged foundations. Navy diver William Walker, whose monument is on display in the cathedral, stepped in and saved the cathedral “with his own hands” by helping to remove rotten parts of the structure and underpin the building. The Cathedral library also merits exploration to goggle at the 12th century Winchester Bible with its brightly illustrated pages.
3. Have lunch in a cosy pub
Lunch on hearty fare at The Old Vine (oldvinewinchester.com), on Great Minster Street, a Grade II listed 18th-century inn, opposite the Cathedral, which serves up everything from sausage and mash to sea bass. It also has a lengthy wine list and plenty of mouth-watering home-made puddings, from profiteroles to banoffee pie. If you visit in winter, you’ll find a roaring log fire to keep you cosy.
4. Do some quirky shopping
Winchester has a laid-back shopping vibe and most of its chic boutiques and high street favourites are tucked behind gorgeous Tudor facades on its narrow high street. For quirky jewellery, charity and plush undie shops, head straight to Parchment Street.
Take time to call in to The Hambledon, a cavernous design-led department store, loaded with clothes, books and toiletries. If you want to give your legs and credit card a rest, venture off the high street to Chesil Street where you’ll find a string of independent coffee shops selling cupcakes.
5. Have a drink in an eccentric boozer
Before heading back to the capital, sup a pint in back-street boozer The Black Boy, in Wharf Hill, a 10-minute walk from the high street, which sells five locally brewed ales. The pub is jammed full of eccentric knick knacks: think scarily-realistic stuffed animals, suspended model aeroplanes, old fire buckets and corridors lined with books.
Winchester’s literary connections
Jane Austen lived in Chawton, 17 miles from Winchester, from 1809 to 1817, which is where she wrote six of her novels including Emma and Sense and Sensibility. Today, the author’s former home is a museum where you’ll find a bookcase containing first editions of Austen’s novels. jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk
In 1817, Austen fell ill so she moved to Winchester, then a leading medical centre. She lived her final days at 8 College Street, now a private residence, marked by a plaque. Buried in the Cathedral, Austen’s memorial tomb makes no reference to the fact she was a celebrated author; however, a stained glass window was put up in her memory in 1900.
WHEN TO GO: Anytime.
GETTING THERE: Trains from London take 1 hour and cost £30 return. Buses take 1.5-2 hours from £4 one way
GETTING AROUND: Winchester is very compact and easy to explore on foot.
GOING OUT: A beer costs £3.
ACCOMMODATION: Hotel rooms cost from £80.
GET MORE INFO AT: visitwinchester.co.uk