Winchester is not a city many people outside of England have heard about, but it’s a fascinating place. Back in 871, Alfred the Great established Winchester as the capital of England. Not surprisingly, there is a lot to see. Since you can easily take a train from London to Winchester, it makes for the perfect day trip. If you are interested in history though, you may want to make a weekend out of it.
You can catch the London to Winchester train at Waterloo station and the journey takes about an hour. Buy your train tickets in advance and avoid trains at peak times to save money. (Click here to check price and schedules.)
All the attractions in this post are walking distance from the Winchester Train station.
My Time in Winchester
Even though Winchester is a small city, I didn’t have time to see everything in one day. Like me, if you only have one day you will have to prioritize based on what your interests are.
You cannot visit Winchester without seeing the historic Winchester Cathedral that was founded in 1046. From the outside, the Cathedral is a beautiful example of English cathedral architecture, but to really appreciate it, you need to go inside. It has the largest nave in northern Europe (i.e. outside of Italy), and it is a wonderful example of English Perpendicular Gothic at its best.
Admission to Winchester Cathedral is £8 but it is a year-long pass and includes optional guided tours. Winchester Cathedral opening times are 9:30 -5:00 Monday – Saturday and 12:00 – 3:00 on Sunday.
If you prefer, for an additional £6 you can do the tower tour on select days. You should be prepared to climb the steps though. Large items are not allowed and there is no place to check them. At the time of my visit, since the Cathedral was under renovation and the tower roof view part of the tour was inaccessible, I decided to skip the tower tour.
I had about 10 minutes to look around the Cathedral before my tour started, so I took a few pictures and admired the roof and stained glass. The tour started with an overview of Winchester Cathedral history and its architecture. The Cathedral was built using the stone from the Isle of Wight and the Anglo Saxon church that used to be next door. Much of the current cathedral was then rebuilt in the late 14th century.
Winchester Cathedral Stained Glass
In 1646 during the Civil War, the stained glass in the huge west window was smashed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. According to our guide, the people of Winchester collected the pieces of glass and kept it in their homes. Then when the monarchy was restored in 1660, they reassembled the window using the original glass. Although they had the original materials, it was not possible to put it back together as it was before, so it was reassembled in the form you see it today – like a mosaic. I love the story behind this gorgeous piece of stained glass.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s Grave
Many important figures are buried in Winchester Cathedral but Jane Austen’s grave may be the most popular. It was interesting to learn that she was not known for her writing until after her death. She was buried in a simple grave in the Cathedral because of her family’s connection to her church. After her books gained popularity her nephew wrote a biography about her and used the proceeds to pay for a plaque in the Cathedral that recognizes Jane’s writing.
The Winchester Bible is the largest 12th century English Bible, and one volume is on display in the Cathedral. A single person wrote out the text in Latin and several artists created the exquisitely illuminated capital letters. The color and artistic quality of the Bible reminded me of the Book of Kells we saw at Trinity College in Dublin. Unfortunately, photos of the Winchester Bible are not allowed.
We also saw the monument to William Walker, the diver who saved Winchester Cathedral. In the early 1900s, officials realized that the foundations of Winchester Cathedral were failing after almost 700 years. Between 1906 and 1911, working in water up to a depth of six meters (20 feet), Walker used more than 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 bricks to secure the foundation from sinking into the peat and groundwater below.
Winchester Cathedral Crypt
The Crypt is the oldest part of the Cathedral. During the winter months, most of the Crypt is closed because it floods. There was some water on the ground when I visited in February. At first, the closed-off space looks empty, then you see Antony Gormley’s statue called Sound II. Antony Gormley is a Buddhist but according to our tour guide, he said the Crypt was the most spiritual place he has ever been. The sculpture is called Sound because it is a person listening to his soul. Antony Gormley is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. I just love this piece, and I also loved his work that we saw at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
I enjoyed the guided tour but at times it was hard to hear with all the construction noise. The tour lasted an hour and afterward, I felt like I needed a little more time to check out some of the spots in the Cathedral that we just walked by. It seems like a lot of people left as soon as the tour was over. I decided to go back to the Crypt and I had it all to myself!
You should also check out the Dean Garnier Garden. It’s a peaceful walled garden on the south side of the Cathedral. If it’s a nice day, the grassy area to the west of the Cathedral would be perfect for a picnic.
Winchester Great Hall
The Winchester Great Hall is the only building remaining of Winchester Castle. Unfortunately, when I used Google maps to navigate to the Great Hall it took me to the back of the building! You need to enter the Great Hall from the Castle Road courtyard at the top of High Street.
Admission to the Great Hall is £3 but it includes an optional guided tour. I learned many interesting facts during the tour, so if you can time your visit with the tour schedule that would be ideal. If not, be sure to read the information boards as the history behind the Great Hall is really what makes it special.
While William the Conqueror started building Winchester Castle in 1067, the Great Hall was built in 1222 by Henry III. The floors and walls are still original and the stained glass windows and the roof were replaced in the 19th century.
In addition to being part of Winchester Castle, the Great Hall served as a courtroom for many years. Many significant trials were held in this building including the treason trial of Sir Walter Raleigh. In the 1970s, some IRA members were tried in the Great Hall. After having such high profile cases, authorities decided the building was not secure enough to be a courthouse and it was turned into a tourist attraction.
The Great Hall is still connected to the courthouse. Iron gates, made by Tony Robinson, separate the two buildings and commemorate the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981. You can see their initials with the date of their wedding on the gate. On the wall around the gate, is the piece called “The Writing on the Wall” which lists all the Parliament members from Hampshire from 1283 until 1868.
The Round Table
At the other end of the Hall, hanging on the wall, is the famous Round Table. This Round Table is actually not from King Arthur’s time, but it is the oldest, biggest, and best preserved Round Table.There is actually no evidence that King Arthur even had a Round Table. He was just admired as a King and the Round Table became of part of his story as a symbol of his collaboration skills. The Great Hall’s Round Table was built in the 13th century by Edward I and then first painted under Henry VIII. When Henry VIII had it painted he requested the Tudor Rose in the center and wanted King Arthur to look like him.
Queen Victoria Statue
One other interesting thing to point out inside the Great Hall is the statue of Queen Victoria that was commissioned for her golden jubilee. It is one of the few sculptures that portrays Queen Victoria as the Queen Empress that she was. She holds an orb in one hand and the world in the other. The artist, Sir Alfred Gilbert, had to use his mother as the model for the artwork. Queen Victoria refused to sit for the work because she was in mourning following the death of her husband Albert.
Other Points of Interest at the Great Hall
In addition to the Great Hall, you can visit the Queen Eleanor Garden, which is a recreation of a 13th Century Garden. Access to the garden is through a door next to the judge’s bench inside the Great Hall. Outside the front entrance of the Great Hall where you see some of the Winchester Castle ruins, there are also some passageways to explore. Lastly, allow some time to visit the Long Gallery which has an exhibit with more about the history of the Great Hall.
Wolvesey Castle is the ruins of what is left of the Old Bishops Palace. I had a little trouble finding Wolvesey Castle using my Google Maps. It took me along roads that led to walls. If you want to visit Wolvesey Castle, you can access it from College Street a bit passed Winchester College.
When I finally found the entrance to Wolvesey Castle, I couldn’t go inside because it was closed. I didn’t realize it is only open from April to November, and I was visiting in February. I had to settle for a picture from a distance. When the ruins are open, there is no charge to explore them.
Jane Austen House
I stumbled upon what is known as the Winchester Jane Austen house accidentally. Jane spent her last days in Winchester in this house. Her sister brought her here to see a doctor that they hoped would be able to figure out what was wrong. Unfortunately, the doctor was not able to help and Jane died inside this house in her sister’s arms on July 18, 1817. I hadn’t planned to visit because the house is now a private residence, so all you can do is photograph it from the street.
Winchester High Street has always been the commercial center of the town. It has retained its lovely architecture and you can find plenty of nice stores and restaurants.
Alfred the Great Statue
Alfred is the only English King to have earned the title ‘the Great.’ He gradually won back some of the lands taken by the Vikings and his diplomacy led eventually to the formation of the English nation. Alfred was a special combination of soldier, statesman and scholar. The imposing statue by Hamo Thornycroft stands in the middle of a roundabout on the Broadway (end of High Street) by the Abbey Gardens in Winchester City England.
Other Things to See in Winchester UK
Next time I am in Winchester, in addition to trying to go back to Wolvesey Castle, I have a few other things on my list to do!
The City Museum
I learned so much about the history of Winchester during my tours of the Great Hall and Winchester Cathedral, but I still feel like there is a lot more to learn. The City Museum tells the story of Winchester as the principal city of King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings.
The Westgate Museum
The last of the Winchester’s medieval gates was a debtor’s prison for 150 years and is now a museum. You can see the prisoner’s graffiti on the walls and get a great view of the city from the roof. Admission is free but the museum was not open when I was in Winchester. They only open from the February half term (mid-February) until October.
Winchester College and Winchester College Treasury
I walked by Winchester College on my way to Wolvesey Castle and it caught my eye. It is the believed to be the oldest continuously running school in England. You can take a guided tour where you can see the Chamber Court, 14th century Chapel, the original dining hall and Cloister. Inside the college, you can also visit the College Treasury which is an art and archeology museum inside recently converted Medieval stables.
Winchester City Mill
Located close to the Statue of Alfred the Great is the historic working watermill that has been in Winchester for over 1000 years. The building has been fully restored and makes traditional stone ground wholemeal flour using the power of the River Itchen. You can see milling demonstrations on the weekends and Wednesdays during the summer.
Winchester Military Museums
If you are a military buff, you could probably spend the good part of a day visiting the six military museums in Winchester. All the military museums are located on the historic site of Peninsula Barracks close to the Great Hall. The museums have unique objects and memorabilia associated with the history of a regiment or corps in the British Army.
You can buy a combined ticket that lets you access all six museums or if you prefer, you can get tickets for the individual museum you would like to visit. The Horsepower, The Royal Green Jackets and Gurkha museums charge for admission. The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum, the Rifles Collection and the Guardroom Museums are all free to visit.
Afternoon Tea in Winchester
If you would like to relax for a little during your sightseeing in Winchester, perhaps you would fancy an afternoon tea? Many of the hotels in Winchester offer it. Some of the most popular afternoon teas in Winchester are at the Winchester Hotel, Marwell Hotel, and the Mercure Wessex Hotel.
Expert Tips for Visiting Winchester United Kingdom
- Take the train from London to Winchester. Buy tickets in advance for the best prices.
- Be sure to see Jane Austen’s grave, the Winchester Bible, and Antony Gormley’s sculpture when you visit Winchester Cathedral.
- Don’t miss the free guided tours at Winchester Cathedral and the Great Hall.
- Some attractions are not open during the winter. Please check the attraction websites for the most up to date opening hours.
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