"Ancient capital city of England." Top 5 Page for this destination Winchester by leics

Winchester Travel Guide: 195 reviews and 416 photos

Winchester: a small city in Hampshire with (like most places in the UK) a very long history. Unlike some other towns & cities, however, Winchester has kept its history pleasantly visible (rather than simply destroying it, or burying under shopping centres).

There was certainly an Iron Age hill-fort on the site in 150BC, then the Romans built their town (Venta Belgarum " the marketplace of the Belgae"). Christianity arrived in 635, with the first Christian church being built, and in 871 King Alfred (he of the burned cakes) decided to make Winchester his base (and thus the capital city of England). Some think Winchester may have been the base for King Arthur too (Camelot, indeed) but his existence alone is somewhat dubious (an understatement...most of the Arthurian legend is a Victorian concoction).

Saint Swithun (Bishop Swithun, advisor to King Alfred) died in 861. When his tomb was opened a hundred years later (for re-burial in the new Minster) it rained for forty days. This is the origin of the English weather lore cased around his saints day: if it rains on July 15th, it will rain for forty days afterwards. Not a bad prediction, given English summer weather in the past!

The Normans duly arrived in 1066, built a castle on the hill overlooking the Minster and, in 1079, began the construction of the present cathedral building. The castle was largely destroyed in 1651, during the English Civil War, and the Commonwealth troops did a fair amount of damage to the cathdedral library (as well as destroying the west window).

Winchester continued to grow over the centuries (despite various setbacks, including the plague and the Black Death), developing into the rather pleasant place it now is.

It makes a change to find a large town with shops other than the bog-standard chain stores one finds everywhere. Winchester has enough specialist and independent shops/galleries etc to warrant the production of a 'speciality shopping' leaflet by the City Council.

The main shopping street still has the lovely arcading which was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries; ladies and gentlemen could therefore make their purchases without getting wet.

The council is rather keen on sculpture in public places; this really adds to Winchester's charm, I think. There are works by artists such as Elisabeth Frink dotted around, as well as temporary installations (including commissioned graffiti). The most beautiful, and most affecting (in my opinion) is hidden away in the cathedral crypt; 'Sound ll' by Anthony Gormley (who also created 'The Angel of the North').

Lots and lots of interesting buildings in the city centre, and lovely riverside walks too. More detail on these in the tips; the photo shows buildings which are within the Cathedral close. ..16th century, I should think.

It's the cathedral, of course, which dominates any visit. Take the time to explore it properly; it is one of the best I have visited (it's the longest in the country).

There are wall-paintings from the 12th and 13th centuries, mortuary chests containing the bones of the great and good, wonderful wooden carvings in the Medieval quire which remain largely unchanged ('green men' are everywhere, along with beasts of all types), beautifully decorated Medieval floortiles, chantry chapels, the graves of Jane Austen and Izaac Walton........that exquisite Gormley sculpture mentioned above, even better when the crypt is flooded.......too much to detail here, better in a separate travelogue.

I hadn't realised how much history was associated with Winchester before I arrived; a few hours there wasn't really enough, so a return visit is required. Definitely worth making the effort to go if you are anywhere in the vicinity.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:History, architecture, pleasant (and tiny) city
  • Cons:Can be crowded with visitors
  • In a nutshell:Lovely cathedral and much history in a tiny city
  • Last visit to Winchester: Feb 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (14)

Comments (9)

  • christine.j's Profile Photo
    Dec 16, 2011 at 9:52 PM

    Another great page, thank you for all the information. I agreee, cafés near churches run by volunteers are usually very good.

  • ettiewyn's Profile Photo
    Sep 30, 2011 at 11:12 PM

    Very interesting page! I really like that you have so many Off The Beaten Path tips. The gates look great and the Great Hall very impressive.
    I am very much into the stories of King Arthur (medieval studies was part of my degree and we read medieval romances etc.), but that round table - haha! :-) But still, the history of the piece is interesting (I read it was painted under Henry VIII)!

  • volarevolare's Profile Photo
    Sep 20, 2011 at 3:43 AM

    Thanks for a rather comprehensive virtual tour of Winchester! :)

  • globetrott's Profile Photo
    Jun 29, 2008 at 1:58 PM

    an interesting place to go indeed, thanks for sharing !

  • SallyM's Profile Photo
    Mar 24, 2008 at 2:04 AM

    Very interesting and helpful pages. We are planning a trip to Winchester soon (might even have gone today if it wasn't snowing....!)

  • Fullmoonfever's Profile Photo
    Sep 30, 2007 at 7:55 AM

    Hi young lady, that looks like a mighty fine pastry you have there. I hope it has some kind of jelly filling.

  • Anchovy56's Profile Photo
    Aug 20, 2007 at 12:47 PM

    I don't know when I last saw a town of this caliber...

  • londonlover's Profile Photo
    Mar 24, 2007 at 10:26 PM

    I'm planning on staying here on my upcoming September trip. Looks like a wonderful place to explore. Lovely narrative and historical notes--thanks!

  • Mar 8, 2007 at 11:48 PM

    I love your pages J, always so full of fascinating little insights like William Walker... what a hero!


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