As you might expect from the first capital of England, Winchester is a town with a rich history. It’s shown in the number of medieval buildings you can visit during your stay. Winchester Cathedral takes centre stage as one of the finest cathedrals in Europe, but there’s also a historic watermill, and the not inconsiderable matter of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Activities in Winchester
Among the most popular attractions in Hampshire is Winchester Cathedral. It’s the longest and one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Inside, the view down the long nave, watched over by the ornate vaulted ceiling, is quite spectacular. There’s been a cathedral on the site since 642 AD, although the one you can explore today dates back to 1079. The cathedral is as much a museum as its a place of worship. The guides do a great job of bringing the cathedral’s 1,000-year history to life, and offer fascinating insights into the 12th-century paintings, medieval carvings, and the stunning Winchester Bible. They also offer hourly tours between 10am and 3pm, as well as tours of the crypt where Jane Austen is buried. The Cathedral’s Christmas Market is also incredibly popular, and so too is the open-air ice rink which arrives in winter.
Winchester City Mill
Another great history trip during your stay at our Winchester hotel is the National Trust’s Winchester City Mill, which sits prettily on the River Itchen and enjoys a rich history going back to the Domesday Book of 1086. It’s only small, but if you’re already a National Trust member then the reasonable price of admission allows for a lovely way to spend an hour or so in Winchester. You can watch the water mill at work, join in the interactive activities such as flour making, and – thanks to a partnership with The Wildlife Trusts – watch recorded sightings of otters that travel in the river beneath the mill.
Winchester Science Centre
You can learn a thing or two during your time in town with a trip to the Winchester Science Centre. It’s home to 100 hands-on science exhibits, not to mention the largest standalone planetarium in the whole of the UK. It’s a fascinating day out for all ages. If you visit during the week, you’ll likely find yourself in the middle of a school trip, whereas on the weekends it attracts an audience from all ages and backgrounds.
Every single one of the 100 science exhibits is linked to the National Curriculum for schools, so if you’re visiting with young family then they can take away all kinds of knowledge to help with their education. The Science Centre’s team also run some excellent workshops, which vary from identifying the different parts of a flower, to understanding the vastness of the Universe.
South Downs Way
Winchester marks the beginning of the South Downs Way, an excellent walking route which makes its way through the South Downs National Park in Southern England. It’s a grand total of 100 miles long and passes through Hampshire all the way to Eastbourne in East Sussex. The South Downs Way is one of Britain’s National Trails. The route has been trodden for around 8,000 years. Follow in its historic footsteps and you’ll enjoy some beautiful scenery, pretty villages, and the white chalk cliffs of Eastbourne. For more information on the South Downs Way, check out our short breaks hiking guide covering some of the best hiking routes in the region.
Marwell Zoo is without doubt one of the top activities in Hampshire. It’s a twenty-minute drive from our Winchester hotel, but it’s well worth the trip as it’s among the most popular zoos in the country. It spans a total of 140 acres and serves as a home to 1,200 animals of 135 species. Among the most popular are the giraffes, tigers, penguins, meerkats, snow leopards, cheetahs, hippos and rhinos.
Marwell Zoo is owned and operated by Marwell Wildlife, a conservation charity which does inspiring work both in Hampshire and around the world for the wildlife we love. By paying a visit to the zoo and seeing the animals you’re helping them do what they do best, which is protect nature all over the planet. While you’re there, there’s plenty of places for you to pick up something to eat and drink, not to mention souvenirs to remember your visit.
All that remains of the medieval Winchester Castle is the Great Hall, which sits just off the western end of Winchester High Street. Most famously of all, it’s the home of King Arthur’s Round Table. Admittedly, it’s not the fabled round table of Merlin legend, but it does date back to the 13th century, and is one of the must-see attractions of Winchester. Ignoring the famous furniture, the Great Hall is a fascinating place to visit. It’s been described as “one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century”, and has a rich history of conflict, treason, trials and secret passages, which the team do a great job of bringing to life.
King Arthur’s Round Table is the main attraction, but be sure to also check out Queen Eleanor’s Garden, which also dates back to the 13th century. On a dry day it’s a peaceful place to sit for a while and enjoy the serenity and history of your surroundings.