What are the best things to do in Winchester, and why make a day trip from London to Winchester? The top attraction is undoubtedly Winchester Cathedral, one of the finest and most impressive cathedrals in Europe. It would be worth going to Winchester from London just to see this building alone.
However, there are many more things to do, which would make for a full day out, or even two if you wanted to stay overnight in Winchester. Its other visitor attractions include the house where Jane Austen died, the historic Hospital of St Cross, the City Mill, City Museum, and walks to enjoy around the town with its many impressive old buildings, and through the Water Meadows which inspired the poet Keats.
The magnificent cathedral dates back to the late 11th century and among its many impressive features is the fact that it has the longest nave of any church in Europe. It houses the graves of no fewer than 12 English Kings, as Winchester was once the capital both of the ancient Kingdom of Wessex and of England. The famous English novelist is also buried in the cathedral - the house in which she died in 1817 stands nearby (see next entry).
The Jane Austen House
Close by the King’s Gate of Winchester Cathedral is the house in which Jane Austen died, though this is not open to the public. The author had been taken ill in 1816 and brought to Winchester from her home in Chawton, about 15 miles away. By this time she was confined to bed, and the medical treatment was ineffective. She passed away on 18 July 1817 and her simple grave is in the north aisle of the cathedral.
The Hospital of St Cross
One of Winchester’s real gems is to be found about a 20-minute walk from the town centre, through the Water Meadows. The Hospital of St Cross was built in 1132 by the grandson of William the Conqueror, Henry de Blois, who was also the Bishop of Winchester. It was not a medical hospital but rather a place where hospitality was available to pilgrims coming to visit Winchester Cathedral, and that hospitality is continued today by the 25 Brothers who live there - not in cells but in small flats. In addition to a tour of the Hospital, visitors are offered a piece of bread.
The City Museum
Winchester’s City Museum is only small, but it’s well worth visiting to get a background to the city’s long and fascinating history. It was one of the largest towns in Roman Britain, and there’s a room devoted to this era with an impressive mosaic on display. Later periods are covered in displays that include Saxon period costumes and reconstructed Victorian and Edwardian shops.
The City Mill
There aren’t too many mills surviving in city centres and the City Mill in Winchester is a rare example. It was a corn mill and is known to have existed back in medieval times, and was still in use into the early 20th century. The present buildings date from 1743 and are now looked after by the National Trust, who have turned the mill back into a working mill with plenty to see and do.
The Great Hall and Round Table
Winchester’s 13th-century Great Hall is all that remains of Winchester Castle, and it’s a very impressive place with stone pillars and timber beams - one huge, monumental room. Hanging on one wall is what is claimed to be King Arthur’s Round Table, and while it’s nice to believe that it might be, it was only built in the late 13th century and subsequently painted.
The Water Meadows and The Keats Walk
In 1819 the poet Keats visited Winchester and while walking in the lovely Water Meadows had the inspiration that produced one of his best-loved poems, To Autumn. It’s renowned for its opening line:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
But it doesn’t matter what season it is when you visit Winchester, as the Water Meadows exert their charm all year round. Call in first at the Tourist Information Centre in Winchester Guildhall in the High Street to get a map of the walk, or read more about The Keats Walk here. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Winchester, after visiting the cathedral.
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