Sights to see in Winchester, UK
July 12, 2019
by Andrew Johns
Anyone interested in English history would be a mere amateur if they haven’t yet visited Winchester. Filled with historically significant buildings and statues, Winchester is the ancient former capital city of England, at least, before William the Conqueror was crowned in London in 1066. Though now resigned to being a mere county town, much less important in terms of its influence, Winchester will always remain an interesting and enlightening visit for any English history enthusiast, with many activities too for those not only visiting for its history. This article will outline my picks for the best sights to see in Winchester.
If you travelled to Winchester without intending on seeing the cathedral, then you would be the only one. Built over 900 years ago, replacing another cathedral built 500 years before that, this impressive building is one of the largest cathedrals in the UK. It is home to the tombs of many pre-Norman kings of England and Wessex, and also that of William the Conqueror’s son William II. The cathedral also hosted the second coronation of King Richard I in 1194, and the marriage between Queen Mary I of England and King Philip II of Spain in 1554. It is full of impressive architecture.
Church services take place at the cathedral most days, and guided tours and admissions for those not attending the services are available for only £9.50 per adult. Winchester cathedral also hosts the annual Winchester Christmas Market, popular with people living all over the south of England, and many other events besides, including my own graduation next year.
The Statue of King Alfred
Erected in 1899 to mark 1000 years since the great King Alfred’s death, this huge bronze statue is magnificent to look at, as Alfred looks over the city. Unfortunately, Alfred does not stand in an excellent place to be photographed, as the city have placed a roundabout behind him, bus stops to his left and parking spaces and signposts in front of him, but I did my best. The statue stands near the centre of Winchester, so you’re sure not to miss it.
St Giles’ Hill
Speaking of looking over the city, my favourite place in Winchester is the top of St Giles’ Hill. For a city that attracts so many tourists, I’m always surprised to find the viewpoint here completely empty, considering it’s got the best view of the entire town. Perhaps they don’t know about it, or they can’t be bothered to climb up all the steps, or they all climbed up the taller but further away St Catherine’s Hill to the south, but whatever the reason, they’re missing out. From here, you can see the entire city centre, the cathedral, the University of Winchester, the Winchester School of Art, and much more, all pointed out by a helpful sign on the top of the hill. After sunset, which is usually visible from the hill anyway as it is west-facing, the view is just as impressive – you can see all the lights around the city contrasted with the dark roofs.
And the best part is that it’s so close! A mere 20 minute walk from the city centre. You can actually see St Giles’ Hill in the background of the first picture of the King Alfred Statue. I often go here to contemplate my thoughts, and I watched the end of the 2018 Winchester half-marathon from here – obviously I couldn’t see in much detail, but I could see the finish line (on the High Street) and hear every word from the announcer’s loudspeakers.
The Chesil Rectory
Back to history again now, the Chesil Rectory is the oldest house in Winchester, built in 1450. Now an award-winning restaurant, rated highly by the Sunday Telegraph, the Chesil Rectory offers fine dining inside a charming medieval house. It also includes a quiet and romantic courtyard garden.
When I first moved into my current house in Winchester, I thought I could see Wolvesey Castle from my window, judging from the map. As it turns out, I couldn’t, because Wolvesey Castle looks like this…
… and has done since the Roundheads destroyed it during the English Civil War in 1646. I’m still unsure whether the spire I can see from my window belongs to the Cathedral or to Winchester College, but regardless, Wolvesey Castle is an interesting visit. It is maintained by English Heritage, and admission is free (when you find it anyway – down a path beside the Pilgrim’s School sports field). You can see the foundations and the skeleton of the old castle, and read interesting information from the signs posted around it. There are also benches and on a quiet day, this is a great place to eat lunch in the sun and chat or relax.
Jane Austen’s House
The early 19th century author Jane Austen was born and grew up in the nearby village of Steventon, and lived in various towns in the south of England. In the final few months of her life, she was brought to Winchester for treatment for her illness and lived in this house, near to the cathedral. She died here on 18 July 1817, exactly four months after she stopped working on her novels. She was buried at Winchester Cathedral.
The house often has tourists outside taking photos, and can be found on College Street, near the River Itchen.
All in all, Winchester is an exciting and historical place to visit. This list doesn’t come close to listing the all of the historical places in this great city. Other places I’d recommend seeing include the Winchester Museum, which documents the history of Winchester since the Iron Age and has plenty of children’s activities; the Winchester City Mill, an old mill on the quaint River Itchen maintained by the National Trust; and the Winnall Moors, a quiet and windy path through along the strange shape the River Itchen takes in the north of Winchester. With plenty of places to see, and all very close to each other, it is excellent for a day trip while travelling around other places in England.