England’s ancient capital and the former seat of King Alfred the Great, the city of Winchester is drenched in historical charm, with medieval streets and centuries-old buildings and monuments every which way you turn. Nestled in the county of Hampshire on the edge of England’s South Downs National Park, it is also surrounded by some of Britain’s most picturesque countryside.
Whether it’s immersing yourself in Winchester’s ancient past, or exploring the vast expanses of rural beauty in and around the city, there’s a huge amount to see and do here that won’t break the bank – including a number of activities that won’t even cost you a penny. We’ve picked out seven of the best.
Connect with nature at St Catherine’s Hill
One of the great things about Winchester is how you can take a short able from the hustle and bustle of the high street and before long be immersed in a tranquil and picturesque rural scene. Even better, to do so is completely free of charge. One of the city’s most scenic spots is St Catherine’s Hill, a 58 hectare flower-rich chalk grassland with an abundance of wild flowers and butterflies offering spectacular views over Winchester, the Itchen Valley and the surrounding countryside. Pack a picnic and some blankets on a sunny day and you won’t find anywhere more idyllic.
Marvel at Winchester Cathedral
Whether or not you enjoy this magnificent cathedral from inside or out, you’ll find it a sight to behold. If you want to avoid the entry cost, you can simple enjoy its dramatic gothic façade from the outside, where you’ll also get a sense of its dramatic scale that makes it one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. For a small cost, however, we’d recommend you head into its cavernous interior, where you’ll get to see exceptional historical artefacts including the grave of Jane Austen, caskets holding the bones of Saxon kings, some of the best medieval floor-tiles in Britain and one of the finest of all decorated Bibles.
Educate yourself at Winchester museums
Winchester is also home to several free-to-enter museums, among which are the City Museum and Westgate Museum. Ideal for cultural and educational days out with the family, both venues invite you to immerse yourself in history and admire the vast array of fascinating artefacts on display. Among the highlights are a hugely impressive miniature model of Winchester during Victorian times at the City Museum, and walls covered in prisoners’ graffiti at Westgate Museum, a remnant of its 150 years as a debtors’ prison.
Wander around the ruins of Wolvesey Castle
Dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, the former castle that once stood here in resplendent glory was previously home to wealthy and powerful Bishops. Perhaps its most distinguished moment came in 1554 when Philip II of Spain and Queen Mary of England had their wedding breakfast here before proceeding to Winchester Cathedral, located next door, for their official wedding ceremony Today its remnants attract large numbers of visitors each year thanks to its intriguing history and beautiful setting. The ruins are normally open without charge during daylight hours, except in Winter.
Enjoy a treasure hunt trail
With its enchanting history, there can be few better settings for a treasure hunt than Winchester. Visitors can download a free, specially curated trail that invites you and your kids to enjoy a fun-packed, self-guided treasure hunt, with the trail dotted with sneaky clues that challenge you to discover the location of the buried treasure. Taking around two hours to complete, the trail starts at the Guildhall and follows a circular route along the riverbank, before heading past Wolvesey Castle and Winchester College and through the grounds of the magnificent Cathedral, before returning to your starting point.
Winchester Discovery Centre
Comprising a library, exhibition space, art gallery and performance venue, the Winchester Discovery Centre is not just somewhere to come on a rainy day, but a veritable goldmine of information, education and entertainment. The venue stages a diverse programme of events and activities, including family friendly live performances and theatre shows, and a gallery space for contemporary exhibitions. There’s also a charming café and a well-stocked shop where you can pick up souvenirs.
River Cottage Canteen
For top-notch, affordable food and real ales in a delightful setting, you’ll struggle to find a better eatery than River Cottage Canteen Nestled beside a rushing river in a converted Georgian mill, you can enjoy your meal before walking it off with an idyllic waterside stroll. Mouth-watering meat sharing platters and seasonal vegetables are regular fixtures while they also serve up delicious Sunday Roasts. For maximum value, head there in the week when you can get two courses lunches for just £11.95. There are cheap kids menus too.
By Paul Joseph