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As you know, ironically, one of my favorite things to do on our trips to major European cities is to escape them, if only for a day. "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," but that's not to say that leaving for a day isn't lovely. On our most recent trip, we had one day left and literally picked a well-known English city that we hadn't been to, at random, and hopped on the train! Winchester is an incredible city - I hope you'll check it out!
Winchester is easily accessible by train directly from central London via London Waterloo. If you return at sunset, you can have two great songs stuck in your head, all in one trip! It's a quick hour and 20 minute ride down to Hampshire.
The story of Winchester is as old as the history of the island itself. It's difficult to find a more quintessentially "English" city than this Hampshire hamlet. In fact, Winchester is the inspiration for Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, a personal favorite of mine. The city has existed since the prehistoric era, playing host to a number of major historical events, many of which revolved around its ancient cathedral, originally built in 1079, and still the longest Gothic nave in Europe. The Cathedral is home to the tomb of renowned Regency author Jane Austen, who passed away in Winchester in 1817, where she had come for medical treatment (she was born in Hampshire in 1775).
What to see
Starting point: Pub
While I recommend starting all day trips with a pub visit, in Winchester, it even makes logistical sense. The Bishop on the Bridge is an absolute gem and a great place to start your journey. Walk from the train station up to the center of town (pictured above). Stroll through town (shop if you like!) and then head down toward the river, turn right, and there you are! A lovely pub lunch outside, and the continue along the River Itchen to our next destinations.
Winchester is easily walkable and you can take in all the lovely sights relatively quickly (and cheaply!) The order below makes sense, if you take the route along the river, but the city is quite small, so another order would not upset your plans for the day.
Free to enter, Wolvesey Castle contains the ruins of the 12th-century castle, which had been the residence of the Bishop of Winchester (the current, more salubrious residence is next door). Wander around - explore the stone relic and the lovely views.
Continuing down the river (and veering right), you'll quickly reach Winchester Cathedral, an absolute gem. If anything, it's all the more beautiful for the few hundred years under its belt. With more than 300,00 visitors a year, the Cathedral offers guided tours and roof top climbs. You're also welcome to tour on your own (or with an audio guide narrated by Poirot actor David Suchet). The cathedral has a lovely gift shop (we're the proud owners of a Winchester Cathedral Christmas ornament).
The last stop on our whirlwind tour of Winchester are the remains of Winchester Castle - founded in the 11th century, only the 13th century Great Hall remains. Channel your inner Game of Thrones monarch (really there are too many to select just one), or imagine yourself at the head of King Arthur's round table. Sadly, this isn't the real thing, as it dates from the same time period as the Great Hall itself - the art work was an addition by Henry VIII in the 16th century.
Take another turn around the shops before you head back to the station. If you're in town for dinner, the Loch Fyne location is housed in a stunning building dating to 1509. I'm incredibly partial to their lovely salmon and potatoes.
Stop by the quaint store in the station before your journey back to London - they have a lovely selection of wine for your trip!
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