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**Post updated, May, 2019
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, with one day left on the itinerary, we literally picked a well-known English city that we hadn't been to, at random, and hopped on the train. And, just as we had hopped, Winchester is an absolutely incredible city - I hope you'll enjoy it as much as we did.
Getting to Winchester from London
Winchester is extremely easily accessible by train directly from central London via London Waterloo. If you return to London at sunset, you can have two classic songs about England stuck in your head, all in one trip!
It's a quick hour and 20 minute ride down to Hampshire from Waterloo.
History of Winchester
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. For a time, prior to the Norman conquest, Winchester was even the English capital.
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 (Austen was born in Hampshire in 1775).
Today, Winchester is consistently voted one of the best places to live in the U.K., owing to its proximity to London, countryside charm, historic buildings, and excellent downtown shopping.
Exploring Downtown Winchester
Winchester tour 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. With a stunning outdoor area right on the river, you can't beat this for a place to get a pint in before your adventure beings.
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! Don't forget to say hi to the statue of King Alfred the Great - you can't miss him! A lovely pub lunch outside, and the continue along the River Itchen to our next destinations.
How to plan your day trip to Winchester
Winchester is relatively compact and very easily walkable. With just one day, 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 as the city is quite small, so if you follow your fancy, ultimately taking another order would not upset your plans for the day.
Exploring Wolvesey Castle, Winchester
Free to enter, the stunning Wolvesey Castle contains the haunting 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. We saw some people having a picnic, which would have been nice, had I had the foresight!
Visiting Winchester Cathedral
Continuing down the river (and veering right), you'll very 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 Cathedral is considered one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, and immediately upon entry, you'll be impressed by its stunning size and sheer scale. Don't forget to visit the choir, which is reminiscent of Westminster Abbey in London.
Exploring Winchester Castle and Great Hall, Winchester
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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