10 Reasons to Love Winchester—the Ancient City of Kings and Knights

Steeped in history and legend, Winchester is a reminder of Britain’s mythical past.

Soak up the gothic splendor of Winchester Cathedral, stroll along ancient river walks, laugh at street theatre, or relax over wine or a fine ale.

Winchester is an adventure in time.

Here are 10 reasons you’ll fall in love with Winchester.

1. Ancient Capital of England

Honored by a huge statue 17 feet high, Alfred the Great stands watching over the city he built on top of the old Roman settlement of Venta Belgarum.

Today it is known as Winchester—the Anglo-Saxon capital of England before London.

King Alfred's Statue, Winchester. Credit Odejea
King Alfred’s Statue, Winchester. Credit Odejea

Venta Belgarum means “Town of the Belgae”—a confederation of tribes mostly living in present day Belgium, but some living in southern England.

Following the Roman invasion of Britain, the Romans founded the settlement in around 70 AD and developed it into a major trading center with city walls, before withdrawing from Britain some 340 years later.

During diggings at the corner of Little Minster Street and Minster Lane in 1878, a beautiful Roman mosaic was discovered.

Depicting a dolphin, you can see the mosaic on display at the Winchester City Museum.

Roman Mosaic discovered in Winchester. Credit John W. Schulze, flickr
Roman Mosaic discovered in Winchester. Credit John W. Schulze, flickr

But Winchester’s history goes back much further to the Iron Age (1200 BC – 1 BC), with the remains of three hill forts all in the nearby vicinity—Oram’s Arbour, St. Catherine’s Hill, and Worthy Down.

St. Catherine's Hill in Winchester is an Iron age Hill Fort. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
St. Catherine’s Hill in Winchester is an Iron age Hill Fort. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

One day in 2000, a retired florist was out in the fields of Winchester hoping to get lucky with his metal detector and perhaps find something interesting.

Striking one of the most important Iron Age gold hoards for fifty years and valued at £350,000 ($457,000), he was a little more than lucky.

Housed in the British Museum, the Winchester Hoard is thought to be a lavish diplomatic gift dating from about 75-25 BCE.

Winchester Hoard. Credit Portable Antiquities Scheme, flickr
Winchester Hoard. Credit Portable Antiquities Scheme, flickr

2. Winchester Gothic Cathedral

Having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe, it comes as little surprise that Winchester Cathedral is the major landmark of the city.

Winchester Cathedral at Sunset. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Winchester Cathedral at Sunset. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

Originally founded in 642 and known as the “Old Minster”, it was demolished by the Normans in 1093 and a new cathedral built in its place.

Squat and square, the tower is 150 ft tall which pales in comparison with Salisbury Cathedral’s 404 ft spire—just 25 miles to the west of Winchester.

Winchester Cathedral showing west end, central tower and longest Gothic cathedral nave in Europe. Credit WyrdLight.com
Winchester Cathedral showing west end, central tower and longest Gothic cathedral nave in Europe. Credit WyrdLight.com

Some speculate that Winchester Cathedral may have later had a spire if funds had been available since spires were highly desirable.

But the current tower is the second after the first collapsed in 1107—an accident blamed on the impious William Rufus (William the Conqueror’s heir) who was buried in the Cathedral.

It’s possible this “bad omen” halted any plans for a spire that would reach to the heavens—which might have looked like the image below.

What Winchester Cathedral might have looked like with its spire intact
What Winchester Cathedral might have looked like with its spire intact
The ceiling of the Choir in the ancient Cathedral of Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The ceiling of the Choir in the ancient Cathedral of Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Winchester Cathedral Choir looking west. Credit David Iliff
Winchester Cathedral Choir looking west. Credit David Iliff
The nave of Winchester Cathedral as viewed from the west looking towards the choir. Credit David Iliff
The nave of Winchester Cathedral as viewed from the west looking towards the choir. Credit David Iliff

Honored as a beautiful statue, Saint Joan of Arc stares in vain at the Chancery Chapel of Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, a man who helped condemn her to death by burning at the stake in 1431.

The statue of Joan of Arc is in Winchester Cathedral. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The statue of Joan of Arc is in Winchester Cathedral. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The High Altar of Winchester Cathedral. Credit David Iliff
The High Altar of Winchester Cathedral. Credit David Iliff

Spire or no, Winchester Cathedral is beautiful inside and out, and whether out for a stroll in the grounds or a guided tour, the setting is absolutely magical.

Winchester Cathedral. Credit Neil Howard
Winchester Cathedral. Credit Neil Howard
The 15th century Cheyney Court and Priory Gate in the Close of Winchester Cathedral. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The 15th century Cheyney Court and Priory Gate in the Close of Winchester Cathedral. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

3. Winchester Castle and King Arthur’s Round Table

Arthur increased his personal entourage by inviting very distinguished men from far-distant kingdoms to join it.

At one time, Winchester had a castle, of which only the Great Hall still stands, but it houses one of the greatest artifacts from Arthurian Legend—The Round Table.

Symbolizing equality since a round table has no head, by the close of the 12th century, it came to represent the chivalric order of King Arthur’s court and the Knights of the Round Table.

Great Hall, Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Great Hall, Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

Normal poet Robert Wace said that Arthur created the Round Table to prevent quarrels among his barons, none of whom would accept a lower place than the others.

King Arthur's Round Table at Winchester Castle
King Arthur’s Round Table at Winchester Castle

In Celtic lore, warriors sit in a circle around the king or lead warrior.

British cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth says that after establishing peace throughout Britain, Arthur “increased his personal entourage by inviting very distinguished men from far-distant kingdoms to join it.”

The Round Table experiences a vision of the Holy Grail by Évrard d'Espinques, 1475
The Round Table experiences a vision of the Holy Grail by Évrard d’Espinques, 1475
King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler, 1903
King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler, 1903

4. Winchester College

Claiming the longest unbroken history of any school in England, Winchester College was established in 1382 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and chancelloer to Edward III and Richard II.

Founded in conjunction with New College, Oxford, it was meant to prepare students to attend Oxford University.

Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge would later follow the same model.

The 14th century Middle Gate tower and Chamber Court of Winchester College. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The 14th century Middle Gate tower and Chamber Court of Winchester College. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Winchester College. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Winchester College. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Be sure to pop into the Wykeham Arms pub for a bite to eat and a pint of delicious local ale.

You can even sit at old school desks from the college, complete with ink wells.

Inside the Wycham Arms pub with old school desks. Credit Kake, flickr
Inside the Wycham Arms pub with old school desks. Credit Kake, flickr

An independent boarding school for boys in the British public school tradition, according to Tatler Magazine, 35% of leavers in 2015 had places at Oxford or Cambridge; most of the rest attended other universities, including those in North America.

Performance like that doesn’t come cheap, with fees of £38,100 per year (almost $50,000 per year).

The 14th century cloisters of Winchester College Chapel. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The 14th-century cloisters of Winchester College Chapel. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
West Hill with Winchester College Chapel beyond. Credit Herry Lawford, flickr
West Hill with Winchester College Chapel beyond. Credit Herry Lawford, flickr
The Chapel of Winchester College in Hampshire was completed in 1395, and the organ in 1403. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The Chapel of Winchester College in Hampshire was completed in 1395, and the organ in 1403. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

5. Jane Austen’s House

Living in Chawton, Hampshire, about 18 miles north-east of Winchester, Jane Austen started feeling unwell early in the year of 1816.

When her uncle died leaving nothing of his fortune to his relatives, her condition deteriorated and by mid-April she was bed-ridden.

Jane Austen's house in Chawton, Hampshire (The Jane Austen Museum). Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, Hampshire (The Jane Austen Museum). Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Suffering agonizing pain, her sister Cassandra and brother-in-law Henry brought her to Winchester for treatment in May.

She lived here, at 8 College Street, Winchester for the last few weeks of her life.

Jane Austen's house on College Street Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Jane Austen’s house on College Street Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Jane Austen's House. Credit Mike Peel
Jane Austen’s House. Credit Mike Peel
Jane Austen's House. Credit Alwyn Ladell, flickr
Jane Austen’s House. Credit Alwyn Ladell, flickr

On 18 July, at the age of 41, Jane Austen, one of the most prolific writers of the Regency Era, passed to another place free from pain.

She is buried in the north aisle of the nave of Winchester Cathedral.

Jane Austen's memorial stone in Winchester Cathedral. Credit Spencer Means, flickr
Jane Austen’s memorial stone in Winchester Cathedral. Credit Spencer Means, flickr

6. Ancient City Walls, Streets, and the River Itchen

When you enter Winchester through one of the medieval arched gateways, you get a buzz—a feeling that this is going to be special, that you are traveling back in time to a land of Anglo-Saxon Kings, Knights, Bishops, and peasants.

In short, Winchester has atmosphere.

The High Street of Winchester. Credit Anguskirk
The High Street of Winchester. Credit Anguskirk

Parts of the medieval city walls still stand, strong and imposing, forever protecting the city inhabitants.

Sat here, time stands still, allowing your mind to wander how many travelers passed this way on pilgrimages to the magnificent cathedral.

Winchester's Medieval City Wall. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Winchester’s Medieval City Wall. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

Fortunately, advances in city architecture have left Winchester largely free from blight.

It’s a city with relatively few brutal buildings from the 60’s and 70’s and has remained beautiful for hundreds of years.

High Street, Winchester c 1890s. Credit Alwyn Ladell
High Street, Winchester c 1890s. Credit Alwyn Ladell

The town clock still reminds you what time it is regardless of how many carry mobile phones.

The High Street of Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The High Street of Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

There’s time to enjoy the simpler things in life.

Shopping in the High Street, Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Shopping in the High Street, Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

The Victorians appreciated aesthetics—their gothic revival architecture blended with the medieval to keep the mythical past alive.

The Guildhall (Town Hall) in Winchester was built in 1871. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The Guildhall (Town Hall) in Winchester was built in 1871. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Great Minster Street, Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Great Minster Street, Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
St. Swithun's Bridge Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
St. Swithun’s Bridge Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
River Itchen, Winchester. Credit Johan Bakker
River Itchen, Winchester. Credit Johan Bakker

Powered by the River Itchen, the old City Mill is probably the country’s oldest working watermill, with over a thousand years of history.

Water Mill, Winchester. Credit Johan Bakker
Water Mill, Winchester. Credit Johan Bakker

7. Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty

Founded in the 1130s by Henry de Blois—the Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Winchester, and grandson of William the Conqueror—the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is the oldest charitable institution in the United Kingdom.

The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty. Credit barnyz, flickr
The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty. Credit barnyz, flickr

Built on the scale of an Oxbridge college, the almshouses are the largest medieval examples in Britain.

St. John's almshouses in Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
St. John’s almshouses in Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Since at least the 14th century, and still available today, a ‘wayfarer’s dole’ of ale and bread has been handed out at the chapel.

The sustenance was supposedly instigated to aid pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

Handing out Wayfarer's Dole at St Cross Hospital, Winchester. Credit Alwyn Ladell, flickr
Handing out Wayfarer’s Dole at St Cross Hospital, Winchester. Credit Alwyn Ladell, flickr
The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, Winchester. Spencer Means, flickr
The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, Winchester. Spencer Means, flickr
The nave facing east, the late Norman church of the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, Winchester. Credit Spencer Means, flickr
The nave facing east, the late Norman church of the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, Winchester. Credit Spencer Means, flickr

8. Street Theatre, Fairs, and Farmers Market

Just as our medieval forebears enjoyed street entertainments, so too do Winchester residents who gather on the cathedral lawns or the High Street to celebrate street theatre during the summer festival season.

Entertainers in the Close of the 11th century Cathedral. Credit Anguskirk, flickr, flickr
Entertainers in the Close of the 11th century Cathedral. Credit Anguskirk, flickr, flickr
Unicycle jugglers entertain the crowd in the Cathedral Close. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Unicycle jugglers entertain the crowd in the Cathedral Close. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Winchester hosts one of the UK’s largest farmers’ markets, with about 100 stalls of fresh locally grown produce.

The market at Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The market at Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

During the Christmas holiday season, hundreds of children holding paper lanterns process along the High Street to the Cathedral Close to mark the opening of the Christmas Market and Ice Rink.

The Christmas lantern Parade at Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The Christmas lantern Parade at Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

9. Walking, Cycling, and Surrounding Countryside

Whether you’re working off a big evening meal with a pleasant stroll or engaged in a more active pursuit, Winchester’s walks are a delight for the senses.

From the City centre, there is a lovely 20-minute walk along the riverside footpath to the ancient Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse.

The Water Meadows riverside walk in Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The Water Meadows riverside walk in Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

How much more enjoyable does it get to soak up Winchester’s sights than on a bicycle made for two?

A couple cycle past Winchester Cathedral on a bicycle made for two. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
A couple cycle past Winchester Cathedral on a bicycle made for two. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

Hampshire’s countryside, towns, and villages are some of the prettiest in Britain, with fields of green and bright yellow stretching for miles.

An ancient Roman road that is now a footpath will take you on an adventure from Winchester Cathedral to Salisbury Cathedral—this is “Pillars of the Earth” country.

Canola (rapeseed) crop near Winchester. Credit, Neil Howard
Canola (rapeseed) crop near Winchester. Credit, Neil Howard
The Duckpond at Crawley, near Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The Duckpond at Crawley, near Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

Hampshire is one of the best counties to see gorgeous thatched cottages.

Thatched cottage in Easton near Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Thatched cottage in Easton near Winchester. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Cottage by the village pond at Crawley, near Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Cottage by the village pond at Crawley, near Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Road through the Crab Wood, near Winchester, UK. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Road through the Crab Wood, near Winchester, UK. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

10. Cafes, Pubs, and Restaurants

Winchester boasts some of the oldest pubs in Britain.

From debating the best way to grow prize roses to who will win the county cricket championships, there’s not much beats a glass of wine al fresco.

Time to talk over a glass of wine at La Place Bistro. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Time to talk over a glass of wine at La Place Bistro. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Winchester Pubs
Winchester Pubs

Delightful pubs and restaurants abound in Winchester.

Whether you’re looking for a delicious lunch at the Chesil Rectory—Winchester’s oldest house—or something French for evening upscale dining at the Hotel du Vin, Winchester is sure to be one of your best and favorite memories.

Chesil Rectory is the oldest building in Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Chesil Rectory is the oldest building in Winchester. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Hotel du Vin, Winchester. Image credit Hotel du Vin
Hotel du Vin, Winchester. Image credit Hotel du Vin

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