Winchester has been a popular tourist destination for over 300 years. Once, a favourite summer residence for London's aristocracy and leading socialites, Winchester is now a year-round destination for people from around the world.
Winchester was once the ancient capital of Anglo-Saxon England; it was the capital city of a region of England called Wessex. The city's rulers spent large sums of money on building churches, palaces, parks, and of course, the Cathedral. The city is rich in history and many famous figures from English history have visited, lived, worked and died in Winchester. The city is now the administrative capital of the county of Hampshire - a county that many regard as being the quintessential English county, with rolling hills, downs, pretty villages and crystal clear rivers.
Winchester has many attractions for the visitor. The first port of call should be Winchester Cathedral. The cathedral is probably England's most beautiful. It's setting, just off the High Street, is idyllic, being surrounded by a park with tree-lined avenues. Construction of the present day cathedral began in 1079. There is a small admission fee but one really should go inside to appreciate the beauty of the cathedral. Also, you can see the tombs, of some ancient Kings of England as well as the tomb of Jane Austen, the famous novelist. Winchester Cathedral Choir is recognized as one of Britain’s leading cathedral choirs, both for its singing of the services and in concert. The Choir comprises sixteen to twenty choristers and twelve lay clerks, whose numbers are augmented when larger forces are required. If you have the chance, you should go to one of their concerts.
St Cross Hospital is a short, but beautiful walk, from the centre of town. St Cross was never a hospital in the modern sense of the word; rather it has its name from the word ‘hospitality’. St Cross was founded in 1132 by Bishop Henri du Blois. The Bishop is quoted as saying that the establishment would be for `thirteen poor men, feeble and so reduced in strength that they can scarcely or not at all support themselves without other aid´. For over 850 the Hospital has provided food and shelter for those in need. The Hospital has a beautiful church, which the visitor is welcome to go inside. There is also a magnificent walled garden with a large pond. The Hospital is no museum piece; there are still 25 Brothers, whose apartments form one side of the historic quadrangle.
Winchester's City Museum is situated between the High Street and the Cathedral. It was the first purpose built museum to be built outside of London. Inside the museum there are four models of the city that illustrate how the City has changed through the centuries. There are also period shop interiors of shop that once traded in the City. The shops interiors were saved and relocated when the shops closed. A recent addition is the Roman `Venta´ Gallery with displays of mosaics that were discovered in archaeological digs in the city. The ‘Floral’ mosaic was found in Brooks and is the earliest found in Winchester. You can see a fragment of it in the museum.
Winchester City Mill spans the River Itchen in the heart of Winchester. The City once had dozens of mills scatters about but all fell into disuse. The name City Mill came into being after Queen Mary Tudor gifted it to the city in 1554 following her wedding in the nearby cathedral. The mill has been restored to full working order and the visitor can now see wheat being ground into flour.
Winchester Great Hall was built in 1232-1240, by Henry III. The Great Hall is the only remaining part of the 13th Century Winchester Castle that remains above ground. It houses the greatest artefact of medieval mythology; “The Round Table of King Arthur". The names of the 24 knights are written around the edge of the 5.5 metre diameter table, weighing 1200kg, surmounted by King Arthur on his throne. However, the table is a medieval fake, but still impressive, all the same.
There are many other tourist attraction in Winchester. There is Abbey House and gardens - a beautiful floral park that is also the setting of the mayor's official residence. The Theatre Royal stages many plays, comedies and exhibitions throughout the year -with many of Britain's leading actors taking centre stage. The walk up St Catherine's hill gives the visitor a magnificent view of the city of Winchester.
There are too many other tourist attractions to mention. But the above tourist information of Winchester should help to guide the first time visitor around the city. Many visitors return time and again to this most wonderful of English cities.
Robin O'Brien lives and works in Winchester and is founder of Winchester Tourist Information where you can find more information on the city such as, places to visit, walks, restaurants, photographs and accommodation in Winchester