Lovely, leafy Winchester is the perfect destination for a day trip or a longer, luxurious break. It offers great shopping, superb restaurants and much more historical interest than just a magnificent cathedral to enjoy, and it’s all within an easy walk of the station.
For foodies, Winchester hosts a bustling and excellent farmer’s market on the second and final Sunday of every month, where you’ll find plenty of local smoked trout, watercress and other goodies associated with the River Itchen. And if you get thirsty, Winchester is also rumoured to have more pubs per head than any other town or city in the UK.
Outside Winchester train station you can catch a bus into town. It’s worth getting a PlusBus ticket along with your train ticket so you can then hop on and off any bus you fancy all day. Alternatively, the local taxi company is Wessex Cars. The centre of town is only half a mile away, though, if you’re up for a 10-minute stroll. There are over 400 car parking spaces, with a new multi-storey improvement recently completed, and a whopping 286 bicycle spaces.
Winchester Cathedral is perhaps best known as the burial place of Jane Austen, and well worth a visit. It was saved from sinking at the start of the 20th century by diver William Walker, who spent 6 hours a day under water for 5 years shoring it up. There’s an Anthony Gormley statue in the crypt (which still floods), which you should definitely see after you’ve finished gawping at the longest gothic nave in the world.
Wolvesey Castle is well worth a visit too, and from there you can cross the road, nip past the back of Winchester College and take a stroll in the water meadows, a tranquil oasis of cultivated river meadow enjoyed by the locals for centuries. If you’re lucky you could even spot an otter.
Continue on the path through the meadows and if you walk far enough you’ll reach St Cross Hospital, dating from 1132, the star of the TV series Wolf Hall. You should also see King Arthur’s Round Table in the Great Hall to tick all the historical boxes – you just have to imagine that it’s the real thing.
If you’re thirsty by now, both the Black Boy and the Hyde Tavern are favoured by local ale connoisseurs, and just round the back of the station is The Railway Inn, which is home to excellent live music.
Winchester has a charming, old-fashioned high street, and alongside all the old familiars you’ll find independent stores such as artisan chocolatier Chococo, where you'll find plenty of delicious treats to get your teeth into. The Brooks Shopping Centre is just off the high street, and offers even more variety, with high-street chains alongside local independents.
But seeing as you came by train, the one shop you should visit is Hayward Guitars, which is just by the station. Owner Brian lovingly creates guitars for clients who come for miles to visit him. This is old-fashioned craftsmanship of a kind you don’t often see any more.
Winchester is blessed with plenty of tempting restaurants, and handily lots of them are clustered along Jewry Street just 5 minutes walk from the station. If you’re feeling peckish but not sure what you fancy then a quick stroll along here should sort you out.
Locals (and TripAdvisor) favour the quirky Gurkha’s Inn just round the corner from the station, which does a great Nepalese curry. For finer locally-sourced dining, the famous Chesil Rectory is still hard to beat.
Hotels in Winchester cater for all weary travellers. The newly-constructed Premier Inn is the hotel of choice for those on a budget and not so far out of town that it can’t be walked. At the other end of the spectrum, the beautifully refurbished 17th century Lainston House is a couple of miles outside Winchester but offers the full high-end hotel experience.
If you fancy something a little quirkier, try the central Wykeham Arms, a pub with rooms right by Winchester College (old boys are known as ‘old wykehamists’, after the college’s founder, William of Wykeham, not the pub).