A magnificent Gothic cathedral, its tower soaring into the sky. Riverside walks and water meadows. And a medieval town centre, packed with historic houses and pubs. Whether you are visiting for a day, or for a little longer, where are the best things to do in Salisbury, in the ancient kingdom of Wessex?
Why Visit Salisbury?
This is the town that was painted by John Constable, whose cathedral inspired novels by Anthony Trollope and William Golding. The cathedral – Salisbury’s most famous sight – is surrounded by parkland, and beyond this are peaceful meadows and riverside walks.
The city of Salisbury is medieval, a remarkable number of well-preserved buildings. Enjoy wandering the streets, visiting the market, and drinking in historic taverns. You’ll even find an old church with some astonishing wall paintings.
And, if that isn’t enough, Salisbury is set in beautiful countryside, within easy reach of a range of tourist destinations.
Things To Do In Salisbury
Salisbury Cathedral is regarded as the finest Gothic cathedral in the country. It is remarkably homogenous in style, and boasts the tallest church spire in Britain. Added in the 14th century, the spire leans slightly, but this does not detract from its charm.
The Cathedral is equally impressive inside. Highlights include an original copy of the Magna Carta (one of only four in existence) and a clock built in 1386 that is thought to be the oldest working timepiece in the world. It is also possible to climb up the tower for the views.
Note that there is a charge for entrance to the cathedral and for tower tours.
Cathedral Close And Salisbury Museum
Another superlative: Salisbury has the largest cathedral close in Britain. This is the massive area around the cathedral, consisting of green space, houses for ecclesiastical staff, a school and even a separate church. The whole area is enclosed by a medieval wall, with gateways leading to different parts of the city.
Enjoy a stroll around the close, noting the contrast between the busy lawns and the empty parkland; between the grand residences and the alms houses and smaller cottages. Don’t miss the King’s House, which now houses the Salisbury Museum, with exhibitions of local and regional history (including nearby Stonehenge).
Medieval Town Centre
Unlike many English cities, Salisbury’s origins can be dated precisely. Although there had been a settlement at nearby Old Sarum since ancient times, the new town was built in the 13th century. A market was first held here in 1219, and work began on the cathedral the following year.
Much of the medieval structure of the town remains. It is based around the old market square (where markets are still held twice a week), and you can still see the 15th century Poultry Cross, one of four market crosses that once stood around the square.
The names of the surrounding streets give clues to their former activities (such as Silver Street and Butcher Row). Today these bustling streets with their wood-fronted houses and busy inns give a flavour of the city as it must have been in earlier times.
St Thomas’s Church
As you walk around the historic centre you will come across St Thomas’s Church, a large church with a courtyard hidden behind the medieval streets. Surprisingly, although it has been substantially rebuilt, St Thomas’s is actually the oldest place of worship in the Salisbury. Dating from 1219, it was built as a chapel for the men who were working on the construction of the new cathedral.
The church is notable for its 15th century wall paintings. The largest of these is the so-called “doom painting” (a depiction of the Last Judgement). Apart from being a very fine picture, it is also the largest doom painting in the country.
Rivers, Parks And Green Spaces
Five rivers run through Salisbury, and the city is well provided with riverside walks and parks. Close to the cathedral is the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, with lawns, flower beds, and a waterside area.
One of the best areas for nature spotting is the Town Path to Harnham. Here you will find ponds, wildflower meadows, grazing sheep, and views of the cathedral.
Harnham And The John Constable Trail
Art lovers might like to follow the John Constable Trail around the water meadows, taking in the locations from which the artist painted his famous views. This is a circular walk from the cathedral via Harnham, and the route is marked with signposts.
Once you reach Harnham (about 1 km from the town centre) you can explore the small village and stop for a coffee at the old Harnham Mill.
Salisbury is about 140 km from London. To the east is the New Forest; to the west is the beautiful area of Cranborne Chase and the towns and villages of Hardy’s Wessex (such as Dorchester and Shaftesbury). The coast is 50 km to the south, and to the north are the cities of Bath and Bristol.
Practicalities For Your Visit To Salisbury
- Salisbury is an easy day trip by train from Bath (just under an hour) or London (an hour and a half).
- If you are arriving by car be aware that parking in the city centre is limited. Park and Ride is available at various locations outside the city.
- The city is small and it is easy to walk from one location to another.
- If you are planning to stay overnight have a look at the accommodation options on booking.com. Not all hotels have parking – you are advised to check before booking.