Salisbury is in the county of Wiltshire in South West England. It is 79 miles from London, 33 miles from Bath, and close to the Neolithic sites of Stonehenge and Avebury. Visitors are attracted to Salisbury for its magnificent Gothic cathedral, medieval town center, and abundant green space, making it the ideal destination for a day trip.
Things To Do In Salisbury
You could spend several hours just exploring the cathedral, its close, and the old streets of the town center. However, there are also parks and riverside walks. Then there are the pubs and the restaurants, plus lots of independent shops.
The center of Salisbury is compact, walkable, and mostly flat. Going round the whole of the Cathedral Close will add about a mile and a half to your walk.
The Salisbury Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258 and is regarded as the best example of early English Gothic architecture in the country. Its spire — visible from many points around the town — is 404 feet, the tallest in Britain.
Inside the cathedral, you can admire the medieval tombs and stonework and enjoy a peaceful walk around the cloisters, the largest in Britain. Marvel at the oldest working clock in Europe, dating to 1356. And don’t miss the Magna Carta, one of only four original copies of the charter of rights signed by King John in 1215.
Visitor access may be restricted at certain times, particularly at Christmas and Easter. It is advisable to book in advance if you want to climb the 332 steps to the top of the tower for spectacular views of the town and surrounding countryside.
The Cathedral Close (the area around the cathedral containing open space, houses, and ecclesiastical buildings) is the largest such area in Britain. A total expanse of 80 acres, the close includes lawns, grand buildings, and even a church and a school. The whole area is surrounded by a medieval wall with gateways connecting the cathedral to the city.
Take a peaceful walk around the close and enjoy the green space, the architecture, and the views of the cathedral. Some of the buildings are open to visitors. These include Mompesson House, an 18th-century townhouse, and Arundells, once the home of the former Prime Minister Ted Heath.
One of the most impressive buildings in the Cathedral Close houses The Salisbury Museum. This is the King’s House, dating to the 13th century but rebuilt 200 years later. (Visitors from Iowa may be familiar with the replica of the King’s House at Salisbury House in Des Moines.)
Visitors to the museum can explore collections on the history of Salisbury and the surrounding area. Of particular interest are the archaeological finds from the nearby site of Stonehenge. The museum also has special exhibitions.
If you leave the Cathedral Close by the High Street Gate, you will come to the medieval heart of the city. One of the pleasures of a visit to Salisbury is walking through the old streets and admiring the historic buildings. As you walk, don’t forget to look up: Many modern shopfronts are topped by much older buildings.
The town centers on the old marketplace and the nearby Poultry Cross, where medieval traders would have sold their wares. Other notable buildings include the 15th-century church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury and John a’ Port’s House, the oldest house in Salisbury and now a china shop.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the town center, Fisherton Mill was originally a grain mill built in 1880. Today it is a large independent gallery with two floors of artwork, homemade furniture, and smaller items such as jewelry and glassware.
You can enjoy the historic setting of the mill while browsing for items to buy. In the courtyard there is a cafe as well as several artisan workshops and a bookshop.
Water Meadows And Harnham Mill
With five rivers and lots of green space, Salisbury has plenty of walks. One of the best is the half-mile Town Path, which begins in Queen Elizabeth Gardens, close to Mill Road, and crosses the Water Meadows toward Harnham.
The Water Meadows were created in the 17th century to provide grazing for the town. Today they are a nature reserve and a haven for wildlife. They also offer wonderful views of the cathedral. At the end of the path is Harnham Mill, a 15th-century water mill that is now a hotel and restaurant, perfect for a coffee stop at the end of your walk. From here, you can return the way you came or walk through the village of Harnham to reenter the Cathedral Close via the Harnham Gate.
Best Places To Eat In Salisbury
There are lots of places to eat and drink in Salisbury, including historic pubs where you can enjoy a bar snack or a full meal. Alternatively, you can choose from a range of coffee shops, fast food outlets, and gourmet dining spots.
Here are some of my favorites.
Haunch Of Venison
Haunch of Venison is worth visiting for its 15th-century half-timbered building (making it probably the oldest pub in Salisbury) and for its location, beside the medieval Poultry Cross. It also claims to be the city’s most haunted hostelry. Haunch of Venison serves real ale and great food, which you can eat either at the bar or in the upstairs restaurant.
The Red Lion
The 800-year-old Red Lion is said to be the oldest purpose-built hotel in Europe. Visit for the historic building and the charming courtyard surrounded by Virginia creepers. The Red Lion is famous for its afternoon teas, but you can also enjoy lunch or dinner there.
Fisherton Mill Cafe
Fisherton Mill has a licensed cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. It is the ideal place to combine lunch or a drink with a session browsing the gallery and studios. You can choose anything from coffee and cake to a sandwich or light lunch. Everything is homemade from locally sourced ingredients. Fisherton Mill Cafe has been nominated for numerous food awards.
Where To Shop In Salisbury
Aside from Fisherton Mill, there are numerous independent shops in Salisbury where you can find anything from gifts to home goods to specialty foods. Antique lovers won’t want to miss the three-story Antiques Market on Catherine Street.
Markets have been a regular feature of the town since the Middle Ages. The Charter Market, which has been around since 1227, sells all manner of goods, including hot food. There are also special events, such as the French Market, throughout the year.
Pro Tip: Salisbury Independents Week at the beginning of July each year celebrates independent retailers with a variety of discounts and competitions.
Best Places To Stay In Salisbury
If you choose to stay overnight, there are several hotels and pubs with rooms in Salisbury. However, your options will depend on whether or not you require parking (city-center hotels usually have very limited parking).
Milford Hall Hotel & Spa
Milford Hall Hotel & Spa is a mid-market hotel with parking and a spa. It is around half a mile from the town center — you can avoid walking along the busy road by taking the riverside path.
Red Lion Hotel
If you are arriving by train and don’t need a hotel with parking, the four-star Red Lion would be a good choice. This is a very old building with comfortable lounges and a choice of dining options. Some rooms have period features.
Mercure White Hart Hotel
Another centrally located option is the Mercure White Hart Hotel. Close to the cathedral, the hotel is housed in a grand Georgian building that has seen many famous guests over the years, including Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. The rooms are spacious, and you can enjoy traditional English food in the restaurant.
Making your trip an overnight stay will give you more of an opportunity to explore everything that Salisbury has to offer. It will also allow you to visit nearby historic sites such as Stonehenge or Old Sarum.