A City In Touch With The Country: 15 Things To Do In Salisbury

The cathedral city of Wiltshire is famous for its pretty setting, historic buildings and of course its close proximity to the iconic Stonehenge. Dubbed New Sarum after receiving its city charter in 1227, Salisbury has a prime location - just at the point where four rivers join up with the River Avon. The water meadows and tranquil setting gives the city a countryside feel. Acclaimed novelist Thomas Hardy used the city as the basis for "Melchester" in his novels, and its charming centre, thriving food and drink scene and beautiful buildings are a good choice if you want to visit a quintessential English city on a day trip.

1. Make the pilgrimage to the cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral - credit www.visitwiltshire.co.uk

People have been visiting Salisbury Cathedral for more than 750 years (its foundation stones were laid in 1220). It's got Britain's tallest spire - you can even climb it if you're feeling energetic. The original cathedral was given one of the original copies of the Magna Carta in 1215. Of the four remaining copies, this one remains one of the best preserved. Not only can you see it, but the guides will happily give you more information. Other highlights include the world's oldest working mechanical clock, which dates back to 1386, as well as beautiful carvings and tombs.

Salisbury Cathedral - Magna Carta Exhibition - credit to Ash Mills

2. Head outside to The Close

Salisbury cathedral is surrounded by 80 acres of land, called the Cathedral Close. It's well worth strolling around the lawns to see architecture spanning seven centuries. There are also museums and historic houses (more of both later). At one side you can see the River Avon, while the rest of the complex is protected by ancient walls made from Chilmark stone.

Cathedral Close, Salisbury (credit www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

3. See where Salisbury originally began

The spectacular site of Old Sarum is now owned by English Heritage. You can actually stand where the original Salisbury Cathedral was built. In 400BC, this was the spot of an Iron Age Hillfort - and you can still see the earth banks that make up the ramparts. William the Conqueror also thought a castle would go nicely there, and you can still see the foundations of those too.

Salisbury Charter Market - (c) www.visitwiltshire.co.uk


4. Make time for a market

Salisbury has held markets since its first Charter, which was granted in 1227. The Charter Market still takes place bi-weekly (Tuesday & Saturday) in the 15th century market place. There are more than sixty independent traders selling crafts, clothes and jewelry.  There's a specialist farmers market held at the same time. You also might catch the monthly Vintage Market in Guildhall Square. This is the place to pick up your bric-a-brac and collectibles - as well as try some retro food and drink.

5. Pop down to Salisbury's shops

Cross Keys Shopping Centre, Salisbury (credit to www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

You'll find the Cross Keys Shopping Centre in Guildhall Square. It's a covered mall with more than 20 shops in converted historic buildings. The Old George Mall also has an M&S, Topshop and The Body Shop, but if you're looking for something more local, the Salisbury Independents have created a downloadable map and guide to the best indie shops in the city centre.

The Poultry, Salisbury (credit to www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

Fisherton Mill is an independent gallery, which also has artists studios to visit, all housed in a converted Victorian mill. They've kept many of the original features and you buy art, crafts as well as bespoke gifts - then pop into their cafe for a bite to eat or spot of afternoon tea afterwards.

6. Visit a historic house or stately home

Mompesson House (credit to www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

Two of Salisbury's most beautiful buildings can be found in Cathedral Close, Mompesson House and Arundells. Step inside the delightful Queen Anne townhouse and be transported back to the 18th Century, Mompesson House's original fixtures and fittings meant its interior was used in the film Sense and Sensibility (1995). Having looked around, step out into the walled garden and have afternoon tea. Arundells, has been a prime ministers home, a school but it started out as a Medieval Canonry.

Arundells Drawing Room (credit Arundells)

Now run by the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, it has a fire collection of paintings and other memorabilia collected by the former prime minister (it closes during the winter). Wilton House is another stately home much beloved by film crews - Sense and Sensibility, The Madness of King George and The Young Victoria are among to costume dramas to have featured the estate. It was handed over by King Henry VIII in 1544 to Sir William Herbert, and it remains the family home of the The Earl of Pembroke. The Parish Church of St Thomas and St Edmund is also worth a visit to see its 15th Century interior and exterior. See how many of the 250 Angels you can spot, and also see the famous, Doom Painting (see below).

Salisbury St Thomas's (credit to www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

7. Watch a play

Salisbury Playhouse (credit to www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

The Salisbury Playhouse puts on a variety of live theatre events, including musicals, plays and pantomimes. They hold their annual festival, Theatre Fest West, in the Spring, which sees a mix of family shows, new writing and dance taking place across five arts venues in the city. Salisbury Arts Centre also puts on theatrical and dance performances as well as independent film screenings.

Salisbury Arts Centre (credit to www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

8. Or catch a gig or stand-up comedy show

City Hall is the place to see live music and big-name comedians, and has space for just under a thousand people in its main hall. They've put on gigs by The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Morrissey to name a few, and this is one of the biggest venues in the area.

9. See Stonehenge

Probably one of the most iconic monuments in the world, Stonehenge's mysterious Neolithic stones have fired the imagination of visitors for centuries. While until fairly recently you could wander round the stone circle, now to preserve the site for future generations you're limited to how close you can get, with the exception of the Summer Solstice, where you can access the site for a short period. If you're not driving, there are plenty of Stonehenge tours to pick up in the city, with hop-on-hop-off style buses taking you out into the countryside to see Old Sarum, as well as dropping you off at the new state-of-the-art visitor centre.

10. Delve deeper into the areas history by visiting a museum

The Rifles Museum Salisbury (credit to www.visitwiltshire.co.uk)

Cathedral Close is home to The Salisbury Museum, which houses an extensive collection of finds from nearby Stonehenge. The museum also has the Wessex collection of Pitt-Rivers, one of the most famous of the Victorian anthropologists and archaeologists, which was given to them by HM Treasury and contains plenty of antiquities from across the globe. Also in The Close is The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum, perfect for military buffs who can learn more about the Infantry Regiments of Berkshire and Wiltshire, starting from 1748 right up to the current regiment. The Guildhall Salisbury, owned by Salisbury City Council, is the place to go and see the city's silver collection and where the Crown Court used to be held (they even have cells below).

11. Find out if Salisbury is haunted

A city this old must have its fair share of spooks and spectres, and there are several Ghost Walks you can take around the city. You can find out how the Duke of Buckingham came a cropper and also discover more about the witches and wizards who haunt the city. Salisbury City Guides, who are all professional Blue Badge guides, have several different versions of their tour, which runs from May to September, including family-friendly versions.

12. Visit the animals

It's free to visit the River Bourne Community Farm , which is next to the village of Laverstock near Salisbury. They've got a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep and hens (you can buy their eggs at the farm shop) along with a couple of pigs, donkeys and goats.

13. Place a bet

Salisbury Racecourse

If you're in the city between early May and mid-October, then see if there is a Flat race on at Salisbury Racecourse. This is one of the UKs oldest racecourses, with meetings taking place from the middle of the 16th Century, and they hold special events throughout the year.

14. Enjoy the great outdoors

The Temple at Larmer Tree

The glorious Larmer Tree Gardens were only reopened to the public in the mid-nineties, and still operate seasonal opening hours. They have spectacular displays of Camellias and Rhododendrons and the Hydrangeas come into their own during the summer. Wander through the woodland and try and visit all the ornate buildings dotting throughout the grounds. Heale Gardens is also closed during the winter months and its lovely spot by the River Avon make it a great place to visit when its warm. In 1651 King Charles II hid here when he was on the run, and the 16th Century house still retains many of its original fixtures. There is a garden centre to buy plants from and a coffee shop to take the weight off in.

15. Try some historic pubs and restaurants

The mummified hand at The Haunch of Venison

If the weather is lovely, head to The Old Mill Hotel, which has a huge beer garden overlooking the River Nadder. They'll even fire up their Bertha Oven during the summer, and you can choose a burger, steak or chicken to be cooked over the charcoal. The hotel is Grade I listed and they have plenty of traditional pub features, like real beams and an open fireplace, if you want to venture inside to eat and drink. The Haunch of Venison could well be the oldest pub in Salisbury and its listed in CAMRA's National Inventory for the beauty of its small, historic interior - including the pewter-topped bar and rare wooden carved arch. It's also probably the only pub in Britain with a mummified hand on display - legend says it was lost by a cheating card player. Also Grade II listed is The Cloisters (1350), and unsurprisingly this is just round the corner from the Cathedral - you can find traditional pub grub here. Serving up real ale, and Thai cuisine, is The Rai d’Or, which has a particularly colorful past as a house of ill-repute back in the Middle Ages, and their present building dates back to the 16th Century. The Charter 1227 Restaurant references Salisbury's links to the Magna Carta, and this restaurant by the market place serves up stunning plates of modern British and European food. If you don't mind heading out for some fine dining, the Red Lion Freehouse in East Chisenbury, is only a half hour drive, and this pub with a Michelin star has built a reputation for its Modern European cuisine.

Salisbury Cathedral (Credit VisitWiltshire)

Staying there

Has our guide inspired you to stay around a little longer? In that case we have plenty of hotels in Salisbury and the surrounding area. The Cathedral city of Winchester is also close by, and we've put together a guide of the best things to do when you visit. We also included Stonehenge in our day trips from London suggestions - so you can discover more things to do nearby.

Getting there

It takes around an hour and 30 minutes to get to Salisbury from London Waterloo by train via South West Trains . If you're driving, it can take between two to two and a half hours (depending on traffic), and many people visit while they're at Stonehenge, which is around a twenty minute drive away

What are your best Salisbury tips?

If you live in Salisbury or have visited the city before, we'd love to hear what your favourite things to do in Salisbury are. Please share your recommendations and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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