In the picturesque English countryside of Wiltshire is the city of Salisbury. Salisbury has witnessed some of the most significant historical events in the UK. Here you will find the original copy of the Magna Carta. Near Salisbury, you’ll find other important landmarks, such as Stonehenge. In addition to all the medieval sites, you will find restaurants, shops, and other fun places to spend your day.
Here is your guide to the best places to see in and around Salisbury:
Once known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Salisbury Cathedral. The construction began in 1220, taking 38 labor of love years to complete. It is one of the leading examples of early English Gothic architecture.
The surrounding area of the cathedral is called the close, which covers approximately 80 acres, making it the largest in Britain, where you will find locals enjoying a picnic under the shady trees. It earned the name ‘close’ because the entire area is closed by four gates at night.
It has the tallest spire in Britain (404 feet) and houses the best preserved remaining four original copies of the Magna Carta (1215). In addition, it is one of only three English cathedrals to have no peal of bells (to announce weddings and such) and is home to the oldest working clock in the world, dating back to 1386.
- Hours: Mon. – Sat. 9:30 – 17:00; Sun. 12:30 – 16:00
- Admission: £9 adult advance, £10 on the day; Free Tours are available.
Located within the Salisbury Cathedral is the Magna Carta, a Latin term meaning ‘great charter.’ In 1215 King John wanted to make peace with a group of English barons and church leaders who were protesting against high taxes and demanding that he pay for his wars against France.
Magna Carta limited the powers of the monarchy, making the King and Queen subject to the law and could not exploit their power to rule just as they wanted to. In addition, the Magna Carta gave individuals of state-specific rights.
Elias Dereham delivered the Magna Carta first to Salisbury Cathedral at Old Sarum in 1215. He later became a priest at Salisbury Cathedral and oversaw the construction of the current Cathedral.
Magna Carta is one of today’s most powerful documents that is a symbol of social justice. Most of the original clauses are no longer relevant today. However, the concept of the document providing freedoms and rights to individuals under the rule of law is still used today across the globe.
St. Thomas’s Church
At the north end of High Street stands the Church of St. Thomas. The site lays claim to the first active place of worship in New Sarum prior to the building of the Salisbury Cathedral. It is filled with stunning historical and architectural features and unique art. Spot the ‘damned bishop’ being led away to Hell in the famous and newly-restored Doom Painting. Try counting all 250 angels on the roof, walls, and pillars.
- Hours: 9:00 – until early evening
- Guide – Download this app, and you can get a free guide.
The College Matrons
After you pass through the High Street Gate, you will come upon the College Matrons, erected in 1682 as almshouses for the widows of clergy and paid for by Bishop Seth War. It is still part of the Salisbury almshouses.
Most people stop to snap a picture of the cartouche above the door. The writing is in Latin and translates to “Seth, Bishop of Salisbury, most humbly dedicated this College of Matrons to God, most good, most great, in the year of our Lord 1682”.
The lovely Arundells is the home of former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath. The home is in Cathedral Close, filled with personal collections of art, ceramics, political cartoons, and sailing memorabilia situated on a beautiful two-acre lot with riverside gardens.
- Guided Tours – Available on Tuesday, every hour on the hour from 11:00 – 15:00. Please book a guided tour in advance by visiting the website.
- Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday & Monday 11:00 – 17:00
- Admission: £9
The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum
If you are interested in rifles/guns, this is a must-see! The museum tells how the different firearms work, how and when they were used, and displays refurbished historical guns.
- Hours: Mon. – Sat. 10:00 – 17:00.
- Admission: Adult £5
The Mompesson House
The Mompesson House has been home to many families over the past 300 years. It is named after Charles Mompesson, for whom it was built in 1701—located on the north side of Salisbury’s Cathedral Close. The house was intended for the clergy to live in, but by the mid-17th Century, it became a trendy location for gentry and professional classes.
- Book a Tour here.
- Admission: Adult £8
High Street Gate
High Street Gate is one of the five gates in Salisbury’s ancient city wall. Located on High Street, visitors can pass through the gate to find themselves among boutiques or in front of the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral.
Poultry Cross is one of four market areas that once stood in Salisbury, the others being a Cheese Cross, Barnards Cross (livestock), and a Wool Cross. They all symbolized the venues of the markets in the city. Salisbury was granted a market charter in 1227, and there has been a market cross on the site since 1307. The structure here dates back to the 15th Century with some 19th-century additions. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, it is still surrounded by market stalls; otherwise, it is used by locals as a meeting place or a good place to sit for a rest or shelter if it is raining. On the day of our visit, it was going through a major restoration.
The Market Square
This square once served locals with shops and stalls since 1269. The lime trees around the market square were planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Today you will find cafes and pubs with outdoor seating to enjoy the sunny days!
The Guildhall Square
Located in Market Square is the Guildhall, erected in 1922. Today it is home to war memorabilia from WWII and other brave battles. There are few rooms open to the public that display works of art but serve the community as a civic building.
The Salisbury Museum is filled with a collection of archaeological finds and treasures from Stonehenge and other nearby locations. Located in Cathedral Close, the building is a Grade I. It once belonged to King James I of England in the 17th Century.
Surrounding Salisbury is some of the most interesting history of England. Old Sarum is an Iron Age fort that surrounds an ancient castle’s ruins and the footprint of Salisbury Cathedral. The views from the fort are breathtaking!
- Hours: Daily 10:00 – 17:00
- Admission: Adult £6
I highly recommend including a visit to Stonehenge along with your visit to Salisbury. This prehistoric stone circle monument, cemetery, and archaeological site are only eight miles north of Salisbury.
The monument’s mysterious past contributed to countless tales and theories. It is believed to be a religious site or an expression of the wealth of those who built it. However, there is no evidence of the true purpose of these stones. Others have observed that it may have been used as a farming calendar. Stonehenge has long been the subject of historical speculation.
The Stonehenge that is visible today is incomplete. Many of its original sarsens and bluestones have been broken and taken by the Romans during the medieval periods. Nevertheless, today the famous stone circle is visited by more than a million people annually. The site has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the “outstanding universal value.”
- TIP: If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, you can go to Stonehenge by parking here and walking the dirt road to Stonehenge. You will walk on the outer edge of Stonehenge, but you can see it just as well from here!
If you plan to be there around lunch, you may want to bring a picnic basket as you will see many families enjoying the rolling fields near Stonehenge while picnicking.
If you enjoy learning about British culture and history, add a stop at the Wilton House, only three miles north of Salisbury. This elegantly designed home has been the county seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years. After the dissolution of the Wilton Abbey, it was given to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke. The home was rebuilt in 1647 after a devastating fire. The home is still owned and inhabited by one of the family heirs.
- Hours: Check the website for scheduled openings.
- Admission: Adult £18
As we traveled from Winchester to Salisbury, we stopped in Stockbridge, one of the smallest towns in the UK, located in the district of Hampshire. Lying in the heart of Test Valley, this picturesque High Street reflects its early role as part of the ‘drovers road’ where it was common to see flocks of sheep or herds of cattle come through town in route to Wales.
This adorable town has inspired poets with its charm and beauty over the years. Stroll along River Test and catch a glimpse of trout swimming in the cold water. Browse the boutiques and specialty shops along High Street or visit one of the tea rooms, pubs, or restaurants.
The Haunch of Venison is one of the oldest hostelries in Salisbury, with a historic bar downstairs and a unique restaurant upstairs. The huge oak beams date several hundred years and come from early sailing vessels. The menu offers traditional fish and chips, venison burgers, wild-game steaks, starters, and sides.
Don’t overlook Salisbury while visiting England. I am sure you won’t be disappointed!
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.