The cathedral city of Salisbury, located less than two hours by train or car from London, is one of the U.K.'s best destinations to dive into history. The city is home to the iconic Salisbury Cathedral—which has an exemplified copy of the Magna Carta on display—and is a good base for exploring the nearby, ancient sites of Stonehenge and Old Sarum.
Whether you're interested in archaeology and history, or you simply want to explore (and shop) one of England's scenic cities, Salisbury has a lot to offer for a weekend or several days. From the famed cathedral to the more modern Fisherton Mill art gallery, here are the 10 best things to do in Salisbury.
Built between 1220 to 1258, Salisbury Cathedral is a magnificent example of English Gothic architecture. Claiming to have the tallest church spire in the U.K., the cathedral is also famously home to the best surviving exemplified copy (of four) of the 1215 Magna Carta. The 13th-century Chapter House has an interactive display about the historic document, with volunteer guides available to explain its history and significance. The Chapter House has limited hours, which vary based on the season; entry is available with a Salisbury Cathedral ticket.
In addition to its Magna Carta copy, the Anglican church features an art collection, which includes works by Antony Gormley and Henry Moore. Catch a glimpse of the cathedral's famed Father Willis Organ followed by coffee in the Refectory Restaurant. Check the current tour times and book your ticket in advance online.
The 80-acre Cathedral Close, located in front of Salisbury Cathedral, is a great spot for a walk or picnic, especially when the weather is warm and sunny. History lovers will enjoy the well-preserved Elizabethan and Georgian houses along the Close, including Arundells, the former residence of Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, and Mompesson House, now a historic museum. Be sure to stop by the Rifles Berkshire & Wiltshire Museum, which details British military history, for afternoon tea at the onsite Rifleman’s Table.
More local history can be found at Old Sarum, the site of the earliest settlement of Salisbury. Located just outside the city, Old Sarum contains the ruins of Salisbury's original cathedral, an old castle, and an impressive Iron Age hill fort. Some of the site dates back over 2,000 years, with links to the Romans, Normans and Saxons. It's an outdoor experience, so planning according to the weather. There is a restroom and picnic area, but no cafe; head across the street to the nearby Harvester pub for a bite to eat after your visit. Parking at Old Sarum is available for a fee.
Learn more about Stonehenge and local archaeology at the Salisbury Museum, home to some 100,000 objects. Though archaeology is its primary focus, the museum also has exhibitions on art, costumes, textiles, and more. Don't miss the Rex Whistler Archive and the displays on social history, which detail past life in Salisbury.
Located across Cathedral Close from the Salisbury Cathedral, the museum offers inexpensive admission and caters to both adults and kids, making it an easy inclusion in your itinerary. There's also a café, museum shop, and frequent special events. Note that parking is available only to visitors with disabilities.
The largest independent art gallery in Southwest England, this former Victorian mill is a great place to browse local art and pick up something to take home. Watch the art come to life at one (or more) of a dozen artist studios, or peruse Fisherton Mill's shop for paintings, jewelry, ceramics, glassware, prints, and sculptures from more than 200 artists. Stop by the café for a cup of tea or lunch, and try to snag one of the outdoor courtyard tables on a sunny day. A calendar of upcoming exhibitions is available on the gallery's website.
Found in Wiltshire, Stonehenge is known as the world's most famous prehistoric monument, built around 5,000 years ago. Visitors can see the famous stone circle and learn about its history in the Stonehenge exhibition. Savvy travelers should book the "Stone Circle Experience," which gets you up close and personal with the iconic stones outside of regular opening hours. It's a good pairing with Old Sarum, only 10 minutes away. Whether you prefer to drive yourself or take a bus from the city center, the Neolithic site is easily accessible (only 20 minutes from Salisbury).
Another great day trip from Salisbury is available at Longford Castle, which sits on the River Avon and is the seat of the Earl of Radnor. Built in the late 16th century, the castle was remodeled into its current state in the 18th century. It's been home to the same family for 300 years, and despite it being a private home, the castle offers tours to the public on specific dates of the year. Tours can be booked through the National Gallery; visitors should reserve their tickets as far in advance as possible, either online or by calling the museum. The ticket includes a free minibus transfer from Salisbury Train Station or the Radnor Arms pub in Nunton (visitors can't drive directly to the castle). Comfortable shoes are recommended.
Salisbury is home to many great pubs, but Haunch of Venison is one of the city's very best. Filled with historic flourishes like old wooden beams and fireplaces, the pub claims to be "probably the oldest hostelry in Salisbury and certainly the most haunted." The first record of the building dates back to 1320, when it was used to house people building the Salisbury Cathedral spire. Today, it's a lively pub serving up classic British fare, including fish and chips, and, of course, several venison dishes. Table reservations can be made online, or just stop by to take a break from sightseeing.
Home to the 18th Earl and Countess of Pembroke, Wilton House is a great place to explore British history (and wish you came from an aristocratic background). It's been used in several movies and TV shows, including "The Crown," "Emma," and "Young Victoria," and its rooms and grounds are impressively well kept. Tickets can be booked online, with an option to select either a house tour or admission to the grounds and playground only. Opening dates and hours are limited, so plan your visit ahead of time, especially if you want to see one of the special exhibitions or events put on by the house. There is also a café and gift shop.