Last Updated on 10th February 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Situated in the picturesque English county of Wiltshire, the city of Salisbury has witnessed some of the most important events in British history. As such, the city now boasts a cathedral with the highest spire in England, not to mention being one of the only places in the UK where you can see an original copy of the Magna Carta. Here’s your perfect one day in Salisbury travel itinerary, including things to know before you go and a brief history of the stunning destination!
If you’ve never heard of the Cathedral city of Salisbury before now, then it’s about time you did! Though less well-known than other popular day trip routes from London such as Oxford, Cambridge, or indeed the city of Bath, the city boasts a multitude of independent shopping experiences, some incredibly cosy pubs, and more than its fair share of stunning architecture.
Though best-seen over the course of a long weekend, if you’re short on time then 24 hours in the city is more than enough to get a brief overview of everything that Salisbury has to offer. Alternatively, if you wish to see several top UK attractions in one day as an excursion from London and you have even less time, then you might consider booking a guided tour to Stonehenge, Salisbury, Windsor, and Bath like this one.
Many visitors to the city don’t know this, but right up until 2009, the city of Salisbury was officially known as ‘New Sarum,’ on account of the fact that the original city was founded several miles away in a place now known as ‘Old Sarum’. You see, once upon a time, Salisbury was an incredibly important seat of power.
What started out life as an iron age fort some 2500 years ago soon became perhaps the most important English settlement during the Norman conquest of England, whenWilliam the Conqueror himself travelled to the settlement in 1086 for the Oath of Sarum (an oath whereby all powerful men in England swore allegiance to William).
How to spend a morning in Salisbury
Visit Salisbury Cathedral & The Magna Carta
As one of the most important cathedrals in England, hands down the very best thing to do in Salisbury is to spend at least a few hours exploring the Cathedral. The Cathedral is actually the third such ecclesiastical building to be constructed in the city, with the original two being founded and built several miles away in Old Sarum.
The current cathedral can be visited for a small fee and boasts highlights such as the chance to see an original copy of the Magna Carta (housed in the chapter house) and the oldest working clock in the entire world (the timepiece dates all the way back to the late 1300s)! To fully discover the wonders of Salisbury Cathedral and soak up the ecclesiastical building’s ambiance, you’ll want to dedicate at least two hours of your day.
Stroll around Mompesson House & explore Cathedral Close
Over the years, Salisbury has been used as a backdrop for many a period drama and film, most notably the 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. Mompesson House is a small Queen Anne style townhouse constructed for a local MP (Member of Parliament) during the 1700s.
Today, the house is a museum restored to look as if it’s from the 18th-century and is owned and managed by the National Trust. Home to a series of stunning collections and a delightful café and garden out back, the museum is free to visit for National Trust Members and can be visited by the public for a small fee. In order to discover the entirety of Mompesson House, I’d recommend setting aside an hour or so.
Afterwards, be sure to stroll around Cathedral Close. With many of the houses dating all the way back to the Queen Anne time period, the style of the buildings is simply stunning. Nearby, there are several timber-framed buildings to snap photos of, as well as some incredible and unique independent shopping experiences to be had. We particularly love Regent Tailoring for high-end clothing and the Maltings outdoor shopping mall featuring shops and eateries.
How to spend an afternoon in Salisbury
Take a half-day excursion to Stonhenge
The UNESCO world-heritage site of Stonehenge tops many a traveller’s bucket list, and for good reason. Located a twenty-minute bus ride away from Salisbury city centre, the prehistoric site consists of a circular arrangement of standing stones with many a legend surrounding them.
Throughout history, many people have come up as to theories as to who erected the stones, how they did it (the stone probably comes from Wales), and exactly why they did so. Legends and suggestions have ranged between everything from the site being used as a burial ground some four millennia ago to the more absurd, such as its origins of being created by aliens!
Whatever the case, the prehistoric site is one of the most visited destinations in the UK, boasting over a million visitors on an annual basis. Now owned and managed by the National Trust, be warned that the site is pretty busy, you can’t get close to the stones, and the visit is via audio guide.
Purchase your Stonehenge admission ticket here in advance and benefit from a skip-the-line function. Though the stones are interesting enough to see, if you truly want to get up close and personal with living history, I have other day trip from Salisbury suggestions listed below…
Alternatively, another other easy day trips from Salisbury can be taken in the form of Avebury, a set of stone circles (officially referred to as ‘henges’). The perfect substitute for visiting a Neolithic Site if you’re looking to avoid the crowds of Stonehenge, at Avebury you can explore the village, visit the church, and discover Avebury Manor.
Finally, yet another easy day excursion from Salsibury is that of Old Sarum (i.e. the original birthplace of Salisbury- as noted above, until recently, Salisbury was actually officially called ‘New Sarum’). Old Sarum is just a ten-minute drive away from the city centre and a similar distance if you take the bus.
Once at the historical site, you’ll soon discover the ruins of the first ever Cathedral of Salisbury (not much remains as the stone was pillaged to construct local houses and cottages) as well as a Motte and Bailey fortified Castle ruins which can be visited for a small fee. The vantage point of Old Sarum, high up on a hill some three miles or so from the new cathedral also offers breathtaking views of the Wiltshire countryside.
If you have a little more time…
Finally, if you have some more time to enjoy the wonders and attractions of Salisbury, then there are plenty more things to do, especially if you have a weekend to discover the Wiltshire city. Though I don’t want to spill all the hidden gems worth discovering (one of the greatest joys of travelling is uncovering a destination for yourself!), here’s a little taster of further places to explore…
Visit Salisbury Museum
As well as Mompesson House and Salisbury Cathedral, for those who are looking to discover more about the history of the city, as well as see a range of artefacts, the award-winning museum boasts exhibitions and collections retelling the story of Salisbury. Purchase your Wiltshire Museum ticket here in advance.
Enjoy a traditional pub lunch at Haunch of Venison
If you’re looking to enjoy a traditional pub lunch while in Salisbury, then we recommend none other than making sure to check out the 14th-century Haunch of Venison. Set over two levels, the interior is all narrow alcoves and exposed wooden beams. As well as typical English favourites such as roast meals, there are also vegetarian options on the menu.