Salisbury is a beautiful Cathedral city in the historic county of Wiltshire. Home to the likes of Old Sarum, Stonehenge, and even a rare copy of the Magna Carta, it’s the kind of place which shouldn’t be missed off your British bucket list. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Salisbury.
Growing up near Andover, the beautiful British county of Wiltshire was never far away. I loved exploring the ancient archaeological sites, and of course, visiting some good family friends who lived (and still reside) in Salisbury.
The city of Salisbury is a place where I spent many a happy weekend during my childhood and so I’m thrilled to be able to share highlights of the place with you today thanks to VisitWiltshire!
- Where is Salisbury?
- What is Salisbury known for?
- When should you visit Salisbury?
- Best things to do in Salisbury
- Admire Medieval Architecture
- Salisbury Cathedral
- Shop in Independent Stores and Quirky Shops
- Sample Locally Produced Food
- Visit Salisbury Museum
- Head to Mompesson House
- Follow in the footsteps of filming Locations
- Take an excursion to Salisbury Plain
- Take a day trip to Imber ghost village
- Visit Stonehenge
- Head to Old Sarum
Where is Salisbury?
Salisbury is located in the southeast in the county of Wiltshire, and is not far from the Neolithic site of Stonehenge. Nearby cities of note include the cathedral city of Winchester, Southhampton, and Portsmouth.
What is Salisbury known for?
Salisbury is best-known for its world-famous cathedral which dates all the way back to the 13th-century. In turn, the cathedral is pretty special as it’s home to England’s oldest working clock and the tallest spire of a cathedral in Britain.
When should you visit Salisbury?
Due to the unpredictable weather in England, I would personally aim to visit Salisbury in the late spring, summer, or early autumn. The very best weather is in the summer months, though this is when you’ll be faced with the highest accommodation prices and most crowds.
While the city is best explored over the course of a weekend, if you have less time to enjoy the city, then be sure to check out our one day in Salisbury itinerary to help you plan your next English adventure!
Best things to do in Salisbury
Admire Medieval Architecture
Once upon a time, Salisbury was an incredibly important seat of power. The city started out in life as an iron age fort some 2500 years ago and during the Norman conquest of England, William 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).
It’s also here in Salisbury where King John’s Brother is interred in the city’s cathedral, as well as several other notable figures from the past. Salisbury’s strategic point along the route from London to Exeter also meant that many wealthy traders set up shop here during the middle ages.
As such, the market town has preserved a vast array of timber-framed houses and ancient dwellings, some of which are open to the public to explore. So if you’re looking to visit Salisbury, then you may well want to bring your camera along with you.
Salisbury is the kind of city where you’ll find many ‘firsts’, as well as plenty of ‘onlys’. Well, Salisbury Cathedral is just one of these. Within its time, Salisbury has actually had three cathedrals, the first two of which were constructed at Old Sarum, a couple of miles from where the current one now resides.
A mix of history, storytelling and legend speak of the fact that gathering enough water for the ever-growing population became so difficult that it was decided a newer cathedral would be built closer to the River Avon during the 13th-century.
Local legend tells of an archer stringing his bow and launching an arrow. It’s said that where the arrow landed would be where the new cathedral would lie… Today, Salisbury Cathedral sits in the very heart of the city and is home to the tallest spire in the country.
It’s one of only three English cathedrals to have no peal of bells (to announce weddings and the like) and is home to the oldest working clock in the world. This timepiece dates all the way back to 1386 and is well worth a look at during any visit to the ecclesiastical building!
Shop in Independent Stores and Quirky Shops
From tailors to haberdashery shops, if you’re looking to visit Salisbury, then there’s certainly no shortage of shopping experiences. One particular highlight of Salisbury’s shopping scene is Regent Tailoring. This independent retailer is not only a clothing store but ‘lifestyle brand’ and tailor specialising in both men and women’s clothing.
From the moment you walk in the store, the shop itself is an entire experience. Recently featured in Condé Nast, the brick-faced street-facing façade hides seven quirky rooms, where you’ll even be given a drink of choice while perusing all of the wares on offer (think G&T, whiskey). Head up to the top floor, and you’ll be greeted with beautiful views of the iconic cathedral!
Sample Locally Produced Food
Wiltshire is where plenty of traditional foods are produced, and so within the city centre there are oodles of independent cafés, taverns, inns, and pubs. Eateries you should add to your Salisbury bucket list include Café Diwali and the Fisherton Mill Gallery (this coffee shop and lunch house has plenty of local and artisanal works you can shop for while you dine!)
Some of the pubs even have rooms where you can rest for the night so as to make your visit to Salisbury a longer one. To make the most of the city and its surrounds, I recommend spending at least one night. That way, you’ll get to see the nearby attractions of Stonehenge, Avebury, and Salisbury Plain, as well as getting the chance to explore the city itself.
Visit Salisbury Museum
From seeing the Magna Carta in situ to experiencing Neolithic finds within Salisbury Museum, there are several quirky, unusual, and unique museums in which you can lose yourself for a couple of hours. Even if you’re ‘not a museum person,’ then there will surely be a cultural experience for you to enjoy.
Aside from the museum, the main learning space that the city has to offer is that of the Wiltshire Museum. Located in the very heart of the city, this award-winning museum boasts exhibitions and collections retelling the story of Salisbury; from prehistoric times to the present day, discover Salisbury’s history at its main museum! Purchase your Wiltshire Museum ticket here in advance.
After all, the city is home to many a gallery, art restorer (check out Lacewing Fine Art Gallery!) and many smaller house museums where you can truly step back in time.
Head to Mompesson House
One of my favourite places to visit in the city is Mompesson House, a beautiful townhouse which is now owned and managed by the National Trust and sits in the very heart of the Cathedral Green.
Follow in the footsteps of filming Locations
Wiltshire as a county has been used for countless films. And if you’re a fan of the magical Harry Potter series, then you may well recognise Lacock, a pretty town which is home to an abbey and picturesque gardens. The city of Salisbury itself has been used in many a film, notably Mompesson House in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie which features Colin Firth.
Take an excursion to Salisbury Plain
If you know anything about the military or even prehistoric history, then you’ll likely have heard of the Salisbury Plain. What you might not have known, however, is that you can actually take ‘Safari-style’ tours across the plain with experienced guides who are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the area.
Salisbury Plain Safaris offer excursions on a weekly basis. From there, it’s possible to experience off-road driving, hopefully, spot some local wildlife (for example, bustards are one of the largest flying land birds and in the UK, the plain is one of the only places where you’ll spy them).
Other highlights of a safari tour, which is led by one of six experienced guides, includes the chance to see many archaeological sites (Stonehenge may well be the most well-known, but it’s certainly not the only prehistoric place in the area) and see the white chalk horses of Pewsey from afar.
Take a day trip to Imber ghost village
During certain times of the year, it’s also possible to visit the now ghost town of Imber. Evacuated during the Second World War, Imber is one UK ghost town you’ve likely never heard of (but probably should have done)…
The ghost village can be found in the very heart of Salisbury Plain, a chalky grassland in the middle of Wiltshire. Known for its countless tumuli, proximity to the UNESCO site of Stonehenge, over half the plain is now owned by the Military of Defense, including the lost village.
One of the most famous Neolithic sites in the world, Stonehenge, can be found just a stone’s throw away from the city. Of all the reasons to visit Salisbury, a quick lunch post-Stonehenge visit should be it!
After all, following a visit to the ancient stones, there’s nothing better than delving a little more into historic times and wandering through an old market city. Purchase your Stonehenge entrance ticket in advance here.
Head to Old Sarum
Though less-known than the iconic Stonehenge, Old Sarum is a historic site and attraction which is now owned and managed by English Heritage. And so, if you’re looking for a slice of history without the crowds that flock to Stonehenge, then you should head to this former hill fort which also happens to be where you’ll find Salisbury’s first Cathedral.
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She now splits her time between London and Paris! Follow Sophie on Instagram.