SALISBURY CATHEDRAL: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO VISITING IN 2023
Salisbury Cathedral is world renowned for its beauty, its tallest spire and its unique Gothic architecture, as well as its location in the stunning Cathedral Close. People travel miles to see it, and it welcomes over 600,000 visitors a year, many including it in a trip to nearby Stonehenge.
If you're visiting Salisbury Cathedral and want to know what you shouldn't miss, here we have the definitive guide written by a local.
Click on the links to skip to the part you want:
1. Basic Facts >>
2. Top 12 must see highlights of a visit to Salisbury Cathedral >>
3. Visiting details to help you plan your visit, book tickets and tower tours >>
4. Suggestions for other places to visit within a 10 minute walk of the Cathedral Close >>
5. Where to eat when visiting Salisbury Cathedral >>
6. Getting to Stonehenge from Salisbury Cathedral >>
7. Where to stay when visiting Salisbury Cathedral >>
1. Basic facts about Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in the UK at 123 metres (404 feet).
It was built 800 years ago (in 1220) and is unique in that it was built in a short time span - 38 years - so it is all of the same style of architecture - Early English Gothic.
The foundations are only 70 cm deep and it is constructed on a barely drained watery swamp.
The Cloisters (covered walkway) are the largest in the UK.
The Cathedral Close is the largest in the UK at 80 acres.
It holds one of only 4 copies of the Magna Carta in the world - the one here is the best preserved copy of them all.
It contains the world's oldest working mechanical clock which dates from around 1386.
2. Top Must-See Attractions in Salisbury Cathedral
Most visitors visit the main body of the cathedral first, starting near the West Door and working their way down the nave to the altar and the transepts. The tower is only available to those who are doing a tower tour (see below for booking details.) When you leave the main body of the church, you exit into the Cloisters, where you will find the Chapter House and the Magna Carta. A walk round the Cloisters will then lead you to the restaurant, the gift shop and the exit. This list of Must-See Attractions is in the order you are likely to encounter them.
The Tower and Spire
The cathedral was originally a rather squat looking building until the magnificent spire was added in 1310 - 1330. The top-heavy weight of the stone on a building with such shallow foundations has meant that it has caused some damage to the structure of the cathedral over the years. The spire itself still has the medieval scaffolding used to repair it when it was first damaged in the 14th century. Christopher Wren wrote a report on how to stop the spire shifting in 1668, and the iron bands he advised were added in 1670. They are still there today and have prevented further structural damage.
You can go on a tower tour which takes you up into the roof, right to the base of the spire and out onto the parapet with far reaching views over the city - it is a fascinating look at the upper reaches of the cathedral and most definitely worth doing if you get the chance.
Read all about taking a Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour, how to book, what there is to see and the history of the tower and spire >>
You can also see the original 14th century cross which was once at the top of the spire, encased in 18th century copper; it was replaced in 1950. It now sits in the north quire of the cathedral near the pulpit.
The world's oldest working mechanical clock
Believed to be the world's oldest working mechanical clock, although there are other contenders for that title, this faceless clock is thought to date from 1386. It was originally housed in the adjacent Bell Tower, which was severely damaged in the Civil War and eventually destroyed altogether.
The clock has no face and instead strikes once on the hour, although this mechanism is often clamped to prevent it from striking. It still has to be hand wound each day by cathedral staff.
Tombs and Memorials
There is a wide variety of traditional tombs and memorials, the oldest being that of Bishop Osmund, Bishop of the forerunner to the cathedral at Old Sarum. Other notables include William Longspee, son of Henry II and half brother to King John who signed the Magna Carta, Mary Herbert who is recognised as the first English female poet, World War I poet Edward Tennant and as well as Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, who lived in the Close.
There are other lesser known, but no less fascinating individuals, buried and memorialised within the cathedral bounds. You can read more about them and their stories in this article on Tombs and Memorials to look out for in Salisbury Cathedral >>
The Infinity Font
The Infinity Font is a beautiful, modern font right in the centre of the nave.
Added in 2008 as the cathedral hadn't had a font for over 200 years, the font was designed and created by William Pye, renowned water sculptor. It is the only font to have its own water supply and power source, and the only one which is centre stage in a cathedral, rather than tucked away as so many other fonts are.
It is 10 feet across and in a cruciform shape. The water is so still that it looks like a mirror, leading to some incredible reflective photos from visitors.
Apparently one visitor was so convinced it was glass she put her handbag on it - with rather soggy consequences. The water leaves the font in streams at the sides, running into channels in the floor. Although it took a while for locals to warm to its presence in the cathedral, we now love it and wouldn't be without it.
The Prisoners of Conscience Window and Amnesty Candle
At the East end of the cathedral behind the altar is a large, blue stained glass window dedicated to Prisoners of Conscience, and a candle wrapped in barbed wire which is kept permanently alight in memory of those who are imprisoned for their beliefs.
Each morning at 7.30am, the members of the cathedral community meet there and pray for Amnesty International's Prisoner of Conscience for that month.