As one of England’s medieval cities, Salisbury in Wiltshire is an ideal destination for culture enthusiasts. We have put together a walk of all of the free heritage sites in this market town, which you can complete in a few hours, or in a day if you want plenty of time for relaxing, dining and further exploration.
The cathedral city of Salisbury often crops up under travel headlines such as the 'loveliest town in England' (Telegraph) or one of the 'Top Ten Cities to visit in the World' (Lonely Planet) as well as the Best Place to live in England 2019 (Sunday Times). With accolades like this, its fame as the home to Salisbury Cathedral with the tallest spire in England, and the nearest city to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stonehenge, it is no surprise that the city receives many tourists throughout the year.
There is more to Salisbury than the Cathedral and its Close, with other historic sites dotted around the town, particularly medieval ones. We have put together a one day itinerary for those looking to see the best that Salisbury has to offer for the history enthusiast, all of which are free to visit. The itinerary focuses on the historic centre of the city, avoiding some of the places where city planners have not been kind to the area.
Locations of the venues are given using what3words.
Start your tour at the church of St. Thomas and St. Edmund, which is a 9 minute walk away from the train station.
THE CHURCH OF ST. THOMAS BECKETT
what3words: speak.caked.cross Cost: Free, but please do leave a donation if you can
The church is as old as the city, with a wooden structure on the site to serve as the place of worship for the builders of the cathedral. The current church mostly dates from the 15th century, and although the interior has undergone some changes over the years, you can still see the medieval wall paintings showing the badges of the guilds.
There are some fascinating objects in the church, but what stands out the most is the Doom Painting above the chancel, which is the largest and best preserved one in England. It was painted around 1470 and has recently been restored. Doom paintings were once a common feature in churches, an ever present reminder to the congregation as to what the afterlife could have in store for them.
When you leave St. Thomas’ turn left out of the church, walk around the corner to the Haunch of Venison.
THE HAUNCH OF VENISON
what3words: quarrel.prime.heave Cost: Free unless you buy food or drink here
One of the regions oldest hostelries, the pub dates back over 700 years with its first recorded use being in 1320 to house workmen who were working on the cathedral’s spire. The huge oak beams throughout the pub actually pre-date the building by several hundred years and come from sailing ships.
At the front of the pub is a ‘horsebox’ bar, called a ‘Ladies snug’ as it dates back to when women were not allowed in public drinking houses. The pewter top of the bar counter is one of only six left in the country, and the arch of gravity fed spirit taps are one of only five left in the country. It was here that Churchill and Eisenhower are said to have met to plan D-Day in 1944, when nearby Wilton House was Southern Command for the invasion.
The pub also has a former bread oven which houses a smoke preserved mummified hand holding 18th century playing cards, which was found when the building was undergoing some modifications in 1911. Reputedly the hand of a card player who was caught cheating and had it chopped off and thrown in a fire, it has been stolen several times from the pub, but always found its way back, where it is now under lock and key.
The pub has a secret tunnel which leads to St. Thomas’ church, which is said to date from the days when the pub was a brothel, as well as a secret bar that is only occasionally opened to the public. It is also said to be one of the most haunted pubs in England, haunted by the ‘Demented Whist Player’ as well as several other ghosts.
As well as a fascinating historic place to stop for a drink, there is a restaurant that serves some excellent food. It is independently owned and so perfect for the Slow Traveller.
Opposite the Haunch of Venison is the Poultry Cross, less than a 30 second walk away.
THE POULTRY CROSS
what3words: goods.woods.times Cost: Free
Poultry Cross is a Grade I listed market cross, one of four which once stood in Salisbury, the others being a cheese cross, Barnards Cross (livestock) and a wool cross. They all marked 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 you see today 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.
Walk through the narrow lane between buildings to reach the market square, it is less than a 30 second walk.
THE MARKET SQUARE
what3words: trace.ropes.ashes Cost: Free
Salisbury’s Market Square has been in continuous use since about 1269, and was larger than it currently is, as Fish Row, Ox Row, Butcher Row and Oatmeal Row have crept into the original space, probably built to hold permanent shops to replace the temporary stalls. Salisbury’s Market is still held on Tuesdays and Saturdays, as it has been for over 700 years.
The lime trees you see around the market square were planted in 1867 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The square now is fronted on two sides by an eclectic mix of building styles and shops, many of which are cafes or pubs with large outdoor seating areas.
The Market Square has a statue to Henry Fawcett, husband to Millicent Garret Fawcett, author, politician and Postmaster. Read about his connection to Salisbury >>
THE GUILDHALL SQUARE
Next to the Market Square is the Guildhall Square, which contains the Guildhall and the war memorial. Erected after World War I in 1922, it was unveiled by TE Adlam, a Salisbury resident who was awarded the VC for his bravery in battle. It is Grade II listed and is somewhat unusual for war memorials as it is horizontal in style, with a bronze sculpture. The names of the fallen in World War II were added later. The memorial is still the focal point for remembrance services within the city.
Behind the memorial is the Guildhall, Salisbury’s civic building. There are a couple of rooms which are usually open to the public and which display works of art, the city’s silver, and an impressive oak court room. Unless there is an event on, you can just walk inside and ask to look at the rooms which are open to the public.
When you leave the Guildhall, turn right. Opposite you is Queen Street. It is less than a ten second walk away.
what3words: minus.hint.legal Cost: Free
No. 8 Queen Street, the double gabled medieval house, was built in 1425 and restored in 1930.
The house is known as the House of John A’Port, a wool merchant who was Mayor of Salisbury six times and is one of the rich merchants houses which overlooked the market place.
Now a clothing shop, it still has a few original features, but has sadly covered up much of its wattle and daub walls. For these, you need to go next door to No. 9 Queen Street. Now a Cotswold Outdoor shop, go inside if it’s open and walk up to the first floor.
Here, there are some magnificent examples of original wattle and daub on display, the timber beams and brick walls showing the craftsmanship involved in the work. It is really worth a look.
Just a couple of shops down is the entrance to Cross Keys Mall. Go inside.
Ahead of you is a wonderful 17th century wooden Jacobean staircase. This is all that remains of Salisbury's rather exotic Turkish Baths, which were built in 1874. This Mall was once the yard of a popular pub, The Plume of Feathers, and the entrance to the baths was through a narrow passageway and up the stairs.
They were once the height of fashion and consisted of "Three hot rooms, maintained at 130°F, 170°F, and 230°F, and a shampooing room, all led off the cooling-room located on the first floor of the building. Additionally, there were hot baths and a range of spray, wave, and rose showers which could also be used by those not wishing to have a Turkish bath, and by those separately attending for hydropathic treatment or massage." (source)
The baths closed in 1912, the building demolished in 1974, and all that remains is the wonderful stairs and the balcony you see ahead of you.
Head south down Queen Street and turn right onto New Canal. Over the road you will see the Odeon. It is less than a 2 minute walk.
THE HOUSE OF JOHN HALLE/THE ODEON CINEMA
what3words: police.merit.hosts Cost: Free unless you choose to watch a film
Built in 1470, this building was once the home to John Halle, a local wool merchant, mayor and Member of Parliament for Salisbury. The frontage that you see is actually mock Tudor and was added in 1881 by Pugin; you need to go inside to see the Grade I listed medieval hall.
You don’t need a ticket to go in and see the hallway, so it is worth popping in for a minute to admire the medieval fireplace, beamed ceiling, stained glass windows and swords and spears which decorate the walls. The cinema also runs free guided tours once a week, or you could even book a ticket to see a film there.
As you leave the Odeon, turn right and walk two minutes up New Canal Street.
THE RED LION
Photograph © The Red Lion Hotel
what3words: marked.modern.fakes Cost: Free unless you buy food or drink
The first thing you will notice about the Red Lion Hotel is the stunning entrance. Through the coaching doors you can see a small stone courtyard with ivy draped down the medieval walls, wrought iron tables and chairs dotted around and an abundance of plants. The effect is spectacular.
The Red Lion has the distinction of being the longest running, purpose built hotel in the country. Built to house the draughstmen and stone masons working on the cathedral, when the cathedral was finished, the ‘White Bear Inn’ was then used to house visitors to the cathedral and the city of Salisbury.
The building has been altered and embellished throughout the years, with the south wing being the oldest part, full of timbered beams and some wattle and daub and a medieval fireplace. Outside the inn was the local Cage and Ducking stool, as one of Salisbury’s watercourses ran outside. This was a way of punishing short-changing shopkeepers, scolds and ‘disorderly women’, who would be dunked in the sewage filled water.
The building became The Red Lion in 1769, when the local postmaster took over the inn, and it became the main entrance for all of the mail coaches travelling to and from the city. The carvings on a clock in the main reception were carved by Spanish prisoners in Dartmoor Jail following the 1588 defeat of the Armada.
When you leave The Red Lion Hotel, turn left and then left again onto Catherine Street. Walk down Catherine Street then turn left into Ivy Street. Walk on, cross over at the crossroads and into Trinity Street. About halfway down on the left is the next destination, the Trinity Almshouses. It is about a four minute walk.
SALISBURY CITY ALMSHOUSES, TRINITY STREET
what3words: burns.robots.riches Cost: Free but please do leave a donation
Trinity Hospital is a Grade I listed building, opened as an act of penance by Agnes Bottenham, who you saw in the Doom Painting at St. Thomas’ Church. Opened in the 1370s as a refuge for the sick and needy of the city, the building you see now was a rebuild from 1702.
If the large black door in the centre of the building is open, then you can go into the small courtyard, at the far end of which is the Trinity Chapel. The chapel is small but charming, refurnished in 1908, and is free to visit, although they are very grateful for any donations you can give, as it is still a charity for the old and needy of the city. The courtyard has a cast lead sink dating to 1809, doric columns and wooden signs telling of the money bequeathed to the charity over the centuries.
Turn right out of Trinity Hospital and walk up New Street (ironically the oldest street in the city). On the corner with Brown Street is the Rai d’Or (what3words: curry.calms.gates), which was once the brothel owned by Agnes Bottenham who bequeathed Trinity Hospital to the city as penance.
There is a blue plaque on the wall. You will also pass The New Inn (what3words: choice.matter.tend), which was built around 1380 and is a traditional British pub full of wooden beams. Turn right into the High Street, it is about a five minute walk.
OLD GEORGE INN/BOSTON TEA PARTY
what3words: rams.risk.races Cost: Free unless you order food or drink
What is now a Boston Tea Party coffee shop is a Grade I listed building which dates back to the early 1300s.
The Old George Inn, as it once was, was built in 1314, and had some notable guests. Shakespeare and his players stayed there in 1608, on their way to nearby Wilton, and are said to have rehearsed As You Like It in the back garden (sadly now a concrete clad shopping mall).
Oliver Cromwell spent a night there in 1645, Samuel Pepys in 1668 and Charles Dickens in 1845, where it is believed he wrote some of Martin Chuzzlewit. Inside is now an eclectic mix of wooden floorboards, leaded windows, beamed ceilings and comfortable sofas.
As you leave Boston Tea Party, have a quick look at the clock over Waterstones next door. Often missed by many visitors, this vibrant clock is actually a WH Smith clock, as WH Smith used to own these premises from 1924.
The weathervane is of a newspaper boy and the numbers are replaced by the letters WH Smith.
Now walk back on yourself up the High Street, towards the High Street gate and the Cathedral.
SALISBURY HIGH STREET
As you approach the gate, you will notice a building on the corner which has a bishop’s mitre painted on the side. This is Mitre House, said to be the site of the first house built in Salisbury and is where Bishop Richard Poore lodged to oversee the building of the cathedral.
Although now a clothes shop, it is still also used for its original purpose of being the location where a new Bishop of the city will put on his robes. Traditionally, new bishops dismount from their horse in nearby Bishopdown, hence the name, and walk into the city as pilgrims. They then put on their robes in Mitre House, before entering the Close.
As you get closer to the gate, you will see the shop on the left hand side of it has a model of a ram above the door. This dates from the early 20th century, when the shop was used for Stonehenge Woollen Industries, a charitable organisation aimed at revitalising the rural woollen trade. The ram, a traditional breed of Wiltshire Horn, fell into a state of disrepair over the years and the one you see today was put there in 2015 by the Salisbury Civic Society.
The High Street Gate (North Gate)
The High Street Gate was built between 1327 and 1342 and housed the lock up for those convicted of misdeeds within the Cathedral Close.
A portcullis used to be lowered every night to lock the gate, which has since been removed, but the gates are still locked between 11pm and 6am.
Next to the gate is a porters lodge, the position of Porter to the Close being much sought after by nobles during the middle ages. The north side has the Stuart Royal coat of arms, which were added in the 17th century between two stone-mullioned windows and the south side has a statue of Edward VII which was added in 1902 and which replaced a statue of Charles I who had replaced a statue of Henry III.
The College of Matrons
After you walk through the gate, on your left is the Grade I listed College of Matrons. Erected in 1682 as almshouses for the widows of clergy and paid for by Bishop Seth Ward, it is still part of Salisbury almshouses. The College was built by a local Harnham builder and it is rumoured that Christopher Wren had some involvement in the style.
Above the door is a cartouche in Latin, the translation of which is “Seth, Bishop of Salisbury, most humbly dedicated this College of Matrons to God, most good, most great, in the year of our Lord 1682”. Above that is the coat of arms of Charles II, flanked by scrolls and drapes of fruit.
A lead domed roof lantern topped by a golden ball sits on top of the roof along with six chimney stacks. The brick wall and gates are Grade I listed separately to the rest of the building.
The cathedral is ahead of you (what3words: zooms.caring.late). Entry to the cathedral is £8 per adult, which gives you access for a whole year. If you don’t want to spend any money at all, you can still go in through the main entrance, walk around the Cloisters and see the Magna Carta without any charge.
The Cathedral Close is a beautiful place for a leisurely walk, with some incredible old buildings, or you can just sit on the lawns and admire the views.
If you have the time and the weather is good, then a visit to Salisbury’s Water Meadows is a must. Go back out of the High Street Gate, turn left onto Crane Street and walk across the bridge over the River Avon, turning left after the car park, into Queen Elizabeth Gardens.
‘Lizzie Gardens’ as it is known to the locals, was opened in the 1960s to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Read more about Lizzie Gardens >>
With famous views over the cathedral, from here you can access the Town Path, which takes you along the Harnham Water Meadows. It is a lovely place to walk and has a playpark, free musical events in the summer and prime paddling spots for hot days.
Walk through the park to reach the entrance to the Town Path and the Water Meadows.
HARNHAM WATER MEADOWS
what3words: custom.mint.limit Cost: Free
The best known meadow irrigation system in England, the 84 acres of beautiful water meadows once provided the grazing, hay, and craft materials that helped make Salisbury a prosperous market town. Now designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the meadows are a thriving site for wildlife within the city.
From the walk alongside them, you can see one of the most iconic views of the cathedral, as painted by John Constable in his famous 1831 painting, ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows’.
At the end of the Town Path is a pub called The Old Mill, a Grade I listed, 15th century building, with some features which date back to 1250. Originally an ecclesiastical building, it was transformed in the 16th century to be the largest paper mill in the country.
It is the perfect place to end your day of exploring Salisbury, with a restaurant in the oldest part of the building, a riverside garden and a large mill pond.
If you have the time, why not try this? Constable and Salisbury - The Harnham and Water Meadows Trail >>
See our Salisbury City Guide for details on how to get to Salisbury, where to stay, eat, shop and other places to visit in the area.