Slow Travel Guide: Salisbury
Salisbury in the south of England is the ideal place for the Slow traveller. It has a wealth of history to explore, a central location within easy reach of the coastline, the New Forest, London and Bath, and is surrounded by swathes of rolling countryside, punctuated by small villages of thatched cottages, making it perfect for exploring, walking and countryside activities.
A postcard from Salisbury...
Salisbury is probably best known for its beautiful cathedral, with the tallest spire in England, as well as its proximity to Stonehenge and the surrounding prehistoric landscape, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Salisbury has Roman origins but is primarily known as a medieval city, with beautiful half-timbered buildings, a traditional market square where a charter market has been held weekly for nearly 800 years, a 13th century Poultry Cross and the largest medieval Doom painting in the country. The cathedral is 800 years old and contains the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta in the country as well as the oldest surviving working clock in the world.
Five rivers meet at Salisbury, and the city was once filled with watercourses which criss crossed the streets.
Nowadays it provides plenty of riverside walks, as well as ancient water meadows, which still look much the same as when Constable painted his famous views of the cathedral.
The surrounding countryside is expansive and varied, from rolling chalk hills, wide open plains, river
valleys and dense woodland. Small villages with unique characteristics are interspersed throughout the landscape; thatched cottages mixing with manor houses and farms, which provide some fascinating views when walking the extensive network of footpaths which cover the land.
Salisbury makes the perfect place for a slow holiday, with good public transport links to the rest of the country, a wealth of local providers and a wide range of places to explore at your own pace, or just relax and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.
Read on to find out more about this fascinating place, or use the links on the left to navigate to the sections which interest you the most.
Places to visit in Salisbury
Being such an historic city, there are a wealth of places for people to visit, both within the city and in the wider area. From Stonehenge and the Neolithic monuments on Salisbury Plain, to the Roman and Norman settlement of Old Sarum, a cathedral described by Bill Bryson as "the single most beautiful structure in England and the Close around it the most beautiful space”, the historic city centre filled with medieval buildings and several museums, there is plenty in Salisbury to keep the history lover happy.
Its not all about the history though, as the city has a strong cultural tradition with an International Arts Festival, a theatre, an arts centre, a food festival and much more. Read our dedicated Places to Visit page to see what is available, to read articles about the places themselves and visiting details such as opening times, costs and facilities on offer.
Walking in Salisbury
Salisbury is a fantastic place for walkers, whether you're looking for a quiet stroll through the town or a proper hike out into the countryside. We have put together some of our favourite walks, with full directions, to help you get the most from the area.
Chose from a self-guided walking tour of the Cathedral Close, a historic walk around the city centre, follow the Constable Trail, or enjoy the views from Figsbury Ring. Why not explore the outskirts with a walk through the beautiful Woodford Valley to see the camels, find the Witches Trees and World War II Bunkers in Grovely Woods, or walk from Woodhenge to Stonehenge and see both for free? All of these and more are on our dedicated Walks in Salisbury page.
Salisbury for Kids
Kids don't always want to take it slow - sometimes they need activities that involve charging around and making lots of noise. Salisbury has plenty of both types of activity. There is a lovely city farm, plenty of play parks, a cinema, leisure centre with swimming pool, a library, museum, an indoor inflatable park, indoor soft play centre with bowling and a climbing wall, a skate park, parkour park and loads of outdoor places to run around and explore.
The surrounding area has several play farms, a tree tops Go Ape course, an excellent bird of prey centre, dry skiing and ringos, indoor sky-diving and even a fantastic, and locally owned, theme park. Read about all of your options in Things to do in the Salisbury area for Kids >>
Unique Experiences in Salisbury
For people who are trying to avoid the crowds and tourists, but still want to see the main attractions, an 'experience' can give you the best of both worlds. You can book to see the sun rising at Stonehenge, or the sun setting over the stones, in small groups without anyone else around, giving you a once in a lifetime experience.
Or how about a tower tour of the cathedral, especially in the festive season, when you can climb the tower late in the day and look out over the Christmas lights, following it up with an exclusive cream tea in the restaurant? Local business Salisbury Punting can take you out on the only punt on the River Avon, on a bespoke hand punted tour, giving you a unique view of the city, mixing history and wildlife as you cruise slowly down the river.
Locally owned places to stay in Salisbury
Although Salisbury has its fair share of chain owned hotels, there are plenty of independent hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, caravan, camping and glamping sites, country house hotels and unique stays, to suit a wide range of budgets.
Whether you want to be right in the centre of the city with easy walking access to the places of interest, or out in the surrounding area to make the most of the countryside, there is going to be some locally owned accommodation to suit.
Locally owned places to eat in Salisbury
As with much of the rest of the UK, Salisbury has plenty of chain restaurants, eateries and fast food places. It also has a wide variety of locally owned restaurants, which source locally produced food and provide unique dining environments that don't look the same as everywhere else in the country.
Whether you are looking for fine dining, a good cheap meal out, pub food, a quick burger, world flavours or good quality café food, even a takeaway, it is all available in Salisbury if you know where to look.
For more information, head over to our dedicated independent Salisbury food page >>
Like many British towns, Salisbury has a preponderance of chain stores and supermarkets which can dominate the town centre.
If you know where to look however, you can find pockets of locally owned shops which sell a wide variety of produce and goods, helping you to bypass the internationally owned corporations.
Read more on our page dedicated to locally owned businesses >>
Shopping locally in Salisbury
Parks and Green Spaces in Salisbury
Salisbury has several large parks which provide a variety of activities and walks.
Many have play areas for children, but they also have an assortment of tennis courts, a green gym, paddling, a skate park, basketball, parkour, live music in the summer, monuments and plenty of peaceful places to sit, relax and watch the world go by.
Read more >>
Sporting and Countryside Activities
With its rural location and so many rivers, there is no shortage of relaxing sports to enjoy. Golf, sailing, horseriding, clay pigeon shooting, birdwatching, archery, bushcraft; it's all on offer in the area.
Salisbury is particularly well known for fishing, especially fly-fishing in the chalk streams.
Read more about what is on offer and how to arrange your countryside activities >> (Coming soon)
Cycling in Salisbury
There is no shortage of cycle routes in Salisbury and the surrounding area, and the town itself is increasing the amount of cycle paths on the main roads. The Golden Way is a cycle path through Salisbury, the Wiltshire Cycle Way is a circular route which takes you around the county, there is a Salisbury to New Forest cycle map, or you can just go off-road and see where the path takes you.
Day trips from Salisbury
Due to its central location, Salisbury is the ideal base to explore further afield. The coast is less than an hour away, the New Forest is close by; London, Bath and Weymouth are all within reach for an easy day trip.
There are plenty of organised tours on offer, but it is often much easier, cheaper and far more relaxed to just arrange it yourself and allow time for exploration, rather than being herded around on a coach, trying to pack loads into a single day out. Find out more with our article on best day trips to take from Salisbury, ordered by ease of public transport>>
How to get to Salisbury by Public Transport
Salisbury is an easy city to visit without a car. There are hourly and direct trains from London Waterloo, as well as from cities such as Southampton, Bath, Exeter and Bristol. Book your ticket 12 weeks in advance and a return from London can be as little as £18. Salisbury train station is central and just a short walk to the main city centre and cathedral, or there are always taxis waiting outside for those with mobility concerns.
The city is well serviced by regular buses, both nationally and locally. National Express coaches run direct from London Victoria, Earls Court and Heathrow taking around 2 - 4 hours and costing between £10 - £18. (Temporarily suspended during the pandemic).
The Connecting Wiltshire Travel Planner will ask for your 'from and to' locations, then tell you how to get there, giving you the various options available, how long each will take, how much pollution they will generate and how many calories you will burn, as well as linking you to timetables and lift sharing options. It is a great tool for researching alternative transport methods.
How to get around Salisbury
With so many places to explore in Salisbury, it is very easy to get around using foot power alone. However, if you are hoping to explore further afield, then you may need other options.
You can hire bikes and electric bikes from Hayball Cyclesport which is in Winchester Street in the city centre. They know everything there is to know about cycling in the local area.
If cycling isn't your thing, then there is a local bus company, Salisbury Reds, who will transport you around the city and its surrounding areas, as well as to nearby cities. Some of the fleet is electric buses, meaning your journey has even less of an environmental impact, and all of them have free wifi and the ability to pay using cards or your phone.
If you do need a car for a trip somewhere that you just can't find public transport for, then Salisbury has a Co-Cars, which hire out low emission cars by the hour, day or week. Perfect if you only need a car for an afternoon trip out of the city. Prices start at £3.75 per hour.
Meet the Locals
The best way to truly learn about and absorb a new place is to meet the locals. It isn't always easy to do, but you can greatly increase your chances by a variety of methods. If you take public transport instead of driving everywhere, you have a better chance of chatting to someone at a bus stop, or your taxi driver, than you do in your car.
Find local MeetUps where you can join groups with shared interests, social gatherings or walking groups. Have a look on Eventbrite, which has a really eclectic mix of events, many of which are free, and which give you a great opportunity to meet new people and try new things.