11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Chichester, West Sussex

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Nov 11, 2022

Chichester is an attractive yet all-too-often overlooked travel destination. This former Roman settlement is one of the best places to visit in South East England for those who enjoy history without the crowds.

The city's Roman roots are celebrated in sites including Fishbourne Roman Palace, the ruins of the country's largest former Roman home. Evidence of the city's importance in medieval times is seen everywhere, from the majestic cathedral to its historic city center with its well-preserved old shops and townhomes, its city walls, and spectacular Market Cross Clock.

Chichester offers no end of fun things to do for those seeking culture, too. In addition to a professional theater offering the latest in West End plays and musicals, the city is a regular stop for touring musicians, as well as visiting art exhibits. It's also close to the sea and some of the best beaches in Sussex, while the still-navigable Chichester Ship Canal is fun to explore by canoe or kayak or riverboat tour.

To find out more, read through our list of the top things to do in Chichester, England.

1. Visit Sussex's Only Cathedral: Chichester Cathedral

Chichester Cathedral
Chichester Cathedral | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

To give you an idea of just how big Chichester Cathedral is, local lore has it that, should the need arise, every one of Chichester's 23,000 citizens could fit within its walls at the same time. While it would no doubt be a bit of a squeeze, this 11th-century edifice certainly impresses with its scale, and is famous as the only medieval cathedral in England that's visible from the sea.

Officially known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Chichester Cathedral was built in 1075 to replace an earlier structure dating from 681 that was located eight miles south in Selsey.

The Bell Tower
The Bell Tower | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Boasting examples of both Gothic and Norman styling, its most distinctive features include its detached Bell Tower and double aisles. Other features worth seeing include its rare medieval sculptures, as well as its artworks, tapestries, and stained-glass windows.

Guided tours are available, and a café and shop are located on-premises. While exploring the grounds, be sure to keep an eye out for the cathedral's resident peregrine falcons, which nest on its spire.

Set in the grounds of Chichester Cathedral but not actually connected to the building, the Bell Tower is unique among England's cathedrals. Built as a stand-alone structure, it was specifically designed to accommodate much larger bells than the cathedral otherwise would have been able to handle, while protecting it from sound wave damage.

Address: The Royal Chantry, Cathedral Cloisters, Chichester, West Sussex, England

Read More: Best Things to Do in Sussex

2. Explore the UK's Biggest Roman Home: Fishbourne Roman Palace

Fishbourne Roman Palace
Fishbourne Roman Palace |Luigi Petro / Shutterstock.com

Just 10 minutes' drive away from Chichester Cathedral, Fishbourne Roman Palace provides a fascinating glimpse into an even earlier period from England's past. Dating from around 75 CE, it's the largest such Roman structure ever unearthed in the UK. The many well-preserved mosaics on display stand as testament to the opulence and scale of what would once have been a palatial home.

Other highlights include remains of the building's foundations, fascinating displays portraying the site's significance in the Collections Discovery Centre, and authentic Roman Gardens.

Guided tours are available, including some that allow the unique opportunity to handle some of the archeological finds. A café and gift shop are located on-site.

Address: Roman Way, Chichester, West Sussex, England

3. Chill Out in the Bishop's Palace Gardens

Bishop's Palace Gardens
Bishop's Palace Gardens | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Established around 1147 and located just a short stroll to the west of the cathedral, Bishop's Palace Gardens are often overlooked by tourists. Which is a shame, as these charming formal gardens make for an excellent spot for a sit-down while soaking up the splendor of this tranquil setting.

In addition to strategically placed benches, the gardens feature a number of fountains and ponds, a pergola walk, as well as numerous flowerbeds to enjoy. It's also a great spot to quietly sit while enjoying some bird-watching, as well as taking a peek through the gateway at the adjoining Bishop's Palace.

Address: 4 Canon Ln, Chichester, West Sussex, England

4. Wander Chichester's Historic City Center

Street in Chichester's historic city center
Street in Chichester's historic city center | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

With ample parking and a centrally located train station, pedestrian-friendly Chichester is a delight to explore on foot. Circled by the old city walls, the historic city center grew around the original Roman road that led to London and is largely unspoiled by modern eyesores.

You'll want to start your wandering at the Chichester City Cross, located smack bang in the middle of a square where North, East, South, and West Streets meet. From here, you can enjoy a stroll or a shopping experience surrounded by well-preserved historic buildings without having to pay too much attention to traffic, most of which is diverted elsewhere.

In addition to great cafés and restaurants, some with views of the cathedral, the city center is also where you'll find the Guildhall, dating from 1282, as well as the remains of a Roman bathhouse in the Novium Museum.

5. Take Time to Visit the Market Cross

Market Cross
Market Cross | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Also known as the Chichester Cross, Market Cross is a hard-to-miss landmark. Completed in the late 15th century, this ornate perpendicular market cross stands at the junction of the old Roman roads connecting Chichester to London and other parts of Roman Britain.

Despite its elaborate appearance, the cross served a very utilitarian function, providing shelter and a meeting place for the poor who gathered in the market square to sell their produce and services. Before the present round clock was added in 1746, passersby could estimate the time by the shadow cast via dials located on each face of the cross.

Set in a largely traffic-free pedestrian zone, Market Cross makes for a great photo and selfie spot for those sightseeing in historic downtown Chichester.

Location: Junction of East, West, and South Streets, Chichester, West Sussex, England

6. Visit Roman Baths at the Novium Museum

Novium Museum
Novium Museum | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Constructed over the remains of a Roman bathhouse, the Novium Museum offers an additional look into life in Roman Britain around 2,000 years ago.

One of the top things to do for free in Chichester, the museum is located in the heart of the old city and includes fascinating exhibits, mosaics, and artifacts relating to various digs done at the site.

Other displays include the grave of an Iron Age soldier, as well as related temporary exhibits from other museums. A shop is located on-site. A bonus for visitors are the spectacular views over Chichester and the cathedral from the museum's rooftop

Address: 1 Tower Street, Chichester, West Sussex, England

7. View the Artworks at Pallant House Gallery

Pallant House Gallery
Pallant House Gallery | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Pallant House Gallery is a must-visit for art fans when in Chichester. Founded in 1977, the gallery has earned a solid reputation for its large collection of British art from the 20th century.

Highlights include works from such leading British artists as Henry Moore, John Piper, and Barbara Hepworth, as well as European artists, including Paul Cézanne and Gino Severini. Also worth seeing are works by a young Damien Hirst.

While a new modern wing was added in 2006, the original building dates from 1712 and is worth a visit in its own right. The gallery also has a pleasant courtyard garden, as well as a shop and café. Guided tours are available.

Address: 9 N Pallant, Chichester, West Sussex, England

Official site: https://pallant.org.uk

8. Enjoy Chichester Beach

Kayaks on the beach at Bracklesham Bay
Kayaks on the beach at Bracklesham Bay | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Visitors to Chichester are often surprised to learn that the city is situated close to some of the best beaches in Sussex. One of the nicest, Bracklesham Bay is a pleasant 20-minute drive and is part of a 500-acre conservation site that's equally popular with bird-watchers.

Mostly shingle with some hard-packed sand revealed at low tide, it's usually a quiet spot that feels even more so when you plunk your towel down alongside one of the old breakwaters. Known as groynes, these old wood structures can also provide some protection from sun and wind.

East and West Wittering Beaches are also worth visiting. Just a few miles from Bracklesham Bay, they're both popular spots for kayaking, paddleboarding, kitesurfing, and windsurfing. When not on the water, the sand dunes behind the beach are fun to explore.

9. Circle the City on a Chichester Walls Walk

Walls Walk
Walls Walk | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

You'll want to spend at least a little time exploring the Chichester's old city walls, said to be among the best-preserved Roman defenses of any settlement in England.

Stretching for over 1.5 miles around the historic city center where the original Roman roads converged, the route is easy to follow, is well-marked, and can be picked up at a number of locations.

Those wanting to learn a little more about this impressive structure and its various landmarks should consider joining a guided walk. Held the first Sunday of each month, these 90-minute walks start at the city's famous Bell Tower.

Private guided walks can also be booked. These informative tours are also held every Sunday during the Festival of Chichester, a month-long event held each summer.

Location: Cathedral Bell Tower, West Street, Chichester, England

Official site: www.chichesterwalls.org/chichester-city-walls/

10. See a Performance at Chichester Festival Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre | Herry Lawford / photo modified

Established in 1962 and notable as having had famed actor Laurence Olivier as its first ever artistic director, Chichester Festival Theatre offers a chock-full season of professional theater from April to December. More than 230,000 visitors attend each year and enjoy everything from West End musicals to dramas, concerts, and literary events.

Behind-the-scenes guided tours of the recently renovated building are available, as are fun workshops, including programs aimed at younger participants with the theater boasting one of the largest youth theater production companies in the UK.

A café and full-service restaurant are located on the premises.

Address: Oaklands Way, Chichester, West Sussex, England

Official site: www.cft.org.uk

11. Take a Drive to Goodwood House

Aerial view of Goodwood House
Aerial view of Goodwood House

Just 13 minutes' drive north of Chichester, Goodwood House makes for a fun outing for young and old alike. Spread across a whopping 12,000 acres, this privately owned country estate can trace its roots back to the early 17th century with the building of the manor house.

In addition to seeing the fully restored regency-era State Apartments, tours include a chance to view Goodwood's impressive art collection. An excellent afternoon tea experience is also available.

The estate is also home to a number of other attractions including Goodwood Circuit, a race venue that hosts the popular Goodwood Festival of Speed, a horserace track, and championship golf course.

Address: Kennel Hill, Chichester, West Sussex, England

Official site: www.goodwood.com

Map of Things to Do in Chichester, West Sussex