10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Salisbury

Historically a center of the cloth industry, Salisbury - the county town of Wiltshire - lies at the point where the Rivers Nadder and Bourne flow into the River Avon. The city is most famous for its beautiful cathedral, a masterpiece of the early Gothic style that dates to 1220, when the building's foundation stone was laid.

The old city center is also worth taking time to explore. Notable for its checkerboard layout, with lovely enclosed gardens between the houses, Salisbury was to become a model for medieval town planning. On receiving royal market privileges, a bridge was built across the Avon in 1244, thereby creating perfect conditions for Salisbury to become a major trading center. These days, Salisbury is a much-visited tourist destination not just for its rich and storied history - not to mention its proximity to Stonehenge, just 10 miles north of the city center - but also for its many fine boutique shops and first-rate dining opportunities.

1 Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

Completed in 1266, Salisbury Cathedral remains one of the most visited religious sites in England. Built in a typically English style, the cathedral's lovely interior of bright-colored limestone and darkly gleaming Purbeck marble is a delight to behold. Notable features include the gallery-like triforium, where you can still hear the chime from the cathedral's faceless 14th-century clock, the oldest such device in the UK. Also of interest are the many elaborate tombstones, some of them dating back to the 13th century.

The cathedral's stained glass windows, most of which date from the 19th and 20th centuries, are exquisite, particularly the Gabriel Loire window in the Lady Chapel. The Gothic cloister and the octagonal chapterhouse both date from the 14th century, the latter having a single central pillar acting as a vault support, a fine wall-frieze with pictures from the Old Testament, and tracery windows divided into four sections with 19th-century glass. Items stored there include one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta, the foundation of the British constitution and now a part of a fascinating exhibition, as well as other Anglo Saxon documents. Also stored here is the inspection report on the cathedral tower written by Sir Christopher Wren in 1668 (be sure to take a tour of the tower as well).

Address: Chapter Office, 6 The Close, Salisbury

2 Cathedral Close

Cathedral Close
Cathedral Close

Separated from the rest of the city by three gateways, Salisbury's wonderful Cathedral Close is well worth taking the time to explore. The curious will discover a number of well-preserved Elizabethan and Georgian houses with their lovely green lawns. Dating from between the 14th to 18th centuries, these were once the residences of the dean, ecclesiastical officers, and teachers at the cathedral school. Of special interest is Arundells, the former residence of Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.

Address: The King's House, 65 The Close, Salisbury

3 Old City Center

Old City Center
Old City Center

Undoubtedly one of the most popular things to do in Salisbury is wandering the many quaint streets of the Old City center. In addition to its great shopping, the area is chock-full of delightful architecture dating from medieval times to the 19th century. Highlights include the 15th-century parish church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, the wide market place with its medieval market cross, the 18th-century Guildhall, and the 15th-century Plume of Feathers Inn. Nearby is the Red Lion Hotel, with its fine 1820s façade and pretty inner courtyard, along with Joiner's Hall, an attractive half-timbered building dating from the 16th century. Through the North Gate are the meadows of the River Avon, with their fine views of the cathedral, so famously captured by artist John Constable.

Address: Pennyfarthing House, 18 Pennyfarthing Street, Salisbury

4 Old Sarum

Old Sarum
Old Sarum

Old Sarum, the precursor of present-day Salisbury, was built two miles to the north of the city center on a hill that has been fortified since the Iron Age. The Romans built a fort of their own here, the camp of Sorviodunum, while under the Saxons, a town settlement grew up on the site. William the Conqueror chose this strategically favorable spot to build a castle in 1075, and in 1220, the inhabitants of Old Sarum were moved to New Salisbury. In addition to the ruins of Salisbury's original cathedral and William's castle, the site offers wonderful views over the Wiltshire plains.

Address: Castle Road, Salisbury

5 The Salisbury Museum

The Salisbury Museum
The Salisbury Museum Graham Tiller / photo modified

The award-winning Salisbury Museum has a wide variety of permanent displays and special exhibitions throughout the year that highlight the art and history of England and Wiltshire in particular (it certainly helps that the area boasts such a rich ancient and medieval history). Highlights include the excellent Wessex Gallery, which houses its vast archaeological collection. Displays cover the period predating nearby Stonehenge (just a 20-minute drive away) right up to medieval times and include treasures from Old Sarum and other sites. Of special interest is a display relating to the Amesbury Archer, whose 4,000-year-old grave was found nearby along with numerous artifacts, from pots and arrowheads to boars' tusks and even gold hair ornaments.

Address: 58 The Close, Salisbury

6 Wilton House

Wilton House
Wilton House David Spender / photo modified

Built by architect Inigo Jones in 1653 after the original Tudor home was destroyed by fire, Wilton House is a masterpiece of the Baroque style and most notable for its huge white Double Cube Room. Decorated with gold-painted flowers and garlands of fruit and rounded off with a brilliantly colorful painted ceiling, the room is also fascinating for its portraits by van Dyck, as well as portraits of Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, and their three children. Equally impressive is the Single Cube Room. Its painted ceiling has scenes from Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, written in 1590 while he was a guest at Wilton House. Other highlights of the house include paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Reynolds. The landscaped park surrounding the house harbors a magnificent stock of old trees. Another unusual feature is the Palladian bridge (1737) over the River Nadder.

Be sure to also visit the picturesque Village of Wilton, the old capital of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and later of Wiltshire. Famous for its carpets and antique shops, it's also home to an excellent weekly market.

Location: The Estate Office, Wilton, Salisbury

Official site: www.wiltonhouse.co.uk

7 Larmer Tree Gardens

Larmer Tree Gardens
Larmer Tree Gardens

The Larmer Tree Gardens, set in the ancient forest known as Cranborne Chase, were established by General Pitt Rivers in 1880 as a pleasure grounds for "public enlightenment and entertainment" and were the first privately owned gardens to be opened for public enjoyment. Here, you'll find native Indian buildings, a Roman Temple, and an open-air theater amid acres of gardens inhabited by pheasants, peacocks, and other exotic birds. The gardens have become popular as a wedding venue.

Location: Rushmore Estate Office, Tollard Royal, Salisbury

8 Salisbury International Arts Festival

Salisbury International Festival takes place over two weeks each spring with a different theme each year and includes everything from orchestral, choral, and chamber concerts to recitals, film screenings, and lectures. Numerous venues are used, including St. Thomas Hall, Salisbury Cathedral, and other historical buildings. Also popular is the Southern Cathedrals Festival, an annual festival that rotates every year between the cities of Winchester, Salisbury, and Chichester. The festival takes place mid-July and includes daily concerts and a program featuring a mix of orchestral, choral, and chamber concerts; recitals; and fringe events. The repertoire is equally varied and includes classical and sacred music as well as newly commissioned works performed in the host city's cathedral.

Address: 144 East Main St, Salisbury

9 The Wardrobe

The Wardrobe
The Wardrobe Tony Hisgett / photo modified

Home of the Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum, the Wardrobe is an elegant 13th-century building that is well worth exploring for its fascinating displays related to the history of the county's regiments. Covering an impressive four floors, this award-winning museum details regimental histories as well as those of individual soldiers over a period of some 250 years. Afterwards, be sure to visit the gardens and follow the path to the River Avon, with its views of the Water Meadows.

Address: 58 The Close, Salisbury

10 Cholderton Charlies Rare Breeds Farm

Cholderton Charlies Rare Breeds Farm has rare breeds of animals such as goats, pigs, chickens, ponies, and sheep dating back hundreds of years, reflecting an animal heritage as interesting as its buildings and monuments. In addition to the many animals is a nature trail, water gardens, a picnic area, and an adventure playground for children. Also popular at this attraction are the many opportunities to feed piglets and other young animals.

Location: Amesbury Road, Cholderton, Salisbury

Where to Stay in Salisbury for Sightseeing

We recommend these highly-rated hotels and inns with easy access to the top attractions in and around Salisbury:

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