Winchester, time and time again, makes the shortlist for the best place in Britain to live. And it’s not hard to see why!
When I told people we were going to be visiting the medieval Hampshire city for the first time, the overriding reaction was: ‘You’re going to love it! It’s so beautiful!’ Words that fill any travel blogger with excitement! So we packed up the car and drove south to discover for ourselves the magic of Winchester.
The city of Winchester has played an important part throughout history. During Saxon times, King Alfred, who was crowned here in 871, made Winchester a royal city: it became the centre of Wessex, the capital of England and subsequently remained a royal residence for many centuries.
Where To Stay
Our base was the modern-looking Holiday Inn, about a five minute drive from the city centre, which had everything we needed – especially with Everleigh in tow. There was a massive bed for John and I to sprawl out on, a pretty gigantic cot for the baby and, thank God, free internet. Room rates start from £70.
What To Do – Day One
We wandered through the high street to tick off a trip to the Christmas markets that line the walls of the impressive cathedral. Smells of gluhwein and roasted chestnuts filled the air, while loads of people – young and old – packed the temporary ice rink that had been specially installed.
John loaded up on posh artisan cheese while I picked up a few more stocking fillers as we got wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the dozens of stalls, all in adorable wooden cabins.
Winchester, like so many historical towns, has been hit by the impact of chain retail, so while there were plenty of independent shops, it was a shame to see how Starbucks, Costa et al had commandeered so much retail space.
Smiling volunteers greeted us at the Watercress Line’s Santa Special steam train in nearby Alresford. After finding our seats in a lively carriage, the train trundled down the tracks making sure to pick up Father Christmas who visited every child in their seats. Sadly, Everleigh was less than polite and decided she’d had enough Christmas cheer when the big guy in red asked her if she was on the naughty or nice list. I think her grumpy cries answered the question! She did cheer up when she opened the stocking and played with the toy he’d left her.
Where To Eat – Day One
You really are spoiled for choice for food in Winchester.
First up for us was lunch at No.5 Bridge Street, where plates of delicious comfort food were prepared in the open kitchens and enjoyed by a warm fire. The moules mouclade – mussels in a light curry sauce – were a dish I’d never had before but am now desperate to taste again. Just gorgeous.
Everleigh wolfed down some of my cauliflower soup, too – after her recent taste of fine dining in West Sussex I’m now worried she may be getting a little hooked on enjoying chef-prepared dishes.
After so much walking our stomachs rumbled on the way to our evening meal Kyoto Kitchen, a specialist Japanese restaurant that was hot on the list of locals and tourists alike.
Luckily we had reserved a table as this place gets booked up because of the impressive skills of the chefs.
We shared a five course feast of fresh sushi, mouthwatering salmon teriyaki and even had a waitress grate wasabi at the table, grown locally! The dorayaki dessert was the highlight for me – as per – with its unusual but so moreish taste of chocolate truffles.
What To Do – Day Two
Our next day started with a trip to Marwell Zoo. With chilly winter temperatures and the animals seemingly having more sense than us to be outside on such a cold morning, we didn’t get to see as many inhabitants as we would have liked. The giraffes lumbered between the warmth of the inside enclosure and paraded out in their large grounds which Everleigh was fascinated by.
In the afternoon we popped over to Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium which was every young child’s dream!
Many interactive science-themed displays caught your attention meaning kids of every age (ahem, John!) quickly got involved.
This was also the first time we got to visit Santa who was busy working away in a chemistry lab grotto helped by friendly elves. Everleigh was the youngest visiter they’d had and seemed more interested in checking if his beard was real or not rather than the gift Father Christmas gave her.
Where To Eat – Day Two
I can’t recommend the cute-as-a-button 600-year-old grade II-listed Chesil Rectory enough. The restaurant’s welcoming owner Eleanor told us all about its fascinating history as we tucked in for lunch beneath exposed wooden beams.
Steeped in history, the medieval Chesil Rectory building is the oldest commercial property in Winchester. A restaurant for the last 85 years, but with a history that includes use as a merchant’s house, antique shop, tannery, Bishop’s residence, general store and tea rooms, it was taken over in 2008 by the current team and recently given a makeover.
We were served gigantic plates of Sunday roast filled with delicious seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. I just wished I had more room to finish every mouthful!
Dinner was back in town at the packed Wagamama. Winchester residents really are spoilt with an amazing array of restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. We enjoyed small plates of peppery edamame beans, pork belly and dumplings while Everleigh slept, dreaming of Santa, probably.
As we left Winchester, the rain turned to sleet, which then turned to snow the closer we got to home – this gave our weekend away a real touch of Christmas! We can’t wait to go back.
Thanks to Tourism South East for supporting this trip. All views are 100% my own.