I’ve been living in London for eight or nine years now and most of the time I love it. However, it an get seriously claustrophobic at times, so I like to take breaks away. Generally, it’s either back to Swansea to breathe in the sea air and see my family or I like to go on long weekends abroad (that can turn in to weeks), especially France and Italy. There’s nothing I love more than discovering a new, beautiful place – then eating and shopping in it.
But we’ve bought a flat with 1 million problems and we’re the poorest we’ve been in ages. I find myself looking at breaks in Europe, or fancy curtains from Anthropologie and think – nope, the few quid I do have needs to go on DIY – or the mortgage.
So recently, I’ve felt as though spring is in the air and was itching to get out of London. The only place I really thought that people go on weekend breaks to from London was Brighton, but got an email asking if I’d consider going to Winchester for the weekend.
Right, I know this makes me sounds like an idiot – but I’ve never thought about Winchester in any way, or at any point in my life. I’m not a history buff, or actually any good at geography – so didn’t even realise it was so close to London. Did a quick Google check and was SO IN.
From our flat in South West London to getting off the train at Winchester took around an hour and twenty minutes and cost £20 for a return train ticket.
Getting off the train, you’d think you’re in a different world compared to London. First off – everyone is wearing a flat cap, tweed jacket and has a beautiful giant dog on a lead. Seriously. It’s like the people of Winchester were given a Jack Wills uniform at birth.
The air hits you too – it’s clean and smells like countryside. I think I’m just used to London smog now.
A tour of Winchester
We had a tour booked with Pauline from the Tourist Office who was incredibly knowledgable and took us all around the lower part of Winchester.
Ok, again I know this makes me sound thick – but Winchester is seriously historical. Ha! It’s a medieval city (with a rich Roman history – you can even see bits of Roman wall). It’s where Arthur and his round table are!
Tours by the Tourist Board are properly cheap too. They take place throughout the year and last around an hour and a half and cost £5 for adults, and accompanying children are FREE!
It’s such a bargain, and an awesome way to learn about the city. That said, tour guides take tips (not that they’ll ask you in the UK) – so if you do think yours was good and you can afford it, hand over a few quid.
Whatever city I go to in the world, I like to start out with a tour. It gives you a sense of understanding and helps you know where to revisit in the rest of your trip.
In Winchester, you can choose between Upper Winchester, which takes you around the centre of Winchester, passing the cathedral, Great Hall and site of King Charles II’s royal palace or Lower Wincester, which follows the River Itchen before passing Wolvesey Castle, Winchester College, Jane Austen’s House and the Cathedral Close.
You could spend days in Winchester looking around. We had two in all, and only got to see the main bit of the city with the big tourist attractions (and some light shopping) – but didn’t get a chance to stop by Marwell Zoo, which is just down the road which is 140 acres.
Tickets for the zoo are £15 for adults and £11.50 for kids – but there are offers for families and concessions.
Shopping and the centre of Winchester
Call me shallow, but I love shopping. Now, I’m not that interested in big chains, but am a sucker for boutiques and small interesting shops – and Winchester has them in abundance.
Hands up, nothing is particularly cheap because frankly – Winchester is posh – but there aren’t really shops like this in London. From tea shops, loads of chocolate shops, markets and loads of home-wear; it’s a shoppers dream.
I was with my boyfriend, so sort of just wandered in, looked around, and then left. Next time, I’m bringing my sister along who is even better at shopping at me – you could spend HOURS browsing the shops here.
We had two nights booked in a Holiday Inn just out of the city. Now I’m not sure I’ve actually stayed in a one before, but didn’t particularly have high expectations – however, when we turned up I was blown away. It’s one of their new generations of Holiday Inn’s, which was so swanky – there was a wedding there.
Our suite was bright an airy and had lots of free stuff in it (I hate it when posh hotels are cheap and charge for water and WIFI) – and couldn’t get over how generous the Holiday Inn was.
There was a cookie and bowl of fruit – still and fizzy water in glass bottles and a free Mars bar – as well as coffee, tea, hot chocolate and biscuits. Oh, and the toiletries were from The White Company! Obviously, took all those home with me. ha!
Oh – and that bed. It was so comfy – that I actually fell asleep while by boyfriend watched the Rugby before going out for the evening. That’s right – I’m now at the age where I fall asleep whenever I lay on a comfortable bed. Awesome!
We had to get public transport from the hotel to the town centre which took six minutes on a bus (cost around £2.50) or you could walk on a busy road which Google Maps said would take 50 mins.
However, we found out the hard way that busses stop running to the hotel at 8pm, and being we were leaving at 7ish to go for dinner. We got a taxi back which cost us £10 (which wasn’t the end of the world – but not ideal).
Breakfast at the Holiday Inn was great too, with a full fry-up on offer, cereal, meats and cheeses and cakes and pastries. The restaurant area was bustling but not too busy.
We got a table at Kyoto Kitchen for dinner on Saturday night – which was the best decision ever. We let the manager choose our food (which we were slightly scared of), but it was the best Japanese food I’ve ever had. I genuinely feel like it’s worth a trip to Winchester just to go to Kyoto Kitchen!
We got in and ordered a couple of beers, which was maybe not the best choice because they have a sommelier who pairs wine with the dishes. Next time we go, we’ll definitely try the wine out instead (the beer was good though!).
You treat the food like tapas and get a few dishes that are around the £6 – £9 mark (although there are things that are cheaper and more expensive) – check out the menu.
We got ten plates in all to try as much as possible, but really – you don’t need close to that amount of food. We were so full, we had to just go to the hotel afterwards and lay down!
The staff were incredibly nice and all the ingredients are locally sourced – like, there’s even a Wasabi farm down the road. That’s how local we’re talking here!
So we went big – eating far too much (you could really easily just half what we did and would still be satisfied).
- Rock Shrimp Tempura/Kaki Age – £9.95 (If I could eat this every day – I would).
- House Smoked Salmon With Yuzu-Koshou – £7.25
- Scallops Ume Shiso Ae – £7.95
- Tori Kara-Age – £6.95
- Poppy Crushed Tuna Sashimi – £6.95
- Ika No Piri Kara-Age – £6.26
- Nasu Dengaku – £6.75
- Beef Special Roll – £9.95
- Tuna Tartare – £9.95
- Lamb Sikyo Miso – £14.95
- 4x Asahi – £15.80
So with service charge, it came to £115.54 – which I thought was surprisingly cheap considering we were sat there for three hours with plate after plate coming to us. It was less than I expected for the quality. If you go to Winchester, I would 100% recommend you try and get a table at Kyoto Kitchen.
The Sunday Market and Round Table
Winchester is a foodie’s heaven, with Sunday holding the UK’s oldest market. There’s a daily market going through the town centre anyway, but on Sunday it gets super-sized.
We wandered about nibbling on samples and drinking coffee up to the top of the city where you could go into the great hall and see Arthur’s Round Table (it’s free but you can leave a donation).
As well as doing the grown up thing and reading about the history of the castle, there’s a big dressing up box – which I appreciated and Harry didn’t if you see from the photo below! ha.
So after our Sunday mooch, we walked back to the train station which is 10 minutes from the city centre and got back in just over an hour. It was so relaxing, and was brilliant to not have to travel too far after a big weekend
We had an amazing weekend in Winchester and will 100% be going back for day trips. It’s such a beautiful historical city, with brilliant shops and amazing restaurants. It’s just down the road from London – but completely different.
If you’re a tourist visiting London, make sure you hop on a train from Clapham Junction and visit Winchester – because it’s exactly the kind of English town you’d want to see. A long weekend is great, but a day trip is do-able.
If you’re like me and Harry and love going away to Europe for long weekends – consider just popping down the road and seeing what’s there. Paris isn’t the only place with impressive Cathedrals and spectacular food – you can get all that in Winchester but without the cost of the Eurostar.
Have you ever been to Winchester? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!