After seeing an Oxfess a few months back unofficially ranking the best of places in the UK ending with ‘chester’ (#OxfessThree9259 to be exact) with Winchester put top position as God Tier, I was reminded that Winchester might actually be a place worth writing about.
Although it’s quite small, and definitely only classed as a city because of the cathedral (apparently this is a rule?), Winchester is actually very pretty; “gorgeous” even, as the Oxfess puts it. It sits by the River Itchen, allowing for plenty of hazy summertime river walks, and is packed full of beautiful early medieval architecture, which speaks to the city’s immensely rich history and former position as the Anglo-Saxon capital of England.
For history buffs, Winchester therefore has a lot to offer, from relics such as King Alfred’s round table, to places like Jane Austen’s house and most notably, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, Winchester Cathedral. The cathedral itself is breathtakingly beautiful and historic; and the changing functionality of its grounds augment this, acting as both a regular spot to chill out and picnic in the summer, and the hub of Winchester’s Christmas Market and ice rink at the end of the year. The grounds are also transformed, like the rest of the city, into a venue for different street performers and hat vendors every summer for the Hat Fair: a very odd weekend festival celebrating the city’s artistic quirkiness. You can watch stuntmen, street dancers, and performers that all have a touch of Winchester eccentricity, all the while surrounded by a sea of absurd hats. The cathedral is therefore a must-see if you visit this city, acting as a combination of Winchester’s medieval history and current culture!
Winchester’s culture is incomplete without mentioning the many independent cafes and pubs which fill the city. My absolute favourite café and lowkey addiction is Josie’s, a brunch café that serves the most amazing fluffy pancakes, toasties, and creamy milkshakes. Be sure to try the breakfast pancakes if you do stop by, or the loaded tater tots if you’re a vegetarian! Amongst many others, I should also mention the Winchester Orangery, located in the midst of a square of cafes, where the food and plant décor make for the perfect Instagram shot.
In terms of pubs, there are almost too many to choose from. From pubs in scenic, riverside locations like The Willow Tree or The Bishop on the Bridge, to commercial sports pubs like O’Neills, to quirky antique-filled pubs like The Black Boy, you will almost definitely find what you’re looking for. However, it must be said that the pubs pretty much constitute Winchester’s nightlife, which is albeit inexistent. My college nights out in Winchester usually consisted of Spoons, Turtle Bay cocktails, The Pitcher and Piano (a bar with a dance area), and Alfie’s (a pub), as the only nightclub is Vodka, a tragic spot that even lost its license to play recorded copyrighted music back in 2014!
Nevertheless, the city wins me back every time I go to Josie’s or amble round it in the sunshine. I have many fond memories of walking by the cathedral grounds, down the cobbled paths near the old buildings of Winchester College, past the river and the college sports grounds, to St Catherine’s Hill – a place which has an added fondness for me since going to university, as it shares the same name as my college. The hill, though a bit of a trek, is perfect for a picnic, or a well-earned rest at the end of the walk. Every time I sit there, usually out of breath from the climb, and gaze at the beautiful city beneath me, I forget the crappy nightlife and the flaws of living in a small city, and realise, as #OxfessThree9259 kindly puts it, that Winchester might actually be God Tier.