48 Hours in ... Salisbury

PUBLISHED: 12:53 06 February 2009 | UPDATED: 11:39 28 February 2013

Entrance to George Mall

Entrance to George Mall

Peter Booton re-visits this friendly and historic city where 48 hours is never enough time to explore all it has to offer

Salisbury's magnificent 13th-century Cathedral, with its famously tall and crooked spire, stands at the heart of the city in the largest medieval close in England. Here, once lived Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones, and in a room over one of the entrance gates to the close, the composer George Friedrich Handel performed his first English concert. Cathedral Close is bordered both by picturesque, tree-lined water meadows and by the bustling city streets which follow the original medieval grid plan.This charming and historic city offers visitors everything you could want during a short break: warm and welcoming old coaching inns serving traditional fare, modern shopping precincts lined with large stores and individual specialistshops, and plenty of green open spaces in which to stroll or just relax. There is a large open-air market too, selling fresh produce and a wide range of goods every Tuesday and Thursday, convenient sporting and leisure facilities and an excellent all-year-round programme of entertainment.What more could you wish for? In short, Salisbury is a fantastic place to spend a couple of days, and preferably longer!

Explore the city's treasures

When you've marvelled at the Cathedral's impressive medieval interior, gazed in awe at the oldest working clock in Europe, and visited the Chapter House to view the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta, you'll be ready for some refreshment in the Refectory. Then, walk around the close and admire its many historic buildings, a number of which are open to the public at certain times. Queen Anne-style Mompesson House, built in 1701, and now in the care of the National Trust, has a superb interior and delightful walled garden. (01722 335659), www.nationaltrust.org.uk

There are also two excellent museums in the Close, both of which are housed in historically important buildings. The Wardrobe dates from the 13th century and once served as the Bishop's storeroom. It is now The Rifles Museum and contains archives and artefacts relating to the county regiments of Berkshire and Wiltshire. (01722 419419), www.thewardrobe.org.uk

Number 65 became known as the King's House after James I was entertained there. Today it houses the award-winning Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum where there are important archaeological collections (including artefacts from Stonehenge) and displays on local history, ceramics, costume and fine art. (01722 332151), www.salisburymuseum.org.uk

Great feasts were held in The Medieval Hall during the Middle Ages. Visitors today can watch an informative and interesting 40-minute film about Salisbury past and present, entitled Discover Salisbury. (01722 412472), www.medieval-hall.co.uk

Arundells, at number 59, is one of the finest houses in the Close. Originally a medieval Canonry, in recent times it was the home of former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath. The house contains a wealth of Sir Edward's personal memorabilia and is open for guided tours, with access to its beautiful two-acre garden, from 4 April. (01722 326546), www.arundells.org

What to do in and around the city

Start at the information-packed TIC in Fish Row, just off Market Square, where the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Tickets can be purchased here for City Walks led by Blue Badge tourist guides. Other themed walks, including ghosts, Old Sarum and Stonehenge are also available at certain times. A visit to the Cathedral and Close are, of course, a must, but allow lots of time as there is much to see.Salisbury's leafy parks and public gardens are a haven of peace and tranquillity, so too are the picturesque water meadows alongside the meandering River Avon. A 21/2-mile walk across the water meadows to Harnham and back affords unrivalled views of the Cathedral and passes a number of historic buildings, including The Old Mill at Harnham and St Nicholas' Hospital, which was built in the early 13th century to accommodate 'poor travellers'.

A longer circular walk of almost five miles leads to the Iron Age hill fort at Old Sarum. Now in the care of English Heritage and open to the public, the site contains the ruins of a castle, cathedral and bishop's palace from which modern Salisbury traces its origins. (01722 335398), www.english-heritage.org.uk/oldsarum. A somewhat different earthwork exists at Downton, five miles south of Salisbury. Downton Moot is an 18th-century landscape garden on the site of a former Norman earthwork castle. The Moot is open daily throughout the year. www.downton.org.uk

Wilton, the ancient capital of Wessex, is less than three miles from the city on a regular bus route. Located here is Wilton House, the home of the Earl of Pembroke, renowned for its splendid 17th-century state rooms and world-famous art collection. This year the grounds open on 4 April and the House over the Easter weekend, with the season proper starting on 2 May. Wilton Shopping Village is opposite and is housed in the old Wilton carpet factory buildings. (01722 746714), www.wiltonhouse.com; (01722 741211), www.wiltonshoppingvillage.co.uk. And if you fancy a flutter on the horses, Salisbury Racecourse is just down the road, but you'll need to wait until 3 May for the racing season to start. (01722 326461), www.salisburyracecourse.co.uk

Stop for a bite to eat

There are numerous places to eat and drink within the city, and just about every kind of traditional, exotic and international cuisine is available. In Fisherton Street alone you can find Cantonese, Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants, Asian and Polish food stores and a good old fish-and-chip shop! Practically every street boasts an attractive old inn, many are half-timbered and date from the 14th or 15th centuries. The Coach and Horses in Winchester Street is one of Salisbury's oldest coaching inns and serves modern pub food all day ((01722 414319). The Cloisters in Catherine Street is an olde worlde pub offering a wide range of meals and 'Big Plate' specials on its menu ((01722 338102). In Queen Street, Cross Keys Restaurant serves traditional British meals as well as oriental and Mediterranean influences, fresh patisseries and speciality teas and coffees ((01722 320933). On the menu at The Gallery Caf in Fisherton Mill, a former grain mill, are freshly prepared light, modern lunches, home-made cakes, smoothies, juices and Fairtrade organic coffee ((01722 500200).

Three things to take home

Dauwalders in Fisherton Street is the largest stamp shop in Britain and has 11,000 clients worldwide. As well as stocking a vast quantity of international stamps, Dauwalders is full of highly collectible items such as diecast toy models, old postcards, film posters and military buttons. You'll be spoilt for choice. (01722 412100), www.worldstamps.co.uk. A top-quality carpet or rug made at the Wilton Carpet Factory has always been a desirable item and at their showroom in the Wilton Shopping Village there is a wide range of styles to choose from. (01722 742733). While you are in Salisbury Cathedral call at its shop and take home a tuneful reminder of your visit. There are lots of CD's to choose from, including Music from the choir of Salisbury Cathedral, The Salisbury Sound Organ Music and King of Glory Evensong.

What's on

Salisbury is justly renowned for the quality and variety of entertainment and musical events it stages throughout the year. The following are just a few items to whet your appetite:

14 Feb: Buddy Holly's Winter Dance Party Tour

27 Feb: The Blues Band

5 Mar: The Hollies

All at City Hall, (01722 434434), www.cityhallsalisbury.gov.uk.

29 Jan - 21 Feb: The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan

26 Feb - 21 Mar: The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard

24-28 March: Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

All at Salisbury Playhouse. Box Office (01722 320333), www.salisburyplayhouse.com

28 Feb: The Frog Princess performed by Wild Wood Theatre

14 Mar: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight performed by New Perspectives Theatre Company

Both at Salisbury Arts Centre. Box Office (01722 321744), www.salisburyartscentre.co.uk.

Where can we stay?

Salisbury has a wide range of quality accommodation in or very near the city centre. The Red Lion Hotel (Best Western) in Milford Street dates from the 13th century when it was built to house the draughtsmen working on the nearby Cathedral. Its modern facilities include individually decorated bedrooms and the Rosette-awarded Vine Restaurant. (01722 323334), www.the-redlion.co.uk. In Exeter Street, Cathedral View offers high standard B&B facilities in a centrally situated, elegant Georgian town house. (01722 5022254), www.cathedralviewbandb.co.uk. Well worth walking across the water meadows to reach its picturesque riverside location is the Legacy Rose and Crown Hotel at Harnham, a 13th-century coaching inn now under new ownership, which offers great food, oak-beamed bars and four-poster beds in some rooms. (0870 832 9948).

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