In 2015, Salisbury popped the champagne for the 800th anniversary of its greatest treasure, the Magna Carta
Foreign visitors per year: 1 million
Unit of currency: Pound sterling (£)
Cost index: pint of local ale £3.60 (US$5.90), double room £85 (US$140), afternoon tea with scones and cream £15 (US$24.70), cathedral tower tour £10 (US$16.50).
Why go ASAP?
For too long travellers have considered Salisbury a short stop on the way to Stonehenge. But in 2015, Salisbury popped the champagne for the 800th anniversary of its greatest treasure, the Magna Carta.
It would be hard to underestimate the impact of the ‘Great Charter’. Sworn and sealed on the banks of the Thames in 1215, the Magna Carta limited royal power and established the rights of common people. It became a bedrock of English law and inspired movements for justice and freedom worldwide.
The eighth centenary of this iconic parchment is igniting revelry across England – folk opera, calypso tributes and 13th-century ale-brewing have all been mooted as ways to mark the occasion. As home to the best-preserved original copy (the others are in London’s British Library and Lincoln Castle), Salisbury will be leading the charge.
The lightning rod for the celebrations was Salisbury Cathedral, the neck-straining medieval masterpiece whose Chapter House holds the Magna Carta. The cathedral itself boasts a clutch of superlatives, with the tallest spire in Britain, the world’s oldest working clock and Britain’s largest cloister.
Festivals & Events:
Enjoy two smouldering weeks of contemporary sculpture, photography and installations at the Salisbury International Arts Festival, starting 23 May.
See Salisbury in bloom during Magna Flora, the enormous week-long flower festival.
Recall the days of wimpled maidens and warring kings by exploring the city’s medieval sights, starting with the stone-carved Poultry Cross in the market square.
A gilded lion and unicorn still glower down from the coat of arms crowning the North Gate, a stone archway thought to date to 1327. And the dark of heart won’t want to miss the Gothic Church of St Thomas Becket, harbouring apocalyptic murals that still elicit a thrill of fear.
Who could conceive of bypassing the pubs? Salisbury’s nightlife has Purple Flag status, issued to impeccably polite and welcoming cities – an awfully British award, if ever there was one. Drink in views over the River Avon at the Old Mill, or bask in old-time ambiance at The Cloisters. Sup local ciders and ales (try Three Daggers) but look out for local wines too (a’Beckett’s Vineyard produces some very quaffable drops.
Current craze :
Old Sarum isn’t simply an ancient fort, it’s also a place where adrenaline junkies can skydive or soar in small aircraft. Propeller-heads can also get their fix from the ground at the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.
Wiltshire locals are nicknamed `moonrakers’, dating from when smugglers hid contraband in local ponds, fishing it out by night. If questioned, they’d claim to be raking the moon’s reflection to get cheese.
Are Salisbury’s historic properties rousing déjà vu? You may have seen them on screen. Stately Mompesson House was a film location for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility.
If you stumble leaving the pub, blame the local ghosts rather than an excess of ale. Several sites in Salisbury are thought to be haunted, from pubs to crossroads to Debenhams department store.
Classic restaurant experience:
You need not fear an empty belly in a region with a constellation of Michelin-starred restaurants and excellent pub food. For something truly special, family-run Charter 1227 restaurant serves up lip-smacking and locally sourced British cuisine. Think suckling pork belly that melts on the tongue, guinea fowl and unapologetically indulgent parfaits and terrines.
Most bizarre sight:
Crop circles appear near Salisbury every summer and the phenomenon is eagerly discussed in the local Crop Circle Information and Co-ordination Centre. Just look out for those little green men.