History and Facts about Salisbury and visiting for Free!

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Every year the Cathedral City of Salisbury gets approx 300k visitors to visit its city centre. Visitors will come and see the famous Salisbury Cathedral, along with Salisbury Musem, the River Avon and much more. We provide a short overview of the history that is behind this famous city, some interesting facts and more details on what to see, how and why, especially when combined with a visit to Stonehenge. Don’t forget also, if you are interested in seeing Salisbury and Stonehenge, you can break it up by visiting one of the many pubs near Stonehenge for lunch or tea.

Unlike many other cities, Salisbury can pinpoint the exact year of its founding. Before then, there were only a few small hamlets on the site, and Old Sarum served as the area’s principal hub two miles to the north. Iron Age hill fort that later evolved into the Roman town of Sorviodunum (though its exact location is unknown) and was known as Searoburh in Anglo-Saxon times. Its name had changed to Sarisberie by the time of the Domesday book, and the contemporary name quickly replaced it.

The construction of Salisbury Cathedral City

Although construction on the current cathedral began in the valley in 1220, the city of Old Sarum was where the first cathedral was located. Growth was quick and by the second part of the C14th Salisbury was probably the seventh biggest city in the country, a position it retained until the C16th. Salisbury had far more area to grow than was available at Old Sarum and had superior water access. The actual population was most likely 7000 or so. While many of the structures in Cathedral Close were made of stone, most of those in the remainder of the city would have been timber-framed. The main economic activity was fabric production, although many other trades also thrived.

Salisbury In The Iron Age
A reconstruction showing how the Iron Age hillfort may have appeared in about 100 BC © Historic England
(illustration by Peter Dunn)

Salisbury’s centre areas have a highly distinctive layout built on a grid pattern since the city was purposefully designed as opposed to developing spontaneously from ancient origins. There are twenty Chequers, each having a historical name, many of them are derived from inns. A Chequer is a group of buildings encircled by four streets. In most of the streets, water channels that the Avon River fed were also included as part of the scheme. These were initially created to supply drinking water, but as soon as rubbish started to contaminate them, they were ultimately covered over in the C19th century. When this work was done, artefacts that were discovered in the ancient canals served as the foundation for Salisbury Museum’s collection.

Salisbury started to lose ground to neighbouring towns and cities once the mediaeval era was gone, and its population hardly increased before the C19th century. The city became increasingly a market hub, and cloth manufacturing lost much of its significance. Brick was a popular construction material when the C18th arrived, but ancient timber structures were frequently updated by having what is known as mathematical tiles used to simulate brickwork.

The population didn’t truly start to grow until the middle of the 19th century when it reached about 17,000 people by 1900. Depending on how the city area is defined, the precise number in 2015 will vary, but it is most likely in the range of 44,000. The visible city makes it simple to identify these stages of development. Although not all of the historic centre’s buildings are ancient, except those in the distinct Cathedral Close, the grid patterns still exist. The relatively compact Victorian and Edwardian suburbs surrounding this centre have many well-built and detailed structures (as seen in the Civic Society’s book “Salisbury in Detail”). Then, the C21 volume housebuilder estates are on the outskirts, essentially identical to those in other comparable cities. Outside of that come the less distinctive areas of C20th growth once again, mainly to the north and west.

The cathedral precinct, seen from the south-west © Skyscan Balloon Photography
(Historic England Photo Library)

The introduction of the railroads in the 1840s helped Salisbury expand, eventually leading to strong connections to London, Exeter, and Bristol on one line and Southampton and Bristol on another. With the construction of the Southampton and Salisbury Canal in the late 1790s, the earlier national excitement for canals also had an impact. However, this was never finished, and now there are just a few signs of it. No freeway has ever come near the city, and a proposed bypass from the 1990s was scrapped due to a shift in London’s administration.

For most of its history, Salisbury had its own government, either for the city alone or for a larger region in south Wiltshire. However, Salisbury was reduced to having only a parish council when Wiltshire Council was established as a unitary authority in 2009. This generated significant dissatisfaction, which is still occasionally audible.

Salisbury Cathedral, with its C14th tower and spire one of the pinnacles of English architecture, has remained the city’s most recognizable structure throughout all the years of expansion and change. Salisbury’s great fortune is that, in addition to all of the structures inside the Cathedral Close, which are thought to be among the best in the nation, Salisbury beyond the Close is also well worth seeing. The city, which is crossed by three separate rivers, has remained a highly worthy tourist attraction and a fairly civilized place to live despite the mid-20th century enthusiasm for town planning in the name of “progress” and has never been bombed or overly compromised.

Salisbury Cathedral
A view from outside Salisbury Cathedral

Fun Facts about Salisbury

Timeless, conventional, eccentric, and unique that’s what you feel when you visit Salisbury. We have magnificent green areas, a soaring cathedral, mediaeval buildings, and ancient marketplaces. So what else is there to say? Following are some interesting facts about Salisbury:

  1. Salisbury is older than 800 years. It relocated from a town at Old Sarum to its current position. Parts of the ancient site, one of the most significant historically in southern England, are believed to date as far back as 400 BC. The ruins of the previous village are still visible today. Make sure to stop by!
  2. The Salisbury Cathedral’s 404-foot/123-meter spire has been England’s highest since the late 16th century.
  3. The oldest clock in existence and one of the four extant Magna Carta copies are both found in Salisbury Cathedral. Check out one of the many tours to get the most out of the cathedral. Your knowledgeable guides will ensure you don’t miss any exciting moments.
  4. One of the oldest markets in the UK is the one in Salisbury. It has been operating since 1227, seven years after Salisbury Cathedral’s construction started! Take in the atmosphere every Tuesday and Saturday of the week.
  5. Salisbury’s fair is one of the longest-running in the nation, and it’s not only the market that has been there for a very long time. King Henry III gave the Bishop of Salisbury permission in 1227 to organize an annual fair on the third Monday in October.
  6. With 80 acres, the close that encircles Salisbury Cathedral is the biggest in Britain. There are several lovely picnic areas where you may relax and take in the view of the soaring spire.
  7. Stonehenge, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is only nine miles from Salisbury. The ancient structure has been visible in Wiltshire’s rural landscape for 4,500 years.
  8. Salisbury provides a distinctive shopping experience and the chance to discover items you wouldn’t find on any other high street, thanks to its more than 200 independently owned stores.
  9. Salisbury has established a great legacy of arts and culture during the previous 800 years. Global travellers flock to the Salisbury International Arts Festival. The Salisbury Playhouse is a top-producing theatre in the UK. The largest independent art gallery in the South West is Fisherton Mill. The city is a hub of inventiveness.
  10. The artwork for Jay Z’s new album Magna Carta…Holy Grail was unveiled in 2015 in Salisbury Cathedral in the United Kingdom.

Salisbury has evolved into a cutting-edge mediaeval metropolis where innovation and tradition coexist. Salisbury Museum, located in Cathedral Close, has further information about Salisbury’s colourful past. They have works of art, pottery, and costumes that vividly depict the city’s history. Or, for a detailed explanation of how the Salisbury we know today developed from the surrounding water meadows, join a tour guide for a stroll about the city.

What To See In Salisbury

Salisbury provides a unique experience with a wealth of things to see and do both inside and outside the city limits. Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury Museum, and Old Sarum are just a few of the landmarks in the city that proudly represent our history and tradition. As of right now, Salisbury has a wide variety of entertainment options, including Salisbury Playhouse theatre, top galleries, escape rooms, and inflatable fun! However, its parks and outdoor areas make the most of the stunning Wiltshire countryside environment if you venture outside. There are also some wonderful walks around this city, including walks along the Avon River where you can stop for a drink in one of the many pubs along the way.

The oldest clock in the world, the best-preserved Magna Carta, and stained-glass windows from various eras are currently found at Salisbury Cathedral. Choose a guided tour offered by the cathedral to get the most out of Salisbury Cathedral and the neighbourhood close. Then, for amazing panoramic views, head to the roof. After that, round off your day of exploration with a night at one of Salisbury’s warm hotels or Beds & Breakfasts.

Of course, Salisbury is only a 10-mile drive from Stonehenge, so many people that visit Stonehenge will also be staying in Salisbury. If you are staying a bit further out near Devizes then we would recommend a trip to the Wiltshire Museum also!

Visiting Salisbury for Free!

Salisbury is approximately 85 miles from London and about two hours drive by car – straight down the M3 from London direct to Salisbury City Centre. So if you have your own transport, it’s a relatively easy place to drive to and with a central car park it makes it easy to park and explore. However, if you don’t have your own transport, then there are great access links from central London by train with a direct train from London Waterloo Station to Salisbury City Centre which takes approx. One hour and 23 minutes with prices from £12 one way. You can also visit the Salisbury Museum for free if you are a member of the English Tourist Board.

Are you looking for a cheap ticket to Stonehenge?

Visit Stonehenge

Adults from: £20

Discount Stonehenge Ticket

If you are wanting to visit Stonehenge while in Salisbury, then you can pre-book your tickets online and get a discount, plus 24-hour cancellation policy.

Interested in checking out some of our…


All of our full-day and half-day London to Stonehenge Tours involve central London pick up and drop off at the end of the tour. Visitors will travel in a luxury air-conditioned coach with a knowledgeable guide to assist them on their tour of the best attractions in the UK. Often it’s an early start, so you want to travel comfortably; many coaches include free wifi to keep in touch during the journeys, look up what’s to come or share your experiences online. You don’t need to worry about parking far away at Stonehenge either when travelling on one of our luxury coaches as the coach parks near the main car part and just a short walk to the visitor centre and main entrance.

One of the luxury coaches that takes you on your tour to Stonehenge from London

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