Looking for things to do in Chichester? During our winter weekend break in Chichester we managed to squeeze in quite a lot – here are our seven top recommendations for things to do in this pretty West Sussex town…
I needed a quick break before Christmas – it had to be easily accessible, too, as I wasn’t in the mood for long train journeys. So I had a quick look on Google maps and stuck a pin in Chichester.
I’d been before but not in decades so in effect it was like I was going for the first time. Once again my trusty map pin paid off: Chichester was a great pre-festivities weekend adventure. Its mix of history and culture was an ideal location for a 48-hour get-away.
Chichester has a very colourful history – it was established by the Romans soon after their invasion and remained an important trading centre under the Anglo-Saxons and Normans. It was besieged over Christmas 1642 during the civil war but survived and thrived to become the second biggest livestock market in the country by the turn of the 19th century.
An inauspicious arrival in Chichester
Like so many provincial UK towns and cities, Chichester’s railway station sits away from its centre, off to the south in an area of few delights – it all looks a bit dull, to be honest. But within minutes, you’re into the grounds of its splendid cathedral.
Founded in the 11th century, it’s the city’s principal landmark and what a magnificent building it is. It’s not as big as some, but the view from Canon Lane is a visual feast and today must look very similar to when it was first completed.
My visit coincided with a light display behind the cloisters entitled ‘Field of Blooms’ by the designer Bruce Munro. The glowing bulbs turned the night landscape behind the cathedral into an ethereal mass of shifting colours. It was quite magical.
The interior of the cathedral is no less impressive, especially the massive painted oak panel in the south transept. It’s the largest Tudor painting of its type and features a contemporary likeness of Henry VIII.
Chichester galleries and museums
The local museum, The Novium, contains the remains of a Roman bathhouse as well as many Roman artefacts. Upstairs there are some more recent items, such as a portable stocks, as well a display about The North Bersted Man, a mystery warrior buried around 50BC. The museum is small but perfectly formed and is free, which is a real bonus.
Just around the corner is the Pallant House Gallery, a lovely space dedicated to important modern British painters.
Here Freud hangs beside Blake and Craig-Martin, amongst many other luminaries, to great effect.
However, my favourite gallery contained an array of miniatures by Augustus John, Vanessa Bell, Paul Nash, Sir Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton, as well as new pieces by Rachel Whiteread, Damien Hirst, John Akomfrah, Tacita Dean and Lubaina Himid.
It’s hard to describe, but this video does a good job of telling the story.
One of the highlights of my weekend was the South Downs Planetarium. My visit coincided with a talk about the Northern Lights, which was highly informative and very well illustrated. If you’re planning on going, don’t get lost! The best route is via Low Row Lane – don’t make the same mistake as us and try and gain access via the ring road.
West Dean Gardens are a short bus ride north of Chichester and are well worth a visit. It’s a restored green paradise that includes an impressive collection of working Victorian glasshouses, a 300 foot pergola and a spring garden complete with flint bridges and colourful shrubs. I had a very enjoyable dander around the greenery.
It’s also ideally situated for the Weald & Downland Living Museum, an amazing collection of historic buildings – many very humble – that trace how this country’s build landscape has developed over time; right back from mediaeval times. It’s a truly fascinating place that brings history to life with detailed reenactments. It’s guaranteed fun for historians of all ages.
This video gives a flavour of the place.
Food and drink
I can recommend The Fountain pub for a drink in a cosy atmosphere – the staff were really welcoming and the fire was blazing away on a chilling evening. Better still was the Thyme & Chillies Indian restaurant. The food was amazing, the staff were great… but I could have done with fewer lights. It was a little over illuminated for me but that didn’t dent my enjoyment of the splendid dishes I ordered. If you’re in town, go book a table.
Bringing the visit to a close
I concluded my visit with a walk along the remains of the city walls, which offered some nice views back across the cathedral and its surroundings, before heading to the station and onwards to home. But I’ll definitely be back – next time I’ll visit Fishbourne Roman Palace, which is one of the UK’s most impressive Roman sites, and the Tangmere Military & Aviation Museum. Both were closed for Christmas but look great. Be sure to add them to your itinerary.
Things to do in Chichester – pin for later!
This is a guest post by Anthony Clark, journalist, copywriter and longtime friend of the Ladies What Travel team. He loves beer, cheese and travel and is a genius when it comes to making the most of his annual leave.