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Salisbury, Winchester, Canterbury or ?

We are hoping to visit England in March. It is me, my wife, and our 2 children (13 and 9 years). We will have some time in London, but wanted to combine it with a couple nights outside of London in a small(ish) town (or a night in a couple different towns) with some good history, an interesting and walkable core and which is easily accessible from London by train (we will not have a car). We have looked at Salisbury, Winchester, and Canterbury as options. Thoughts on those options, or others that you might suggest? For what it is worth, we've been to Bath before (loved it - just don't want to revisit on this trip) and York is certainly a possibility. Thank you as always to those in this forum!

Posted by
2774 posts

If you're interested in visiting Stonehenge, Salisbury is the place to go. There is a shuttle bus that runs from Salisbury, also stopping at Old Sarum. (It also stops at at least one park & ride lot, FWIW.) At least, this shuttle existed pre-Covid-19 pandemic. I guess it remains to be seen whether it will run, and how frequently, in March 2021.

You can easily spend a whole day doing this if you take the occasion to walk from Stonehenge to Woodhenge and Durrington Walls and back. The Stonehenge visitor centre has lots of exhibits indoors and out, as well as a large gift shop and cafeteria. If the kids really want to stretch their legs you can also walk from Old Sarum back to Salisbury instead of catching the bus.

Posted by
4944 posts

Salisbury is a great choice if you want to do Stonehenge on the same day. Also, can do Avebury as well, with its huge stones.

Winchester is a great place to visit as well, but plan on a full day for that city.

Posted by
4882 posts

Salisbury itself is quite compact and can be seen in a few hours. If Stonehenge interests you, it’s the right place to stay. Personally speaking, Stonehenge wouldn’t make my top 100 things to see in the UK, but it’s your trip not mine. The weather in March could be ok or you could get snow, so I would opt for somewhere that had things to see indoors if the weather were to be inclement.

If you want an overnight stay, York has far more to offer than Canterbury or Winchester, but 2 nights here would be better than one, as there is plenty to see both indoors and out.

Posted by
3557 posts

I visited York, Canterbury and Winchester in 2016. I've been to Salisbury, but it was so long ago that you could walk among the pillars at Stonehenge.

I don't think you can go wrong with any of those choices, but York just might be more interesting for the kids because of its medieval area (Shambles) and Viking heritage. If they're into treasure, the Yorkshire Museum has a collection of Viking silver, swords and other cool stuff.

The Yorkshire Museum is a basic museum with the usual archeological and historical collection, but with a UK and Viking twist. These Collection Highlights will provide a hint about what's there.

Of course there are lots of other fun things to do and see. Some are a little cheesy, but that can be fun, too. This Visit York website is a good intro for the city.

You can tell that I enjoyed York more than the other cities you listed. Here's a Rick Steves online section on England that includes it and Canterbury.

Remember that 2 nights in a place really only equals one day, unless you arrive very early in the morning of the first night and leave very late the day after the second night. IMHO, 2 nights is a minimum stay anywhere.

Oops! I almost forgot. At the suggestion of an Episcopalian priest friend who spent a summer researching at York Minster, I ate at Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms. It's closed at the moment, but the menu links work. The Main menu is quite long.

Karin recommended the Yorkshire Fat Rascal Scone and it was good. I also had a good dinner there one night. I went to the one pictured with the curved corner.

Posted by
2838 posts

I've been to Salisbury/Avebury(but not Stonehenge) and York/Durham. I think York will be more interesting to children.

EDITED: The free tour Rick recommends is great and included a walk on the wall-definitely something your children would enjoy.

Posted by
349 posts

I think they are all good choices and its easy to get to them all by train from London.

With 2 children I think that York would be the best pick. Not noted above was the National Railway Museum, which is tremendous - even if you dont like railways, its surprisingly interesting. Just way more interesting stuff to do in York for kids.

Posted by
5694 posts

Like others I’d say York to keep you occupied but if interested please consider visiting the Durham Cathedral. A UNESCO heritage site.

Durham is a small college town, 3 hours via a train from Kings Cross. Lovely riverside walk.

If a fan of the Inspector George Gently series or Harry Potter Films you will have seen the Cathedral.

Also enjoyed the Durham Market Hall.

Posted by
3175 posts

I have visited all three in the month of March so whichever you choose, you will be delighted! There is no wrong choice.

Posted by
2838 posts

I am also a fan of Durham, as a place to spend the night. If you stay at the Marriott that Rick recommends, you can easily walk along the river. If your children are Harry Potter fans, they will want to see Durham cathedral.

Posted by
1128 posts

I agree on York/Durham as well. If you’re going to leave London, then get a taste of a completely different part of the U.K. There’s enough for the kids there as well if they begin to get OD on castles and cathedrals.

I will say that the weather in March can be very iffy at best. Just hope for the best. Oh, and check for the holidays, not sure when Easter falls next year. Holy Week and Easter week can throw a few monkey wrenches into things.

Posted by
26053 posts

I'm surprised that nobody has pointed out that all the places named are cities. Bath, Durham, York, Winchester, Salisbury and Canterbury are all cities. York is a particularly large one.

I see that you wanted a "small(ish) town". Will you be ok with choosing between cities? I will say that from my experience all of them are quite walkable so... ???

Posted by
2838 posts

Because of the college vibe and walking path along the river, Durham felt like a small town to me. It felt peaceful except for the usual college student activity. And as a cathedral lover, I like the cathedral there better than the ones in York, Canterbury, Salisbury and Westminster Abbey. It's beautiful and awe-inspiring, but felt more intimate than the others.

When we were there in 2018, I preferred the WW I exhibit at the York Castle Museum to the one at the Imperial War Museum in London. There were other interesting exhibits also.

Posted by
2774 posts

Just an added note to the above post that says you can base yourself in Salisbury and visit Avebury on the same day as Stonehenge. I think this would be very difficult to do without your own car. We did it with a rental car; it's a fairly slow drive between the two whichever route you take.

By public transport, according to Rome2Rio, once you get to Stonehenge (Larkhill bus stop) you have to take a bus via Pewsey and Marlborough (3 hrs 42 min one way), or via Devizes and Bishops Canning (4 hrs one way). That doesn't count time waiting for the next bus as they only run every 2 or 3 hours.

See https://www.rome2rio.com/map/Avebury/Stonehenge-England

If you catch the bus in Salisbury, it takes less time to get to Avebury, but it doesn't take you by Stonehenge.

See https://www.rome2rio.com/map/Avebury/Salisbury-England

Just wanted to note that, in case you're still considering Salisbury or if others who wish to rely on public transport are reading this thread.

Posted by
4776 posts

These are all good choices and very doable for two nights. The one that feels to me most like a "small(ish) town" is Salisbury, whose cathedral is in the middle of a big parklike area next to meadows and the Avon river. Plus a bus ride to Stonehenge will take you through countryside. Canterbury and Durham and especially York are more dense and urban-feeling. I haven't been to Winchester in so long that I can't compare it.

As others have noted, York has a variety of attractions for all ages. The others are mostly about their cathedrals, each wonderful and different, with Stonehenge a bonus for Salisbury.

Posted by
29 posts

Given that it will be March, when you could have the first signs of spring or the last blast of winter, definitely York. It is a small city, direct rail links with London with about a 2.5 hour journey.
Very old atmospheric streets with a lot of indoor places I the weather is poor. If it is fine, it is great place to walk around especially the city walls.

Posted by
54 posts

Definitely York! I live in the UK and my kids loved York. So many interesting things that both parents and kids enjoyed together. It's very walkable and lovely too. It will make a great contrast to London.

Please remember that March can be very cold in the UK! Bundle up!

When our oldest son turned 21, I created a "Father & Sons" trip that went from Edinburgh (including a private tour of the Borderlands / Sir Walter Scott / Melrose Abbey / Glinkenchie Distillery tasting / Rosslyn Chapel, as figured in "The Da Vinci Code" movie); then went by train to York, where we visited the famous Minster with its medieval stained-class windows, walked the walls of the city, and toured the Viking museum (York is a GREAT and often overlooked destination and so convenient as a train stop between Edinburgh and London). After a few days in London, we continued our custom train tour to Paris and did the usual sights; then on to Amsterdam (Yellow Bike tour, canals, museums) before flying home.