Beautiful Chichester is the only city in West Sussex and has more history than you can shake a stick at! It dates back to the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods when there were settlements here, and was a significant place in Norman times. It’s been an important market town ever since. If you’re looking for things to do in Chichester, you are completely spoilt for choice whether you’re a lover of the arts, one for watersports, a keen historian or just looking for a great day out.
Whatever your religious beliefs, a visit to the city has to start with the cathedral. Although originally destined to be built in Selsey, work started on the current building in 1076 and took 32 years to complete. Some parts had to be rebuilt following two fires in the 12th century and in 1400 the spire, cloisters and Bell Tower were built. The cloisters are charismatic and evocative and a visit here includes Tudor paintings, Roman mosaics and modern art. In short, the cathedral has presence as well as the wow factor.
Bishop’s Palace Gardens
In between the Cathedral and the city walls you’ll find the Bishop’s Palace Gardens, a public park maintained by the city. The gardens date back to 1147-1148 and are a wonderful pocket of tranquillity and a place to reflect before you head off to explore the city. From the garden, you will also catch a glimpse of The Bishop’s Palace which houses a 12th century chapel. Unfortunately, the palace is not open to the public but they do occasionally have visitor days.
Chichester’s city wall
Another must-do is a walk around Chichester’s Roman wall which encircles the city and which you can walk nearly all the way around (there are a few gaps) by way of a tree-lined trail. When you’re finished head into the centre for the obligatory photo of the city’s Market Cross (thought to have been built in 1501). And look out for the sculpture of Admirals Murray and Nelson, by local artist Vincent Gray.
Chichester Festival Theatre
A distinctive building in its own right, these days this theatre is synonymous with Chichester and has a year-round programme of really dynamic and interesting productions. A must for culture vultures.
I stumbled across this little gem by accident whilst cutting through to the main shopping centre. Oxmarket Gallery is a modern exhibition space in a medieval deconsecrated church, which has existed since the 13th century. They also have a year-round programme of exhibitions by local artists and admission is free.
One of the UK’s leading modern art galleries (described by The Guardian as second only to the Tate) and set in a beautiful Grade I listed 18th century townhouse (with a contemporary extension), Pallant House opened in 1982 as a gallery of modern art with works by Ceri Richards, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and more. Even the building itself holds a significant position in UK architectural history and for any lover of the arts, this is yet another must-visit. They also do a rather fabulous afternoon tea.
As you’d expect from a city, Chichester has plenty of festivals. From mid-June to mid-July they host the Festival of Chichester with over 100 events including everything from classical music to jazz, blues, folk, rock, pop and world music. In July, you can also enjoy the Chichester Fringe. They also host “The FreeWheelin FEASTival” in mid-August in Priory Park (which as the name suggests is all about food but with entertainment and music thrown in).
Aqua Park and Water ski
To the south and east of the city is a network of lakes. Here you’ll find an Aqua Park, with wakeboarding, waterskiing, paddle boarding, open water swimming and kayaking. There are also giant inflatables on the water and for all you water babies, it’s just brilliant fun!
The Novium Museum
In the heart of the city, is the Novium Museum which was built on the remains of a Roman bath house. It is packed with different exhibitions and artefacts. Of course, there is a section dedicated to Chichester’s Roman heritage with archaeological remains and ancient mosaics discovered in the area. They have lots going on here and it’s a great visit for history lovers and those with children to entertain.
South Downs Planetarium
A personal favourite and something a bit different, this 96-seat auditorium projects 4,500 stars and other celestial objects onto the dome. They have different shows on at different times and professional commentary. If you can’t get to the top of the South Downs on a dark night to stargaze, this is an excellent alternative!
Chichester Canal links the city to the sea, starting at Basin in the south of the city and arriving at the harbour at Birdham. Not all of it is in use but you can travel as far as Donnington (about halfway) by leisure boat. In the summer, there are normally two sailings a day. Or you could book yourself in for a special fish and chip or cream tea boat trip!
Chichester has its own Farmers Market which meets on the first and third Friday of the month in East Street. The stallholders are required to “grow, rear, bake, and/or preserve all their produce” and must be based within 50 miles of Chichester so it really is a local affair. Here you’ll find all the market essentials such as meat, fruit, fish, dairy products, honey, cakes, chutneys and plants.
The Chichester Foodie
Headline news for many foodies was the opening of The Ivy In June 2022 in East Street. I haven’t been but the reviews look good. If that’s not your thing, head south of the city to the Potager Restaurant on Birdham Road where they promise you home-grown produce from their own gardens and a “Potager-to-plate” ethos.
Rather than being a quaint little harbour town, Chichester Harbour is a large natural harbour of outstanding natural beauty and special scientific interest. It’s mainly undeveloped and is a mixture of wide expanses, tidal flats and intricate creeks, with lots of wildlife and footpaths. You can walk from Chichester should you choose or park at one of a number of harbourside villages including West Wittering, West Itchenor, Birdham, Dell Quay, Fishbourne and Bosham. There is also a marina where you can enjoy the gentle sound of sailboat rigging and watch yachts enter and exit the Chichester Channel.
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For more information about things to do in Chichester visit: https://www.thenovium.org/chitic