Wiltshire is home to England’s most famous attraction, Stonehenge. But it is only one of the great attractions this county has to offer. The county is full of ‘largest’ and ‘first’, ‘biggest’ and ‘tallest’ attractions.
Much of Wiltshire is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The White Horse Trail shows off eight white horses carved into hillsides. River valleys and open downlands provide rural experiences. Canal boating enthusiasts treasure the Kennet and Avon Canal, which divides the county in two. The towpath is great for both walking and cycling, with many pubs along the way.
Although less famous than Stonehenge, Avebury Stone Circle is the largest henge monument in Europe. It’s a 28.5-acre site with a ditch and external bank, an avenue of stones and in the middle of it all, a village. The museum, in a 17th century thatched barn, gives full details and houses a prehistoric archaeological collection.
Avebury Manor and Gardens began with a monastery, but the present building dates from the 16th century and has been altered to provide a private home. The garden has topiary and a number of 'rooms'.
Silbury Hill is Europe’s largest prehistoric mound. Begun around BC 2900-2500, it has yielded no graves during a number of excavations. Its real purpose is not known. There’s a small parking lot for viewing but that’s as close as visitors are allowed.
West Kennet Long Barrow is Britain’s largest pre-historic (BC 3700) burial chamber. It’s 330 feet long. A passage into the barrow reveals side chambers. The bones of 46 people, pottery, flint, beads, and bone implements were found in the chamber.
More recent ruins are Old Wardour Castle, built in the 14th century, but much demolished in 1643 by the parliamentary forces during a prolonged battle. In the grounds are a lake and a grotto.
Bradford on Avon was a busy cloth mill town in the 19th century. A Saxon church, St Laurence, of AD 700 sits near the historic river Avon bridge. At Barton Farm Country Park nearby is a medieval tithe barn.
The city of Salisbury has its cathedral with the highest spire in England. Begun in 1220, it was mostly finished by 1258. Inside the pillars are made from dark Purbeck marble (really crystalline limestone from Corfe in Dorset). In the cathedral library is one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta. A clock from 1386 still works in the nave.
Old Sarum is an iron age hillfort. The Romans, Saxons, and Normans continued to use it and it became the site of the first Salisbury. Castle, cathedral, and Bishop’s Palace ruins are at the site.
Wiltshire has many historic homes. 18th century Mompesson House is located in Salisbury’s cathedral close. It starred in the film Sense and Sensibility. Of note are the plasterwork and staircase, period furniture and 18th century drinking glasses.
Corsham Court dates from 1582 but was enlarged in the middle of the 19th century to accommodate a growing collection of Italian and Flemish old master’s paintings hung in the state rooms. The grounds were designed by ‘Capability’ Brown and Repton.
Longleat sits in 900 acres of land designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. It is high Elizabethan architecture at its showiest. There are collections of paintings, furniture, and ornate painted ceilings. For children there is a collection of live wild animals in a safari park, a maze, and a railway.
Wilton House, near Salisbury, is the ancestral home of the earls of Pembroke. They have lived here for over 450 years. The house had a fire in 1647 and was restored in the Palladian style. The state apartments include the famous single and double cube rooms. Paintings number over 230 by Van Dyck, Rubens, Reynolds and others. Visit the old riding school for an AV introduction to the house. Also on view is a Tudor kitchen and Victorian laundry. In the grounds is a beautiful Palladian bridge.
The Marlborough Merchant’s House represents middle class England during the 1600s. A panelled chamber, dining room, and great staircase are on view. 17th century wall paintings were uncovered.
Lydiard Park in Swindon is a restored Georgian mansion with outstanding plasterwork, a 17th century window, and an exhibition on 18th century artist Lady Diana Spencer. Be sure to visit the church.
Stourhead is landscaped grounds at their finest. Laid out between 1741 and 1780, there are classical temples, a lake, changing vistas, paths, woodlands, and follies.
Bowood House and Gardens is a family home, half of which is open to the public. Begun around 1720, it was partly demolished in 1955. In the Robert Adams wing is a library, orangery picture gallery, chapel, and sculpture garden. On display are Georgian costumes, watercolours, miniatures, and jewellery. The house is set off by 2000 acres of gardens and grounds landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown.
Nearby, the village of Lacock, entirely owned by the National Trust, is a must visit for Harry Potter fans. Scenes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were filmed here. Lacock Abbey’s cloisters also figured prominently in the films. The former abbey became a private home after the dissolution of the monasteries. The cloisters, sacristy, chapter house, and some monastic rooms survived. Francis Fox-Talbot, one of the developers of modern photography lived here, and the museum of photography beside the abbey celebrates his work.
Castle Combe, acclaimed as England's prettiest village by one of its magazines, was once a wool centre. It’s a favourite backdrop for films. Houses are of Cotswold stone, and many are listed as ancient monuments.
Another old town of interest is Chippenham, founded around AD 600. St Andrew’s church is the oldest of a number of historic buildings.
Malmesbury, England's oldest borough, has the remains of a Norman abbey (now serving as the parish church). There’s a 1407 manuscript Bible and historical exhibits. King Athelstan is buried here.
For something more down to earth visit Swindon's interactive attraction, Steam: the Museum of the Great Western Railway. Here are videos, interactive displays, exhibits, and locomotives. The Cotswold Water Park with its 133 lakes is another county family attraction.
For opening times and full details of attractions please see the Attractions section of our website.
Abbey House Gardens
Tel. 0 1666 822 212
Web: Abbey House Gardens
Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum
Downside, Stockley Lane, Calne
Just off the A4
Tel. 0 1249 813 119
Web: Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum
Avebury Manor and Garden
Avebury, near Marlborough
Tel. 0 1672 539 250
Avebury Stone Circle and Alexander Keiller Museum
Tel. 0 1672 539 250
Bowood House and Gardens (HHA)
Calne, off the A342
Tel. 0 1249 812 102
Web: Bowood House
Bradford on Avon Museum
Bridge St, Bradford on Avon
Tel. 0 1225 863 280
Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn (EH)
Bradford on Avon, .5 mile south of town centre
Tel. 0 117 975 0700
1.25 miles north-west of Tetbury between B4014 and A4135
Tel. 0 1666 502 329
Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre
10 Market Place, Chippenham
Tel. 0 1249 705 020
Corsham Court (HHA)
Signposted from the A4, four miles west of Chippenham
Tel. 0 1249 712 214
Web: Corsham Court
Corsham Heritage and Information Centre
Arnold House, 31 High Street, Corsham, Wiltshire
Tel: 0 1249 714 660
Web: Corsham Heritage
Fox Talbot Museum
Lacock, near Chippenham
Tel. 0 1249 730 459
John Creasy Museum and Art Collection
Salisbury Library and Galleries
Market Place, Salisbury
Tel. 0 1722 324 145
Kennet and Avon Canal Museum
Canal Centre, Couch Lane, Devizes
Tel. 0 1380 729 489
Lacock, a conservation village
Tel. 0 1249 730 459
For photos and more information see our articles Lacock Abbey
and Lacock village
Larmer Tree Gardens
Tollard Royal, Salisbury
Tel. Events and Group Bookings: 0 1725 516 971; Office: 0 1725 516 225; Garden Info: 0 1725 516 228 (info phone)
Web: Larmer Tree Gardens
Tel. 0 1985 844 400
Lydiard Tregoze, Swindon
Tel. 0 1793 770 401
Web: Lydiard Park
Market Lavington Village Museum
Church St, Market Lavington, rear of Old School
Tel. 0 1380 816 222 (secretary
Web: Market Lavington Village Museum
Merchant’s House (HHA)
132 High St, Marlborough
Tel. 0 1672 511 491
Web: Merchants House
Public Library, Museum and Information Centre
Barton Lane, Mere
Tel. 0 1747 860 908
Web: Mere Museum
Mompesson House (NT)
Cathedral Close, Salisbury
Tel. 0 1722 335 659 or 0 1722 420 980 (infoline)
For photos and more information see our article Mompesson House
Old Sarum (EH)
Castle Road, Salisbury
Tel. 0 1722 335 398
Old Wardour Castle (EH)
Tisbury, 2 miles south-west, off the A30
Tel. 0 1747 870 487
Pewsey Heritage Centre
Whatleys Old Foundry, Avonside, Pewsey
Tel. 0 1672 562 617
Web: Pewsey Heritage Centre
Pound Pill Arts Centre Gallery
Pound Pill, Corsham, Wiltshire
Tel: 0 1249 701 628
Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum
Cathedral Close, Salisbury
Tel. 0 1722 419 419
Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
King’s House, 65 Cathedral Close, Salisbury
Tel. 0 1722 332 151
Web: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
33 The Close, Salisbury
Tel. 0 1722 555 120 or 0 1722 555 113 (info line)
Web: Salisbury Cathedral
Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway
Kemble Drive, Swindon
Tel. 0 1793 46 6646
Web: Steam Museum
Countryside, two miles west of Amesbury
On the junction of the A303 and A344/A360
Tel. 0 870 333 1181
For photos and more information see our article Stonehenge
Stourhead House and Gardens(NT)
Stourton, near Warminster
Tel. 0 1747 841 152
Swindon Museum and Art Gallery
Bath Rd, Old Town, Swindon
Tel. 0 1793 466 556
The Shires Shopping Centre, Court St, Trowbridge
Tel. 0 1225 751 339
Web: Trowbridge Museum
West Kennet Long Barrow
Opposite Silbury Hill on A4, lay-by
Reach by walking up hill on track by farming fields
Wilton House (HHA)
Tel. 0 1722 746 720
Web: Wilton House
Wiltshire Heritage Museum
41 Long St, Devizes
Tel. 0 1380 727 369
Web: Wiltshire Heritage Museum
Wiltshire Tourist Information Centres
31 Arnold House, High St, Corsham
Tel. 0 1249 714 660
Cromwell House, Market Place, Devizes
Tel. 0 1380 729 408
George Lane Car Park, Marlborough
Tel. 0 1672 513 989
The Square, Mere, Warminster
Tel. 0 1747 861 211
Fish Row, Salisbury
Tel. 0 1722 342 860
Trinity House, Bryer Ash Business Park, Trowbridge
Tel. 0 1225 712311
Photos of Silbury Hill, White Horse, and Stonehenge courtesy Andy Wallace
Other photos by Barbara Ballard
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