Day trip to Chichester

26 January 2023 by Darren Leach

Chichester market hall

We cannot recommend visiting Chichester enough, it is such a pretty city (and the only city in the whole of West Sussex!) with its Roman heritage, cobbled streets, waterways and the impressive cathedral. Located near the coast, between Portsmouth and Worthing, Chichester is only about 13 miles south from our home in the South Downs National Park.

There is plenty to see and do throughout the year, with architectural treats dotted through the city, a thriving retail centre and a vibrant arts community. It is hard to do it all in just one day, but here are a few of our personal highlights.

Chichester Buttercross
Chichester gardens
St Johns Chapel Chichester

Architecture

The history of the Chichester is clearly visible as you travel around the city, with the unmistakable Roman settlement clearly evident from the city walls and extensive bathhouse. The walls, which are the most intact Roman walls in southern England, once protected the whole settlement but now offer a beautiful backdrop to the centre of the city has expanded, these are a wonderful way to explore the city on your own or with a guided walk.  

On North Street you will find the ‘Butter Market’, opened in 1808 to provide accommodation to small traders. The market building was designed by the celebrated Regency architect, John Nash, who is best known for his work at Buckingham Palace and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. The market had extensive renovation work completed in recent years, so it is now restored to its former glory with the shopping arcades filled with a variety of interesting retail options.

The Chichester Market Cross, a distinctive buttercross, is a stunning landmark within the town. The Grade I Listed ornate structure was built in 1501 as a covered market place on the site of an earlier wooden construction, is now located as a centrepiece of the main shopping area and well worth a closer inspection.

St John’s Chapel which opened in 1813 is a rare example of a Georgian proprietary chapel. The octagonal church was designed by architect James Elmes in a severe classical design and constructed from Portland stone. Internally the chapel has a distinctive three tier pulpit, crafted from American black birch. Due to continued fall in congregation numbers the church finally closed in 1973, it is now open for arts and cultural events.

Chichester Bell Tower
Chichester historic and new architecture

Cathedral

Chichester Cathedral is a stunning example of religious architecture, with evidence of its long and rich history visible through the art and architecture on display. The original cathedral dates from the 11th century, with the spire, cloister and the totally unique detached Bell Tower added during the medieval period. Much of the structure has had to be rebuilt, including the spire in the 19th century.

Within the Cathedral you can find some inspiring examples of arts from across the ages, too many to describe them all here but trust us, this a treasure trove from across periods. On viewing we have been most enthralled by the Roman mosaics, the Tudor panel and the modern stain glass window.

The towns Roman heritage can be glimpsed within the south aisle, beneath a glass panel a fragment of Roman mosaic flooring is on display. The mosaic, which amazingly was only found in the 60’s during construction works to the Cathedral’s foundations, has been left in-situ just below floor level, with the glass panel over to allow viewing. 

A magnificent example of Tudor ecclesiastical art can be found on display in the Transepts. The gigantic panel painting, measuring an impressive 14ft by 32ft, is amongst the finest examples of this style of period artwork. The painting depicts King Henry VIII conferring Royal protection over the cathedral, a stunning example from its historical time and utterly irreplaceable.

In stark contrast to these ancient relics, you can also find vibrant modern art within the cathedral. A favorite of ours is the stunning stain glass window by artist Marc Chagall which was installed in the 1970’s, and is one of only two examples of his work in the country. The window is dazzling, a visual representation of Psalm 150, the window is completed almost entirely in red and strikingly, with many animals and musical instruments incorporated throughout.

Chichester High Street
Drapers Yard Chichester

Retail

The centre of city is now mainly pedestrianised, with pretty cobbled streets around the Cathedral itself, offering a pleasant and vibrant shopping environment. The town offers most of the UK’s leading High Street brands alongside a mix of over 100 independent retail shops, making it a wonderful place to get lost in some retail therapy. 

The Drapers Yard on The Hornet, is a wonderful destination for small, micro independent businesses, all set around a beautiful courtyard. The yard has spaces to hire by the day, week or month, so it there is always something new to investigate. On a sunny day this is also a great spot for coffee or lunch from one of the many interesting food stalls.

We also really enjoyed Winters Moon on North Street, a tres chic independent store filled with new and vintage furniture, books and wonderful household things.

There are plenty of dedicated ladies’ boutiques, although this is not somewhere we tend to shop we have been reliably informed that Little London is one of the best, which can be found just off East Street on Little London.

Chichester festival theater
Pallent House

Culture & Entertainment

Not only is there is so much to do in Chichester, but interestingly (to us at least) many of these venues are set within stunning modern architecture, possibly a little unexpected in such a pretty Roman city.

The Novium Museum, located on Tower Street, is free to enter and dedicated to showing the rich history of the Chichester and the surrounding area. The RIBA Award winning building was designed by Keith Williams, located on a former car park the museum was purpose built to showcase the remains of the Roman bath house in-situ. The museum is over three floors of exhibitions, additionally from the top floor you can enjoy stunning views over the Cathedral.

Pallant House Gallery, situated on North Pallant, the gallery holds one of the best collections of modern British Art. The original Pallant House is a beautiful 18th century Grade I Listed townhouse, which had a very striking contemporary extension added in 2006 to offer space for the growing collection. The extension is a stunning piece of modern architecture by Long & Kentish, which has won many awards including the RIBA Award, the Brick Award and the Civic Trust Award.   

Chichester Festival Theatre is one of the UK’s leading regional theatres, hosting a high quality of performances across the year and even hosting an International Film Festival during August and September each year. This Grade II Listed, innovative festival theatre building was originally opened in 1962, designed by the acclaimed architectural practice Powell and Moya. Constructed from reinforced concrete, with a hexagonal form to improve acoustics, the building is fine example of brutalist architecture.

Chichester dog walking Archi

Nearby

If you have more time to spare it really is worth staying in the area and visiting some of the local gems just on the doorstep of Chichester.

West Wittering is just a short distance from Chichester, a stunning blue flag sand beach awarded as a Site of Special Scientific Interest with unspoilt dunes full of rare flora and fauna. A great place to spend the day, either on the beach or on the water. A note of warning, if you are visiting in the summer the route to the beach can be very heavy with traffic and the car park at the beach is now available for advance booking – so on a hot weekend do be organised and pre book to avoid disappointment.  

The Weald and Down museum is such a unique place, set over about 40 acres of the South Downs the museum has over 50 historic buildings, rescued to demonstrate representations of vernacular buildings from across the region. For anyone with an interest in architecture it is a pure joy to visit. Additionally for any fans of the popular TV Show, The Repair Shop, you might also recognise the museums ‘Court Barn’ as the main location for the show.

The stunning Goodwood Estate is a vibrant, historic country house which now is used as a backdrop to an array of international events such as Goodwood Festival, the Festival of Speed and of course Goodwoof which Archi enjoyed this year! There is so much to say about this stunning estate that it justifies its own blog post at a later date.

We really hope you enjoyed our suggestions for a day trip to Chichester, do let us know if we have missed your favourite place to visit, we always love get local advice for our next visit.  

If you have enjoyed this blog post don’t miss the one’s we have written about PetersfieldHaslemere, Midhurst and Billinghurst.

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