Free Chichester

No, that isn’t the cry of the latest revolutionary party in the South East of England, just a reminder that there’s lot you can do in this historic Sussex city without breaking the bank.

So on a day trip we wanted to find out just how much of Chichester we could see for free.

The city centre is compact, based around the ancient Market Cross (where buskers provide free entertainment) and laid out on the old grid system – north, south, east, west. Falling readily into four quarters it’s the easiest of cities to wander round in just a day.

Chichester Cross from West Street Chichester West Sussex

Walking the walls in Chichester

Nearly 2,000 years ago the walls and gates were built to enclose the Roman town of Noviomagus Reginorum and chunks of the old walls can still be found today.

Almost 80% are still standing – the most intact circuit of Roman town defences in the south of England. We called into the tourist information office to pick up a map but all you really have to do is to keep your eyes peeled for the City Walk medallions set in the pavements.

City walls trail marker - Chichester West Sussex

The trail is about a mile and a half, and lets you see most of what the city has to offer. Being a bit nosey I particularly enjoyed the north-west quadrant where the high level walls let me snoop into people’s back gardens! As you pass quite a few pubs and cafés along the route this mile and a half could take some time.

Art, architecture and religion

The cathedral dominates the skyline, standing as it has for more than 900 years at the heart of the community. It’s an unusual mix of ancient and modern where medieval carvings and tombs rub shoulders with world-famous 20th century masterpieces of sculpture, tapestry and stained glass.

Unlike many cathedrals, Chichester has opted not to charge admission, and it manages to balance the tranquillity of an active place of worship with the desire to showcase its treasures to the world. Some of the additions in the swinging sixties, like the glorious altar tapestry, were pretty controversial and fluttered a few feathers among the city’s great and good.

Guided tour - Chichester Cathedral West Sussex

Guided tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 11.15am and 2.30pm and there are special trails for children to follow. The tour is well worth finding time for, packed as it is with little snippets you might otherwise overlook.

There are the odd ceiling carvings by masons with a strange sense of humour, two rare Romanesque wall sculptures, remarkably intact, and the site of the original shrine to St Richard of Chichester. Our guide was Alan and for almost an hour he regaled us with non-stop nuggets of history as we made our way around – fact-filled, fun and never boring.

One thing you can’t miss – with or without a guide – is the beautiful “Arundel Tomb”, an unusual depiction of true love and fidelity.

Arundel Tomb - Chichester Cathedral West Sussex

The effigy of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel shows his hand removed from his gauntlet freeing him to clasp his wife’s hand while the Countess is depicted half-turning towards him demonstrating her devotion. Immortalised by Philip Larkin in his famous poem of the same name I can’t help but feel they’d be a bit embarrassed by all this attention.

Green and pleasant land

Tucked away near the cathedral are the walled gardens of the Bishop’s Palace. Quiet, unspoiled and beautifully kept they’re a perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Take a sandwich and a cool drink (non alcoholic though, read the many bye-laws!) and just relax.

One of the most frequently overheard remarks are people exclaiming, “I never knew this was here.” So don’t be like them – go find it!

Priory Park’s another popular chill zone – just a stone’s throw from the main shopping street. Summer days here are enlivened by cricket, bowls and an adventure playground.

Youngsters also love the old Norman mound, which once gave the wooden bailey a clear view of any potential threats. Now it’s the perfect place for mock battles and imaginary adventures.

Playing cricket near the Guildhall - Priory park ChichesterThe Guildhall is all that remains of the old priory and adds a touch of fairytale beauty to the setting. Busier than the Bishop’s Palace gardens, with a popular tea-room and an aviary of jewel-bright budgies, it’s great for families.

Guildhall - Priory Park Chichester West Sussex

Chichester canal

Running for four miles through open countryside, the Chichester Ship Canal is a haven for wildlife. A walk along the tow-path to the nearby village of Hunston is a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, although we opted for a less strenuous stroll in the heat of the day.

Two miles of the canal is navigable and if you have money to spare you can take a trip on Kingfisher or Richmond, the two canal boats run by the Trust which maintains the waterway.

There are also row-boats for hire, but there’s plenty of free entertainment to be had watching the antics of others.

A quick dip in the past

From the excavated Roman bath house through Saxon, Norman and medieval history right up to modern times Novium is a compact and child-friendly museum.

The Novium museum - Chichester West Sussex

Roman bath house - Novium museum Chichester

As well as the chronological displays they have one gallery dedicated to different human emotions – joy, sorrow, bravery and so on – which gathers together a wide range of artefacts from different eras, an interesting take on the more traditional displays. Children will love the dressing-up opportunities and the secret drawers you are positively encouraged to open and explore.

Street art in Chichester

If art’s your thing, we’re told the Pallant House Gallery is great, but unfortunately admission is free only to the ground floor including the Garden Gallery and De’Longhi Print Room. Charges apply to the main collection and exhibition spaces.

We’re used to seeing masses of street art in Brighton, and there’s not so much in Chichester but keep your eyes peeled for some discreet little pieces.

And finally…

The main reason for seeing as much as you can for free is that it leaves you with a little bit of money in your pocket to donate to places and causes you’ve enjoyed the most and to support local traders.

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