Basingstoke in north east Hampshire is a large, modern town with fantastic shopping and entertainment. The big Festival Place shopping centre has hundreds of shops, and more shops and restaurants line the streets around Festival Place and at The Mall just the other side of the town. Anvil Arts are the largest performing arts organisation in Hampshire and in Basingstoke they run The Anvil concert hall, The Haymarket Theatre and The Forge. Catch a whole host of drama, dance, live music and comedy performance at these venues. Cinemas are also within Festival Place shopping centre and the town centre has a plentiful choice of lively pubs, bars and clubs.
Basingstoke has a long-standing history. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book and right up until the 1950s it was a small market town. Traditional industries included cloth making, malting and brewing. Historic buildings are still evident, particularly in the London Street area where the architecture dates from the seventeenth to twentieth century. Market Place is the historic centre where you will find the Willis Museum in the old Town Hall, a museum famously home to the oldest wedding cake in the world! Exhibitions on local history are inside, and the museum hosts talks, workshops and family friendly activities. In Jane Austen’s time Basingstoke was a main social centre and she is known to have attended social gatherings at the Assembly Rooms (now a bank in the Market Place marked by a Blue Plaque).
Just to the north of the town sit some ancient and grand historic sites. Take a tour of The Vyne (National Trust), a Tudor country manor house visited several times by Henry VIII. A little further north you’ll also find the spectacular remains of the Roman City of Silchester. The defensive walls here are widely considered to be the country’s best preserved Roman Walls.
Milestones Museum is just one mile outside of Basingstoke town centre, located at Leisure Park. It’s a living history museum with a network of old cobbled nineteenth and early twentieth century streets. Recreated buildings include a working pub where you can enjoy a pint, period houses, a 1940s sweetshop, a post office and a seaside Penny Arcade taking old 1d penny coins on Milestones Pier. Many restored vintage vehicles are also on display and the museum hosts great family events throughout the year. There’s plenty of opportunity to dress up like a Victorian and the old Victorian Winchester Chesil railway station onsite has an authentic ticket office and a miniature railway. Milestones is a magical experience for adults and children alike, and also holds the Thorneycroft collection. Thorneycroft were once one of Basingstoke’s main employers involved in shipbuilding and vehicle manufacture. Various Thorneycroft vehicles and original factory machinery are on display.
Leisure & Arts
Basingstoke’s Leisure Park sits on the same complex as the Milestones Museum along with a brand new Airkix sky diving attraction and a tenpin bowling alley. Aquadrome is also here with its wide range of leisure facilities including a 25m competition swimming pool, a 20m pool with a feature adjustable floor and a lagoon area with three large flumes. Other highlights include an ice rink, bingo, a multiplex cinema and a gym and fitness studio. Pink and Green buses run regularly to the Leisure Park from Basingstoke Station.
The town’s exceptional arts scene features the three venues – The Haymarket Theatre, The Anvil and The Forge. The Anvil is an acclaimed concert hall with excellent acoustics. Orchestral/ classical music performances regularly feature here as well as live jazz, country, folk, popular music and comedy. The recently refurbished Haymarket Theatre in the town centre first opened as the Corn Exchange in 1864. Today you can catch a mix of drama, musicals, live music and children’s theatre here. The Forge hosts live music performances ranging from folk to classical string quartet and blues.