Chester Travel Guide
Never before have I ever encountered so many computer geeks wearing Star Wars hoodies in one place!
Before our trip I had visions of Chester being a glamorous city set to the back-drop of old Tudor homesteads and ladies with stationery faces that lunch in boutique eating establishments – perhaps I watch a bit too much Real Housewives of Cheshire!
En route to Chester we passed a whole county of large neo-gothic-tudor mansions and Bugatti’s sat on driveways next to manicured topiary. Oh, and the odd gigantic straw bunny. Obviously the area has money so I was mildly excited about the prospect of spending a couple of days eating fine food and people-watching the rich and famous whilst dabbling a bit in my second favourite hobby of wiki-reading the pants off of *Chester* (insert any destination). Unfortunately for me it seems that the Coleen’s and Abbey’s of this world prefer the likes of Alderley Edge and Wilmslow, and Chester has been left to folk more in tune with the role-play rules of Dungeons and Dragons than the rules of a good gourmet burger.
Nevertheless, our little 2 night break was far from a disappointment as it completely exceeded my expectations from a historical point of view – and most importantly, we didn’t need to Google anything!
I already knew of Chester’s Tudor heritage and it was the pretty black and white buildings which had drawn me in initially. ‘The Rows’ is Chester’s main thoroughfare – a shopping high street that gives you double for your money, named The Rows because each section has an upper and lower level of shops, 2 rows, enclosed in a very ornate walkway. Nowhere else in the world is this unique design to be found and whats more, it totally appeals to my rather inadequate weather-defense-gene : I hate bad weather! Chester was obviously designed by a woman, who loved to keep her shopping bags dry.
Second only to Big Ben is the worlds most photographed clock at the gateway to The Rows. Known as the Eastgate Clock, it sits on top of the old Roman wall, shining in the sun, ready for its thousand daily selfies. It’s a beaut, and well worth a photograph.
Walk The Wall
If I have one piece of advice for your mini break to Chester, it’s ‘walk the wall’. For 2 millenia these walls have protected Chester, since the time when it was a prosperous port town (a fact which blew my mind, being that the nearest stretch of coast now lies 30 miles away). Apparently the estuary silted up and the only signs of a busy Roman trade route nowadays lie in the remains of architecture that can be spotted from various points on your circular 2 mile wall walk.
If you walk clockwise from the Eastgate Clock the first landmark you’ll encounter is the great cathedral, medieval, built in 1092. Entrance is free and there are several tours daily to explain this cathedrals rich history. If you don’t have time for a tour then my highlights would be the architecture in the cloisters, the hand painted murals in the main church and a particularly ornate lecturn which you can’t miss, the golden eagle.
Carry on along the walls and you’ll find yourself parallel with the Chester Cathedral Falconry and Nature Gardens, open 10-4 every day. The entrance fee is only £3 but from the city walls you get a free elevated vantage of the flying displays that take place, with Eagles, Falcons, Hawks and even a comedy vulture.
Sick To Death Museum
You learn a lot about society by the way it treats its sick and poor and this relatively new museum on the city walls endeavours to share with you some of Chester’s history through its use of medicines and the health of the townsfolk. Some of it is pretty gory and some of it is pretty gruesome but I’m always up for a bit of blood and guts so the prospect of killing an hour or two reliving medical history through sight, smell and touch is always going to appeal to me. With a brucey bonus of an original and working camera obscura at the top of the tower. Admission £4.74, £2.75 for kids over 5.
Officially the oldest racecourse still in use in the country and the reason why your little ones call horses ‘geegee’s’ – Mayor Henry Gee gave the initial consent for the first race back in February 1539! But this spot was once a harbour for tall ships and following that – a football pitch for some of the bloodiest and violent games of football history. Again, the vantage point from the walls is a great free spectator spot for the horse racing and celebrity spotting. Tickets start at £10.
The River Dee
Follow the walls around to the left, past the university and you can take the most pleasant of strolls along the River Dee. College boaters practice for races alongside some of the boat-tour companies whilst folk walk their dogs and children chase squirrels on the banks of the river. There are several pretty bridges along this stretch and the cafe The Moorings and the riverside inn, The Boathouse, are ideal spots to stop for an Eccles cake with great views of the river and an opportunity to watch boaters load and unload their racing shells into the Rowing Club next door. Wet lycra anyone?
Chesters Roman Amphitheatre
Cut back to the walls, behind the Suspension Bridge, past the Church of John The Baptist, but not before you’ve stood a little and marvelled at the remains of Britain’s largest Roman Amphitheatre. Built 2000 years ago it would have been used for military practice and entertainment, or knowing the Romans – both at the same time!
Remarkably, after homes were built directly on top of it in Medieval Britain, the site was only discovered and excavated in the 1950’s and more of Chester’s rich history was pieced together, the thought of it being a prosperous and influential port town became even more apparent.
I was absolutely impressed by the amount of information plaques in and around Chester, detailing some of the city’s heritage and history – a feature that would do well in my home town of Nottingham if only someone could get their finger out! It made for an interesting and informative few days and really enhanced our visit, well done Chester Borough Council!
Chester’s Best Restaurants and Bars
Like I said earlier, I was most disappointed by the lack of good places to eat in Chester despite the wealth that seemingly surrounds the area, or maybe Nottingham just spoils me too much. That said, we did discover a few pearls and I’ll happily share them with you;
The Old Boot Inn
Dating back to 1643, this is the kind of traditionally English drinking hole that Americans rub their knees at. No frills, authentic and atmospheric. It’s situated at 9 Eastgate Row and boy has this place seen some stories! Don’t order food, this is definitely a place to just enjoy a pint alongside the locals, and you’ll no doubt strike up a conversation as they’re a friendly bunch and most of the seats face inwards like they’re awaiting a cock-fight to begin – it’s hard to avoid eye contact with a seating arrangement like this. Great place!
The Brewery Tap
A Jacobean hall from the 1600’s which once gave hospitality to King Charles I before a battle in the Civil War. Previously owned by the Gamuls, a wealthy merchant family of Chester, this pub now boasts the best selection of cask ales in town. And the grub is good too, freshly prepared and from local growers and suppliers – these guys take pride in their hospitality and it’s a definite consideration if you’re after a hearty meal. I love the fact that it’s still traditionally decorated and no one has tried to convert it to gastro pub tastes.
A Georgian home and garden room overlooking the racecourse. An unpretentious Gastro pub which clearly likes to serve British food but isn’t scared to merge the flavours with foreign influences. This is a menu which you may find hard to conquer, there is so much choice and it all sounds wonderful! The setting is beautiful but it lends itself to both casual and intimate dining. Mains range from £11 -£20 and it’s a popular spot so booking is advisable.
I’ve been in a few Botanists across the country and they never fail to impress. If you merged a junk yard, an antique apothecary and high end florist you may possibly create something along the lines of one of these bars. They’re beautiful and raw and ultimately serve the best array of Botanical cocktails to a soundtrack of live music (every night) with a large helping of ‘I’ll have what he’s having’ menu. Or, you could just nibble on a bowl of chippolatas and save yourself for one of their most indulgent desserts. This place is an easy win for me and the low lighting makes is a choice for just drinks and background (musical) entertainment.
We stayed at the Hotel Roomz in Chester, which I can’t recommend enough. The prices may be more budget range but the room was far from budget; immaculately modern and with cooking facilities too. Click here to book.
Like I said, Chester didn’t disappoint and I hope you’ve been inspired to visit too. Plus, I’d love to hear of more great places to eat so drop me a line if you have any recommendations. And, don’t forget to subscribe for a notification of my latest posts.
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