Nottingham’s Secret Stuff – The Hidden Gems
I’ve been exploring Nottingham for 25 years and I still manage to discover new gems even now. And, whenever we visit a new town or city, I always wish I had some insider knowledge, a local tour guide, someone who knows the gen – the best independent shops and unique coffee spots, cool little historical snippets and quirky little places that only the locals know about. Well, I’m that local and if you’re visiting our little corner of the world then I’m here to tell you about all the bits you’d probably miss if you haven’t got your own personal tour guide! So, here we go : 15 Hidden Gems that will enhance your visit and have you feeling like a local.
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Sights Of Nottingham
Once you’ve been to The Castle, The Contemporary, The National Justice Museum and obviously taken my self-guided walking tour, you’ll be wanting to find those hidden gems that not everybody stumbles across, something to do that’s a bit more quirky – so, here we go for starters…
- Tucked away just around the corner from Nottingham Castle and great for a photo opportunity is our very own Robin Hood Statue : an outlaw we affectionately cling to for the fables he robbed from the rich to give to the poor – what a guy! Although, much to the dismay of many visitors, this statue looks nothing like the Errol Flynn version off of Hollywood. But, don’t let that put you off; take a selfie with our well loved mascot, rub his arrow for good luck, and just stop for a minute to think how a guy in tights managed to escape the Sheriff time after time without so much as laddering his hosiery in this forested city. Legend.
- Not too far from the Robin Hood statue stands my 2nd favourite piece of metal – The Sky Mirror by Anish Kapoor. Parked outside the Nottingham Playhouse is this magnificent silver dish by the same guy who made the iconic Cloud Gate in Chicago (aka the bean) : much more famous but not as good at receiving Sky TV. Stick around and you might be lucky enough to witness a few pigeons headbutt the shiny reflective sculpture.
- St James Street NCP Car Park. No, I am not loosing my mind, and, once you’ve made it through the stairwell to the top floor you’ll be asking if I’ve lost my sense of smell too (who pee’s in a stairwell!?) Anyway, you’re at the top now so just enjoy the view. One side offers you a peek through to Old Market Square down Friar Lane and a chance to reminisce about Nottingham’s Tudor version of the current Maid Marion Way. The other side however, allows you brilliant views over Nottingham Castle. No doubt you will include this main tourist attraction in your visit to Nottingham, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in this historical city, but for now you can have an excellent vantage point of our city’s ancient fortress.
- Head into Old Market Square for a little look around. No visit to Nottingham is complete without experiencing the heart of the city. It’s also the country’s second largest public square after, well, the first largest public square (Trafalgar Square in London if you must know). Years ago it was a melting pot of two towns – Anglo-Saxon and French Norman, and the market square was where it all went off! If you look closely at the floor you will notice a metal line leading up towards the Council House – today it works as a drainage channel but a little secret is that years ago this was where the old wall ran that separated these two feisty camps. Not even a lot of Nottinghamians know that!
Note too the left and right lions, also known as Leo and Oscar (Leo on the left) who are infamously etched into the lives of most Nottinghamians as a regular meeting spot for friends. Legend goes that the left lion roars if a virgin walks past and the right lion too if an honest politician passes by.
And, if anyone has seen the Walt Disney film Robin Hood they will know that it was in this very square where Robin won the silver arrow in his arch-enemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s, archery contest – I mean, it’s not Croatia and Game of Thrones but hey, who else can lay claim to a talking fox gracing their town?!
If you’re stood with your back to the Left Lion then just gaze over to your right and take in some of the finest examples of architecture that the man, Watson Fothergill, left to this industrial town. His signature was towers and turrets, often in the Tudor style, and horizontal lines of blue and red bricks. The occasional gargoyle was thrown in for good measure. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more examples of his work whilst you’re here in Nottingham, especially as you make your way up towards Hockley and the Lace Market – his style is synonymous with Nottingham life.
Best Pubs And Bars In Nottingham
Nottingham has the best night life in all of the East Midlands and to cover all the excellent bars would need a blog post all on its own. (I am conscientiously researching this area for the good of my readers and maybe one day that post will arrive, let no one say I am not the charitable Philanthropist). However, there are some that you mustn’t miss whilst you’re visiting the city because either their story or location is weaved into the history of not only this town but this country too.
- Ye Old Trip To Jerusalem – sits at the base of the castle and is apparently the oldest inn in the land – 1189AD to be exact; the same year Richard the Lionheart became king and Pope Gregory the third ordered the crusade to the Holy Land. If that wasn’t enough to warrant a drink, it’s also the home of a haunted galleon ship and a magic chair that gets women pregnant, most of it carved out of the sandstone upon which Nottingham Castle sits above.
- Pitcher & Piano – a stones thrown from Weekday Cross, the original Saxon market place, and set in a large church. It may be a chain but its impressive and atmospheric – a place you really have to experience!
- The Hockley Arts Club – hats off to the genius that has resurrected this joint in the last few years. Tables are hard to come by because its popularity is a reflection of its surroundings. It’s a nod to the industry which put Nottingham on the map… Lace. Once the old managers offices of the Lace Factories down the road, this bar sympathetically recreated the look, along with some extra pizzaz, and went from strength to strength in its individuality. It’s a hidden bar at 20a Carlton Street.
- Revolucion Da Cuba and The Alchemist both fall into the category of ‘excellent cocktail bars in excellent buildings’. That’s a thing in my books and should be in yours too – who doesn’t want a Screaming Orgasm in one of Queen Victoria’s throwback architectural beauties? The ceilings are high, the archetraving is glorious and the bathrooms are delicious. I may have been known to do a sneaky roll, à la Kim Kardashian, on the circular pimp-bed in Revolucion’s girls room.
- Lost Property – opposite The Hockley Arts Club, is another hidden bar that is worth getting your magnifying glass out for. When you see the suitcases you know you are warm and a G&T is within reach. But why here? Well, it’s about time somebody opened a bar which pays homage to the caves of Nottingham. The city has over 600 of them and were long ago one of the few places you could get yourself a pint of Mead in this town. Nowadays, this is one of the best bars to experience a bit of real Nottingham – sat in the limestone caves like bygone days.
- The Malt Cross – A Victorian dance hall that has stood the test of time. My father drank here in his uni days and it’s still just as thriving today. The glazed arched roof and mezzanine balconies are what give it its demeanor and atmosphere, the acoustics make for a great live music venue but also just sing the echo’s of the happy punters – a really great place to have a pint.
Some Of Nottingham’s Other Hidden Gems, Something A Bit Different.
- White Stuff – personally I’m not a fan of the clothes but I’ll often have a wander around upstairs to just enjoy this unique and quirky shop. It has a 6 seat cinema (which you can rent out if you have 5 friends), a sweet shop and free tea and coffee. All in the eccentric and colourful style that it is known for; if only all shops could be like this one! Oh, and the best changing rooms ever…
- 200 Degrees – it became a contender in my bid to find the best coffee shops in Nottingham mostly because I’ve admired this building for years. I mean, the coffee is excellent (and very local), but Flying Horse Walk is over 400 years old! It’s an old Coaching Inn with some very beautiful detailing so if you are going to explore Nottingham and attempt to see all these hidden gems and local joints then you will need a refuel at some point and it doesn’t get more ‘in the know’ than this. You might have to take a while deciding on which cake you want too, Oh, the selection….
- Nottingham Street Art – This isn’t Berlin, Spitalfields or Melbourne with their queue’s of Instagrammers waiting to get their pic but you are in one of the most creative cities in the UK. Nottingham has a great Art Scene and encourages artistic and creative entrepreneurs massively so with that comes its stamp. We’re proud of our affinity with the creative arts and we even have a ‘Creative Quarter’ which encompasses most of the Lace Market and Hockley and that’s where you will find most of our cool street art and graffiti if you’re looking for something different to do. I particularly like Cobden Chambers and Woolpack Lane’s contributions. And the best bit – you don’t have to wait in line for a photo and if you feel like kissing the alien you can kiss the alien, there’s no one around to see you!
- The Brian Clough Monument – Especially for football fans, but even if you’re not, you can’t not pay homage to the guy who gave Nottingham a name and put it on the map in many people’s opinion. One of the greatest football managers in the game’s history, he gave Nottingham Forest 18 years of his talents and propelled them to inconceivable European success. He took the club from 6th from bottom of the Second Division to win back-to-back European Cups in 79′ and 80′. Only him and Robin Hood have their own sculptures in this town so if you’re going to acknowledge the green-smocked outlaw you should also take notice of Old Big ‘Ead’s influence on our sporting city too.
- Green’s Windmill – Just a short walk (about a mile) from Nottingham’s Market Square, sits an old Nottingham legacy that not many are aware of; the home of one of the world’s greatest mathematicians. George Green was a child genius who only stayed in school until he was 10, leaving to work in his fathers bakery. The windmill still functions today, when the weather is right, and not only can you pick up some award-winning organic flour but you can also visit the adjoining museum for free to find out more about the things which interested George Green – electricity, magnetism, light, sound and waves. He may have failed to complete his schooling but his mathmatical theories are used by scientists and engineers all over the world still. It’s a great little museum for kids if you’re looking for things to do in Nottingham, something a bit different, its free and you can also get right to the top of this working mill.
Note: Green’s Windmill gets a mention in my other post A Family Mini Break In Nottingham but make sure you have a read for some more top idea’s of stuff to do with kids in Nottingham – there’s plenty going on!
So, there you have it : My insiders knowledge on all the bits of Nottingham you may not stumble across if you’re only here for a short while – 15 things to do and see to give you a real feel for this city. And, if you’re looking for some top nosh for lunch then look no further – I have the best 5 Burger Joints right here for your perusal! Have fun in this brilliant city and be sure to let me know how you got on!
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