You know those times where you just need to escape, even if it’s just for one night? Every now and then those moments grip me and I have the urge to get away. It’s great to have something to look forward to. The run up to Christmas 2019 had been a busy one. In fact the second half of the year had been fairly chaotic. For that reason we decided on a weekend location within an hour from home. That location was the wonderful city of Chester. A city full of charm, history and character. I hadn’t properly visited the city for years so it was definitely time to return. We booked a hotel and on a Friday made the 45 minute journey across the Welsh border for a whistle-stop Chester sightseeing break.
The good thing about the city centre of Chester is that it’s a fairly compact. Although small, it’s packed full of beautiful architecture, shops, bars and restaurants including a great independent scene. Whether you’re looking for great shopping, a night out or you just want to soak up the atmosphere, then it’s a city that should be on your list. We only had a one night stay, so needed to cram in as much as possible.
I love visiting cathedrals and try to get to them in every city I visit. I’m not particularly religious, but I have respect for these beautiful buildings and what they represent. A place of calm and worship, but for me, a place to marvel at the stunning architecture and craftsmanship. Oh, and stained glass windows. I love them.
Located in the heart of the city, Chester Cathedral is magnificent. The Gothic structure seen today began construction in 1250 and took about 275 years to complete, although a church stood on this site from 1092. It’s free to enter the cathedral and explore, but there are paid guided tours that provide access to the tower and other inaccessible areas to standard visitors. We arrived late in the day, so didn’t book on a guided tour but I would love to do this next time. Instead, we roamed the aisles taking in the sheer scale and beauty of the building.
There’s a gift shop within the Cathedral selling local and ethically sourced goods, a cafe in the beautiful Refectory and a 4 x 2 metre scale model of the cathedral built from LEGO® – a work in progress. Plenty of things to see unless you want some time to sit and reflect. I’ll definitely be back to explore further.
The construction of the walls date back to 70AD in the Roman era and its thought that the circuit was completed in the mid 12th century. One of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, the walls are the only complete circuit that remain in any city in Britain. There are four main access points onto the walls – Northgate, Eastgate, Watergate and Bridgegate. A full circuit of the walls is just under two miles, and this provides awesome views of the city centre and surrounding area.
The Eastgate Clock is the most photographed location in Chester, and the second most photographed clock in England (after Big Ben). Located at the Eastgate Street entrance to the City Walls, the clock which dates back to 1899 sits atop a three arched section of the city walls that crosses Eastgate Street, right in the heart of the city. The clock has a face on all four sides and sits on an iron structure above the main walkway of the city walls. Even if you don’t want to walk the city walls, this is a section that should be accessed as it provides fantastic views of the city centre. Especially at sunset, and especially in December, don’t you think?
If you haven’t already read some of the wording in the photo above, the let me tell you about The Rows. In the main heart of what is now the shopping area of Chester, The Rows are galleries which were built above the street level store fronts, providing a second row of shops above. These rickety, timbered covered galleries are spread out across Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street and Bridge Street with steps up at varying points along each street. A must see on any Chester sightseeing trip.
Walking along these timbered galleries is a little like stepping back in time. The openings out onto the street provide great views of the beautiful architecture seen above ground level. I always make a point when exploring a city or town centre to look up. At street level, the buildings may look bland with shop window displays and branding, but look up and you’ll see a little bit of history. This is more prominent than ever in Chester with the typical black and white, mock Tudor timber framed buildings all around.
There are boutique shops, cafe and restaurants within The Rows, some with seating areas overlooking the streets below. It’s all very charming.
I would never encourage spending a huge amount of time shopping if your on a whistle-stop Chester sightseeing tour. If however, you do feel the need to explore the shopping area then it’s worth heading into the Grosvenor Shopping Centre via the Bridge Street entrance, to marvel at the beautiful St. Michael’s Row – a Grade II listed shopping arcade built in the early 20th century. It’s a light and airy space with a glazed roof letting in plenty of natural light.
There’s always time for coffee isn’t there. When I’m in a new town or city I will always try and find a great independent coffee shop, rather than head for the large chains. This is where the fabulous Independent Coffee Guide comes in handy. Gifted to us by a friend before we moved to North Wales, the ‘North, Midlands and North Wales’ edition of the Independent Coffee Guide is an awesome collection of the best speciality and independent coffee shops in the region. Thankfully there were a few in Chester, so we made sure to head to one of these.
The Jaunty Goat, located on Bridge Street is a lovely speciality coffee shop with a focus on sustainability and they serve fantastic coffee. From the outside it may look small, but there’s plenty of seating room inside and it’s a great place to take a break from the walking and sightseeing. Jaunty Goat have also opened up a second coffee shop in 2019, this one being on Northgate Street and entirely plant based – pushing that sustainability message even further.
Leaving the Jaunty Goat and turning left, heading down Bridge Street will provide further areas to explore which are outside of the City Walls. Away from the main city centre, this section of the walls follow the River Dee and it’s a nice place to enjoy your time at a gentler pace. The pathway down from the walls leads onto the The Groves, a promenade that heads along the riverside, complete with restaurants, pubs, a bandstand and the picturesque Queens Park Bridge. There’s also the option to take river cruises from this location, or if you prefer, to hire a boat and get out onto the river under your own steam.
From here, an uphill stroll leads through the pretty Roman Gardens back towards the city centre. At Pepper Street, a right turn leads towards the Roman Amphitheatre which dates back to the first century. It may not be as impressive as those seen in mainland Europe, but it is the largest unearthed Roman Amphitheatre in Britain.
A pathway across the amphitheatre leads to the final stop in our very brief Chester sightseeing tour – St John the Baptist Church, an Anglican church dating back to the 11th century. The church itself, whilst impressive, stands next to some equally impressive ruins of a former chapel on the site. These ruins and the grounds of the church are really atmospheric and a lovely place to wander.
I could go one forever gushing about Chester’s beautiful buildings and architecture. The city centre’s lovely timber framed black and white buildings, the cathedral and the city walls all coming together to provide a visually stunning city. Walking between St John the Baptist Church and our hotel for the evening, which was located outside the city walls, I was even more surprised to see another collection of stunning buildings on Bath Street and Grosvenor Park Road. History and beauty around every corner, it would seem.
For our Chester stay, we opted for a brand new hotel which opened in 2019 – the Hotel Indigo Chester, located on Grosvenor Park Road. A stylish luxury hotel, the Hotel Indigo takes influence from the history of the area. The rooms have unique decor that compliments the city’s heritage. The public areas are beautifully decorated and provide a comfortable space to stop for a drink or to relax. The onsite Wood Chester restaurant provides fine dining in relaxed and informal surroundings. It was a fantastic hotel stay and one I would thoroughly recommend, and look forward to my next visit.
Looking for more city breaks in the North West of England? Take a look at my tour around the Northern Quarter of Manchester here.
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