The walled city of Chester on the River Dee has a long and fascinating history. Founded as a Roman fort with the name Deva Victrix, it’s now a vibrant spot in which to spend time exploring. With plentiful places to visit, you won’t be short of things to do in Chester. We’ve visited many times before, and recently spent three days there to bring you the very best of this fascinating city.
- 1 Best Things To Do In Chester: The Art Of Wandering Around
- 2 Chester Rows: Medieval Trading
- 3 Chester Cathedral
- 4 Chester Castle
- 5 Chester Roman Remains and Amphitheatre
- 6 Best Things To Do In Chester: Eating And Drinking
- 7 Shopping In Chester: Cheshire Oaks
- 8 Getting To Chester And Where To Stay
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Best Things To Do In Chester: The Art Of Wandering Around
Chester’s City Walls
As you would expect from a walled city, Chester is a compact place. And this is where the art of wandering around comes in. One of my favourite things to do in Chester is to walk the city walls. Get ready for the superlatives, because this is an amazing part of your visit to the city.
These are the oldest, longest and most complete city walls in Britain. Parts of these walls are over 2000 years old. Just think on that for a minute. Think about the lives of the people who first built earth ramparts and then set stone on stone here. The walls are not just something to see. You can actually walk on top of the walls for spectacular views of the city and beyond. On the way, you’ll pass the towers and gates of ancient Chester.
You can join the walls at any of the city’s main gates: Eastgate, Northgate, Watergate and Bridgegate. But there are also more sets of steps tucked away here and there to join the walls at different spots. There is also ramped access. It’s a two mile walk (only a short expanse of the original construction is missing) around the walls, and comes highly recommended.
Ever taken a photo of Big Ben? Then you need to stop here for a selfie with Britain’s second most photographed clock, set high atop Eastgate. If you see people beneath it, they are walking those city walls. This rather lovely ornate structure was erected to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1899.
The clock was designed by the Cheshire architect John Douglas and has a clock face on four sides. There’s a beautiful copper cupola up top. It’s sited on the original entrance to the Roman fort of Deva Victrix.
The Groves And The River Dee
The Romans chose a great spot for their fortress city, set on the banks of the River Dee. The Dee runs for 70 miles along the Welsh borders. Along its banks, you can walk The Groves, a paved walkway complete with cafes, restaurants and bars. There’s an ornate bandstand and gorgeous river views.
You can explore the river further by pedalo, rowing boat, or even a river cruise. Messing about on the river has much to recommend it, and is definitely one of the best things to do in Chester.
Chester Rows: Medieval Trading
Want to see something unique? Chester’s Rows are buildings with shops or houses on the lowest two storeys. The ground floor is normally several steps below street level in a crypt or vault, with the upper levels of The Rows being a few steps above the street. There are walkways connecting the upper level, with a sloping shelf giving way to railings leading to the street.
You’ll find The Rows in Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street and Bridge Street. To add to their fascination, no one knows quite why they were built this way. I like to think that some medieval merchant had the idea of a small shopping complex, where all your commerce could take place. Wander here, and imagine shedding a medieval coin or two from your drawstring purse for a pair of leather gloves, a wooden trencher or a little scented trinket. Or maybe buy today’s equivalents.
Much of The Rows looks to be medieval, and you will find some elements of the original medieval structures here. But many of the buildings belong to the Victorian black and white revival. If you want to discover more of England’s black and white buildings, take our tour of Herefordshire’s black and white village trail.
Allow more time than you think you will need to explore Chester Cathedral to the fullest. There are 1000 years to experience here, with detail in every tiny window pane and magnificent expanse of the cloisters. This is definitely one of my favourite places to visit in Chester.
The cathedral was first the abbey church of a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saint Werburgh. Today, in addition to its religious usage, Chester Cathedral is also a venue for concerts and events. The Song School dates back to the days of the abbey, and it is here that the cathedral choir practices for its regular choral work. The building is so renowned for music that Handel heard his first recital of Messiah here.
Your way into the cathedral takes you on a well-worn stone path, marveling at stained glass and thinking of the stories of the people commemorated in its panes. Then there are the warm sandstone arches of the cloisters, the side chapels and the breathtaking expanse of the choir with its wooden roof. Each part of the cathedral comes with its own story. For example, construction of the nave was halted for 150 years due to the plague. Today you can visit the towers or see falconry in the gardens for a fee.
Chester Castle was built in 1070 by the second Earl of Chester. Originally it was a motte and bailey tower of wooden construction. The stone tower now known as the Agricola Tower was added in the 12th century, along with accommodation and the Great Hall. King Richard II was once held prisoner in the crypt of the Agricola Tower. Don’t forget to check out the wall paintings, which date back to around 1240.
Like many castles, Chester has held a variety of roles from prison to tax office and court. The crown court remains part of the building in the Shire Hall. The Cheshire Military Museum is housed in the former barracks.
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Chester Roman Remains and Amphitheatre
There are many places to spot the work of the Romans across Chester, including in the gardens and on the city walls.
The Roman amphitheatre here was the largest in Britain and of unique design, showing the importance of Chester. It was used for both entertainment and military training, with the first iteration having been rebuilt on the site. The first amphitheatre was similar to that at Pompeii and had upper tiers of seats accessed via stairs. The rebuild provided vaulted stairways.
It is open during daylight hours.
Best Things To Do In Chester: Eating And Drinking
One tradition that has held over from Roman times in Chester is a love of eating and drinking. We saw so many tempting places to eat during our visit that our stomachs had to admit defeat during extensive research. From cheese shops to international cuisine and wine bars to traditional pubs, you’ll find all kinds of eating and drinking establishments here.
From this and previous visits, we recommend The Bluebell for generous and creative tapas. Just a little further along you’ll find Marmalade, a real treasure for lunches, with delicious sandwiches and soups, plus a cake counter set to have your eyes on stalks. Got food allergies? Either of the above will see you eat safely and well.
If you’d like to try out a traditional pub or two, we recommend the Cross Keys, elegant with stained glass and wood paneling. Or the more contemporary Big Hand Alehouse. Not only does it produce its own beer, but also has a selection from other independent breweries.
That’s not to say that everything in Chester is traditional. If your taste is a little more cocktail bars than pubs, why not check out the opulent and fantastically decorated Palm.
Shopping In Chester: Cheshire Oaks
If you’ve happily wandered the Chester Rows but are not yet shopped out, take a short trip north to Cheshire Oaks. This designer discount village is situated around a ten minute drive north of Chester near Ellesmere Port. Alternatively, you can pick up a bus to Cheshire Oaks from Chester Railway Station. In addition to a wide range of designer offerings, you have a lot of high street chains too, making this a wallet-friendly destination.
Getting To Chester And Where To Stay
Chester is in the county of Chester in the north west of England. It’s a viable day trip from either Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham (a one and a half hour drive), although we’d recommend at least an overnight here to appreciate this compact city full of charms. Take a train from London Euston in two and a quarter hours. That’s probably preferable to driving from London, which will take you around 4 hours via the M40 and M6.
You’ll find all kinds of accommodation choices on the Visit Cheshire website. We most recently stayed in an apartment in The Leadworks near the Shot Tower, within easy walking distance of all the city has to offer.
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