If you’re looking for a few of the best things to do in Chester, then you’ve come to the right place. And, if you don’t have much time at your disposal, you may be pleased to know that all of the things to do in Chester that I’ve listed in this post can be completed in just one day in the city.
Inspired by my recent day trip to Birmingham, when last month’s payday rolled around and I found myself with a flexi-day at my disposal (one of the great benefits of working in the Public Sector), I decided that it was time to re-discover the delights of my old university city.
Much as I loved living in Chester, as a student I didn’t really have the disposable income to explore the place as a tourist might. I did explore the inside of a few of its pubs (the Old Boot Inn up on the rows was a firm favourite), spent many a Summer afternoon
studying relaxing in Grosvenor Park, and became a regular customer of my closest supermarket – Tesco on Frodsham Street – but that was about the extent of my familiarisation with the city.
And once I moved away, Chester became somewhere I primarily used for the odd shopping trip every now and then. Because I’d lived there for three years, it didn’t feel exotic enough as a place to visit for tourism purposes.
But now, enough time had passed that I was curious. So, I did a quick bit of internet research on things to do in Chester and places to eat and drink, and hopped on a train early last Friday morning, aiming to arrive in time to enjoy breakfast in the city.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. All this means is that if you make a purchase through one of the links I have provided, I will earn a small commission as a result but the cost to you will remain exactly the same.
Things to do in Chester
1 | Have breakfast at Bean and Cole
Prior to visiting I contacted Bean and Cole via their Facebook page to ask if they served breakfast and whether they could send me a photo of their menu. Less than five minutes later two photos turned up in my inbox, one of their standard daily menu and one of their specials menu that changes every few weeks, along with an offer to adapt or combine any of the menu items to my personal taste. This may have been prompted by my question,
“is it possible to have avocado AND salmon toast?”
Ian McCardle and his partner Nicole were inspired to open Bean and Cole following a year-long trip to Australia. Although coffee is the primary focus here, they do have a small menu that focuses on seasonal food sourced from local suppliers. Bean and Cole has only been open since June 2018 and already they are rated number 3 out of a total of 352 restaurants in Chester on Trip Advisor.
Although they don’t serve eggs, as soon as I tasted my smashed avocado and rocket on toast with a side of fresh smoked salmon, I didn’t really miss not having them.
Address: 41 Frodsham Street, Chester, CH1 3JJ | Opening times: 08:30-17:00 hours Monday to Friday, 09:00-18:00 hours on a Saturday and 10:00-16:00 hours on a Sunday.
2 | Photograph the famous Eastgate Clock
The Eastgate clock is just a couple of minutes’ walk from Bean and Cole, and if you arrive there just after breakfast it should still be quiet enough for you to capture a photograph without the crowds. You’ll pass Lush on route, if you need to stock up on your eco-friendly toiletries (I’m a huge fan of their products but we don’t have a store in my hometown).
Said to be the most photographed clock in England after Big Ben, Chester’s Eastgate Clock was designed by architect John Douglas and was added to the top of the gateway in 1889.
3 | Walk the 2.9 kilometre circuit of the old city walls
If you’ve not visited Chester before, this is a great way to orientate yourself with the city. You can hop on the walls right by the Eastgate Clock and follow them in a rectangular-shaped circuit around the city.
Chester is actually the only city in Britain to retain the full circuit of its defensive city walls. Its walls are also the oldest (parts date back over 2000 years) and longest existing defensive city walls remaining in the UK. They incorporate several medieval structures (primarily towers), as well as four major medieval gates – of which the aforementioned Eastgate is one.
Not only will a walk along the walls give you a fantastic insight into Chester’s long history, but due to the fact that the majority of the circuit is completed along a raised walkway, you’ll also be treated to some fantastic views of the city as well as alternative perspectives of its famous landmarks.
4 | Visit the cathedral and take a tower tour
Chester Cathedral started life as a Benedictine Abbey in 1093, but has been functioning as a cathedral since 1541. It’s the most imposing building in the city and is definitely well worth a visit. The cathedral houses the most complete set of monastic buildings in the country, as well as a picturesque Georgian Square at its core.
If you’ve got a head for heights and are interested in learning a little more about the history of the cathedral, you can book yourself on one of their multi-award winning tower tours – Cathedral at Height. There are two tours to choose from – a 30-minute tour (the one I did) which visits the tower and bell-ringing chamber, or a 60-minute one which also goes up into the cathedral galleries.
The tours only run at certain times of the day and I would advise booking in advance to secure your place. The view from the top of the cathedral tower is arguably the best you’ll get of Chester without a drone.
Even if you’re not much of a history buff, there is a regular calendar of cultural events to keep you entertained.
Saving the Deep is a topical, thought-provoking installation by Jacha Potgieter that’s currently on display (finishes on 31 October 2019) in the cathedral’s cloisters. It incorporates sculptures that have been created from waste collected from just three beach visits.
5 | Check out the medieval-era Rows
Chester Rows are covered walkways above the ground level buildings on four of Chester’s main streets (Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street and Upper Bridge Street) and are accessed by sets of stone steps, located at regular intervals along these streets.
Along the rows you’ll find entrances to more shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs that are, in most cases, not accessible from ground level.
The Rows are unique to Chester and no-one really knows why they’ve been built in this way, but records of their existence date back as far as 1293.
6 | Stop for coffee at the Jaunty Goat
You’re probably well overdue a coffee by now, so before heading outside the city walls, stop at The Jaunty Goat for a pick-me-up. There are two Jaunty Goats in Chester now – the original one on Bridge Street and the new one on Northgate Street, which is an entirely animal-free vegan cafe. If you prefer your coffee with cow’s milk, you’ll need to head to the one on Bridge Street.
I always favour independently-owned coffee shops over popular high street chains and Jaunty Goat serve great tasting, traceable coffee in a relaxed environment with beautiful, Scandinavian-inspired decor.
It’s not the cheapest but I’ve always received great service here and the staff are clearly passionate about their craft.
7 | Learn about Chester’s Roman history at Britain’s largest Roman Amphitheatre
Although you’ll find Roman remains all over the city (a window in the floor of Pret a Manger on Northgate Street reveals some original Roman pillars in the basement, and you’ll also find an old Roman heating system beneath Bridge Street’s Spud-u-Like), Chester’s Roman Amphitheatre is definitely the star of the show.
You’ll find it smack bang in the middle of the city at the bottom of St. John Street, so a visit here does feel rather surreal. You can walk out the Travelodge hotel on Bridge Street (a symbol of the modern world) and be standing inside a piece of centuries-old history in less than a minute.
Also less than a minute away, on Pepper Street, you’ll find Chester’s Roman Gardens. Bordered by the city walls and containing fragments of excavated fortresses, the Roman Gardens were constructed in 1949 and are a peaceful little haven away from the crowds of Chester’s nearby shopping streets.
8 | Search for the medieval coffin of St. John
Just past the ancient Roman amphitheatre outside the city walls lies the half-ruined Church of St. John the Baptist. Dating back to the 11th century, the sandstone structure is a mix of Norman and early English Gothic architecture and is one of the oldest churches in Chester.
The church is pretty nice inside, but you’ll need to head to the ruins outside to search for the medieval coffin.
It took me a while to find it, but if you walk inside the South Eastern Chapel (identifiable by the metal plaque on a low table with stones placed on top), turn around 180 degrees and then look up, you’ll see a wooden coffin (carved out of a single block of oak) set high into the right hand arch.
The coffin was discovered by a church sexton while digging up a grave in a disused section of the cemetery, and placed out of the reach of passersby upon order of the rector.
9 | Take a wander around Grosvenor Park
Grosvenor Park is a Grade II registered, Green Flag Award winning public park that overlooks the river Dee just outside of Chester’s historic walls.
I used to love spending time here as a student. I studied English Literature so a lot of my time working towards my degree was spent reading books, and I can’t think of a nicer place in the centre of the city to do just that – especially on a warm, sunny Summer’s day.
Something new I discovered about Grosvenor Park though, this time around, is the number of grey squirrels there are scurrying up and down the trees. This one even stood on the grass and posed for me.
You’ll also find some interesting pieces of artwork scattered around.
10 | Head down to the river
Once you’ve admired it from above in Grosvenor Park, you can then follow a series of stone steps down towards the river Dee. You’ll arrive at Queens Park Bridge, where a left-hand turn will take you to the Boathouse (an attractive riverside pub, which also used to be a firm university favourite) or a right-hand turn will take you a little further along the river to the Old Dee Bridge. For the purposes of this itinerary, you’ll need to take a right.
Admire the picturesque riverside views to your left before turning back into the centre of town up Lower Bridge Street.
Lower Bridge Street is home to some beautiful old architecture, including Ye Olde Kings Head, a timber-framed building that dates back to 1208.
11 | Admire some artwork courtesy of Chester Visual Arts
Chester Visual Arts are a charity whose primary goal is to create a permanent public art gallery in Chester. You can check out their website to find out about the exhibitions and installations currently on display in the city.
As I write this (August 2019), the major V&A (Victoria and Albert) exhibition ‘Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers’ is making its first stop on its tour outside of London, at the Old Library on Northgate Street. It features some really interesting artwork from the pioneers of digital art over the past 50 years.
The exhibition is open Wed-Sun 11:00-17:00 hours, until Sunday 8 September 2019. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.
12 | Enjoy some delicious plant-based food at Hypha
Hypha market themselves as:
“Chester’s first plant-based sustainable venue.”
This immediately appealed to me because, whilst I’m not vegan (I would love to be but I have such a weakness for cheese!), I do love vegan food, and every single vegan restaurant I’ve ever eaten at has been amazing!
Hypha was no exception.
Their small-plate menu (they don’t like to call it tapas because, well, it’s not Spanish) is micro-seasonal, so it changes regularly depending on what’s fresh and what’s most easily sourced in any given month.
It took me what seemed like an age of perusing the menu to finally narrow my choice down to three dishes. I went for:
- Roast fennel and citrus hummus, with za’atar, extra virgin olive oil, fennel fronds and sourdough flatbread.
- Kale, brown rice and avocado salad, with white sesame brown rice, micro mint and “pico de gallo” shrub.
- Hand-cut dan dan noodles, with ginger and garlic minced tofu, mixed peppercorns, pickled pak choi, micro coriander, spring onion, white sesame and roasted chilli oil.
Every thing was absolutely perfect and bursting with flavour. And I just about managed to eat it all!
13 | Take a walk along the canal towpath
As I was heading back to the train station after my meal at Hypha, the quickest route there was along the canal towpath, so I was able to tick another activity off the itinerary.
To be honest, I’d actually forgotten Chester even had canals.
The Shropshire Union Canal skirts Chester’s old city walls, running for a total of 107 kilometres (66.5 miles) from Ellesmere Port to Autherley Junction Stop Lock, close to Oxley, north Wolverhampton.
Assuming you’re not leaving Chester along its canal towpath, you’ll need to jump off by the Old Harkers Arms. This brings you back up on to City Road, just minutes from Chester’s train station, from where you can head home.
Getting to Chester
Chester is located in the north west of England close to the border of Wales (in fact, my train journey from Shrewsbury takes me through the Welsh towns of Ruabon, Chirk and Wrexham). It’s 318 kilometres and a three hour forty minute journey by car from London. If you take the train, it’s slightly quicker.
Alternatively, it’s just an hour from Manchester or 40 minutes from Liverpool, so makes a great day trip if you’re visiting either of those cities.
If you’re travelling by train within the UK, you can save a lot of money by booking fares in advance. Book your tickets with trainline via Top Cashback and you’ll even get cash back too!
Where to stay in Chester
As I live only a 60-minute train journey from Chester and I had no plans to explore the city’s nightlife on a Friday night on my own, I didn’t factor in an overnight stay on this occasion. But I did my research on places to stay in Chester, should I visit again in the future with Stu or friends in tow.
Although I do splash out from time to time, I’m mostly a budget traveller, so all these properties advertise rooms on a Friday or Saturday night for under £100 (correct August 2019).
1 | Hotel Indigo
Take one look at the photos of this place and you’d think you’d be paying prices well in excess of £100; it’s stunning!
Newly opened in 2019 and located just inside the walls on the eastern edge of the city centre, Hotel Indigo has 75 guest rooms and its very own restaurant that’s owned and run by Chef Patron Simon Wood, MasterChef Champion in 2015.
Breakfast is a bit pricey at £17 per head, but I imagine that’s where the hotel makes its money.
A short walk from Chester’s train station, Base Serviced Apartments City Road offer serviced apartments (complete with fully-fitted kitchen, dining area and lounge) and double rooms.
The double rooms even came in at under £50 per night on the dates I checked.
You can’t get much more central than this – right opposite Chester Cathedral. The Coach House Inn is, as its name suggests, a former 19th century coaching inn. There’s only eight rooms, so don’t leave it too late to book!
Both the pub (downstairs) and accommodation (upstairs) have won awards, and reviewers praise the “friendly staff,” “central location,” and “great breakfast,” the latter of which is included in the room rate.
Roomzzz is a modern apartment-style hotel located next to the city’s racecourse and just 300 metres from the the cathedral and central shopping area.
All apartments come with a fully-equipped kitchen, but if you’d rather not use it to cook all your meals, there’s a ‘grab-and-go’ breakfast included each morning.
Really smart, modern, and brand new (opened July 2019) budget accommodation that’s located just 500 metres from Chester Cathedral, along – as the name suggests – one of the canal towpaths.
Each private room comes with its own shower room, and access to a huge shared kitchen and living area. For the dates I checked the nightly price for a double room was just £42.
It’s also just a stone’s throw from what used to be (and still is as far as I can fathom) one of Chester’s best live music venues – Telford’s Warehouse.
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