Travel Review: Plenty to explore in historic Chester
If you fancy a weekend away with your significant other, a friend or a family member, why not choose Chester?
The charming city is packed with history and offers unique boutiques, quirky cafes and restaurants, alongside the usual high street chains.
And as Chester isn’t the biggest city, it is possible to explore and make the most of its charms on foot.
A friend and I spent a couple of nights at Hotel Indigo – a contemporary boutique hotel which opened in June 2019 in Grosvenor Park Road. Just a short walk from the heart of Chester, the stylish hotel’s rooms were designed to reflect the city’s famous architecture and the oldest racecourse in the UK.
There are 75 guest rooms, decorated in three beautiful themes, each inspired by the history and locality. All rooms are equipped with Hypnos beds with luxury Egyptian cotton linen, spa-inspired bathrooms, Nespresso coffee machines, high speed Wi-Fi and a 40-inch flat screen TV.
Meals are served in the 70-seater restaurant, which is home to chef and restaurateur Mike Robinson’s The Forge which opened in 2021. The Forge continues Robinson’s passion for British food, using only British ingredients, with an emphasis on wild produce and sustainability. The open kitchen cooks over wood and charcoal, using amazing wild and locally reared meat, that is all aged on the premises.
The ever-changing menu offers a choice of dishes, including dishes such as oysters and mackerel for starter, ristto or beef brisket for main, and pannacotte or apple and whickey souffle for dessert.
The restaurant continues the stylish look of the hotel with vibrant colours and comfortable seating.
A table for breakfast needs to be pre-booked and a warm welcome is always on the menu. The top notch service was matched by the delicious and extensive choice of continental and traditional English breakfast options.
I plumped for scrambled eggs and salmon on the second morning and it was delicious and cooked perfectly. The ideal start to a day spent exploring what this historic city has to offer.
A must for any trip to Chester is the historic Rows – the city’s medieval network of open galleries at first floor level that line the main streets in the centre. The Rows boast a mix of high-street names and individual boutiques as well as galleries and more. To find out more about the unique network, a self-guided audio tour is now available at www.visitchester.com/discover-the-rows. Tours are also available at www.romantoursuk.com and www.chestertours.org.uk
From one historic shopping experience to a much more modern one. Just opened in Northgate Street is the new Chester Market. The market is open six days per week and replaces the one which had been located in the Forum since it opened in 1967. The site of the new market has seen every part of Chester’s history, from Roman barracks and stores, Saxon houses, Viking jewellers, medieval streets, Church missions, schools, a foundry and most recently a bus station.
The Romans considered Chester for their capital because of its strategic position on the edge of the Celtic Badlands. It wasn’t to be, but Deva Victrix remained the site of a well-connected fort. Remnants remain, particularly the foundations of the city walls, which are the most complete circuit of Roman and medieval city walls in the UK.
It’s worth taking a walk around the walls, from which you can take an overview of most of the major sights in a leisurely hour or so.
The 11th-century cathedral is a city highlight and it’s possible to take a cathedral at height tour, where you climb to the top of the tower for a fabulous view over the city, across the surrounding countryside and towards the Welsh hills.
The original cathedral, until 1541, was St John the Baptist, on Vicar’s Lane, which has some ruins at one side, as well as an impressive entrance arch and acclaimed Norman interiors, with a 14th-century wall painting of St John. Next to the church is an excavated section of the city’s Roman amphitheatre, the UK’s largest and one of the reasons why the historians think Chester was considered by the Romans for a capital. Just around the corner are the Roman Gardens, which celebrate the Romans’ love of leisure gardening and contain original and reproduction artefacts from those found around the city.
The Grosvenor Museum has a fascinating collection of Roman gravestones, which tell the stories of gladiators and other people of that times.
An unusual take on local history is now available at Sick To Death, an entertaining new museum that tells the gory tale of medicine through time. The team has just opened the Deva Roman Discovery Centre, too. Popular, in particular, with younger visitors, Sick to Death offers you the opportunity to meet the Grim Reaper and Asclepius, the ancient Greek God of medicine, as they guide you through the weird and wonderful history of medicine.
And for a different viewpoint on Chester, we took a half-hour city cruise with ChesterBoat. The family-owned company has over 40 years’ experience of welcoming visitors to the beautiful River Dee. The tour takes you on a scenic trip to the city limits with an informative commentary.
On selected dates from May to September, ChesterBoat runs a two-hour Iron Bridge Cruise. The company also offers private charters – a great way to celebrate special occasions and set sail after dark in December.
Other city centre attractions include Storyhouse, the arts hub, set in the city’s old Art Deco cinema. Grosvenor Park is the city’s main green space and features a miniature railway. The park is next to The Groves, the promenade by the River Dee, which you can stroll along. Further along, the walls overlook Chester Racecourse, aka The Roodee, the oldest working racecourse in Britain.
Chester also offers a wide choice of cafes and restaurants serving a whole host of cuisines, from Mediterranean/Greek at The Olive Tree to Hickory’s Smokehouse serving American favourites and The Architect with its pub classics.
And with a choice of pubs and bars, Chester really does have all the ingredients for a great weekend.