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A weekend in Chester

A weekend in Chester

It was my first trip to Chester but I felt a distinct case of déjà vu. It was like someone had taken the best bits from cities around the UK and spliced them together. The Roman walls could’ve been from York, the riverside from Bath, the cathedral from Canterbury and the canalside from Birmingham. It was like a highlights reel from my weekend break guides! Chester’s position means it could easily be overshadowed by its bigger, brasher neighbours Manchester and Liverpool. But it packs a lot into a small space and has plenty of character, history and style of its own. So here’s my guide to spending 48 hours in Chester.

More weekend guides: Oxford, Bath, Cheltenham, Cambridge, Canterbury, RyeCardiff, York, Glasgow
Chester riverside

The River Dee

Friday evening

Check into the Roomzzz Chester City, a modern apartment-style hotel by the racecourse. Each room comes with a mini-kitchen with hob, fridge and dishwasher if you want to whip up your own food. There’s also a ‘grab and go’ breakfast where you can help yourself to pastries, fruit, juice and coffee. Rooms start from £60 a night. Or if you want to splash out then head to the Grosvenor, a Chester institution in a black and white building in the heart of the city. It’s real old-fashioned luxury, from the top-hatted doorman and crystal chandeliers to the Michelin-starred restaurant and Elemis spa. Rooms from £150 a night.

Have dinner at Upstairs at the Grill, a two-storey New York-style steakhouse near the racecourse. As you’d guess they specialise in steak, with a range of different cuts of local meat dry-aged for five weeks. If you’re not a steak fan there are dishes like lamb rump, lobster and pan-fried sole on the menu too.

Chester cathedral

Chester cathedral

Saturday morning

Start the day with a big breakfast and get your comfy shoes on for a circuit of the city walls. The first walls were built by the Romans back when Chester was a fortress known as Deva Victrix, and they’ve been added to over the years. They run for two miles in a circuit around the old city, with medieval gates and towers along the way. You pass under the ornate Eastgate Clock, built on top of a bridge to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. It’s England’s second-most-photographed clock, beaten only by Big Ben’s clock tower. There are some remnants of Chester’s Roman history around too, including Britain’s largest Roman Amphitheatre and fragments from the old Roman Baths in the Roman Gardens.

Next head inside Chester’s most imposing building – the cathedral. It started life as an abbey before becoming a cathedral in 1541, and you can climb the tower for one of the best views of Chester. There are a couple of different tower tours – a 30-minute one (£6 per person) which visits the tower and bell-ringing chamber, and a one-hour one (£8 adults or £6 children) which also goes up into the cathedral galleries. There are usually a few tours each day, except Sundays – check their website for dates and times. Then walk just around the corner for lunch at Ginger, a friendly, relaxed little wine bar and deli which serves homemade soups, sandwiches and meat and cheese platters along with a good range of wines.

Chester by night

Food at Ginger and a Chester sunset

Saturday afternoon

Chester is home to the original medieval version of a shopping mall – the Rows. These double-decker shops are unique to Chester (and a good place to hide out if it rains). Each black and white building has a layer of shops or restaurants on the ground floor, then another on a raised level above. The shops are great for browsing, with a mix of High Street favourites and local independents. Or if you’re a serious shopper then head just out of town to Cheshire Oaks – a big designer outlet village with over 145 shops.

Have a pre-dinner drink in the Secret Garden at Oddfellows hotel, with cocktails in summer and hot toddies and an outdoor fireplace in winter. Then have dinner at Porta, a cosy tapas bar under Chester’s Northgate Bridge. It’s owned by the brothers who set up the popular deli-restaurant Joseph Benjamin next door. There are a lots of traditional tapas dishes on the menu, like croquetas, patatas bravas, ox cheeks and lentil and chorizo stew, along with with a selection of Spanish sherries, wines and cavas.

Chester Rows

The Rows

Sunday morning

Take a morning boat trip on the River Dee (adults £7.50, concessions £6.50 and children £2.50, with a discount if you book in advance online). Half-hour city tours departs at least once an hour from The Groves. They take you upstream under the Queen’s Park suspension bridge, past Grosvenor Park and through the meadows. Along the way you get background on the city’s history and some great views.

Next talk a walk along the Shropshire Union Canal, which runs along the edge of the city. The towpath passes the city walls and converted industrial buildings, locks and narrow boats. Then refuel with Sunday lunch at Artichoke in a former mill on the canalside (it gets busy though so it’s a good idea to reserve a table). If it’s sunny grab a spot outside by the water, or head inside where it still has the original bare bricks and iron columns from its days as a warehouse. As well as a choice of roasts there are Mediterranean-style salads and pizzas on the lunch menu, as well as a selection of craft beers and an immense gin list.

Chester canals

Along the Shropshire Union Canal

Sunday afternoon

Finish off your weekend with a trip to the zoo. Chester Zoo is on one of the largest zoos in the country with over 20,000 animals (adults £24 and children £20 on the gate, but you can save about 30% if you book online in advance). It’s just outside the city and if you don’t have a car it takes about 20 minutes on the number 1 or X8 bus. It was founded in 1930 and focuses on conserving endangered species and keeping the environment as natural as possible. You can visit replicas of South-East Asian islands as well as the Elephant House, a Black Rhino reserve and the Realm of the Red Ape, and there are lots of activities for kids.

Chester city walls

Chester city walls

Have you visited Chester? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?

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How to spend a weekend in Chester in north-west England, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink on a 48-hour escape to this pretty historic city.

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38 Comments

  • Reply
    backpackinginheels
    December 14, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Nice to see someone review somewhere different in the UK! I’m from the North so really pleased to see you write up Chester. Great pics too. x

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:41 pm

      Thank you! Have so many great cities across the UK it’s tough to pick which one to choose next but I’m planning on heading to explore some more places in the north soon.

  • Reply
    Darlene
    December 14, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Looks like a fascinating place. Must check it out!!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      It’s a nice weekend spot with a good mix of things to do – and some lovely scenery!

  • Reply
    anael2011bensalhem
    December 14, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Cool

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    December 14, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    A nice review, Lucy. It’s a long while since I spent a weekend in Chester and the weather was indifferent but it is a city with a lot of character. I’m off to see what you recommend in York. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      The weather does make a difference in my feelings about a place, luckily we had some lovely late autumn weather this time!

  • Reply
    beingbuttons
    December 14, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Think I definitely need to add Chester to my list of places to visit next year – it sounds like a combination of all my favourite places! I fell in love with the zoo a long time ago, but don’t remember actually seeing the city itself.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Chester is lovely – perfect weekend break size and lots of nice bits to wander around and stop for tea and cake so it’s a nice relaxing weekend!

  • Reply
    Heyjude
    December 15, 2016 at 12:16 am

    Looks like another place I need to add to the list. Possibly with Liverpool as I haven’t been there either! You pack in a lot during your weekends Lucy! The New York style steakhouse is very tempting. I do like a really good steak and they are not easily found.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      I do try to see a lot! I’ve done a one-night trip to Liverpool but would like to see a bit more sometime, the UK city break list never gets any shorter…

  • Reply
    Kate
    December 15, 2016 at 9:53 am

    I’ve never heard of Chester, but it’s so charming and quaint! Might need to pencil it in for an upcoming day trip!

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      It definitely deserves to be more well known – hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    Tanja
    December 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    beautiful town!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      Thanks, it’s a lovely place!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    December 19, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Wow Chester looks gorgeous! Since moving back to the UK I’m obsessed with local breaks and I really want to head North now 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 20, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      I do love a good British weekend break! Have so many more places I’d like to explore, lots of them in the north too.

  • Reply
    Thomas
    December 20, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Seems like I have to go to Chester 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 20, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      You should, it’s a great place!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    December 20, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    That does sound like a perfect weekend! I’ve never been to Chester but having read this I know I’d love it.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 20, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      I’m sure you would, it has some great places to explore – and is so photogenic!

  • Reply
    Esmee's Photography Blog
    December 20, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I like your photos! Seems even more beautiful if it snows 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      Thank you! Yes I bet it would be gorgeous in the snow.

  • Reply
    Sara
    December 20, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    I enjoyed reading your guide to Chester. I hadn’t heard of the Rows. It makes me want to go and explore!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 22, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      The Rows were great – I’m not normally much of a shopper but it was really nice place to browse.

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    December 20, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Isn’t Chester just the best?
    I’m originally from Manchester, but my family moved to Cheshire about 30 odd years ago! Even though I live in Berlin, I did my Masters at Chester University. It was just so lovely taking river walks, and jumping on the Roman Wall near my faculty! 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 22, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      What a great place to study! It’s such a lovely place.

  • Reply
    Sara Dobak
    December 21, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    I shamefully admit to only having had half an idea where Chester even was, before reading this – and you’ve done it again, Lucy – i.e. inspired me to visit SO much more of the UK as soon as possible. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 22, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      My mission is complete then! It’s been so nice discovering places that aren’t so well known and finding out all the great things they have to offer. Here’s to lots more in 2017.

  • Reply
    Travel Candy
    December 21, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    I’ve never considered Chester at all for a weekend break! But it looks gorgeous! I will have to go and check it out – thanks Luce. xx

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 22, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      I know you love a good weekend break and Chester is definitely worth checking out! x

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    December 22, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    You’ve certainly covered all the bases with a great variety of activities. Chester Cathedral looks so pretty, I’d love to visit!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 22, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      Thanks, it’s a surprisingly diverse place for a small city – and the cathedral is gorgeous.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    December 27, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    I went to Chester zoo as a child but have never explored the city. My UK city break list has just grown a little longer…!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 28, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      It’s definitely worth a spot on the list!

  • Reply
    Agness of a TukTuk
    January 11, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    It really amazes me to see unique and stylish structure such as The Rows, its like you’re in a movie set and the director calling in for a cut. What an explicit view of The Rows.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      So unusual aren’t they!

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