Our favourite things to do on a Chester city break
Top things to do in Chester
This pretty northwest city is one of the best-preserved examples of a walled city in the whole of Britain and inside these walls, you’ll find Roman ruins, one of the most historical shopping districts in the world, plenty of chic restaurants and some amazing museums too. Head just beyond the walls and you’ll come across the biggest ice cream shop in the world, a 16th-century horseracing course and an iconic zoo featured on Channel 4. Interest piqued? We’ve got all the tips you need for an unforgettable city break in this former Roman fortress.
Must-visit attractions in Chester
Chester Zoo, Chester
Home to more than 20,000 animals from 400 different species, Chester Zoo is one of the largest and most popular zoos in the UK – it’s so famous it’s even been a long-time star of Channel 4’s The Secret Life of the Zoo. The zoo’s founder, George Mottershead, wanted to build a zoo without bars, and you’ll see his vision played out here where natural barriers like ditches and moats separate the animals from their visitors. Navigate your way through the multiple habitats and islands of the park by foot, monorail or even on a lazy river boat to catch a glimpse of a herd of elephants, a prowl of jaguars or a buffoonery of orangutans, and learn more about the zoo’s efforts in conservation across the world.
For underwater animal encounters, dive into the Blue Planet Aquarium. See exotic freshwater fish in the Flooded Forest, stroke rays at the Rock Pools and glimpse more than 700 fish, including Europe’s largest collection of sharks, at Caribbean Reef. If you’re brave enough you can even come face-to-fin with these misunderstood creatures on a shark dive. Alternatively, have a poke into our medical past at Sick to Death. A playground of plague, this immersive attraction will have you meet the Grim Reaper, explore pestilence-ridden Diagnosis Alley and find out why plague doctors wore their beak-like masks. Too dark? Head out to the award-winning Ice Cream Farm, where you can play to your heart’s content in indoor and outdoor play areas before treating yourself to a scoop from a choice of 50 flavours at the largest ice cream shop in the world.Find more places to visit in Chester
Places to eat in Chester
Hypha, City Walls
Vegans rejoice! Chester is home to a fully plant-based fine-dining restaurant that also happens to be hot on sustainability – so much so that it’s the owner of a Michelin Green Star for sustainable gastronomy (one of just 23 restaurants in Britain to have one). Tucked away inside Chester’s city walls, Hypha is a zero-waste restaurant serving up an ever-changing vegan tasting menu made up of seasonal ingredients from eco-conscious suppliers and growers. If you want to add an extra special touch to your visit, book The Chef’s Counter experience. Each of the mouth-watering courses (like red cabbage lasagne and mushroom bonbons) is accompanied by sommelier-picked wines and is presented to you by one of the chefs, who adds finishing touches and explains its journey from field to table.
More restaurants in Chester
Fancy some meat on your plate? Book a seat at The Chef’s Table, an intimate restaurant where modern British food is taken on an exhilarating world tour. Each of the dishes gives diners a true taste of the area and there are gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options too. Another spot with an ever-changing menu is the award-winning Sticky Walnut. On the edge of the city centre, this rustic restaurant is praised for its friendly staff and refined set menus. If you want to get some pics for the Gram, opt for afternoon tea at Palm. This pink paradise (flower wall included) is great for selfies as well as freshly made sweet and savoury delights from mini Reuben sandwiches to Nutella cookie pots.Find more places to eat in Chester
Historical places to visit in Chester
Chester City Walls
With parts dating back almost 2,000 years, Chester City Walls are the oldest, longest and most complete defensive walls in Britain. Mostly made of red sandstone, the walls make a complete circuit around the city centre and are a fine way to admire Chester’s historic skyline. Take the two-mile walk from any one of the four gates to see landmarks including Chester Castle, Eastgate Clock (which was built in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee), Grosvenor Bridge (an ancient horse racing track) and the Wishing Steps. There are many interpretations as to what they mean, but one says that anyone capable of running up and down without drawing breath will see their wishes fulfilled.
More historical places
Built on the site of both a church dating from AD 958 and a Benedictine Abbey, Chester Cathedral should be high on your list of places to visit. Built using a mixture of Norman Romanesque and Gothic architecture, have a snoop inside before climbing to the top of the central tower for views over two countries and five counties. For more pretty buildings, take a walk down Watergate Street to see gorgeous half-timbered houses like God’s Providence House (named after its inhabitants who were spared the plague), Leche House and the Blue Bell Inn – said to be the oldest building still standing in the city. Or step back even further in time at Britain’s largest Roman amphitheatre, which lay undiscovered for almost 1,700 years. Used for entertainment and military training, you can stand in the very spot these spectacles took place some 2,000 years ago.Find more historical attractions in Chester
Outdoor activities in Chester
Dee River Kayaking
Want to see the city sights and challenge yourself at the same time? Then why not try kayaking or paddleboarding on the River Dee? The water winds its way from its source in Snowdonia before meandering through Chester’s historic centre and heading north out into the Irish Sea. Whether you’re standing up or sitting down, you’ll paddle past the Roman walls and historic castle, take in the atmosphere of the river-front promenade and admire the natural beauty around Chester Meadows. If you want to take it up a notch, you can get stuck into white water kayaking at the mighty Chester Weir, a play spot for kayakers, or navigate the river at night with an illuminated night paddle, where the surreal glow under your paddleboard will light the way.
More outdoor activities
If you’d rather be on dry land, why not hire a bike and take the traffic-free paths around Chester, exploring the railway and riverside routes through to Deeside or the bridleway through Chester Zoo? Alternatively, if you’re on foot (and the sun’s out), get to know Chester’s outdoor spaces, like the Roman Gardens which feature fragments of the excavated Roman fortress of Deva, or the Grade II-listed Grosvenor Park. Overlooking the city walls, this Victorian park is packed with statues, gardens and formal avenues, as well as a miniature railway and open-air theatre during the summer months.Find more outdoor activities in Chester
Things to do in Chester
Dig out your suits and fascinators for a day at the races at Chester Racecourse. Established in 1539, it’s one of the oldest operational racecourses in the world and has also recently been called England’s most Instagrammable. There are seven enclosures to choose from, like the prime Open Course – situated in the centre of the race track, meaning you’re right at the centre of the action – and the Edinburgh Gin Garden, where you can hire cosy cabanas and sip on tasty tipples. The annual racing calendar takes place from May to September and highlights include the three-day Boodles May Festival, July’s City Plate Day and the Season Finale in September. Whichever you attend, though, be sure to book a pre-race meal at swanky 1539, where you can tuck into modern British classics while enjoying views across the course.
More things to do
Looking for rainy day activities in Chester? Look no further than Storyhouse, an award-winning venue that houses the city’s library, theatres and cinema. Catch the latest flicks in the 100-seater boutique cinema screen, complete with plush red-velvet seats or watch live music, comedy and touring West End performances in one of the building’s three auditoriums. Or get your creativity flowing with an art workshop at Pictura Studios, where you can dabble in watercolours with one hand and sip prosecco with the other.Find more things to do in Chester
Places to stay in Chester
The Chester Grosvenor
Once you’re all explored, check into The Chester Grosvenor, a 19th-century hotel with five-star style, top-hatted doormen and a prime position in the city centre. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, this half-timbered luxury landmark is home to a selection of rooms including designated accessible rooms, two restaurants, and a spa offering treatments alongside a crystal steam room, salt grotto and sauna. Each bedroom is individually designed, with its own distinct touches, and furnished with the finest fabrics, making them hard to leave come morning.
More places to stay
Also in the city centre is Oddfellows, a quirky spot housing eclectic suites and apartments. Each room is influenced by different Cestrians (people of Chester) like architect John Douglas and cinematographer Peter Newbrook, and some come with roll-top baths and round beds. If you’re visiting as a group, check out Edgar House, a self-catering Regency property overlooking the River Dee. It sleeps up to 16 people and has an open-plan kitchen, games room, library and private cinema. Chester’s campsites are also another great option, like Lloyd Meadows, a 12-minute train ride from the city centre. Made up of bell tents hidden amongst lakes, trees and enclaves, this adult-only glamping site is kitted out for couples with double beds, solar lanterns and fairy lights.Find more places to stay in Chester
Guided tours in Chester
For a deeper dive into a city, it’s always best to book a guided tour, and luckily for you, Chester has plenty. Roman Tours, which are led by ‘authentic’ Roman soldiers, give you an insight into the 2,000-year-old Deva fortress, which once occupied the walled city. You’ll go behind the scenes at key sites and learn about the dramas of life in the Roman army (based on research by top military experts). If you want to delve into a different time period, the same company also offer Medieval Tours, which focus on Chester in the 15th century under the rule of Henry IV.
More guided tours
For the foodies, there’s the Taste of Chester Walking Tour, where you can get your taste buds tingling with a range of culinary delights, while beer connoisseurs will like the Pied Bull Brewery Tour. The only microbrewery within the city walls, Pied Bull is Chester’s oldest coaching house and has held a licence since 1533. On your tour of the brewery, which is located underneath the bar, you’ll get to meet the award-winning master brewer and try some of the brews yourself. Chester Cycle Tours are another great (and environmentally friendly) way to see the city. Kitted out with bikes, you’ll pedal around Chester’s most fascinating sites and learn more about its complex past.Find more tours in Chester
Shopping in Chester
The Rows, Chester
Even if you’re not planning on any retail therapy, a nosey around The Rows is a must when visiting Chester. Housed inside 14th-century half-timbered buildings, these double-decker shopping galleries are located on the four main streets of the city. They’re sometimes referred to as the original shopping centre too because as far back as Medieval times, locals would come here to find their clothing and shoes. Today, however, you’ll find everything from luxury independent boutiques to big-name brands. Keep an eye out for the Three Old Arches, believed to be the oldest shop front in England dating back to 1274. If you want to learn more about these unique structures, have a listen to the Discover The Rows audio tour.
More shopping ideas
For an all-out shopping spree without splashing the cash, head to Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet for up to 60% off retail prices all year round. It’s one of the UK’s largest outlets with more than 150 shops, restaurants and cafés, including the likes of Nike and Next, and iconic fashion brands like Michael Kors and Mulberry. If you prefer to peruse local wares, pay a visit to the indoor Chester Market, where dozens of shops and stalls sell a range of goods from fish and fashion to footwear and fancy dress – plus, it’s the city’s only street food hub. And if you’re visiting over the festive season, don’t miss the highlight of the city’s calendar, Chester Christmas Market. Traditional wooden chalets huddle around a tree in Town Hall Square selling a selection of handmade wares, jewellery and stocking fillers.Find more shopping in Chester
Museums in Chester
Deva Roman Discovery Centre
At Deva Roman Discovery Centre, you can step back in time to live the sights, sounds and smells of life during the Roman era, see reconstructions of barracks, bathhouses and market stalls, meet Roman soldiers and see real-life Roman remains. This brand-new, wheelchair-accessible attraction also has plenty of hands-on activities and interactive displays for all ages, to help you really delve into the lives and minds of those who once lived there.
Deva Roman Discovery Centre is set to open on 23 July 2022.
Other Chester museums to add to your list include the Grosvenor Museum, which is a treasure trove of modern art, ancient history and interior design. See the largest single collection of works by Victorian watercolour artist Louise Rayner and explore 20 Castle Street, a recreation of a period townhouse set across three floors that lets you peek into the past with its nine period rooms dating from 1680 to 1925. Elsewhere, Cheshire Military Museum, located in Chester Castle, tells the story of four famous regiments in the area ranging from the 17th century to the present day, including The Cheshire Yeomanry (the last horsed regiment in action during World War II), and even documents the life of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the scouts.Find more museums in Chester and Cheshire