The charming English city of Chester, found just south of Liverpool, displays Britain's connection to ancient Rome. With many well-preserved ruins to explore, including the remains of a Roman amphitheater, Chester is great for history buffs, as well as those who want to experience a classic English town. It's easily accessible from Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham if you prefer a day trip, but travelers can also find a lot to see and do in the area for several days.
Chester, with its famous zoo and nice cultural institutions, is particularly good for families and it's easily walkable if you don't want to drive around. Whether you're looking for historical insight or just some shopping, Chester has a lot to offer. Here are the 10 best things to do when visiting.
Tour Chester Cathedral
Chester Cathedral was first founded as a Benedictine abbey in 1092 and later rebuilt in 1250 in the Gothic style. Part of the Church of England, the impressive cathedral still features the remains of Roman barracks and stands as the largest performance space in Chester today. Visitors are welcome Monday through Saturday (Sundays are for services only), and entry is free, although donations are encouraged. Stop by the Refectory Café, build in a 13th-century monk’s dining hall, for a snack or meal, and there's also a gift shop selling local items. Check the cathedral's calendar for upcoming performances and special services.
Explore Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo, which opened in 1931, is one of the U.K.'s biggest zoos and a good addition to any family itinerary in Chester. There are over 35,000 animals to see during your visit, as well as some memorable gardens, and kids will love the Treetop Challenge adventure course. Parking is free of charge, and the zoo has plenty of places to buy snacks or for young ones to run around. Grab tickets in advance online, especially when visiting during the summer.
Shop the Chester Rows
The Chester Rows, continuous two-tiered timber galleries with a signature black and white look, are the town's most iconic spot. Some of the buildings date back to the 13th century, while others are Victorian copies, and today they are filled with shops and boutiques. The Rows can be found on Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, and Bridge Street, and the most famous building, the Three Old Arches, is on Bridge Street. It's a good spot to shop for souvenirs or to grab a photograph.
Walk the Chester City Walls
Chester is surrounded by old stone walls, which can be traced all the way back to the Romans in 70 A.D. Once a defensive fortress, the walls, the oldest, longest, and most complete in Britain, are now a cool attraction that makes for a nice way to see Chester in its entirety. Access can be found at several points throughout the city. Guided walking tours are available from the Town Hall Visitor Information Centre if you want to learn more about Chester's history with the Romans. It's a relatively easy walk, but you'll want comfortable shoes and some rain gear when strolling during cloudy weather.
Visit the Grosvenor Museum
The Grosvenor Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, known as the Grosvenor Museum, is one of Chester's must-see attractions. The city's Roman history is, of course, on display, but the museum also has exhibitions on the overall history of Chester and its art and silver heritage, as well as the area's natural history. There are permanent and special exhibits, along with a calendar of events for both adults and kids, and visitors can also stop by for lectures by various local societies in the Lecture Theatre. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, with limited hours, so it's best to book your tickets on their website ahead of a visit.
Explore the Roman Amphitheater and Chester Roman Gardens
Chester has several sites dating back to the Romans, including its Roman amphitheater and the Chester Roman Gardens. The gardens, built in 1949, display ruins from the Roman fortress of Deva, which were uncovered in Chester in the 19th century (the city was once known as Deva Victrix). The amphitheater, a Grade I listed building and English Heritage site, was once the largest in Britain and used for entertainment and military training. The gardens and the amphitheater are free to enter and open year-round, making them great stops for any visitor.
Ride a Boat on the River Dee
The scenic River Dee runs right through Chester, making it a great way to see the town. Several companies offer boat trips down the river, as well as rental shops where you can hire your own boat. Look for ChesterBoat, which offers a Half-hour City Cruise or a Two-hour Iron Bridge Cruise, as well as party cruises and private boat trips. Travelers can combine a ChesterBoat tour and a City Sightseeing open-bus tour ticket to get a complete land and water view of Chester. Cruises leave from near the Roman Amphitheatre on Souters Lane and can be booked the day of.
See a Show at Storyhouse
There's a lot to do (and see) at Storyhouse, a multi-use cultural center in Chester that features a movie theater, city library, drama theater, and restaurant. Located in the historic city center, Storyhouse makes a fun day or evening out, especially if you have a few days to spend in the area. The calendar of events is ever-changing, from films to plays to readings, and there are also numerous activities and events on offer for kids. It's open daily, so you can stop by for storytime in the library or make an evening out of it with dinner and a movie. Tickets range in price (and some events are free) so check online for the best option for your trip.
Place a Bet at Chester Racecourse
Chester Racecourse opened in 1539 and remains the oldest of its kind still in operation. Races occur during the annual season, which typically launches each year in May and runs through September. Tickets range from 10 to 95 pounds, making them affordable for all budgets, and kids 17 and under a free when accompanied by an adult. There is a strict dress code when attending a race, so be sure you are following the guidelines on Chester Racecourse's website and pack something smart when traveling to Chester. Guests are allowed to bring their own picnics (although food and drinks are available there), so make a day out of your racing experience.
Grab a Pint
No visit to the historic town of Chester is complete without a visit to a historic pub. Chester has many good options, but the Coach House Inn, a 19th-century pub, will fulfill your cliched British dreams. The pub serves both food and drink, and visitors can even sleep in one of the rooms above the Coach House Inn. The menu includes many English classics, like fish and chips and sausages and mash, and there's a strong selection of beers on tap. The pub is close to Chester Cathedral and the Chester Rows, so book a table for lunch or dinner to take a break from sight-seeing.