Chester is the biggest and main city within the UK’s county of Cheshire. Located in the North-West of England, it was a powerful city during the mighty Roman Empire. Known by the Romans as Deva / Dewa, it is one of the UK’s finest walled cities. Built by the Romans and later fortified by the Saxons, Chester’s walls are almost complete. You can stroll around the walls, see old towers, and look down over the city. A thriving city during the medieval era and a major player during the Industrial Revolution (mid-1700s to mid-1800s), today’s Chester is home to numerous interesting attractions.
Chester’s diverse and pretty architecture spans several time periods, with Jacobean, Georgian, and Victorian buildings found alongside more modern constructions. With a good shopping scene, numerous restaurants, bars and traditional pubs, and a thriving nightlife, Chester really does offer something for everyone.
Here are five great things to do and see in Chester:
1. Admire the splendour of Chester Cathedral
Chester Cathedral was originally built as an abbey by Benedictine monks, and parts of today’s magnificent place of worship date back to the Norman period (11th and 12th century AD). Various additions and changes have been made since its initial construction and visitors today can admire the beautiful architecture as they wander around the serene cathedral. Hideous gargoyles peer down from the roofs, symbols of a world without faith, and you can watch falconry displays in the lovely gardens.
The large interiors boast many fine details, including exquisitely carved canopies, vibrant stained glass, a long and sweeping nave, high ceilings, grand Gothic columns, interesting shrines, and lots of religious art. One shrine of particular interest is that of St Werburgh, after whom the church was once named. The daughter of a king, she was born in the early years of the seventh century. Known for her compassion, religious devotion, and strong desire to carry out good deeds, she was also associated with a number of miracles. She became one of the most well-known Saxon saints.
The cathedral has a charming café and a gift shop. Tours are available that include the impressive tower, although you can also look around the cathedral independently. It is free to enter, although donations are very welcome.
2. Go shopping along the unique Rows
The Rows is the only shopping area of its type in the world! Built during medieval times (5th century AD – late-1400s), the shops are pretty distinctive. Many of the ground level shops have a few downward steps at their entrances, making them actually lower than the streets outside. Above, on the first floor, there are more shops, with a continuous walkway running in front of them. The next floor covers the top of the walkway. Steps lead up to the walkway from street level; look for the frequent gaps between shops to climb up to the higher shops. Buildings are often several stories tall, with the upper levels generally used as offices, private dwellings, or as storage spaces.
The original buildings were made from timber and later replaced by stone. As well as being home to some great shops, cafes, and restaurants, the Rows are also lovely for strolling along and looking at the bustling streets below.
The Rows run along both sides of Upper Bridge Street and are present along large stretches of Eastgate Street and Watergate Street.
3. Walk upon the old Roman walls
The Romans built defensive walls around the inner part of the city, and the walls that remain today are Great Britain’s most complete Roman and Medieval city walls.
Originally built in the 1st century AD, Chester’s walls were initially made from wood. The walls, towers, and gates were rebuilt in stone just a few years later, lasting for a long time after the Romans departed the British Isles. The walls were strengthened and modified in the early 900s by the Saxons, with the Normans carrying out more works in the 12th and 13th century AD. Fast forward several centuries to the 1700s when Chester’s walls underwent even more major alterations; they were converted into a stylish promenade, with many of the protective gates changed into attractive archways.
The walls still encircle the inner core of the city, running for around 3.2 kilometres (2 miles). Free to walk around, wandering on top of the walls is a tremendous way to take a journey back in time and imagine how the area would have been in the past. Providing great views of the city from numerous angles, it is quite impressive when you remember that you are walking almost the same route that was patrolled by fearless Roman soldiers many hundreds of years ago.
Picturesque and interesting, walking Chester’s walls is a popular activity in the city. There are several places to climb up onto, and down from, the walls, allowing you to explore even more of the charming city on your adventures.
Other Roman sites around the city include the ancient Roman Amphitheatre (free admission), the Roman Gardens (free admission) with reconstructed features and columns and stones that were discovered during excavations in the city, and the Grosvenor Museum. The Grosvenor Museum houses many fascinating tombstones and other artefacts and archaeological finds unearthed during excavations in Chester. It is free to enjoy the museum, although donations are appreciated. The museum also contains exhibits and displays related to other periods of Chester’s history as well as those that show the city’s heritage and culture. Another top museum is the interactive Dewa Roman Experience. Tickets cost 5.50 GBP (approximately 8.20 USD) and you can experience a reconstructed Roman town and explore ruins that lie buried beneath the streets. Descend into the basement of 39 Bridge Street and you can marvel at the remains of an old Roman bathhouse.
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4. Snap a picture of the Eastgate Clock
Standing on top of the city walls and overlooking the busy Eastgate Street, the Eastgate Clock marks the original main entrance to the old Roman fortress. The ornate clock was positioned to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee (60 years as Queen). Sitting on an ornate iron support, the clock has faces on all four sides. It is often said to be one of the UK’s prettiest and most photographed clocks!
5. Relax in the lovely Grosvenor Park
Chester’s largest park, Grosvenor Park is a nice place to enjoy a leisurely stroll and escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Set out in a Victorian style, you can sit on the large expanses of grass or perch yourself on one of the cute benches. Wander along shaded tree-lined paths and enjoy the beautiful flowers (best seen in the spring and summer). The park has a number of interesting statues and children usually love the mini railway. Arm yourself with plenty of nuts and feed the inquisitive and exceptionally friendly grey squirrels that roam freely around the park. There is no charge to go into the park.
Other highlights of splendid Chester
Visit the city’s oldest church, St John’s Church, and wander through the small but atmospheric ruins. Look above the main archway and you will see a most curious sight – an old coffin set into the walls! The open coffin has an inscription inside that reads “Dust to Dust”, and it is believed to have been used simply as a way of filling a gaping hole in the brickwork!
Walk alongside the River Dee and enjoy an ice cream in the summer months. The suspension bridge offers nice views. Chester Zoo is one of the biggest and best zoos in the UK and Chester Racecourse is the country’s oldest race track that is still in use today. Parts of Chester Castle are open to the public during the summer months, although large sections of the grand medieval structure contain the city’s Crown Court (criminal court).
Have a great time discovering Chester when visiting the UK!
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