Top 5 places to visit in Chester
A historic city
Founded by the Romans in AD 79, the city of Chester has weathered wars, raiding Danes and the Norman Conquest. It also became a central defensive point to protect England from Welsh raiders. Today it stands as a testament to the many eras it has survived, from it's Roman walls and amphitheatre to the medieval rows of shops, and Henry VIII's uncharacteristically benevolent sparing of the Cathedral and it's adjoining monastery during the Reformation. In legend, King Arthur is said to have fought his ninth battle against the invading Saxons in the city. It was also the site of battle between the Royalists and Parliamentarians during the Civil War. Today, modern and Victorian architecture stands shoulder to shoulder with ancient churches and Roman remains.When you visit Chester, you immerse yourself in millennia of history.
This is a guide to the top 5 places to see when you visit Chester.
History and Beauty in one place
1) Chester Cathedral
Chester Cathedral stands on land which is thought to have been an important religious site since Roman times. In 1093, a Benedictine abbey was established here by the Earl of Chester. The earliest surviving parts of the cathedral date to this time.
The cathedral building you see today is an eclectic mix of many architectural styles. Starting as Norman architecture, during the 13th and 14th centuries much of the cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style. At the time of the reformation, many parts of the building had just been erected in the Perpendicular style. For several centuries the cathedral's structure saw no further work, just changes in fixtures and fittings, however Victorian restorers made many changes to the exterior (controversially) and it is these changes that you see when approaching the cathedral.
The cathedral and it's surrounding buildings were designated as Grade I listed in 1955.
Inside the cathedral has a warm, mellow appearance and atmosphere, thanks to it's main building material being pink sandstone. Although not the largest of Britain's cathedrals, it is wide and high, creating a sense of space.
In 1636 the space underneath the south-west tower was used as the bishop's consistory court. Having survived in it's original form, it is a unique historical feature. It heard it's last case in the 1930's (a priest's attempted suicide).
Another ancient feature is the choir stalls, installed in 1380. When you visit, you can also enjoy the Refectory café (with free wifi).
Admission is free but you can make a donation on the entrance (suggested donation is £3 per person). The cathedral is open every day.
New in 2015 is the Falconry and Nature Gardens, where for an admission fee of £3 (adults) or £2.50 (kids) you can wander the nature gardens, visit the birds of prey and watch one of the daily outdoor flying displays.
For more information, visit there website here.
The interior of Chester Cathedral
2) Dewa Roman Experience
Experience the sights, sounds and smells of Chester as it was during Roman occupation!
Right in the heart of the Chester, Dewa Roman Experience offers visitors the chance to visit an interactive museum where you fire a catapult or create a mosaic (amongst other things), find yourself in the dark hold of a Roman Galley, visit a reconstructed Roman town and view the actual archaeological remains unearthed by excavations in the city.
The museum is ideal for a range of ages, being part traditional museum full of artefacts, and part a 'have a go' interactive experience that kids of any age will enjoy.
Open every day (though hours are slightly shorter in winter), this attraction is ideal to visit once you have found a parking space and walked into the centre of the city (there is no parking on site). An adult ticket is £5.50 and a child's ticket is £3.75. Find out more about opening times and prices here.
Hunting for archaeological remains
Meet a Roman!
3) The Chester Rows
Chester's four main shopping streets contain a feature unique in the world: The Rows. These medieval black and white buildings lend true historic charm to the city centre and are a must-see for any visitor.
The Rows are the heart of the retail centre. Along street level are high street shops, some accessed by a few steps leading down. Above, on first floor level, is a covered walkway which gives access to more shops, set back from the road. On the street side of this walkway are areas which were used for shelves or platforms to display wares, though often as not left empty today.
The exact origin of these beautiful rows in unknown. Some argue they were built on the rubble of Roman remains, with the rubble piled up on the street, making it necessary to step down or up to the shops. Some say it was due to a fire in 1278, when Chester residents decided their buildings should have stone lined crypts underneath (forming the bottom, street level shops and their basements). Dendrochronological evidence indicates they date as far back as the 13th century. During the medieval period, the rows also gave access to living accommodation behind and above the shops, forming the heart of the busy, commercial city within the walls.
Many of the buildings comprising The Rows are listed by English Heritage.
There is no entrance fee to wander along The Rows, just an opportunity to appreciate their unique features. When you enter a shop or two, you may spot historic features and signs of much earlier occupation.
The beautiful Chester Rows
4) Chester Zoo
No visit to Chester would be complete without visiting their world famous zoo! The largest zoo in Britain, and the first to be built without cages and bars, it's beginnings were recently dramatised in the BBC One series 'Our Zoo'.
It boasts over 12,000 animals of 400 different species, with some being from the most endangered species on the planet. There are also beautiful gardens to explore. This is a true day out, as it will take you all day to appreciate the experience and cover a site that is 125 acres! Wear comfy footwear and take a snack or two (though of course there is food and drink available to buy). Kids will be kept amused not just by the animals, but also by the play areas, mini golf and face painting.
Before visiting, please check the website as new babies are born regularly - you could see a baby elephant, giraffe, orang-utan or any of 400 species with their newborns.
Amongst the exhibits are the tropical islands, Asian Plains, Butterfly Journey, Asian Forest, in fact too many to list here! You can also attend animal talks to find out more about particular species (it is advisable to check the website to find out what is planned for the day you visit).
Although the zoo is outside the city itself, there are good transport links to it, from buses to trains to arriving by car. The zoo is well signposted for those travelling by road. You can check a map of it's location here.
Admission is £24 for adults at the gate (£20 online) and £20 for kids at the gate (£16.36) online. Children under 2 are free, as are carers for a disabled visitor. Parking on site is free. To book online and save money, and queuing time, click here.
Majestic animals on show
The gardens at Chester Zoo
5) Eaton Hall
The first thing to say is that Eaton Hall is only open to the public four times a year, so you will have to carefully plan your visit to Chester in order to see this.
The Hall itself sits on the Eaton Estate, over 10,000 acres of land owned by the Duke of Westminster. The estate can trace it's origins back to the 1440's. These open days raise money for several local charities.
When you visit you will see deer in the park, a miniature railway, state carriages on display and a cricket pitch, willow trees and gardens rolling down towards a lake. There are cream teas, a brass band playing and the air of a traditional English day out in the country, circa 1930!
Learn more about this family, the history of the estate, enjoy the beautiful gardens, ride the miniature railway and scoff a scone in the sunshine (hopefully).
Tickets are £7 for adults, £2 for children and a family ticket is £16 (prices current in 2015). Please check their website here for more details.
The impressive Eaton Hall
A rewarding place to visit
When you visit Chester, you will also see the Eastgate Clock, the Roman Walls (which you can walk along) and the River Dee which runs through the city. There are historic monuments (the remains of the Roman amphitheatre are worth seeing) and boats to hire to cruise along the river for a while. You can also talk walking tours and have expert guides take you through the development of this wonderful place.
A weekend break is the ideal way to visit this vibrant historic city. Enjoy!