Monday, May 16, 2022

The northwest's best-kept secret: things to do in Chester

 Think of major cities in the northwest of England and Liverpool and Manchester will probably first spring to mind. But the historic city of Chester has been quietly reinventing itself as the region’s best-kept secret.



Chester was the largest Roman fortress in Britain and while it wears its heritage with pride, its contemporary side is just as interesting. There’s a booming bar and dining scene, a great arts centre and independent shops. With easy rail access, just over two hours from London Euston, it’s the perfect destination for a long weekend.

Rooftops in Chester
Shahid Khan/Shutterstock

Friday

Check into: 80 Watergate Sreet, a Georgian townhouse with three chic rooms and a homely atmosphere. It’s a 20-minute stroll through the city centre to this award-winning guesthouse, located near Chester racecourse. The best room is the attic with a separate lounge and luxurious free-standing copper bath. Look out for the watercolour paintings of Cheshire by a local artist throughout the house.

Dine at: The Chef’s Table. Tucked away around the back of Chester Cathedral, this critically-acclaimed restaurant focuses on local, seasonal produce. Chef Liam McKay changes the menu weekly – expect dishes like Jerusalem artichoke risotto with truffle or duck breast with kimchi.

Have a pint in: The Brewery Tap. Try a pint of local cask ale from Chester's Spitting Feathers microbrewery served in the historic surroundings of a 16th-century Jacobean great hall. There’s also bar food served daily.

Saturday

Visit: Storyhouse. May 2018 marks the first birthday of Chester’s flagship arts centre which houses a theatre, cinema and library. It hosts a range of events from Saturday morning family films to evening language classes, with an all-day bar and restaurant. The team is also behind the Moonlight Flicks open-air cinema held in the Roman Gardens and the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, which both run in summer.

Shop at: the Grosvenor Shopping Centre has all the main chains but it’s worth seeking out some of the city’s quirky independents. Pop into Pyramid for designer glassware and The Watergate Street Gallery for unique art. Rufus Court and Watergate Street are good window-shopping spots. Cigar and whisky aficionados shouldn’t miss the sampling lounge at Turmeaus where you can recline in leather chairs and try what’s on offer.

See: the Cathedral at Height. The 216 spiral stairs up the central tower of Chester Cathedral may be steep but it’s worth the view. Book onto a tour to enjoy sweeping cityscape views across Cheshire and North Wales. While you’re there, check out the latest exhibition in the cathedral by Chester Visual Arts. Recent shows include a light installation by artist Liz West.

Stop for coffee at: Jaunty Goat, the best of Chester’s independent cafés for great, freshly roasted coffee in relaxed surroundings. Grab a window seat and spend some time people watching.

Have pre-dinner cocktails: When you need something strong, wine shop and bar Covino is close by for a glass of organic or biodynamic wine. Hungry? Order a plate of cheese or charcuterie.

Have dinner at: Sticky Walnut. This top-rated restaurant in the suburb of Hoole is a short taxi or train journey away from the city centre but well worth the effort. Imaginative dishes like braised feather blade with beetroot ketchup and duck and prune pithivier (a type of pie) use the best of regional ingredients. Look out for the great value prix fixe menu. After dinner, head to nearby cocktail bar The Suburbs to make a night of it.

Sunday

Brunch at: Antina Kitchen. The restaurant serves amazing French toast and a hangover-busting cheese and chorizo wrap. If it’s a sunny day, head out to the patio and take your coffee al fresco.

Take a stroll: through Grosvenor Park to The Groves, a tree-lined promenade along the banks of the River Dee. Stock up on Italian deli favourites beforehand at Gustum for a picnic.

See: the Eastgate clock. Chester’s answer to Big Ben was designed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and today towers over Eastgate Street, the main shopping thoroughfare.

Have a beer at: The Cornerhouse. It’s a convenient stopping point on the walk back to the train station with a good range of beers and live music.

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