The Romans left a real mark on Chester, which boasts a beautiful river, a world famous zoo and a host of historical marvels that make it a truly unique city
Chester is a fascinating place to visit, tucked just over the border from Wales and below Liverpool. It’s a historic city with a metropolitan edge, nestling in rural quiet.
Chester was founded as a Roman fortress as early as the first century AD, and has astonishingly well-preserved ruins – its Roman walls, at nearly two miles long, cover almost the complete circumference of the city. Chester wears its history on its sleeve, and stunning buildings can be seen everywhere. There’s is also a lively infiltration of the new – early in 2017, the Storyhouse cultural centre and 500-seat theatre will open and introduce a cinema, library, and pioneering indoor and outdoor drama to this stunning little city.
Walk the walls
Make like a Roman soldier, (and indeed the Georgian strollers who also liked to trace their steps) and take in the views of Chester from the Roman walls. This is the most complete circuit of Roman city walls in the UK and from this point, you can take in the equally impressive (though slightly less intact) Roman amphitheatre and the tower where Charles I once stood to watch the Battle of Rowton Moor. You can also take a seat on the mythical ‘Wishing Steps’ – visitors who manage to run up and down the steps twice without taking a breath are said to have their wishes granted. Official tours of the walls come with a full historical guide and cost around £7.
Picnic in the Roman-built amphitheatre
The Romans did plenty more for Chester. The amphitheatre they built here was the largest in Britain, and was used for military training as well as entertainment. Today, only about two-fifths of the oval amphitheatre is visible; the rest is yet to be excavated, but you can still imagine how time must once have been spent here. The excavation work has exposed two entrances, where performers might once have entered the arena, and suggests a corridor where spectators would have headed up to the second seating tier to watch performances. Nowadays, visitors can pitch up and prepare their own banquet on the lawn – there will be no gladiator performance to watch, but you can take in this stunning reminder of how the Romans lived and enjoyed their recreation.
Make friends with the monkeys
A fun thing to do in Chester with the family is to head to its famous zoo. Offering the next best thing to their natural habitat, the enormous Chester Zoo provides its 2,000 animals with a spacious conservation area and innovative attitude to wildlife care. This is in the zoo’s DNA – the Mottershead family opened the centre in 1931 and from the outset, aimed to avoid the Victorian bars which had traditionally imprisoned zoo animals. They pioneered the use of natural barriers to keep animals, and visitors, safe – with monkeys contained on an island by a moat of water (they couldn’t swim). Nowadays, regulation means some form of physical bar or barrier is required, but the animals here are afforded the best habitat that a zoo can provide. The orangutan enclosure and the beautiful butterfly house are particular must-sees, and the zoo is frequently voted the best in the UK. It’s certainly the most-visited, with 1.4 million visitors a year.
Get a boat’s eye view of the city
One of the best ways to see Chester is from the River Dee. ChesterBoat is a family-run business with more than 30 years of experience taking visitors out on the water. You can take afternoon tea on one of three heated pleasure boats, cruising through rural Cheshire, past Heron Bridge and Eccleston Ferry, meandering around the Crook of Dee and passing through the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Estate. The Dee offers lots of wildlife – you should see swans, herons, cormorants and even kingfishers enjoying the water.
Go shopping on two Tudor tiers
Chester’s Rows are completely unique – two tiered medieval galleries housing some of the best boutiques in the city. Little is known of their origins – they’re thought to have existed since the late 13th-century – but the offering has changed from fruit, root and herb markets to chic independent stores. You’ll find the corridors lined with milliners, jewellers and clothes shops, set out over two rickety floors. It’s difficult to think of another shopping experience in the UK to match it. While you’re in this part of town, keep an eye out for the world famous Eastgate clock, which sits atop the site of the original Roman entrance to the city fortress. It’s a beautiful old structure – and the second most photographed timepiece in the UK, after Big Ben – take a snap and you might help nudge it into first place.
This amazing historical city has something for everyone, so why not take a look at our hotel options in Chester and see it all for yourself.