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Historic Cheshire: How to spend 48 hours in Chester

LLM travel writer Plamena Manolova heads to historic Chester for a tour of the top sights.

By Plamena Manolova  |  October 15, 2021
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Planning a staycation for the weekend? There are plenty of vibrant towns and cities across Britain to visit, and thanks to Covid many of us have had the chance to explore what the country has to offer. Chester is one worth keeping high on your list. The ancient city and its famous historical landmarks, rich Roman heritage and cultural events make it perfect for a weekend escape.

Chester is home to the largest Roman Amphitheatre in Britain, the oldest racecourse, and a 1,000-year-old Cathedral and 700-year-old Rows galleries offering everything a shopaholic would need. These are just few of the things that make the city stand out.

A city full of so much culture and history will be difficult to explore on your own. The Guild of Chester Tour Guides, situated in the heart of the city, at the Town Hall, is the perfect place to start exploring. We were lucky enough to have a real Cestrian for a guide which we later learnt is a rare thing. Our tour guide, Steve Shakeshaft, explained that only people who were born within the city walls can claim to be from Chester. Interestingly there is no hospital within the walls which is why it is a rarity to meet someone who can say they are really from Chester.

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Chester is one of the UK’s most historic cities

Steve was very passionate about his city, which is exactly what you want from your guide. We started off the tour with a visit to the wishing elephant, Janya. Dedicated to the renowned Chester Zoo, the bronze sculpture is a symbol of the city’s friendship with the Zoo created back in 2010 by sculptress Annette Yarrow. These days people believe that if you stroke Janya’s head and make a wish it will come true.

Next off on our tour was a walk on the city walls. The walls are the most complete circuit of Roman and medieval city walls in the UK and are well preserved, offering a great view of the city. The walls go around the beautiful gardens of the Chester Cathedral which is open daily and welcomes visitors interested to learn about its history.

Following the wall around we reached Eastgate Clock which stands on top of the main entrance to the Roman fortress Deva Victrix dating back to the 70ADs. The clock is believed to be one of the most photographed clocks in England, after Big Ben, of course!

roman fort chester
Roman ruins are plentiful in the area, such as this Roman fort

Just a short walk from Eastgate is situated the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain. The theatre itself was built in the first century AD, however, in Medieval times it was built over with as much as 1,200 houses. During the 1950s the uncovered again and later excavated. Nowadays, you can walk through the remains and explore the beautiful Roman gardens. Just ahead, linking the south and the east walls, are the Wishing Steps. Built back in 1785, the legend has it that if unmarried women could successfully run up and down the steps without taking a breath then the man of their dreams would propose.

There are so many things to do and places to visit in Chester, and a weekend is hardly enough. If you are visiting in the summer months you would absolutely need to watch one of the plays at the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre. The wonderfully talented actors come together each summer to bring Shakespeare’s plays to live. The secluded forestlike backdrop of the park makes the theatre a perfect summer evening sanctuary filled with laughter.

Where to stay

hotel indigo room chester
Hotel Indigo Chester is a four-star boutique hotel in the heart of the city

After a long day of exploring on foot all that Chester has to offer, it’s time to indulge in relaxation, and that’s where the Hotel Indigo Chester comes in to play. The boutique four-star hotel is situated in the heart of the city just a short walk from the Rows shopping district, Grosvenor Park, and the Storyhouse Theatre, as well as the 2,000-year-old city walls.

The hotel’s contemporary design reflects the city’s history and culture which comes through the three main designs of the rooms: firstly, the Historical (Material) Layers which embraces the city’s architecture and history, complemented by the use of brass elements, abstract pictures, and luxury Egyptian cotton.

The second room type is inspired by the Eastgate Clock featuring nods to the famous clock and its designer John Douglas. This room type is brightly coloured with features of red and blue, similar to what you find in the actual clock. And of course, there are enough clocks to ensure you are not late for your dinner but not enough for the ticking to disturb you at night. The last, but certainly not least, are the rooms inspired by the Chester Racecourse paying homage to the UK’s oldest racecourse.

All 75 guest rooms are equipped with comfy Hypnos beds with luxury Egyptian cotton linen which are the perfect sanctuary after a long day of exploring the city. The rooms also have spa-inspired bathrooms with luxurious Molton Brown toiletries, Nespresso coffee machines and lots more amenities to make your stay full of relaxation.

The Forge

forge restaurant chester
The Forge Restaurant offers a British menu with an emphasis on wild produce and sustainability

A stay to any Indigo Hotel is not complete without a visit to their restaurant. Part of the hotel, The Forge restaurant and bar are independently run and owned by restaurateur Mike Robinson. Robinson has brought his enthusiasm and passion for British food to Chester. The elegant restaurant aims to only use British ingredients, with an emphasis on wild produce and sustainability.

The head chef Curtis Tong, and a Roux Scholarship finalist, is one of the big local talents in the food industry. His focus is on finding sustainable cooking and constantly sourcing local produce and free-range wild meats.

The menu’s most popular grilled haunch of wild fallow deer, comes from Mike’s herds on estates whose deer he manages, helping actively to control the damaging effects of over-population. The oak, ash and beech from local forests is used to provide the fuel, imparting extraordinary flavour into meat-heavy menu.

The food itself is everything you expect it to be – impressively presented, abundant in flavour and exquisitely delicious. Personal recommendations would be to try the hand dived Orkney scallop, the wild fallow deer (of course) and the cherry Bakewell souffle to end on a sweet note.

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The Guild of Chester Guides

The Chester Tour is available daily at 10.30am and again at 2pm, (Easter – end October). It offers spots for up to a maximum of 25 people per tour. Tour lasts approximately 90 minutes. Prices £8 adult, £7 concession, £20 family (2 adults and 2 children under 16 years). For more information, check out the Visit Cheshire site at visitcheshire.com.

Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

The season ends at the end of August and will take place again in summer 2022. The prices for 2021 started from £28 (2022 prices are not available yet). One child free per adult ticket. grosvenorparkopenairtheatre.co.uk

Hotel Indigo Chester

Hotel Indigo Chester is owned and operated by Castlebridge Hospitality Group under license from IHG Hotels Ltd. Prices for the hotel start from £119. ihg.com

The Forge

The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner except for Mondays and Tuesdays (closed for lunch). It is in the premises of Hotel Indigo Chester The Forge is on par with going to a gastropub – about £45 for three courses, with an amazing lunch menu offer. theforgechester.com