14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chester
Chester, the county town of Cheshire, is noted for its vast array of historic monuments, including its magnificent medieval city walls. Chester's roots date back to Roman times, and the Vikings, Danes, Saxons, Scots, and Normans also occupied the settlement at various times. By far the greatest influence on the city, however, was its maritime trade from the 12th to 14th centuries, which brought with it commercial and cultural prosperity.
The Old City has been a conservation area for more than 50 years and retains numerous well-preserved half-timbered houses, as well as the Rows, its magnificent two-tier medieval arcades. Add to this mix its attractive bridges, parks, and riverside walks, as well as the city's many musical festivals, excellent shopping, and one of the world's top zoos, and it's little wonder Chester ranks so highly on England's most popular places to visit.
See also: Where to Stay in Chester
1 City Walls
Built mostly of red sandstone, Chester's City Walls follow the even older Roman walls, except where they extend to the river to include the Castle. The complete circuit - the best preserved of its kind in Britain - is a nearly two-mile walk taking in the four main gates: Northgate, Eastgate, Bridgegate, and Watergate. At Eastgate, you'll see a clock erected in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, while at Northgate, traces of Roman foundations can still be seen. Another must-see while walking the walls is King Charles' Tower. It was here in 1645 that Charles I witnessed the defeat of his troops at Rowton Moor during the English Civil War (the tower houses a small civil war museum, and evidence of the conflict can still be seen at places along the wall).
Other City Wall highlights include Morgan's Mount, an impressive watchtower; Pemberton's Parlor, a semicircular tower with great views of the river area; Bonewaldesthorne's Tower, a solid sandstone Water Tower built in 1325; and Grosvenor Bridge, adjacent to the Rodee (an ancient horse racing track). Finally, be sure to visit the famous Wishing Steps - anyone capable of running up and down twice without drawing breath will supposedly see their wishes fulfilled.
Address: Northgate Street, Chester
2 Chester Rows
Among Chester's most distinctive features are its galleried walkways, with their many shops running the length of the old stone and half-timbered buildings. Dating from the 14th century, the Chester Rows evolved from houses and shops built partly in front of (and partly on top of) piles of rubble left from the Roman ruins. These rows are found in all four of the town's main streets which, following the Roman town plan, meet at right angles at the market cross. In Eastgate, Bridge, and Watergate Streets, the galleries are at first floor level, while in Northgate Street they're mostly at ground level.
Address: Bridge Street, Chester
3 Watergate and Lower Bridge Streets
Watergate Street has several exceptional half-timbered houses, including God's Providence House, built in 1652 and so named as its inhabitants were spared the plague, and Bishop Lloyd's House, with its beautiful carvings. Leche House (1579) also has elaborate half-timbering, as does richly-decorated Stanley Palace (1591).
Lower Bridge Street is also well-known for its beautiful half-timbered houses, in particular Falcon House; Tudor House (built in the 16th century and the oldest dwelling in the city); the Old King's Head Hotel; and the Bear and Billet, a four storied half-timbered inn.
Address: Watergate Street, Chester
4 Chester Cathedral
Chester Cathedral is built on the site of a much older church dating from AD 958 and a later Benedictine abbey (part of the old Norman church survives in the north transept). The abbey in turn became a cathedral when, following the Dissolution, a new diocese was created by Henry VIII in 1541. The Lady Chapel and Chapter House are Early Gothic (post 1240); most of the choir is High Gothic (1280-1315); and the tower, west front, and upper part of the nave are Late Gothic (1485-90). While the splendid three-aisle pillared nave of the Gothic basilica is undoubtedly one of this elegant structure's most striking features, the west end is also notable for several features: the baptistery, another relic of the Norman church, contains a 6th-century Venetian font, and the Consistory Court, though less visually impressive, is nevertheless unique in England.
Address: 12 Abbey Square, Chester
5 Cathedral Choir
The finest part of Chester Cathedral, its Early Decorated Choir, certainly deserves to be visited, even if it's all you see of this magnificent building. Its 14th-century stalls are superbly carved, with 48 droll misericords and an old abbot's seat inscribed with the Tree of Jesse, and part of a 14th-century shrine to St. Werburgh can be seen in the Lady Chapel. On a musical note, Handel's Messiah was first rehearsed here and is often performed during the Christmas season. Visitors are also often thrilled to have the opportunity to hear the country's oldest volunteer choir in action, along with regular organ recitals.
Address: 12 Abbey Square, Chester
6 Chester Cathedral Falconry and Nature Gardens
Be sure to spend time exploring Chester Cathedral's extensive grounds. In addition to its lovely gardens set against the background of the old cathedral, you can enjoy the excellent Falconry and Nature Gardens attraction. Popular things to do here include watching birds of prey such as owls, falcons, and hawks in flight as well as participating in unique experiences that include the opportunity to handle one or more of these magnificent birds of prey.
Address: 12 Abbey Square, Chester
7 Chester Roman Amphitheatre
The largest such attraction in Britain, Chester Roman Amphitheatre remains the subject of continual excavation and discovery. As recently as 2005, excavations revealed two successive stone-built amphitheaters with wooden seating, one of them similar to that found in Pompeii. In Roman times, the site was used for entertainment and military training by the famed 20th Legion, a fact that is especially impressive as you stand on the very spot where such activities took place some 2,000 years ago.
Address: Little St. John Street, Chester
8 Chester Zoo and the Blue Planet Aquarium
In Upton, just over a mile north of Chester city center, Chester Zoo is one of the UK's largest and most popular zoological parks. Home to more than 11,000 animals representing some 400 different species, this 125-acre site also features prizewinning landscaped gardens and its very own monorail system. Animal attractions include Chimpanzee Island, a penguin pool, and Europe's largest tropical house.
Another great wildlife-themed tourist attraction is Blue Planet Aquarium, home to more than 50 displays of fish and marine species. The largest section, the stunning Caribbean Reef exhibit, houses more than 700 fish, including southern stingrays and moray eels, as well as Europe's largest collection of sharks (if your budget allows, book one of the attraction's popular shark dive experience).
Location: Cedar House, Caughall Road, Chester
9 Dewa Roman Experience
Be sure to visit the Dewa Roman Experience, a fascinating interactive reconstruction of the sights, sounds, and smells of life inside the 2,000-year-old Roman fortress buried beneath modern-day Chester. The adventure begins aboard a Roman galley, before moving into reconstructions of the granary, barracks, a bathhouse, and market stalls that would have formed part of the fortress that was home to the 5,000-strong 20th Legion. Time it right, and you might be recruited for a fun Roman soldier patrol through the city.
Address: Pierpoint Lane, Chester
10 St. John's Church
Just around the corner from the amphitheater stands St. John's Church, some of which dates from the late 19th century, along with part of an earlier 12th-century Norman church, including its still impressive nave. The triforium is Transitional and dates from around 1200, and although the original choir and Lady Chapel were destroyed when the central tower collapsed, they can still be seen as picturesque ruins. Also worth a visit is St. Michael's Church on Bridge Street. Although no longer in use as a church (it's now a heritage center), it contains numerous interesting features, including its fine stained glass windows and a 15th-century chancel.
Location: The Cross, Chester
11 Grosvenor Museum
The Grosvenor Museum boasts a fine collection of Roman antiquities, along with special displays illustrating the life of the Roman legionary and the Roman fortification of Britain. Exhibits deal with matters of life and death during Roman times, including medicinal remedies and instruments, as well as impressive collections of modern artworks, plus numerous paintings and sculptures dating back some five centuries. At the rear of the museum is 20 Castle Street, the museum's Period House. Built around 1680, it's displayed as a sequence of nine period rooms dating from 1680 to 1925.
Other notable attractions close to Chester run by West Cheshire Museums include Weaver Hall Museum and Workhouse, a local history museum housed in what was once a schoolroom in a workhouse; the still-operating 19th-century Stretton Watermill; and the restored Lion Salt Works near Northwich, with displays related to a once-important local industry.
Address: 27 Grosvenor Street, Chester
12 Cheshire Military Museum
The Cheshire Military Museum tells the story of the four famous regiments connected with the area from 1685 to the present day. Among the groups and individuals featured in the display are Lord Baden Powell, founder of the scouting movement, and The Cheshire Yeomanry, the last horsed regiment in action during WWII. Highlights include displays following the exploits of the Regiments of Cheshire, their travels across the world, and the wars in which they fought, including a fascinating exhibit focusing on life in the trenches during WWI. The museum also houses the archive of the Cheshire Regiment, providing information on people who have served with the regiment.
Location: The Castle, Chester
13 Cheshire Workshops
Craftsmen at the Cheshire Workshop not only demonstrate their hand-carved candle-making skills, they encourage visitors to participate in the art, too. The facility also offers glass, pottery, and jewelry displays, as well as a café. The attraction is particularly popular for parents as the site includes a playground and numerous fun activities for kids.
Location: Burwardsley Tattenhall, Chester
14 Beeston and Peckforton Castles
The history of Beeston Castle stretches back more than 4,000 years to its origins as a Bronze Age hill fort. Perched high atop a rocky crag, the castle ruins are fun to explore and offer incredible views of the surrounding countryside, all the way to the Pennines and Wales. A much newer fortress to check out is nearby Peckforton Castle, a medieval-style castle built in 1850 and made famous as the set for Kevin Costner's Robin Hood.
Address: Chapel Lane, Beeston
Where to Stay in Chester for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly-rated hotels with easy access to Chester's historic monuments and city walls:
- Edgar House: boutique luxury, river views, elegant decor, heated floors in bathrooms, riverside garden.
- Roomzzz Chester City: mid-range apartment hotel, contemporary design, free breakfast.
- Oddfellows: affordable boutique hotel, quirky style, themed rooms, afternoon tea, Mediterranean restaurant.
- Premier Inn Chester Central (South East) Hotel: budget hotel, near bus to city center, modern decor, comfortable beds.