12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Nottingham
Nottingham, county town of Nottinghamshire, is built on a number of hills on the north bank of the River Trent. The city has a long tradition as a trading hub and manufacturing center and is known for its fine lace. More recently, it has become a popular cultural destination boasting numerous attractions, including two large theaters and several art galleries. It also hosts many great festivals and events, one of the most popular being the annual Nottingham Goose Fair.
Known as the "Queen of the Midlands" on account of its broad streets and picturesque parks such as the Arboretum, Embankment, and Colwick Park, Nottingham is a great base from which to explore nearby Sherwood Forest, legendary home of Robin Hood. In fact, the image of this most famous of English folk heroes is everywhere around the city, and although his once enormous woodland hangout is now considerably reduced, it lends the city a truly unique atmosphere.
See also: Where to Stay in Nottingham
1 Old Market Square
Nottingham's old city center boasts several important tourist attractions. It's here that you'll find Old Market Square, the largest such public space in England and home to the Nottingham Tourism Centre, an important first stop before exploring the city. On the east side of the square is the Neoclassical Council House, crowned by an imposing dome, and the impressive Guildhall is also close by. While strolling through the city's historic center, be sure to head over to the Nottingham Playhouse for a look at the remarkable Sky Mirror. Created by sculptor Anish Kapoor, this 19-foot-wide stainless steel dish points upwards and provides a unique look at the sky above.
Location: Smithy Row, Nottingham
2 The Lace Market
Just a short walk away from the Old Market Square is the historic Lace Market, once the heart of Britain's lace industry. Protected as one of the city's most important heritage zones, these former warehouses and display rooms now house numerous shops, restaurants, and lace makers.
A must-see here is the popular Galleries of Justice Museum in the city's former court and jailhouse. In use since 1780, highlights of the museum include its courtrooms and a jail that dates from the 14th century, as well as fascinating exhibits relating to matters of crime and punishment (be sure to check out the displays about Robin Hood). Other nearby attractions worth visiting include Nottingham Contemporary, a modern art gallery, and the National Ice Centre, one of the country's largest ice-skating rink facilities.
3 Nottingham Castle
Nottingham Castle affords excellent views of the town and is notable for its bronze statues of Robin Hood and his merry men by Nottingham-born sculptor James Woodford. Destroyed in 1651 by Parliamentary forces, the original castle was replaced by an Italian-style palace belonging to the Duke of Newcastle that's now home to two great museums: the Sherwood Foresters Regimental Museum, with its impressive collection of medals and regimental uniforms, and the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Among the latter's treasures are beautiful 6th-century Anglo-Saxon brooches, medieval ceramics and alabaster carvings, stoneware from the 17th and 18th centuries, and an ethnographic gallery (including jade jewelry from New Zealand, Burmese bronze statues, and Indo-Persian steelware). The picture collection in the Long Gallery includes works by Charles le Brun, Richard Wilson, William Dyce, Marcus Stone, and Ben Nicholson.
Also worth a visit, the Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard, just a few yards away, is a collection of 17th-century cottages housing displays portraying the history of the people of Nottingham.
Address: Lenton Road, Nottingham
4 The City of Caves
Numerous caves exist in the sandstone underneath Nottingham, including the spectacular 322-foot-long Mortimer's Hole directly below the castle. Part of the excellent City of Caves attraction, this particular formation takes its name from Roger Mortimer, lover of Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II (legend has it Mortimer once hid here from the jealous king). In all, more than 450 caves lie beneath Nottingham, the largest known grouping of caves in the country, and have been used for centuries for storage and defense. Accessed from the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, fascinating public tours of the caves are available.
Location: Upper Level, Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, Nottingham
5 Highfields Park
Part of the University of Nottingham, Highfields Park is a splendid 52-acre green space full of exotic plants and trees. Fun things to do here include boating, walking, picnicking, lawn bowls, croquet, and putting. Children can burn off steam in the play area, and the Lakeside Arts Centre stages special events.
Another park worth visiting is the splendid Arboretum, home to lovely gardens and some of the city's most popular festivals. Close by is the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the city's oldest church, known for its 19th-century glasswork. It's also the city's second largest religious center after the Roman Catholic Cathedral Church of St. Barnabas.
Also near the university is Wollaton Hall, an Elizabethan mansion set amid a 500-acre deer park that now houses the Nottingham City Museums and Galleries' Natural History Collection, as well as the superb Nottingham Industrial Museum.
Address: University Boulevard, Lenton, Nottingham
6 Green's Mill and Science Centre
Lovely Green's Mill, once home of mathematical physicist George Green (1793-1841), was built in 1807 only to be rebuilt in the 1980s after a devastating fire in 1947. Today, the amazing inner workings of the windmill can be seen over four floors, each of them providing an insight into the flour-making process. The science center itself is aimed at youngsters and includes a discovery zone with fun interactive displays.
Address: Windmill Lane, Sneinton, Nottingham
7 D. H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum
The D. H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum in the Eastwood area of Nottingham combines three unique attractions focusing on the famous English author. The Blue Line Trail, a self-guided walking tour modeled on the Freedom Trail in Boston, links the Heritage Centre and the Birthplace Museum. The museum is home to a fascinating exhibition on the social history of Eastwood during the writer's lifetime, including recreations of a Victorian schoolroom, a grocery shop, and a mock-up of a mine that visitors can crawl through. There's also an art gallery, bistro, and conference area. Also of interest are displays about family life in the mining community that shaped Lawrence's formative years, as well as a chance to view the rooms where the family lived. Personal items and some of Lawrence's original watercolors are also on display.
Address: Mansfield Road, Eastwood, Nottingham
8 The Great Central Railway
Chugging along some 10 miles of track between Ruddington Fields station to East Leake and Loughborough, the Great Central Railway makes an excellent excursion when visiting Nottingham. Highlights of this heritage railway include a number of fully restored steam and diesel train engines and rolling stock, as well as fully functioning workshops, vintage buses, a café, and shops. Model train enthusiasts will want to check out the attraction's large miniature railway layout, and those traveling with kids should plan ahead and try to catch fun events like the special Santa and Christmas trains.
Address: Mere Way, Ruddington, Nottinghamshire
9 Robin Hood Way and Sherwood Forest
Stretching all the way from Nottingham Castle to Sherwood Forest, the 104-mile-long Robin Hood Way passes many attractions associated with the legendary Robin Hood. The trail also goes through the Clumber Country Park and past Rufford Abbey, as well as Robin Hood Hills, Thieves Wood, and Fountain Dale.
The highlight, of course, is spending time within famous Sherwood Forest, the most important area landmark associated with Robin Hood. Today, this famous woodland encompasses more than 1,000 acres surrounding the village of Edwinstowe, including the 450-acre Sherwood Forest Country Park, and attracts visitors each year through events such as the week-long Robin Hood Festival with its recreation of medieval times and characters, including knights and court jesters. Other big draws include the Sherwood Forest Art and Craft Centre; the 1,000-year-old Major Oak; and Thynghowe, a medieval meeting place where people came to resolve disputes.
Address: Mansfield Road, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire
10 Papplewick Pumping Station
Widely considered one of the finest examples of Victorian industrial design in Britain, the Papplewick Pumping Station is a superb example of 19th century craftsmanship. It boasts a range of original features including an ornamental cooling pond and a Boiler House complete with six Lancashire Boilers, all set amidst formal landscaped grounds.
The ornate Engine House is home to the original twin beam engines, built by James Watt in 1884. Here visitors find a combination of Victorian engineering and artistic design, including beautiful stained glass windows, elaborately decorated columns and polished mahogany and brass. Another feat of engineering can be seen at Bestwood Country Park, home to the Winding Engine House, the last remaining vestige of the large colliery that once dominated the landscape.
Address: Rigg Lane, Ravenshead, Nottingham
11 Newstead Abbey
An easy 20-minute drive north of Nottingham is Newstead Abbey, the former family home of poet Lord Byron, whose tomb is in Newstead parish church. It was originally an Augustinian abbey founded in 1170 by Henry II, and many of the original structures can still be seen, including the west front of the church, the refectory, the chapterhouse (now a chapel), and the cloisters. Byron's rooms have been preserved as they were in his lifetime, with many of his mementos on display. Be sure to also explore the lovely garden, with its many old and rare trees, as well as the Japanese, formal, and tropical gardens, and lakes and streams in the abbey grounds.
Location: Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire
12 Southwell Minster
About 15 miles northeast of Nottingham, Southwell is a small market town that makes a good base for the exploration of Robin Hood country. Charles I stayed in the Saracen's Head before giving himself up to the Scots in 1646, thus beginning a long period of imprisonment ending with his execution.
Other historic buildings of note include the heritage houses along Church Street and Westgate, along with the old Methodist Church. Of particular interest is 12th-century Southwell Minster (the nave and transepts of this period have been preserved, as have its three Norman towers). The most exquisite part of the minster is undoubtedly the 13th-century chapterhouse, with its wonderful doorway, a profusion of beautiful naturalistic leaves and flowers, vines, grapes, animals, and human figures.
Address: Church Street, Southwell, Nottinghamshire
Where to Stay in Nottingham for Sightseeing
If you're visiting Nottingham for the first time, the city center makes a great base. Here, you'll find attractions such as Old Market Square, Nottingham Castle, and Mortimer's Hole, as well as plenty of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Below are some highly-rated hotels in this convenient and central location:
- Luxury Hotels: On a quiet cul-de-sac, a short stroll from the city center, the pet-friendly, boutique Hart's Hotel, with compact, contemporary rooms and a popular restaurant next door, lies a six-minute stroll from Nottingham Castle. Less than ten minutes on foot to Old Market Square and the castle, Crowne Plaza Hotel Nottingham has an indoor pool, fitness center, and comfortable guest rooms, while the contemporary Park Plaza Nottingham is even closer to the castle, near fabulous shops and restaurants.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A mere five-minute walk from the city center and steps from the popular Rock City music venue, Roomzzz Nottingham City offers fresh modern apartments with full kitchens. Breakfast is included in the rates. Nearby, the glass-encased Premier Inn Nottingham City Centre Hotel has comfy, modern rooms in a quiet location. A little closer to the city center, a short stroll from Old Market Square and the castle, Ramada Nottingham City Centre is popular for its handy location, comfortable beds, and reasonable rates.
- Budget Hotels: In a fantastic location, steps from Nottingham Castle and Mortimer's Hole, the pet-friendly Travelodge Nottingham Central, with basic, modern rooms, offers excellent value, as does the nearby Ibis Nottingham Centre, a little further east. North of here, near Nottingham Trent University, the no-frills, pet-friendly Park Hotel has basic rooms and free parking and is only a ten-minute walk from the shops, restaurants, and attractions of the city center.