Chester, Cheshire’s county town, is known for its extensive collection of historic monuments, including its magnificent mediaeval city walls.
Chester’s origins can be traced back to Roman times, and the settlement has been occupied by Vikings, Danes, Saxons, Scots, and Normans at various times.
The city’s maritime trade along the River Dee from the 12th to 14th centuries, however, had by far the greatest influence on it, bringing with it commercial and cultural prosperity.
For more than 50 years, the Old City has been a conservation area, and it still has many well-preserved half-timbered houses, as well as the Rows, its magnificent two-tier mediaeval arcades.
Add to this the city’s beautiful bridges, parks, and riverside walks, as well as its many musical festivals, excellent shopping, and one of the world’s best zoos, and it’s no surprise Chester is one of England’s most popular tourist destinations.
Discover more about these and other fantastic attractions by browsing our list of the best things to do in Chester, England.
Chester’s City Walls, mostly made of red sandstone, follow the even older Roman walls, except where they extend to the river and include Chester Castle.
The entire circuit, which is the best preserved of its kind in the UK, is a nearly two-mile walk that includes the four main gates: Northgate, Eastgate, Bridgegate, and Watergate.
A clock erected in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee can be found at Eastgate, while traces of Roman foundations can be found at Northgate. King Charles’ Tower is another must-see while walking the walls.
During the English Civil War, Charles I is said to have witnessed the defeat of his troops at Rowton Moor here in 1645. A small civil war museum is housed in the tower, and evidence of the conflict can still be seen along the wall.
Morgan’s Mount, an impressive watchtower; Pemberton’s Parlor, a semicircular tower with great views of the river area; and Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower, a solid sandstone Water Tower built in 1325, are other City Wall highlights. You’ll also see Grosvenor Bridge, which is next to the Rodee, an ancient horse racing track.
Finally, don’t forget to pay a visit to the well-known Wishing Steps. It is said that anyone who can run up and down twice without taking a breath will have their wishes granted.
Chester’s address is Northgate Street.
Chester’s galleried walkways, with their many shops running the length of the old stone and half-timbered buildings, are one of its most distinctive features.
The Chester Rows, which date from the 14th century, evolved from houses and shops built partly in front of (and partly on top of) piles of rubble left by Roman ruins.
These rows can be found in all four of the town’s main streets, which meet at right angles at the market cross in accordance with the Roman town plan.
The galleries are mostly on the first floor in Eastgate, Bridge, and Watergate Streets, while they are mostly on the ground floor in Northgate Street.
Chester’s address is Bridge Street.
Watergate Street is home to several noteworthy half-timbered houses, including God’s Providence House, which was built in 1652 and was so named because its residents were spared from the plague. Bishop Lloyd’s House, with its beautiful carvings, is also located here.
Leche House (1579) and the lavishly decorated Stanley Palace both have elaborate half-timbering (1591). Watergate Street is also home to Chester’s oldest building, the Blue Bell Inn, which dates back to the late 14th century.
Lower Bridge Street is also known for its lovely half-timbered houses, particularly Falcon House. Tudor House, built in 1603 and one of the city’s oldest residences, is also worth a visit.
The Old King’s Head Hotel and the Bear and Billet, a four-story half-timbered inn, are also worth a look and make excellent photo opportunities.
Chester’s address is Watergate Street.
Chester Cathedral stands on the site of a much older church dating from AD 958, as well as a later Benedictine abbey (part of the old Norman church survives in the north transept). When Henry VIII established a new diocese following the Dissolution in 1541, the abbey became a cathedral.
The Lady Chapel and Chapter House are post-1240 Early Gothic, while the majority of the choir is High Gothic (1280-1315). Late Gothic features include the tower, west front, and upper portion of the nave (1485-90).
While the magnificent three-aisle pillared nave of the Gothic basilica is undoubtedly one of the most striking features of this elegant structure, the west end is also notable for several features.
The baptistery, another Norman church relic, contains a 6th-century Venetian font, and the Consistory Court, which, while less visually impressive, is unique in England.
Chester’s address is 12 Abbey Square.
The best part of Chester Cathedral, the Early Decorated Choir, is well worth a visit – even if it’s the only thing you see of this magnificent structure.
Its 14th-century stalls are superbly carved, with 48 droll misericords and an old abbot’s seat inscribed with the Tree of Jesse, and the Lady Chapel contains a portion of a 14th-century shrine to St. Werburgh.
Handel’s Messiah was first rehearsed here, and it is frequently performed during the Christmas season. Visitors are often delighted to hear the country’s oldest volunteer choir in action, as well as regular organ recitals.
Chester’s address is 12 Abbey Square.
Chester Roman Amphitheatre, Britain’s largest such attraction – and one of the best free things to do in the city – is still being excavated and discovered.
Excavations in 2005 revealed two successive stone-built amphitheatres with wooden seating, one of which was similar to that found in Pompeii.
The site was used for entertainment and military training by the famed 20th Legion during Roman times, which is especially impressive given that you are standing on the exact spot where such activities took place some 2,000 years ago.
Chester’s address is Little St. John Street.
Chester Zoo, located in Upton, just over a mile north of Chester city centre, is one of the UK’s largest and most popular zoological parks.
This 125-acre site is home to over 11,000 animals representing 400 different species, as well as award-winning landscaped gardens and its own monorail system. Chimpanzee Island, a penguin pool, and Europe’s largest tropical house are among the animal attractions.
Blue Planet Aquarium, which houses more than 50 displays of fish and marine species, is another excellent wildlife-themed tourist attraction.
The Caribbean Reef exhibit, the largest section, houses over 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 popular shark dive experiences at the attraction.
Cedar House is located on Caughall Road in Chester.
Make time to visit the Dewa Roman Experience, a fascinating interactive recreation of life inside the 2,000-year-old Roman fortress buried beneath modern-day Chester.
The adventure begins on a Roman galley, then moves on to reconstructions of the granary, barracks, bathhouse, and market stalls that would have been part of the fortress that housed the 5,000-strong 20th Legion.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be recruited for a fun Roman soldier patrol through the city. There are also guided city tours of Chester’s Roman past available for people of all ages. After that, visit the on-site gift shop to pick up some souvenirs.
Chester’s address is Pierpoint Lane.
The Roman Gardens, which are close to the Roman Amphitheatre and easily accessible from the magnificent city walls, should be on your list of places to visit in Chester.
It was established in 1949 to display larger building remnants from the Roman fortress at Deva and other sites throughout the city, and it’s a joy to explore.
The substantial columns that once supported the roof of the old Roman bathhouse and the fortresses’ assembly hall are set lining the garden paths, and are perhaps the most notable remains.
The gardens’ three modern mosaics, as well as a hypocaust, a stone building used by the Romans as a heating system, are also worth seeing.
While strolling through the gardens, keep an eye out for a large section of the city wall that appears to have been repaired.
During the Civil War of 1645, Parliamentarian forces used cannons to create a large enough breach for troops to pass through. The gardens also provide access to the River Dee.
Chester’s address is Pepper Street.
The Grove, located along the beautiful River Dee not far from Grosvenor Park (which you can access from here), is quickly becoming one of the top free things to do in Chester.
This charming riverside promenade is a lovely place to stroll at any time of year and offers some unique city views.
Begin your walk at the city walls on Lower Bridge Street on the north bank of the Dee and simply follow the path all the way to Grosvenor Park.
You’ll have some great photo opportunities along the way, including the elegant homes of Queen’s Park on the other bank, as well as the swans that live in the area.
You’ll also pass some lovely old Georgian homes and plenty of pretty, tree-lined green space with plenty of park benches to sit and reflect.
Other notable attractions in the area include the Edwardian bandstand (which hosts seasonal concerts) and the Queen’s Park Suspension Bridge. There are also a number of restaurants, tearooms, and cafés in the area.
St. John’s Church is located just around the corner from the amphitheatre. Parts of this attractive church – once the city’s main cathedral – date from the late nineteenth century, along with a section containing an earlier 12th-century Norman church.
Although the original choir and Lady Chapel were destroyed when the central tower collapsed, they can still be seen as picturesque ruins.
St. Michael’s Church on Bridge Street is also worth a look. Although it is no longer used as a church (it is now a heritage centre), it has many interesting features, including fine stained glass windows and a 15th-century chancel.
Chester’s location is The Cross.
The Grosvenor Museum houses an impressive collection of Roman antiquities, as well as special exhibits depicting the life of a Roman legionary and the Roman fortifications of Britain.
Exhibits focus on Roman life and death, including medicinal remedies and instruments, as well as impressive collections of modern artworks. There are also many paintings and sculptures that date back five centuries.
20 Castle Street, the museum’s Period House, is located in the museum’s back yard. It was built around 1680 and is displayed as a series of nine period rooms ranging from 1680 to 1925.
West Cheshire Museums also manages Weaver Hall Museum and Workhouse, a local history museum housed in what was once a schoolroom in a workhouse; the still-operational 19th-century Stretton Watermill; and the restored Lion Salt Works near Northwich, with displays related to a once-important local industry.
Chester’s address is 27 Grosvenor Street.