Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
Published September 24th 2020
Best places to see, stay and do in Chester
With its stylish mix of historic and contemporary, chic Chester offers something for everyone amid its cobbled streets and enchanting river walks. Here's a staycation guide on why Chester is the ideal holiday or short break destination.
Chic and historic Chester has lots to offer staycationers
Black and white Tudor buildings greet you at every corner of this charming Cheshire enclave in North West England that dates back to Roman times. It even has remnants of its own amphitheatre - the oldest in the country.
Renowned as the home of soap opera Hollyoaks, there's a gloss to Chester with rows of independent and high-end shops, bars and restaurants within the stone city walls and the stunning two-level beamed terraces of its famous Chester Rows.
By car, it's only 1h 45minutes from Birmingham along the M6, 1h from Manchester and 4hrs from London but can be even quicker on the train.
The River Dee flows through it and there are Victorian bridges and riverside walks so you can make the most of the scenery. They feel particularly romantic too for a stroll among the trees and bandstand, that occasionally sees live music performances for passers-by.
An enchanting river runs through it. The River Dee in Chester
It seems that every age has left its mark on this incredible city. The Romans left their imprint as Chester, or Deva as they called it, grew beyond the curved walls of an amphitheatre and their fortress.
The Tudors left stunning black and white architecture that gives the city a romantic edge, while the fashionable Georgians and Victorians added glorious stone and iron delights at every turn, including the elaborate Eastgate Clock.
Then there are the famous attractions of Chester Zoo - the most visited zoo in the UK - and Chester Racecourse- the oldest in the UK.
Where to stay
If you want a convenient, glamorous stay in the city centre, Hotel Indigo Chester is steps away from all the main attractions and shops and has the bonus of being opposite beautiful Grosvenor Park, which leads to the River Dee.
It's only a five-minute walk to the river if you are in a rush but it's much nicer to saunter past boulevards of trees and flowers where squirrels happily roam.
There's a sophisticated edge to this hotel in Grosvenor Park Road that you feel from the moment you walk in the door. Hotel Indigo Chester, which opened in June last year, also has clear new measures to make you feel safe in the current COVID era, with social distancing between guests and staff, a one-way system through reception and masks a priority.
The open reception leads into a glossy bar and restaurant beyond. It's a contemporary hotel within the ancient city walls that benefits from large luxurious beds and spa-inspired bathrooms with monsoon showers, Molten & Brown toiletries and Victorian-esque tiles in its 75 plush guest rooms.
There's a link to the local neighbourhood in all Hotel Indigo premises and with Chester, there are touches that remind you of its Tudor buildings, horse racing and animals at Chester Zoo. Accessories feature exotic animals like giraffes and rhinos while there are nods to the architecture seen across the city.
My room had a glorious chaise longue at the end of the bed and right in front of the 40-inch flatscreen TV that made me feel extremely glamorous draped across it. It was almost as comfy as the huge bed that I sunk into after a busy day fitting in all the sights, tastes and shops that Chester has to offer.
As part of the COVID changes, the large breakfast buffet has been replaced by table service, but you still have the chance to order extensively from wide offerings of pastries, cereals, fruits, and mains, including the well-cooked Full English Breakfast. While it doesn't have its own car park, there are NCP ones within a five-minute walk that they offer deals on for overnight stays.
Standard rooms start from £92 a night but the hotel has a range of special offers throughout the year that you can find and book at the Hotel Indigo website here.
What to do
The shopping in Chester is impressive with an extensive range of stores. On top of that, its historic background makes for a delightful atmosphere while you window shop or bag a bargain.
The two-tiered covered walkways dating back to medieval times are truly unique and I loved discovering the scores of independent boutiques within them.
There's also a good range of high street and designer stores along with brands like Jo Malone, Seasalt and Mappin & Webb jewellers dotted around the city in the shadow of impressive Chester Cathedral.
Its historic grandeur and range of shops made me think how good Chester would be for Christmas shopping and how I'd have to plan a return visit.
Chester is an ideal base to explore further if you have more time. There's Liverpool and north Wales within easy reach for day trips plus a host of attractions across the Cheshire countryside.
Delamere Forest not only has over 950 hectares to explore by foot or on cycle paths, but there's also a Go Ape for the more adventurous.
Chester Zoo has over 35,000 animals within 128 acres of zoological gardens. It is big on wildlife conservation too. From aardvarks to zebras, and everything in between, this is a fun day out for adults and children alike.
While The Ice Cream Farm in Tattenhall, Cheshire, allows children to play and taste some exquisite ice cream.
Where to eat and drink
An array of bars in the promenades boast a feel of cellar bars for the ones below and rooftop escapes for those on the upper floor.
Microbreweries, cocktail bars and pubs fill the city, which has a youthful vibrant feel. Watergate Street is a hive of activity with stylish venues including Liquor and Co for craft beer and cocktails, Prohibition and also Lono Cove cocktail bar. You can even drink in a crypt style room at Watergates Bar.
There's a wide choice of restaurants and particularly a lot of Italian offerings in the city centre like Da Noi, Piccolino and Sergio, but there is also Brazilian and Indian food on offer too.
For fine dining options, Hotel Indigo's restaurant has a three-course menu that is refreshed regularly and features a range of tasty good value vegetarian and meat options. Nestling in one of its leather booths, I tried the warming and delicious celeriac and apple soup while my husband plumped for a baked turnip starter that we both lapped up quickly.
A venison main course at Hotel Indigo Chester's restaurant
From the open kitchen, you can see the talented chefs busying away with main course dishes from juicy venison and brisket of beef to salmon tandoori. The puddings are a real-pull too and I licked the spoon clean after a creamy rhubarb upside-down dessert. You can expect to pay around £30 for a three-course meal per person for gourmet food that is of a high standard.
A memorable UK city
Venturing to places in the UK I haven't been before during this COVID era is making staycations more exciting for me.
It also makes me wonder how I could have taken so long to discover Chester, an enchanting city full of history, scenery and attractions for all ages.
Chester left me totally captivated and, one thing's for sure, I'll be returning for more very soon.
A very comprehensive guide. Staycations are very popular everywhere at the moment and irs a good opportunity for people to get to know their own area a lot better which is something we often forget to do