Although I’ve been taking as many opportunities to explore Europe this year, my passion for visiting towns and cities in the UK is growing by the second. In fact, I’ve always loved exploring the UK, and early on in my relationship with my husband 12 years ago we had many adventures in Windermere, Harrogate, Swanage and many many more.
My obsession with historic locations is much documented here, so what better place to spend a weekend exploring than the incredibly historic city of Chester. With its Roman walls (and ruins!), Tudor style timber buildings, quaint cobbled streets and picturesque location beside the River Dee, we found a huge amount to entertain. Add in a visit to some very wonderful elephants and a burgeoning foodie scene and you’ve got the perfect way to spend 36 hours in Chester.
Chester is an incredibly walkable city, with excellent transport options to get to its outer reaches. We travelled from London Euston by train with Virgin Trains, taking only two hours to reach the heart of Chester. The best thing about travelling with Virgin Trains at the weekend is the option to cheaply upgrade to First Class (in fact you can do this on the day, on the train, space permitting), and whilst you don’t get a huge cooked breakfast or seat side service, you do get luxury seats, free tea and coffee and a snack. If you buy your first class tickets in advance you can also use the lounge at Euston Station which is excellent for three reasons – great free coffee, amazing shortbread biscuits and finally getting to have a free wee at Euston Station.
Upon arrival at Chester station you can change for connections onwards to Wales and Liverpool, but we took a 15 minute walk from the station right into the heart of the city to our accommodation and for the most part we used our two feet to walk around. The only exception was our visit to Chester Zoo. There are great bus options from the station, but as it had started to rain, so instead we chose to jump in a local taxi from the High Street, which cost only £8. Bargain, and we stayed dry!
Where To Stay
There are plenty of places to stay in Chester, from the extremely opulent Chester Grosvenor, to the more reasonably priced Hallmark Hotel The Queen. In fact for such a compact location there is a huge range of accommodation options to suit every budget, which is why I think it makes such an excellent weekend break choice.
We decided to stay in a centrally located apartment rental called The Chapel, based in an old converted church building. We rented the deluxe apartment, but the owners also have the extremely fancy penthouse available which is perfect if you are travelling in a group. I got to sleep in the most comfortable bed I have ever climbed in to 9so much so that I’ve enquired with the owners what the mattress is), and we had a really lovely bathroom and lounge/kitchen area to hang out it. Perfect touches such as biscuits and tea/coffee/milk were left out for us and I’d 100% recommend this apartment for anyone looking for a cosy but stylish stay in the city.A quaint, historical weekend in North England awaits you - here's a guide to 36 hours in Chester.Click To Tweet
What To Do
For a small city, Chester has plenty to keep you occupied for a weekend (and we didn’t even visit any of the museums). It’s the sort of city where you could combine a culture and shopping break, as Chester has an excellent range of both high street and designer options, as well as cute local boutiques hidden in amongst the beautiful Tudor buildings. On the other hand, you could spend plenty of time just wandering the city walls, stopping of regularly for tea and cake, a glass of Fizz or even a full afternoon tea (I have it on good authority that The Chester Grosvenor does a fantastic afternoon tea).
We decided to soak up as much of the history as we could on two feet for our36 hours in Chester, whilst also going wild and visiting Chester Zoo. We didn’t rush at all and fitted all of these things in at a leisurely pace, leaving on Sunday lunchtime without any issue!
Chester is home to the UK’s most visited zoo, with over 15000 animals to see, set in 125 acres of land. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of city zoos, but Chester’s reputation, land size and their contribution to the world conservation scene had me intrigued. We spent an entire day there and still didn’t manage to see everything (especially as we got rained out before visiting the Meerkats!), but its perfect for animal lovers and families alike.
Particular highlights for us were visiting the Bush Dogs we’d seen on the TV (The Secret Life of The Zoo), the baby Elephants, actually spotting the Jaguar and watching the hilarious Gibbons. Although it isn’t cheap, the price felt worth it to me, and even the food options inside were not outrageous. The fact they have so many baby animals there is testament to their commitment to protecting and growing species, and the zoo keepers where always on hand for questions. A great day out, even if you are only spending 36 hours in Chester!
Cost: £24 per adult on the door or £20 in advance bought online. Prices vary on a weekday.
Chester City Walls
A self guided walk around Chester’s city walls allow you to step back in time, imagining Roman foot soldiers on patrol, medieval archers or even just those whose footsteps went before you when they’d lost their defensive role in the city’s history. It is the most complete set of city walls in the country, reaching nearly all the way round, and it offers some fantastic views over Chester and the River Dee.
Highlights to look out for on your walk include:
- The Eastgate Clock
- The Water Tower
- Chester Castle
- The Wishing Steps
- The Historic City Gates
- Chester Racecourse
It didn’t take us too long to amble along the wall, and the views we saw were very much worth it – especially of the old houses with narrow alleyways winding in between!
Cost: Totally free!
It’s not a complete city break without a visit to a Cathedral, and Chester is home to a beautiful architectural spectacle right on the city walls. There is currently a sculpture exhibit inside, and you can book tower and ground floor tours if you want to get a great view of the city. Having enjoyed our tower tour at Salisbury we were keen to repeat the experience but we couldn’t make the timings work on our 36 hours in Chester.
Chester Cathedral also has the Falconry and Nature Gardens which you can also see from the city walls – sadly we saw no falcons on our visit but they do regular falconry shows daily if you want to plan ahead.
Cost: Free, but tower tours start at £6 per adult.
I do so very much love my Roman history and ruins (see here, here and here!), so when I found out there were a few things to see of the Roman ruin variety in Chester I was very excited. Chief among them is the Roman amphitheatre, located just outside the city walls. It was in its day the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain and was used for both entertainment and military training.
Only about two fifths are visible, with the rest lying unexcavated. If you visit today, you can see two large entrances and the original stone wall, and although most of its history is surrounded by neglect and demolition, it was one of the most important sites in Roman Britain, showing Chester’s importance at that time.
Cost: Totally free!
Yet more Roman ruins can be found in Chester’s Roman Garden, just round the corner from the amphitheatre and leading on to the River Dee. Created in the 1950s, this garden was created to display many of the key findings from Roman times, most of the items now housed in the Gardens were found at the end of the nineteenth century during excavations in Chester.
You can see many columns and building fragments, as well as parts of Roman Baths, and it is a beautifully designed garden. We actually walked through it being covered in a fine mist of rain which made it incredibly atmospheric, and it is worth a wander through on your visit to Chester.
Cost: Totally free!
Where to Eat + Drink
As we only spent 36 hours in Chester, and for one of our meals we were at Chester Zoo, our foodie recommendations in the area are short and sweet. That said, Chester is growing in its food reputation with a number of amazing restaurants and bars now lining the streets for all budgets and tastes. I’d definitely go back just for the food scene alone, so you won’t want for decent grub when visiting!
My lovely Mr S booked this restaurant, as he works in the area frequently and had dined here a few times before. I had heard very good things about Opera Grill and it lived up to every expectation. Housed in a grand Grade II listed building featuring a distinct neoclassical Greek façade, inside is more of an industrial feel boasting three floors with a relaxed, yet outgoing vibe.
Within the building is a ground floor restaurant & bar (where we ate), a first floor Gallery Restaurant & Music Lounge, complete with a bar and stage and a south facing all year round Roof Terrace. Upon arrival, the restaurant was already very buzzy, with a DJ pumping out amazing club classics and prosecco glasses clinking in every corner.
We both had a starter and main course, and dug into their amazing steak selection (I tried Waygu for the first time and it was absolutely incredible). My starter of duck salad was simply incredible and washed down with a reasonably priced bottle of Malbec we had a great night.
The Opera Grill is not the cheapest place to eat, but the quality of the food was more than worth it. I adored my night here, and I can’t wait to visit again (hopefully when I’ve got more than 36 hours in Chester and can luxuriate in my hangover the next day!)
Zugers Tea Rooms
The next morning we were absolutely stuffed from our big night out, so we held out for a late brunch after working up an appetite walking the city walls. Zugers Tea Room was the perfect spot for us to enjoy a huge full english with the most delicious bacon and sausages (I meant to ask if they were locally sourced and forgot, but either way they were gorgeous), and all the toast we could manage.
On top of the food being spot on, Zugers was just incredibly cute. they had amazing rustic halloween decorations in the window, two elderly ladies completing the crossword with their pots of tea and the most friendly staff I have ever encountered. Add to the fact that they do a mean flat white, and I’m sold.
I adored my mini weekend in Chester, and I think its the perfect size for a getaway. Small enough to fit into two days with time to spare, but not too small so as to be boring, if you are looking for an escape from the 9-5, a night in historic Chester couldn’t be better.
We combined our stay with a trip to Liverpool, but you could easily combine Chester with Manchester, North Wales and The Wirral. I hope you enjoyed my guide to 36 hours in Chester – give me your tips in the comments!