Located in North West England on the border to Wales, Chester is the picture perfect image of a historic English city. Chester was originally a fortress founded by the Romans and there are several remnants of this period dotted throughout the city. The most famous is probably the 2 mile long wall that circles the city and is the most complete city wall in Britain. With so much history on its doorstep, where would you even begin on a visit to Chester? Thankfully, Chester is a fairly compact city and several of its sights are within walking distance and also free! I’ve spent a lot of time in Chester over the last few years and therefore thought it was about time I wrote about some great free things to do in Chester for adults. Commence the list!
1. Chester’s Roman City Walls
Address: Spread throughout the city. I suggest that you join the walls just behind Chester Cathedral.
As mentioned, Chester’s city walls are the most complete in Britain and even better, you can walk pretty much the full length of them! Embarking on the 2 mile walk around the city walls will give you some pretty awesome views and is also a good way to see a lot of the city in one go. My favourite stretch of Chester’s Roman walls is between River Dee and the Roman Gardens as well as the stretch just behind Chester Cathedral. Pretty sure I’ve never recommended a favourite stretch of any wall to anyone before.
2. Chester Cathedral
Address: St Werburgh St, Chester CH1 2DY
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 9.00 – 18.00, Sunday 13.00 – 16.00
I adore Chester Cathedral. The cathedral is a bit like mature cheese; great in any season and only gets better with age. Although I love to admire it from the outside, Chester Cathedral is also beautiful inside and you should definitely enter the cathedral too. The original church was built in 1092 but the Gothic remodeling that’s on site today was started in 1250. I often find Gothic cathedrals incredibly impressive and Chester Cathedral is definitely not an exception. Entrance is free but donations are encouraged as the building receives no government funding (say what?!).
If you did want to spend money, you can book onto one of the cathedral’s guided tours that include a visit to the tower. Tours are £6-8 depending on length and I would strongly recommend a visit to the top of the tower where you get great bird’s-eye views of Chester.
Also, remember to take a picture with the petite and incredibly cute elephant statue outside the Cathedral before you leave the area.
3. Godstall Lane
Address: Godstall Lane (opposite Chester Cathedral).
Imagine a Studio Gibhli scene converted into a lane and you’ve sort of got Godstall Lane. It’s by no means a long lane, but it has fairylights, plant covered buildings and a few shops and restaurants. What more could you ask of a lane really?
4. Chester Town Hall
Address: Northgate Street, Chester, CH1 2HJ
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9.00 – 17.00
Chester Town Hall is a Grade II* listed building and worth a visit for the architecture alone. However, my favourite tale about the town hall relates to the clock faces. Chester is located right on the border to Wales and relations haven’t always been very….warm. Back in the day, the law said that if a Welshman was found inside the city walls after sunset and before sunrise, it was perfectly legal to shoot him with a crossbow. Chilly relations indeed.
Building on the chilly relationship comes then the tale of the clock faces. If you look at Chester Town Hall’s clock tower, you’ll notice that one side is missing a clock. This side faces Wales and the myth says that this is because the people of Chester ‘wouldn’t give the time of day to the Welsh’. Talk about friendly neighbours.
If you stand outside the town hall, face Storyhouse and cross the small road, there is also a Roman pillar you can have a look at. That’s one thing I like about Chester; there is so much history just casually scattered across the city centre.
5. Eastgate Clock
Address: 41-45 Eastgate St, Chester CH1 1LE
Funnily enough, the Eastgate Clock’s claim to fame seems to be that it’s the second most photographed clock in England (after Big Ben). Make of that what you want, but it’s actually a really nice clock. Eastgate Clock was erected in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and stands at the original entrance to the Roman fortress Deva. It won’t take you very long to admire this clock set in an iron structure, but it’s one of Chester’s most famous sights and worth a look. It’s situated on top of the city walls, so you can combine a visit to the clock with your city walls walk.
6. Chester Rows
Address: spread throughout the city centre but the two main streets are Eastgate Street and Bridge Street
One of the most iconic sights in Chester is no doubt the black and white double floor houses that go by the name Chester Rows. Chester Rows are essentially two floors of shops. You can either walk along them at street level or take a short staircase up to the first floor and walk along the shops under a covered walkway. They date back to the Middle Ages although the origin and purpose of the design is under debate. Either way, they make for a very iconic city centre and offer a pretty walk.
7. Grosvenor Museum
Address: Grosvenor Museum, 27 Grosvenor St, Chester CH1 2DD
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 10.30 – 17.00, Sunday 13.00 – 16.00
Another Grade II listed building (told you Chester got their fair share of history) houses the Grosvenor Museum. The full name is The Grosvenor Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, with Schools of Science and Art, for Chester, Cheshire and North Wales, which is probably too many words for any sign. Entrance to the museum is free and I recommend the Roman history section here, as it helps you understand the history of Chester.
8. Chester Castle
Address: Grosvenor St, Chester CH1 2DN
Chester Castle dates from the 11th century and is another piece of well-preserved Chester history. Several of the walls and buildings are Grade I or Grade II listed, so you have plenty of historical sights within a small area. Unfortunately you can only access the interior of Chester Castle through a paid guided tour. However, you can look at the castle from outside for free. I suggest you walk onto the city walls and view the castle from there.
9. Minerva’s Shrine
Address: Edgar Pl, Chester CH4 7JY
Minerva’s Shrine is quite possibly one of the most random attractions in Chester. A Grade I listed building, Minerva’s Shrine dates from the 2nd century and is dedicated to Minerva; Roman goddess of war, wisdom and commerce. In my humble opinion though….it just looks like a big rock. In reality however, the carved shrine is the only one of its kind in Western Europe that stands in its original location. Minerva’s Shrine is surrounded by a stone surround from the 19th century and behind it is Edgar’s cave; a natural opening in the rock. You can also see a cast of the original shrine in Grosvenor Museum.
However, the most random part of the shrine is its location. It’s in the middle of the park Edgar’s Field on the south side of River Dee and completely open to the public. Surrounding it are children playing and when I went, a group of teenagers were sat on top of the rock. If you didn’t know about it, you’d probably just walk past thinking it was a funny place for a massive rock.
10. Walk Along River Dee
Address: Start at Old Dee Bridge (oldest bridge in Chester) and go for a short stroll down to Queens Park Bridge
River Dee runs all the way to the Irish Sea and has been an important part of Chester history. As a matter of fact, Chester could have been an important port city had the river not silted up in the 15th century. In Chester you have a weir which crosses the river (also a Grade I listed building!) to prevent tidal water from entering the river further upstream and aid water extraction. In terms of sightseeing, the walkway along River Dee is lovely. Especially on sunny days when you often have live music and access to ice cream. I repeat, they sell ice cream here. What on Earth are you waiting for? The ducks are pretty cute too (ice cream though).
11. Chester Raft Race on River Dee
Address: The race starts by the Royal Chester Rowing Club and continues down River Dee under the suspension bridge
One of the most fun things to do in Chester is watching the yearly raft race on River Dee. In July every year, the Rotary club organises a raft race where people dress up and build their own rafts which they (un)successfully race down and up the river. Among other things, it passes under Queens Park Bridge where spectators have been known to throw eggs and pasta at the contestants. I would obviously never condone such a thing but just saying. It’s an option. Anyway, the raft race is a good laugh and is also a charity race, so definitely attend if you get the chance.
12. Chester Roman Gardens
Address: Pepper St, Chester CH1 1DQ
Once you’ve had a walk along the river, backtrack and join the city walls by the Old Dee Bridge. Turn right on the walls and you’ll soon reach Chester’s Roman Gardens. Whilst the majority of the gardens is reconstructions, there are also fragments of Roman history.
The gardens were constructed in 1949 and were a contribution to the Festival of Britain in 1951. The heating system is a reconstruction but the columns are original and come from the Roman fortress Deva. My favourite part is actually from 2010 (definitely went for looks over age here) and is a a circular mosaic by the entrance from Pepper Street. The design is based on Roman mosaics and is beautiful, definitely make sure you don’t miss it.
If you did want to spend extra, Chester Roman Gardens run an open air cinema during the summer. The Roman gardens are a pretty spectacular backdrop to the films and I would warmly recommend this experience. To see availability, check out their website here.
13. Chester’s Roman Amphitheatre
Address: Roman Amphitheatre, Little St John St, Chester CH1 1RE
If you haven’t gathered by now, there’s a fair bit of Roman history in Chester. Another notable landmark is Chester’s Roman Amphitheatre. About half of the amphitheatre foundations are excavated and it gives you a pretty good idea of what it once looked like. Fun fact; the Abode building in Chester is modelled on the amphitheatre and has the same diameter as the original Roman structure (hint: it’s pretty big).
14. Parish of Chester: St John the Baptist
Address: Vicar’s Ln, Chester CH1 1SN
A short stroll and a skip from the Roman amphitheatre, you’ll find St John The Baptist’s Church. Whilst you can enter the church itself, I personally enjoy exploring the ruins next to it. Although pretty small, I always feel a bit like a Norman adventurer when walking through them. Don’t miss the oddity that is a vertically inserted coffin in one of the arches. It’s unclear as to why the medieval coffin has been placed there, but it’s an interesting sight either way. The inscription on the coffin reads Dust to Dust (and is believed to date from Victorian times). Cheery.
I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that Chester is the perfect destination for anyone with an interest in history. So many of the free things to do in Chester for adults link back to the city’s long and well-preserved history. Hopefully you’ve found this post helpful and feel inspired to get your history boots on for a day out in Chester. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever been to Chester, England or would like to go!
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