Visiting Chester, United Kingdom
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In our travels around the United Kingdom, we made a stop in Chester. We first learned about the city of Chester when we came across a house sit opportunity. After some research and seeing pictures, we discovered that it’s a marvelous city with a lot of history. We knew we wanted to visit. We spoke with the homeowner that was requesting a sitter for her home and cat, and fortunately, we both agreed that it was a good fit. We planned our trip and purchased our train tickets to spend some time in Chester.
Learn how to find a great house sit: What We Look for in The Perfect House Sit
A City with a Rich History
Although the city is small, relative to some of the cities we’ve been to recently (Dublin, Amsterdam and London), it has a history going back to its Roman founding in 79 CE. It was the largest Roman fortress in all of England. Originally known as Deva, the city is located on the River Dee. During medieval times, Chester’s history encapsulated battles between the Welsh and the Anglo-Saxons. In modern times there has been a push to preserve the history and buildings of Chester. Walking through Chester today, it’s not hard to see and feel the history of the city. (Wiki)
What to See When Visiting Chester
The Walls of Chester
Chester is the best preserved walled city in England (Telegraph). Built as a defense to the Roman fortress, the walls encircle the city. You can go atop the walls that surround the old city and walk cross the arches and bridges that formed the entrances to Chester. It’s about a two mile (three kilometer) walk. Along the way, there are placards with information points and lookouts, making it not only a beautiful walk, but educational as well.
Free to explore.
The Roman Amphitheater
Dating back to the first century, it’s the largest known Roman Amphitheater in England. While some think it was built for military use, most evidence points to it being used for entertainment. It was discovered in 1929 and further excavation efforts were made throughout the century. In 2004 the Chester Amphitheater Project was launched by Chester City Council and English Heritage. Currently the northern half of the stone amphitheater is exposed, while the southern portion rests underneath buildings, some of which are listed*. A mural in front of the covered southern half of the amphitheater is cleverly done to show visitors what the amphitheater may have looked like at its prime.
The amphitheater is just outside the city walls and can be seen on the walk from atop the walls. Learn more about the excavation and history at English Heritage.
Free to explore.
*Listed buildings in the UK are on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest and cannot be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission (British Listed Buildings).
The Roman Gardens
Located next to the amphitheater, running parallel to the city walls, the Roman garden was not actually a garden during Roman times. It was designed in the 20th century to feature Roman artifacts found throughout the city. This is also a place to see the damage on the wall where it was breached after 30 or more cannons were fired at it during the civil war in 1645 (Chester Tourist).
Free to explore.
The Chester Cathedral can be easily seen from within the city and from the city walls. It was originally built in 1092 CE in a Romanesque or Norman style and then in 1250 rebuilt in the Gothic style it’s today (Chester Cathedral).
By the way, don’t miss the nature gardens and falconry that are attached to the cathedral!
Free to explore. Tower tours and the Falconry are at a cost.
For those who love architecture and for those who love shopping. Unique not only to England, but likely the world, Chester Rows can be seen along Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street and Bridge Street (Visit Chester). The original purpose is not clear, but they are covered walkways on the ground level with stairways up to the second. Often, the lower level is below ground level and can be accessed by going down a few steps (Wiki). The rows are lined with shops, making Chester a great getaway for shoppers.
Free to explore.
It’s said to be the second most photographed clock in England, after Big Ben. The gateway it rests on dates back to 1768, while the clock was designed and built in the 1890’s. The official opening of the clock on 27 May 1899 was Queen Victoria's 80th birthday. The views from the top of the gateway are of the picturesque city center, with its Victorian and Tudor style buildings.
Free to explore.
With a goal of protecting endangered species, the Chester Zoo is home to over 20,000 exotic and endangered animals. Started as a private collection by George Mottershead in 1931, it became a zoo in 1934. Mottershead had a vision of opening a zoo without bars. The Chester zoo spans 125 acres and is one of the largest zoos in England. The zoo is one of the top 15 zoos in the world and is a must see for adults and families alike! (Chester Zoo)
Buy tickets at the gate, or online for a discount. For an extra 15% savings ride a bicycle there like we did!
Chester Racecourse - Roodee
The oldest racecourse still in use in England, with the first horse race on record being in the early 1600’s.
Visit Chester Racecourse for an event, race, or have a meal at one of the restaurants.
Our Visit to Chester
We very much enjoyed our time in Chester. We found everyone to be extremely kind and helpful. We even had the privilege of talking to a gentleman who was originally from Liverpool but moved to Chester as a young man. He told us about the history of the city, the Romans, the civil war and the bombing of Liverpool he lived through during World War II. His kindness and willingness to speak with us and share his knowledge and experiences is something we only hope of finding in each place we visit. The interaction with people in each new city adds an entirely new dimension to our experience.
Like most places, we did our exploring by foot. We found many walks that we really enjoyed. The homeowner that we did the house sit for was kind enough to leave us with maps of routes that we could walk. They’re actually cycle routes, but work just as well on foot. If you’re up for some good walks around the city, be sure to check Chester Cycle City for maps.
During our time in Chester we found that a large portion of the city's population is younger, probably because of Chester University. There are many things to do in the city, but it’s also a nice quiet retreat. Even if you’re not interested in the history of the city, it’s still a great place to spend time. A few minutes in city center and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another time and place with the Victorian and Tudor style buildings and cobble stone streets.