This is one of my favorite towns in the whole world—steeped in history, fun to explore, and absolutely marvelous shopping.
I go there every time I go home to England, and there is so much to see and do. Shoes are my weakness. I bought seven pairs last week in my favorite shoe shops.
The town lies on the River Dee, close to the border of Wales. The population is 80,000 people and it became a city in 1541. Built as a Roman fort in 70 A.D., the military amphitheatre seats 10,000 and was built in the first century. It is a medieval walled city, and you can walk over two miles at roof top level, around the city center. There is no traffic in the city centre, so its easy to stroll around.
It is the most photographed place after London. Much of the architecture dates from the Victorian era and many of the buildings are Jacobean half timbered, painted black and white, designed by John Douglas who was the Duke of Westminster’s own architect. His trademark is twisted chimney stacks many of which you can see on the buildings in the city.
The Duke owns most of the land, and his estate is in the village of Eccleston, a few miles out of town. The Duke’s family name is Grosvenor, so there is a Grosvenor Park, Grosvenor Bridge, and the Grosvenor Hotel which is a five star, in the city centre. A fantastic place to stay, we had our 25th wedding anniversary party there, and it has a wonderful restaurant.
The city is famous for its city walls and the rows. These are unique in Britain. They consist of buildings with shops on the lowest two stories. The shops on the ground floor are often lower than the street so you go down steps to enter. Those on the first floor are entered by going up steps to a continuous walkway—700 years old—with railings overlooking the street. This is a great place to visit during bad weather because you can walk undercover, and shop around the town and stay dry.
The Cheshire Cathedral is 1,000 years old, with wonderful stained glass windows, a fantastic organ, and a marvelous choir. Only men and boys sing in the choir, and I used to go to the Christmas concerts every year with my parents. Try and go to a service when you there as it is a great experience.
The museum has Roman tombstones and a great art gallery. A must-do is to take a Hop on, Hop off bus tour around the city, a cruise on the River Dee, and if you want to find a bargain, go to the Chester market which has 50 stalls. There are many great restaurants in the city, lots of little tea shops for a rest and a scone. It is also a great place to start a visit into North Wales since you are right on the border. When you see on a sign “Welcome to Wales” you know you are there. You can join a guided walk which goes from the Town Hall Visitor Information Centre at 10.30 a.m. daily.
For excellent shopping, with lots of unique little shops, I head for Marks and Spencers department store, the Edinburgh Woolen Mills, and Browns of Chester—a high-class department store. There are 145 shops at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet just outside of town, which has fashion up to 60% less than in the shops.
On a Saturday this is a very busy town. It is known as “Welsh day” since buses come into town from every little village in North Wales enabling the villagers to shop and have lunch.
In the summer they have lots of performances in the park as they have an excellent Philharmonic Orchestra.
If you are a gardener, this is a great base to explore several stately homes and their gardens if you wanted to do day trips. Here are some of the family favorite haunts in the county of Cheshire, usually open April to October.
Abbeywood Gardens, Delamere
Adlington Hall. Macclesfield
Arley Hall and Gardens, Northwich
Biddulph Grange Garden, Biddulph
Bluebell Cottage Gardens, Dutton
Bridgemere Garden World, Nantwich
Capesthorne Hall, Macclesfield
Cholmondeley Castle Gardens, Malpas
Dunge valley Rhododendron Gardens, Kettleshulme
Tatton Park, Knutsford
The Royal Horticultural Society holds their annual flower show at Tatton Park in July every year and it's as good as the Chelsea Flower Show.
Chester is on the list of must-see’s for places to visit in Europe. A unique town, no other like it.
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street in Los Altos. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.