I’m currently doing a Masters in Human Nutrition in Chester University so have been flying over and back every few weeks for lectures. Until now I haven’t really had the chance to explore the city properly but when my boyfriend joined me for the weekend on my last trip and I finally got to explore it properly! We had 48 hours to explore this beautiful city and it turned out to be one of the best trips we’ve ever had! From the food, shopping, cocktail bars and just general strolling around the city, nothing disappointed. If you’re looking for a destination for a nice, relaxed weekend away that’s only a short flight keep on reading for my take on making the most of a weekend in this historical city!
(Also, seeing as most of this review is about food (and not exactly the good kind) I’m thinking I should add a disclaimer at this stage to say that the following is not in any way a reflection of what I learned in my course about what constitutes a healthy diet!)
- Getting there:
Chester is located between Manchester and Liverpool, close to the Welsh border. Both Ryanair and Air Lingus run a number of daily flights to Manchester and Liverpool airports from Dublin and Shannon. Prices are generally cheap enough but during the sales you can get fantastic deals and I’ve already booked my flights for my next few lectures at €20 return with Ryanair. The flight from Dublin to Liverpool only takes 30 minutes (the Ryanair cabin crew only got the snack trolley to row 4 before they had to put it away for landing!).
From either airport it’s about an hour’s journey to Chester. There’s no direct train from either to Chester and even though you have to make a switch it’s pretty straightforward. It’s slightly easier to get to Chester from Manchester airport however the transport services there are very reliable and if you just Google “Manchester Airport to Chester” and the time you want to travel it will tell you exactly what to do and where to go.
- Where to Stay:
From hostels, B&B’s, apartments and hotels there’s no shortage of accommodation. Since Chester is so compact everywhere is extremely central, particularly if you’re based inside the city walls. Both times I’ve gone I’ve stayed in an apart-hotel called Roomzzz which I love. It’s really modern, a two minute walk to the main street and looks out over the racecourse.
Each room has a big double bed, desk, couch, kitchenette, TV and good bathroom. It also has fantastic WiFi and brilliant air-conditioning (which may sound unimportant but I always find hotel rooms so hot and hard to sleep in that this actually made a huge difference). Reception is stocked with snacks, drinks, treats and microwave meals (meaning you don’t have to run out to the shop if you get a bit peckish – but there is a Sainsburys up the road). There’s also a free coffee/tea/hot chocolate machine in reception available 24/7 and in the mornings there’s a complimentary grab and go breakfast of pastries, fruit and juices which is really handy!
- Friday evening:
If you catch an afternoon flight you should arrive into Chester early evening. From there either grab a taxi from the train station to your hotel or get it to drop you off “under the clock” so you can take a stroll through the main street and stop for a drink. We went to Barlounge for a cocktail as it’s on the way to the hotel (literally a minute up the road). I walk past it every evening after lectures and there’s always loads of people standing outside on the heated terrace so I dragged Brian in to see what the fuss was about (the cocktails are pretty good!). I had also actually booked it for dinner (booking seems to be essential in most restaurants there) so after a quick outfit change we headed back for our first of many indulgent meals.
When we came back for dinner the terrace was buzzing with people but they have a lovely little secluded restaurant tucked away inside. I had been studying the menu all week so suggested we get a selection of the small dishes to share for starters. We chose the maple glazed mini-sausages (which were amazing), buttermilk chicken goujons and crab stuffed doughnuts.
For mains I went all out and got the ham hock (which isn’t the most ladylike thing to order on a date and I probably looked like your one from the movie White Chicks when her and Latrell go out for dinner but it was so worth it). We almost considered skipping dessert but when the waitress suggested we try the sticky toffee pudding with fudge sauce from local fudge shop Roly’s (more about that later) we (well, I) couldn’t resist. Thank God we didn’t as it was honestly the nicest dessert I’ve ever had. Now I want to know if it’s acceptable to go into a restaurant and just order dessert for all three courses?
After dinner, while still in my fudge induced euphoria, we headed up the road for some post-dinner drinks. We stumbled upon/into a place called Havana’s which had an unreal cocktail menu. I didn’t think I could handle the excitement of the peanut butter cup flavour (yup they had that, although to be honest it actually sounded kind of sickening) so I just went for the Lemon Meringue Pie one (yes, so much lighter I know). Brian got the “Zombie” and when mine came out and the waiter placed a cherry on top I thought I’d won again (we always judge who went for the better option when we go out for food – my ham hock beat his burger) until the bartender filled an empty passion fruit shell with sambuca, put it in his cocktail and lit it on fire…enough said…
And that was Friday!
- Saturday Morning
On Saturday we rose nice and early (well I did and moaned at sleeping beauty until he did too). Then we grabbed some cappuccinos from the free machine and I dragged Brian up and over the city walls with the promise of some of the best pancakes of his life (I found out about this place called Hanky Pankys from the locals so knew it had to be good). After a bit of wandering and getting lost we eventually found the bright yellow pancake paradise down a little back street.
On the menu they have every topping you could want including chocolate, fresh berries, marshmallows, peanut butter and lemon curd. Once you have your base topping you then pick your ice cream which ranges from rocky road, cappuccino, sticky toffee pudding and whiskey and ginger flavour to name a few. Top that off with your favourite sauce (think candyfloss, white chocolate or wild cherry) and if you’re feeling in the mood then add a shot of your favourite liqueur.
We restrained ourselves and went for the fluffy breakfast pancakes with bacon, eggs and maple syrup but I’ve no doubt we’ll be back to try the others, purely for blogging purposes of course.
After this we went for a look around the shops. The main street is lined with old fashioned buildings called “The Rows” which are just so unique and lovely to stroll by. The shops are spread across three levels and there’s a covered walkway all along the top level so you can walk without getting wet if it’s raining (although the roof can be low at some points!). There’s a huge selection of shops ranging from Roly’s Fudge (where you can watch them making the fudge and sample it) to all the usual high street clothes shops (Zara, H&M, Topshop, River Island, New Look, Reiss etc.), independent boutiques, games stores, jewellery shops etc. The shopping is so good that I was worried we our now supersized “hand luggage” wouldn’t be allowed back on the plane!
Chester is a city steeped in history with much of it being very well preserved. From the Roman amphitheatre, the city walls, the Eastgate Clock (the second most photographed clock in England apparently), Chester Cathedral and the buildings themselves, most of which are listed, there’s always something to stop and admire.
The ruins of the amphitheatre are actually quite disappointing but I may have been expecting too much. If you want to be impressed then the Cathedral is well worth a visit. Entry is free, although they do ask for a £3 donation, which is fair enough as the upkeep most cost a fortune and it really is very impressive. I come from a family of lawyers so when I saw the old court room inside the Cathedral I was excited to see what type of cases used to be held there, however I wasn’t expecting this sort of thing…(photo below).
I had gotten a recommendation for a French restaurant called Chez Jules so I booked this for Saturday night. They don’t seem to have a set menu and it changes everyday but to start I got the French onion soup and Brian got the goats cheese salad, both of which were lovely. For mains we both got the pork belly, with lentils and black pudding (it sounded so good that we didn’t want to risk being disappointed if the other chose the better option!). Thankfully we both won as it was gorgeous. We shared the chocolate mocha delice for dessert (well Brian ordered and I helped myself).
I know it sounds like all we did on this trip was eat, and you’ be right, but the food was so good everywhere! Either we were really lucky or Chester just has great chefs as we weren’t let down by anything!
Morning – Walk the Wall
Check out is at 11am which forced us to get up early, so we grabbed some coffees and headed out to walk the city walls, partly to work off some of the extra calories but really just to build up an appetite for the amazingness that I had planned for brunch. The wall spans 2.2 miles around the city and is extremely well preserved. There are signs along the way depicting what it was used for and looked like throughout history. The walk itself is lovely and you get some great views of the city. At one stage you get to walk under the Eastgate Clock and at every stage there’s the opportunity to take a selfie (because obviously that’s essential).
Brunch – Hickory’s
We walked until we reached the riverbank where we got off the wall and headed to a place called Hickory’s for brunch. I had seen this on my last visit to Chester and tried to book it for dinner one of the evenings but it was completely booked out. We were actually pretty lucky to get a table on Sunday morning so if you do want to go I would say to book well in advance.
It’s a deep South USA style restaurant. The owners have traveled through the southern states bringing back lots of authentic recipes with them, including a whole wall of hot sauces (although I was way too scared to actually try any).
I wasn’t sure what to expect but when they gave us a bag of fresh popcorn instead of a bread basket on arrival I knew we were in for something unique! If you’ve ever watched Man-v-Food or Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and wished you could just transport yourself into some of the places they eat in then you need to come here. From gumpo, shrimp, brisket and steak to ginormous burgers they have it all. They even offer a 52oz steak if you’re feeling peckish. I went for the 16 hour smoked, imported, grain-fed beef brisket and Brian went for the “All American XXXL Roadhouse Burger” which he said was “the best burger he’s ever had” – and that would not be said lightly (he also said it’s technically not “XXXL” so don’t be put off thinking you’re going to be getting a cow in a bun).
I almost want to say that we didn’t get dessert as I’m well aware I’m going to be dubbed the SuperFat Foodie after this but my philosophy is if you eat healthy 80% of the time you can afford to treat yourself a bit (and maybe only to this extent like once year!). I appreciate my food (clearly) and enjoy it however I wouldn’t go treating myself like this every weekend as that’s just irresponsible but at the same time I would hate to go away somewhere and just worry about calories the entire time. But when you see the words “butterscotch pudding with popcorn ice-cream and coca-cola sauce” what can you do…obviously not order it because it sounds like it should have a health warning but sometimes you gotta live dangerously (because I am an absolute scaredy cat in everything else I do!). For the record it was delicious…and I’m debating whether this or the one in BarLounge was my favourite. It’s close so I obviously have to go back and re-taste both.
Afternoon – Stroll by the River
After brunch we rolled outside and walked down along the river as it was a lovely Winter morning. It’s a really nice walk and if you have time then you can hop on a boat for a river cruise but we just watched some of the local rowing clubs heading out for Sunday morning training. Further up there’s a little park and you might come across some squirrels – beware though they’re fearless little things even though they look so cute.
After this we got back up on the wall to complete the full circle of the city and arrived back outside our hotel. From there we just grabbed our bags, walked up to the train station and headed to Manchester Airport. I would like to say we had an easy trip home but we happened to be flying the night there was really bad fog so our plane was delayed and we just about made it home to catch the last bus Galway (it didn’t help that we literally sprinted from passport control, through the baggage hall and then got stopped by customs because in hindsight you’re probably not supposed to sprint past the officers when they’re clearly looking out for suspicious looking people so we ended up getting questioned…) however thankfully we made our bus and all my training came in useful!
If you’re looking for a relaxed break away that doesn’t require days to see all the sights but still has enough attractions to keep you entertained then Chester is perfect. Although we didn’t visit them there are a number of other attractions that would be perfect to include if you’re staying a bit longer or want to go as a family:
- Chester Zoo (the best zoo in the UK).
- Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet
- Day trip to Manchester or Liverpool
Or check out VisitChester.com for more info.
If you want to know anything else just leave a comment, tweet me, snap me, Instagram me, Facebook me, whatever! All the links are in the sidebar. I’m also putting a disclaimer in to say I’m back healthy eating again, I just need to figure out how to make it all taste that good!