First, an admission. As a new employee of Marketing Cheshire, I have a vested interest in finding Chester to be a great short break destination. However, I really did want to experience the city through the eyes of a tourist, rather than a worker commuting in each day. So, having roped my husband and daughter in, we embarked on our first UK city break as a family.

Not wanting to ask for a cheeky favour from a hotel, we stayed at a friend’s house, but there are loads of great places to stay in Chester across a range of budgets, see some options here. First decision; where to go for dinner on Friday night. I’d heard a lot of people mention the Opera Grill, so we called to see if they could fit us in (and to make sure that a toddler was an acceptable dinner guest!). They could, and we arrived at 6.30pm to find a space that would be at home in New York or Berlin – all marble and brass with a large circular bar and cosy booths. It feels very grown up, so probably not the obvious place to take a child, but they couldn’t have been more welcoming and the staff were great with her. She wolfed down a child’s portion of cheesy tomato risotto, whilst we indulged in some of the best steak I’ve had in a long time, and with speedy service, (a godsend when you have a fidgety toddler) we were done by 7.45pm and headed out into a balmy evening.

We took a stroll along the river Dee, then through Grosvenor Park which we renamed "squirrel park", as there are so many of them - and very sociable they were too! Then it was back for bed time and night-caps with a busy day ahead. We had been fortunate enough to be invited to the VIP opening of the Madagascar Play area at Chester Zoo. It’s a very long time since I’ve been to the zoo, and our daughter has never seen in real life the animals that she roars at in books and jigsaws. Needless to say, we were excited and turned up early, parking right near the entrance and waiting for the doors to open at 9.30am.

The play area is fantastic, perfect for kids of all ages (even those in their forties…). The idea is to encourage families to play together and it definitely achieves that. We did a lot of plastic food identification in the kitchen area, explored the cushions in what I’d call a "chill out area" but probably has an official name, then got brave enough to tackle the adventure play area. With climbing ropes, swings and slides, a massive sand play area, and a complex-looking series of water pumps, I guarantee your kids will work out quicker than you. We could have stayed there for hours, but the animals were calling so we set off to explore. There really is something about a zoo that brings out your inner child, and that is positively encouraged here, with skipping lanes and stomp zones in between the main animal habitats. 

After a great value lunch, we explored some more until our daughter zonked out, then headed back for a collective nap before heading into Chester again. First stop this time was Storyhouse, which is the best integration of library, theatre, cinema, restaurant and bar you could ever imagine. It feels like one cohesive space but with loads of exciting nooks and crannies to explore. My personal highlight was watching my daughter teach my husband how to work an interactive video wall whilst I sipped a gin & tonic and flicked through some interior design books. Whoever invented Storyhouse is a genius, we will be back.

Next stop was dinner. It was race day so we were worried that places would be booked up, but after a trawl of Tripadvisor, we called Koconut Grove and they offered us a table at 5.45pm, which was fine by us. It’s a Keralan restaurant which is probably my favourite style of Indian cuisine, and it did not disappoint. We were especially taken with the children’s menu, which offered a plain dosa for starters, among other options. The dosa came with dips on the side and I can’t even say it was bigger than my daughter’s head – it was bigger than her entirely! She thoroughly loved it – one of the dips was a bit spicy but the other two were right up her street. She even managed some of her chicken curry and rice afterwards.

Full and happy, we headed for home. The city was busy with race revelers, but there was a great buzz and it was another warm evening, so everyone was in good spirits (if no doubt literally as well as figuratively!). Next day we managed a small lie in (as much of a lie in as you can get with a two year old), then set off back to squirrel park as we’d heard there was a miniature railway and we watch a LOT of Thomas the Tank engine in our house. Much to our daughter’s delight, there was an actual Thomas at the station as well as the main train, which we rode around a small circuit with an enthusiastic driver who didn’t stint on the whistle. Choo choo became the delighted theme tune to the next couple of hours…

Last stop was brunch. Here we had asked for guidance from a Chester resident, colleague and serious bruncher (every Sunday, no kidding) and had made reservations at Atina Kitchen. Not only were they ready with colouring paper and crayons, but also with proper plastic children’s cutlery (not just small metal cutlery, which always makes me fear for both my child’s safety and the ear drums of our fellow diners...). The menu was so tempting it was hard to choose, but I went for avocado and poached eggs, my husband for ‘the highlander’ (eggs benedict with haggis – seriously indulgent) and we chose scrambled eggs on toast for our daughter. All a resounding success. I also have to recommend the bloody mary (as long as you promise not to judge me…), for which I was asked how spicy I wanted it on a scale of one to ten. I went for seven, and oh was it a spicy seven. Delicious.

And that was us. 48 happy hours followed by a nice snooze for at least two of us on the way home. I know I have a vested interest, but I can honestly, genuinely recommend Chester as a family-friendly short break destination.

Related

Opera Grill
Restaurant
Opera Grill

Standing out from the crowd, this 400-seater restaurant is housed in a grand Grade II listed building featuring a distinct neoclassical Greek façade and mixes an industrial look with a touch of opulence inside. Opera Grill brings theatre on a grand scale to Chester.

Grosvenor Park
Municipal Park
Grosvenor Park

The main ornamental park in Chester, extremely popular to residents and visitors to the city

Grosvenor Park Miniature Railway
Model Railway
Grosvenor Park Miniature Railway

Welcome to Grosvenor Park Miniature Railway Website. GPMR is a 7¼” gauge railway located only a few minutes walk from Chester’s historic city centre.

Chester Zoo
Animal Collection
Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo is home to over 21,000 endangered and exotic animals based in beautiful, award-winning gardens. With 500 different animal species in our 125 acres, you’re sure to have an adventure discovering and learning about our amazing animals and gardens.

Storyhouse
Library
Storyhouse

Storyhouse is Chester’s multi award-winning £37m theatre, library, restaurant and cinema. The restored and revitalised 1930s Odeon building houses an 800-seat auditorium, a 150-seat studio theatre, a restaurant and two bars plus a 100-seat boutique, independent cinema.

Atina Kitchen
Restaurant
Atina Kitchen

Atina Kitchen is a lively, family owned and run restaurant serving meals, snacks and drinks throughout the day.

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