Chester is consistently featured as one of the UK’s most historic cities. You may remember Professor Alice Roberts deeming Chester to be Britain’s most Roman town. Walking through Chester, you’re never far from remnants of Britain’s storied past and you don’t have to look very far to find fascinating evidence of just about every period of our nation’s history. From the Roman foundations of the city’s walls and the medieval Rows and Cathedral, to the Tudor racecourse and black and white facades, and Victorian Railway Station, Chester is proud of its heritage and visitors will marvel at the range of fascinating stories the city holds. So whatever your historic interest, Chester has it all. We thought we’d put together a selection of must visit historic sites in Chester that will tell the fascinating story of our city:

Take a tour through Chester’s past

A popular way to both explore the city and learn about its fascinating past is to take a guided tour. There are a number of options that leave from the Visitor Information Centre which is found within the magnificent Victorian Town Hall. For an extra historical titbit, you can find the Penny Post – a Victorian post box just outside the Visitor Information Centre. There’s The Chester Tour, where your knowledgeable Blue Badge Guide will take you on a trip through Chester’s past. Then there’s Roman Tours, where your very own Centurion will walk you through Chester’s (or Deva Victrix to be precise!) Roman occupation and its position as the potential capital of Roman Britain. With all the history in the city, there are bound to be at least a few ghosts, and Chester Ghost Tours offer guided tours through Chester’s past with a focus on the ghostly tales of its former residents. Another popular way to explore is the City Sightseeing open top bus tour, which takes visitors on a route through and around the city with some fascinating potted histories. Alternatively, there are a number of self-guided walks around the city. Of particular note are the themed guides from the team at the Visitor Information Centre that take visitors on walks through many different aspects of the city’s past including the Victorian Period, Medieval Period and Roman Period.

Roman Tour, Credit Ioan Said

The Grosvenor Museum

The Grosvenor Museum is full of surprises which tell the stories of Chester and Cheshire from pre-history to the 20th century. Located within a grand Grade II listed Victorian building, there are a wide range of intriguing exhibits, displays and artefacts. These include the Roman Galleries, featuring the largest group of Roman memorial stones from a single site in Britain, the Art Gallery which spans half a millennium of art in Cheshire, trace fossils of a Chirotherium – ancestor to the dinosaurs, and the Victorian parlour. Donations are suggested for entry and there is wheelchair access to the ground floor, including Exhibition Gallery One, Lecture Theatre and accessible toilet.

Exterior of The Grosvenor Museum

Sick to Death

Sick to Death is a history of medicine attraction in Chester city centre, on the historic rows and within the 16th Century St Michael’s Church. It offers a playground of plague with a smatter of splatter and a chance to poke into the medical past in a fun, interactive & unique learning experience. Visitors can explore the evolution of medicine and the sometimes strange and gory ideas surrounding the body and health of the past. Sick to Death is sadly not fully accessible, due to its raised location on Chester’s Medieval Rows. However, the helpful team will everything possible to help, find out more here.

Exterior of Sick to Death

The Roodee Racecourse

For racing fans and historians alike, Chester’s Roodee racecourse shouldn’t be missed. Established in 1539, it’s the oldest functioning racecourse in the world and holds many fascinating stories. On the original site of the port on the River Dee – once a key port on trading routes – silt produced an island in the river, and a stone cross was built on the island. The name Roodee is a mixture of the Norse and Saxon languages and means The Island of the Cross. Visitors can enjoy races on one of the numerous annual fixtures, as well as explore the course by walking. There are also two restaurants on site, 1539 and The White Horse, which offer panoramic views of this historic gem. Chester Racecourse is DDI compliant, however, owing to the age of some of the grandstands, suitability does vary, to find out more about accessibility click here

Aerial shot of Chester racecourse

The City Walls

Chester’s walls are the most complete in Britain and are a must for anyone interested in history. Step outside of the North Gate and you can see the original Roman foundations of the walls. The city walls really tell the story of Chester and its many occupants over the years, from the Romans and then subsequent refortifications through the Saxon, Norman and Medieval periods. Visitors can walks the entirety of the roughly 3-mile route, which is a great way to navigate around the city with some spectacular views and sites including the King Charles Tower, Water Tower and of course the famous Victorian Eastgate Clock. There are a number of accessible access points around the route, you can see these here.

Chester walls

The Roman Amphitheatre

Aside from the walls, the largest evidence of Chester’s Roman past is the amphitheatre, located on Pepper Street, just outside the New Gate. The site of one of the largest archaeological excavations in the UK, the amphitheatre is a remarkable and interactive display of Deva Victrix, where the local populace of up to 10,000 spectators would enjoy entertainment including gladiatorial combat. A level pavement and footpath surround the excavated areas of the amphitheatre (around two-fifths is visible), which have a clear view down to the site. The central theatre area is only accessible via several steps.

Chester's Roman Amphitheatre

The Roman Gardens

Next to the amphitheatre, visitors will find the Roman Gardens. Established in 1949 by the then-curator of the Grosvenor Museum, the gardens display a number of artefacts from the archaeological excavation of Chester. Alongside the serene botanicals and pathways, visitors can see the remains of military buildings, the main baths including the hypocaust, and the legionary headquarters. The gardens are widely accessible via a number of entrances and gentle slopes, find out more about access here

Chester's Roman Gardens. Photo credit Tony Worrall

St John the Baptist Church

A stone’s throw away from the amphitheatre and Roman gardens is St John the Baptist Church. This ancient gem was founded as the great Saxon Minster of Mercia in AD 689 by Ethelred King of Mercia, probably on the site of a Roman Christian Church or Shrine, it was enhanced in AD 907 by the daughter of Alfred the Great. St John the Baptist stands as a fascinating example of architecture that shows the religious lineage of the city. There is ramped access to the main entrance, however, due to the age of the building, some areas inside are less accessible, find out more here

St John the Baptist Church. Photo credit Jeff Buck

The Rows

One of the most unique historical aspects of Chester are the famous Rows. These two-tiered walkways spread throughout the city from the main thoroughfares of Eastgate Street, Watergate Street, Bridge Street and Northgate Street. Constructed in many parts during the Medieval period, there is some speculation as to why they were built in this two-tiered fashion with covered walkways and cavernous undercrofts. When you visit the Rows, you’re continuing the long legacy of commerce and trade in the city. As evidenced by the names – Butchers Row, Shoemakers Row, Mercers Row – these were once sites where Chester’s traders would flog their wares. Now the Rows are home to shops, restaurants, cafes and services, all retaining some of the historic charm. There are four main access points for The Rows located throughout the city centre's historic thoroughfares. Click here to find out more and for a map.

Woman looking out from The Rows

Chester Cathedral

One of the historic and architectural standouts of the city, Chester Cathedral was founded as a Benedictine Abbey in 1092. A staple of religious and social life in the city, the Cathedral has seen a number of modifications to its architecture since its founding and the 16th Century. Inside visitors can see the fascinating development of the site through examples of the various different building styes used including Norman and Gothic architecture such as in the refectory – which still serves as a café today. Chester Cathedral, as well as being open to the public daily, offers a number of exhibitions and events throughout the year. This summer, visitors can enjoy an exhibition celebrating Judith Kerr’s much-loved children’s book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, as well as a model railway exhibition curated by Pete Waterman OBE. There are accessible entrances to the cathedral however, due to the age of the building, some areas may not be accessible, find out more here

Exterior of Chester Cathedral

The High Cross

One of the most prominent artefacts of the English Civil War in Chester is the High Cross. Located centrally at the meeting points of Eastgate, Watergate, Bridge and Northgate Streets, in front of the 14th Century St. Peter’s Church, the High Cross has a fascinating history. Originally constructed in the 14th Century and subsequently the site of public proclamations by the Town Crier, the high cross was broken up by Parliamentary forces after the siege of Chester in 1646. Since then, the scattered pieces have been partially found and the cross itself restored. The High Cross is a great way into Chester’s history as a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. The cross is at street level and is accessible.

High Cross Chester

The Railway Station and Queen Hotel

For a snapshot of Victorian Chester, the Railway Station is not to be missed. Built between 1847 and 1848 and designed by Thomas Brassey, the station retains much of this Victorian charm. Visitors to the station will notice the grand palatial building across the road – The Queen Hotel. Opened in 1860 this hotel was designed to service first class passengers, which have included Charles Dickens and Lillie Langtry. The former stable blocks link the Queen to the railway station and is said to have been a way for particularly high profile guests to get across to the hotel away from the crowds. The railway station is a great option if guests are not using a car, with numerous destinations linked in the county and further afield including Liverpool, Manchester and North Wales.

Exterior of The Queen at Chester

Chester’s Historic Pubs

It’s little surprise that in a city with so much history there would be some historic pubs and inns, with many operating for hundreds of years. With its roots going back to the 14th Century and once a coaching inn, The Pied Bull is the oldest continuously licensed premises in Chester. Nowadays it operates as a hotel and restaurant with its own brewery. A short stroll away is The Bluebell which is the last remaining part of the 12th Century Lorimers Row. It has been serving travellers since 1494, and is the last example of a Medieval inn in Chester. And sitting within the historic Rows, The Old Boot Inn is a real Stuart-era gem. With much of the interior and exterior features in their original form or lovingly restored, The Old Boot is a step back in time. These are just a few examples and there are many more historic pubs and inns in the city, each with their own tales to tell.

The Pied Bull. Credit The Pied Bull

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