Destination Report: Chester, Cheshire, England

Maureen Jones, a native of Great Britain and president of Los Altos, CA-based All Horizons Travel, Inc., a member of Signature Travel Network, has this report on Chester, England—what she calls one of her favorite towns. 

Chester, Cheshire, England.

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 time in my favorite shoe shops.

I would either fly directly into Manchester and rent a car (it is 40 miles to Chester) or take the train from London to Chester (about two hours and 30 minutes). You could get around Chester without a car; there is an excellent local bus service to most places. There is no traffic allowed in Chester itself.

The town lies on the River Dee, close to the border of Wales. 80,000 people live there and it became a city in 1541. Prior, it was built as a Roman fort in 70 A.D. The military amphitheater, built in the first century, seats 10,000. It is a medieval walled city, and you can walk over two miles at rooftop level around the city center. It is the most photographed place (in the U.K.) after London. As there's no traffic in the city center, it's easy to stroll around.

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 center. 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 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, great experience. Visit

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, including 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 Center at 10:30 a.m. daily.

For excellent shopping, including 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 percent less than in the shops. You can go on the local bus to get there.

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. It is fun to wander around and everyone seems to be speaking Gaelic.

In the summer, there are lots of performances in the park. The town has 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. As good as the Chelsea Flower Show. Visit

Chester is on the list of must see's for places to visit in Europe. A unique town, no other like it.

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