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What to do in Chester, the North West's most exciting culinary hotspot

With millennia of history as a backdrop, Cheshire’s county town has been busy carving out a niche as one of the North West’s most exciting food destinations.

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Eastgate Clock in the city centre is one of Chester's most distinctive landmarks.

Photograph by Alamy Images

By Helen Warwick
Published 10 Jun 2021, 13:30 BST

Why go

Often overlooked in favour of its larger neighbours Liverpool and Manchester, Chester flies under the radar. But those who make it to the racing town will discover a thriving city that wears its history proudly. This is a city founded by the Romans, after all, whose legacy can still be seen in the amphitheatre, and there are traces of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian architecture packed into its cobbled streets. Take in the views from the well-preserved city walls, or amble through the historic centre, peering into curiosity shops, before grabbing a drink in one of its creaky-beamed pubs — you might even hear of the ancient bylaw that states it’s legal to shoot a Welshman on a Sunday inside the city walls (so long as it’s after midnight and with a crossbow). But for all its historical highlights, Chester has embraced its modern side, too, with a thriving independent scene, from pop-up supper spots to a stream of year-round festivals.

What to do

Lace up your trainers and hit the ground running. Tours Around Chester offers 5km or 10km running tours of the city for nimble-footed visitors to take in all the key sights, including Chester Cathedral, Eastgate Clock, the Roman amphitheatre, Chester Racecourse and the castle, with commentary from founder Gareth Boyd. Alternatively, join one of Boyd’s food tours around its quick-bite spots and indie spaces, from fiery curries at Nine Elephants to a glass of vino at Spanish wine bar Vinological. 

Gazing at the cavernous nave of the city’s cathedral is a must, but for an added bonus book a behind-the-scenes tour, slipping away from the crowds and towards the church’s hidden curiosities. Start off in the bell-ringing chamber and admire the complex stained-glass windows, before wandering along the darkly magical corners of the galleries. The climax is a 200-step staircase up to the lookout tower, where you can scan the city from on high and, on a clear day, catch sight of the Welsh countryside across the border.

Where to eat

Locals love Joseph Benjamin, a Spanish-inspired restaurant whose co-founding brothers also own the place next door, Porta, another culinary hotspot in Chester with offshoots in Altrincham and Salford. Simple, classic tapas dishes dominate the short and focused menu, underpinned by seasonality and Iberian flavours.

Alternatively, head to Sticky Walnut, a first-rate neighbourhood spot in Hoole from chef Gary Usher, known for his crowdfunding campaigns to kickstart his restaurant business, Elite Bistros. Go for the featherblade of beef and round off with the resplendent rosewater ice cream.

Don’t miss

Join a behind-the-scenes tour of Chester’s grand cathedral, which dates to the 11th century. Start in the bell-ringing chamber and admire the stained-glass windows, wandering along the galleries. The climax is a 200-step staircase up to the lookout tower where, on a clear day, you can see the Welsh countryside.

We like

Hypha, Chester’s sustainable plant-based restaurant, has a dedicated fermentation lab and retail space, Koji, where a series of masterclasses take diners into the world of fermentation. Afterwards, nab a seat in the restaurant, where head chef and owner Nicholas Friar performs culinary wizardry on locally sourced produce from growers and foragers.

Where to stay

There are a handful of grande-dame style hotels across Chester, but the fun and lively Oddfellows makes for a memorable stay. Set in a central Georgian townhouse, rooms are hip and playful with roll-top baths and wooden beams, but if it’s space you’re after the adjoining apartments have mini kitchens, en suites, huge beds and stellar views of the river. Don’t miss an aperitif in the hotel’s Secret Garden, a relaxed suntrap away from the thrum of the city. Doubles from £169, room only.

Published in the June 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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