Why historic Chester should be on your radar this year

A buzzing new food market is revitalising the Cheshire city, along with new tours and museums.

The Chester Rows are covered arcades in half-timber, Tudor-style buildings, thought to contain the earliest shopfront in the country.

Photograph by Alamy
By Sarah Barrell
Published 24 Dec 2022, 08:00 GMT

Britain’s most complete Roman and medieval walls encircle Chester: a perimeter of ramparts dating back 2,000 years. But Chester isn’t confined to history — Cheshire’s county town excels at finding ways to explore its past, and its historic core is now seeing the fruits of a £72m regeneration fund.

As well as a major revamp of the Northgate bus station, the headline development is Chester Market, which hosts 39 stalls in an oak-beamed food court, including established vendors, beloved local brands and successful pop-ups in new permanent homes. Indulge in dairy and vegan confections from Cheshire Farm Ice Cream; site-roasted coffee from Bean & Cole; French patisserie from Pastry Pédaleur; and street food from the likes of Big Lola’s Taqueria and Guroma — plus, designer pet treats, clothing and specialist kitchenware.

Meanwhile it’s all change along Chester Rows, the historic shopping arcade, with new restaurants and galleries taking over shops lost to lockdown. Don’t miss the Art House Cafe for excellent coffee, big-plated brunches, and home bakes — plus workshops on everything from lino-cutting to letterpress in its ‘makers space’, set in the medieval crypt. 

But perhaps the biggest movement in Chester’s culinary scene is the arrival of executive chef Elliot Hill at Arkle, the high-end dining spot at Chester Grosvenor Hotel, which held a Michelin star for 30 years until the departure of Simon Radley in 2021. A finalist in last year’s National Chef of the Year competition, Hill now looks set to bring a starry accolade back to the Chester institution.

Gig and honey tartlet, part of the tasting menu at Arkle at Chester Grosvenor Hotel.

Gig and honey tartlet, part of the tasting menu at Arkle at Chester Grosvenor Hotel.

Photograph by Arkle

Historical highlights

Discover Roman Chester

After a year-long overhaul, the Deva Roman Discovery Centre has reopened, blending technology with ancient archaeology. Wander Roman-era streets and learn about everything from housing to hygiene via hands-on exhibits and ancient artefacts.

Step back in time

A host of new, 90-minute walks led by Green Badge guides includes Women of Chester, following in the footsteps of the women who helped shape the city, and Dark Chester, delving into the city’s eerier past. Tours cost £10 and depart from Chester Visitor Information Centre. 

Visit the Rows

A new audio guide takes you step-by-step along the Chester Rows shopping arcade, which is set along first-floor walkways in half-timbered buildings. Its mix of medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and contemporary architecture is home to England’s oldest shopfront, as well as indie boutiques and silversmiths. Head to the Grosvenor Museum, where On Another Level further explores the Rows’ rich history (until 30 April).

Kick up a stink

The new Sick To Death museum in the Grade II-listed St Michael’s Church delves into the history of medicine and its impact on viruses and bacteria. Get the full sensory experience with a host of retch-inducing olfactory exhibits, a blood-spattered autopsy room and Turdis, the time-travelling toilet.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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