It’s about a 2-hour drive from London and 30 minutes from Manchester and Liverpool, but inside the ancient walls of Chester, England, is an aura of timelessness. The city began along the River Dee as a Roman fortress over 2,000 years ago where it served as a major maritime port. A quick peek inside some local shops will surprise with telltale signs of the original fort—the iconic Eastgate Clock, as notable in these parts as Big Ben, stands on the site of the fort’s original entrance. And then there’s the perpetual buzz of the Rows, where locals and tourists peruse through an array of doubled-decked funky boutiques, pubs and eateries under Medieval-era covered walkways. It’s this balance of classic and contemporary that makes this historic city one of the hippest in England. Here are a few more reasons:
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre
Positioned amidst Grosvenor Park’s gorgeous rose gardens just a trot from the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain, the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre whisks delegates back to the days of Shakespeare. The theatre’s globe design, classic of a Shakespearean thrust stage, offers covered and open seating, picnic terraces (bring your own picnic or order from the theatre) and lawn space. Handcrafted props spark a sense of wonder and authenticity often lost to larger productions and venues. The current 5th season offers a mix of Shakespeare and new adaptations of classic literature such as “The Secret Garden,” pictured here. Expect to be brought into the story, essentially, as musicians and actors use just about every inch of the venue. Shows are regularly sold out, (as one of the hippest things to do in Chester, England, why not?) partly due to the ambiance of the park itself, which is widely revered throughout England as a true Victorian park, so be sure to book in advance.
The Botanist places Chester smack in the middle of the herbal cocktail trend. Tucked away in the city centre, the eatery/watering hole offers modern day “green” cocktail marvels such as the blackberry and rosemary fizz with blackberry puree, Broker’s Gin and fresh rosemary. The botanical theme of the venue falls toward the side of whimsy, with light fixtures made of trinkets, frames displaying seed packets and cocktails served in watering cans. Live entertainment is a regular occurrence. Groups can partake in cocktail masterclasses, learning the secrets and history behind The Botanist’s dazzling concoctions, under the guidance of a mixologist. Ale tastings are also offered for groups up to six. The 90-minute sessions explore eight ales and beers with or without food pairings.
On February 9th 1539, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, the first recorded horse race occurred at Chester Racecourse. It’s a real mind bender to think that the sprawling green, which is the oldest operating racecourse in England, was once a Roman harbor before the River Dee changed course. The racecourse is currently a hot spot for corporate events and functions. And then there’s 1539, an on-site restaurant with a rooftop lounge with an open terrace that overlooks the racecourse. Cocktail parties, dinners and private events all take place in the venue, which also recently underwent a major revamp that added new spaces and updated interiors that reflect contemporary London.
A Tour for Everything
Whether your group is in the mood for the city’s vibrant Roman ruins, a beer or ale crawl, ghost tour, or to step into the shoes of some of the area’s most notable figures, Chester has you covered. Charles Dickens was a regular guest at the Best Western Premier Queen Hotel. Groups can ponder this, learn about his other haunts and the hotel’s many marvels, including a recent $1 million revamp. A Cathedral at Heights tour of Chester Cathedral will take groups up into cavernous stairwells and rooms, including the original bell-ringing chamber, to the top of the bell tower for panoramic views of the city. The cathedral’s history spans almost 2,000 years with much of its story told through stunning architecture and stained glass imagery.