A city break is always a special occasion, but our end of year break is especially as we spend our anniversary together somewhere new, usually within the United Kingdom. This past year our late November trip took us to Chester, the home of an amazing zoo, beautiful historic attractions and enough food and drink to keep us satiated right through until Christmas day. Unfortunately for us we never managed to get to Chester zoo, for several reasons I will cover in the upcoming Chester travel diary. For now, let me tell you about all the things I loved in this adventure, some of our favourite sites and the best things we ate and drank. Chester primarily drew my attention due to its stunning city walls, something I am a sucker for - I find the walls of a city add to its charm and give it both a historic and grand feeling you cannot find in other cities. But as you explore within those walls you will find Chester's unique architecture and buzzing nightlife ensure the city feels both traditional and modern in the best possible way.
Our stay was at the modern and well equipped Roomzzz Aparthotel, situated within the city walls, overlooking the racecourse and barely a 2-minute walk to the start of the high-street. Our room had a decently sized and very comfy bed with a pivoting TV at the foot of it, a surprisingly feature-packed kitchen area including a dishwasher and enough cooking facilities to get you by, tonnes of storage space and a bathroom with a spacious shower and heated mirror. The room would have been perfect for much a longer stay with enough features to live comfortably and in-style for weeks on end! When we first arrived I was a little concerned by the road next to the hotel, as it got considerably busy with traffic for most of the working day, but the excellent soundproofing on the room meant we slept soundly, and Roomzzz's quiet policy kept the hotel tenants lovely and peaceful.
Leaving from our hotel and crossing the dual-carriageway into Chester's main shopping run, Watergate Street and the roads that splinter off from it, you're suddenly engulfed by the beautiful old buildings lined by jewellers, cafés and bars. The split level design to shops has an upper area with a secluded feel, where you can escape from the hustle and bustle and explore the stores in peace. The beautiful black-and-white architecture is one of Chester's most distinguishing features, with practically every other building sporting the distinctive pattern that shaped Chester in the 19th Century revivalist movement. As you progress onwards you'll eventually arrive at Chester Cross, at the centre of probably the most recognisable sections of Chester's shopping district with the black-and-white corner building making for a popular photo point. Continuing straight onwards will lead you under the gorgeous Eastgate Clock, whereas turning up Northgate street will bring you to a square flanked by Chester's Town Hall and Cathedral. Most roads off from here are absolutely loaded with more shopping opportunities, independent and chain stores alike with eateries and watering holes to boot. For such a compact city there is an impressive range on offer here.
As we always travel in winter there is usually a Christmas market on offer and Chester is no exception, a handful of festive huts lined the walkways between the town hall and cathedral, full of Christmas ornaments, food and alcohol for sale. We spent the bulk of our Friday stuffing our faces with German sausage and buying trinkets for folks back home, until being forced to relax in the bar tent to escape the rain, satiated with some nice Ale and Bailey's hot chocolate. We also got to see the Knife Angel, the UK touring monument completely composed of knives surrendered to UK police - this was something we hadn't planned on seeing but had always wanted to, so it worked out nicely and I'd recommend taking a look if you're ever in the same city; the thing that surprised me most about the knife angel was just how tall it was, it loomed above us as a shocking reminder to an ongoing problem.
Exploring Chester's outer areas was a much more peaceful way to start our final day, with beautiful parks, old churches and more to surprise. As with most places I go, I generally plan a large circular walk to the outer reaches to see what I can find, with walled cities usually having a nice walking route already mapped out along the battlements. We circled from our hotel along the top of the walls, briefly stopping at Chester Castle and continuing on to follow the River Dee. Stops included the Old Dee Bridge to watch the birds fishing at the weir and the much newer Queens Park Bridge a beautifully ornate structure near Grosvenor Park. We soaked up the history at the Roman Amphitheatre and Roman Gardens and of course explored the numerous little shopping areas that litter Chester. Most any direction you go in Chester has something to be enjoyed, regardless of your tastes and what you hope to get out of a city break - just head over to Google Maps and start planning accordingly.
Of course, we cannot do all this exploration without some fuel in our stomachs, and Chester has such a huge range of food options that you are sure to have something for everyone to enjoy. You can find most of the chains you would expect, on this trip we finally got to try both The Alchemist and The York Roast Company: the former a magical experience of alchemical cocktails and the latter offering a hearty Sunday Lunch wrapped in a Yorkshire Pudding - both well worth a visit either here or at your nearest location. But beyond the chains were the huge number of excellent pubs, cafés, and restaurants. Even dropping into a random outlet and grabbing a sandwich will almost always result in something delicious, my personal favourite was a Bacon, Brie, and Cranberry sandwich and a cappuccino from The Barista's. As mentioned above the Christmas Market had excellent Hot Dogs, supplemented with an absolutely perfect box of chips from the nearby Blackstocks Fish & Chips you'll be full for the entire day. All of the great options combined well with the free breakfast included at our hotel and we were never short of something to eat in Chester.
The only thing that really surpassed the food were the drinks. Everywhere we went we found quirky cocktail bars and real ale pubs, both the sawdust on floor kind and modern youthful and lively kinds alike, with all of the local brewers offering an excellent range of tipples and the mixologists all producing something special. The pub around the corner from our hotel, the Big Hand Alehouse had a nice range on tap that suited me well, and the exceedingly red cocktail bar Kuckoo had a cocktail with Rox's name on (literally). Our trip to The Alchemist was as much a trip to a bar as it was a theatrical show, with dry-ice smoke and glitter giving every drink that little extra flair. On our walk, we even stumbled upon an Off licence with an excellent range: Chester Beer & Wine, complete with some of our favourite options from our trip to Belgium and a great range of English ales for me too - I like to keep a small stock in any hotel in case bad weather or overcrowding cuts our night short. Even the Christmas market beer tent offered an excellent variety of ales on tap! The drinks flow well from all spots in Chester.
I thoroughly enjoyed this year's anniversary trip, I will admit I wasn't 100% sure about Chester but we went with it and I ended up loving the city for reasons I hadn't expected. I knew I was going to have plenty of history to enjoy, and although we didn't make it there I was very excited for the zoo, but it was the nighlife and food that I really took away as the highlight of this wonderful city. There is still a handful of things we didn't get to do that I cannot wait to return for, including Cheshire Oaks, Chester Cathedral Falconry and of course the zoo. All this means is we will be forced to return to this wonderful city in the future that combines an electric nightlife with beautiful historic landscapes and excellent shopping. If you hadn't already been planning on a visit to Chester, even for just a day, I would seriously start considering it - it is one of those places where everyone will be kept entertained easily.