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erinbotten
20th February 2023

A crunchy trip away: 24 hours in Chester

Tired of mundane rainy days in Manchester? Need a peaceful and cheap escape? Just an hour away, a weekend in Chester awaits!
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A crunchy trip away: 24 hours in Chester
Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

After six deadlines and 8,750 words, it’s fair to say exam season finished me off. With semester two fully underway, the struggle and fight against burnout has returned. My solution? Running off to Chester with my housemate for the day. Why? Because it’s cheap, cheerful, and crunchy.

During a time of financial crisis, academic frustration, and wintery chill, a cheeky escape to Chester could be all you need to make it through the next few months. Simply hop on the 60-minute train (£13.60 rail pass return) and bid adieu to your stress for the day!

Accommodation

The Queen At Chester Hotel Photo: Ella Robinson @ The Mancunion

First thing’s first: finding a place to stay. Chester has your usual budget accommodation options such as Travelodge and Premier Inn. But, situated right opposite the railway station is a row of historic hotels, including Best Western’s The Queen At Chester Hotel. The Georgian building is the first thing to greet you as you step out of the station. Just 10 minutes from the city centre with plenty of bars just a few minutes away, the hotel is situated in the perfect location for a quick break.

The hotel itself is rooted in Chester’s vast history, hosting Britain’s finest from novelist Charles Dickens to socialite Lillie Langtry. As you walk through the 19th-century spinning doors into the illuminated reception, it’s hard not to be impressed. My housemate and I looked around in awe at the elegant spiral staircase and luxurious stately lounge ahead of us. This place was a dream for any keen National Trust member, ex-Horrible History viewer, or History student.

We quickly discovered that this theme of historic elegance ran throughout the hotel, with a couple of Best Western novelties along the way. From the Romanesque sculpture garden, royal décor, and giant grand chair, the hotel certainly distinguishes itself as one to remember and revisit – especially with grandparents.

The Queen At Chester Hotel. Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

The rooms themselves were spacious and bougie, decked with giant portraits of various emperors according to the floor’s theme – that’s right, each floor has a theme! The Hotel states, “Each floor is dedicated to a country, with every suite named after a king of that nation.” Each room certainly lived up to royal expectations; with huge comfy beds, bathtubs, overhead showers, and views across Chester.

 

Each comes with free-wifi, coffee machines, flatscreen TVs, and a desk (for that last-minute deadline submission). The staff too were incredibly friendly, with the option of WhatsApping or calling reception at any time with queries. Compared to Premier Inn, The Queen At Chester Hotel was crunchy bliss.

Along the Wall

Guarded by its two-mile historic wall, built up by the Romans, and transformed into a promenade by the Victorians, the town is full to the brim with history, cafes, and art. It’s fair to say, there’s a lot to do.

Practically on every street corner, there’s an idyllic church, all of which, however, are topped by Chester’s famous Cathedral. Sandwiched between the wall, the town hall, and a few pubs, the Cathedral is a (free) peaceful oasis.

Chester Cathedral. Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

Lit up by ambient lighting, the Cathedral’s architecture is one of awe and beauty. Along with an obligatory gift shop, the Cathedral also has a gorgeous cafe with fairy lights dangling from the ancient spires, serving tasty cakes and drinks.  Head out of the cafe to the hidden courtyard – the perfect spot to read or have a moment alone.

After wandering the ancient halls and garden of the Cathedral, whilst eyeing up the local bars next door, my housemate and I wandered down to Chester high street. Again, history was stealthily intertwined with modern Chester, and even New Look was situated in a brick Tudor structure. Elements of the wall pop up throughout the high street, from the vibrant clock tower bridges to the Rows.

The Rows are another famous asset to Chester, providing two levels to the town’s high street with a medieval walkway. Here you can find a mixture of independent and chain stores, cafes, museums, and galleries. For instance, head down to Pars Kahve: Turkish Kitchen and Bazaar. There they sell woven throws and homeware, whilst serving Turkish cuisine great for lunch or dinner. Plus, they have comfy Turkish-style seating along the row for you to enjoy your tea.

Other Chester attractions can be found further up the wall along the River Dee. The wall in itself is an experience, giving you a free tour to familiarise your self with what the city has on offer. My housemate and I stumbled upon the University of Chester, the racecourse, the Agricola Tower, and the Grosvenor Museum all while looking for a place to grab lunch.

Pubs facing Chester Cathedral. Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion
Pubs facing Chester Cathedral. Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

The best parts we found were the places we unexpectedly found. When walking into town on our first night, we explored the South Eastern Chapel. The ruins of the church were on full display with Biblical texts shining against the little structure that remained. Every shortcut and routine through Chester it seems comes with picturesque parks (I recommend Grosvenor Park and the Roman Gardens) or bustling cobblestones streets.

For those on the hunt for art, head to Story House. The venue is described as a “multipurpose venue featuring a library, theatre, cinema & cultural events, plus a modern restaurant.” Essentially, it’s Waterstones, Withington Museum, and Haus combined, with Vue on the side. It has everything!

Have lunch, amount an array of books, all before catching the latest film. Or, if you prefer, sign up for some of their various activities including ‘The Friday Uplift Group’, ‘Newspapers on Microfilm’ or one of their craft weekends. In the evenings, you can catch one of their intimate theatre productions or festival events covering an array of genres and theatrical styles.

Food Culture

By far one of Chester’s secret treasures is its food culture and nightlife. There are dozens of unique cafes and bars on offer in and outside the town. My favourite, however, was Chester Market.

Believe when I say, Chester Market was a haven for all things worth loving. The place had three plant stores, quirky gift shops, and a whole host of cuisine to try. From rustic cafes, to authentically Italian pasta, French pastry, and even personalised Bangladeshi curry boxed, you can guarantee you’ll find something you like. Visit online to see for yourself the full list of local traders and independent food stalls on offer.

For breakfast, lunch or dessert, I recommend heading to one of Chester’s numerous cafes. On our trip, we visited Jaunty Goat Coffee – a bright hipster café serving deconstructed tea and constructed coffee. The place was packed, and for good reason, as there was so much on offer. I went for a hot chocolate whilst my housemate went for herbal tea, both of us eyeing up the red velvet cakes on the table across from us.

Chester Market.
Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

Later on we headed along the riverfront, stopping at Snugburys on the River. Snugburys is a proud ice cream parlour and cafe, serving completely local or homemade products. Both of us opted for the ham and cheese sandwich, which although was on the pricey side at £5, was better than any Morrison’s meal deal. On a summer’s day, cloudy or sunny, Snugburys would be the perfect place for a pit stop. The views across the waterfront towards outer Chester are enough to fuel you and venture on.

Leaving lunch behind, it’d be rude not to explore the local bars. Practically every bar is decked with traditional wooden furniture, fairy lights and fine beam ceilings, meaning every spot is perfect for a date. The town is full of cheap chains such as Revolution and Slug & Lettuce, however by far the local pubs are the best. First stop: The Church Chester Bar & Restaurant.

The Church Chester Bar & Restaurant is everything 256 wants to be but isn’t. Think high Cathedral ceilings, mood lighting, a gothic entrance, and a whole host of cocktails. If you came here to pray, you’re in the wrong place. The venue was beautiful and had spacious seating for large groups, and intimate corners for couples. Again, the cocktails were a bit pricey but were definitely worth the price. Unlike other bars in Manchester, my Sex on the Beach didn’t skimp on the vodka and overcompensate with Orange juice. It even came in a bougie glass – amen.

For a more pub-ish feel, head to the Old Harkers Arms along the Shropshire Union canal. Here you can find a classic pub full of old men and ale – a sports society’s dream. Sit along the canal in their heated seating area, or grab a seat inside (if you’re lucky enough) to enjoy the liveliness of Chester’s locals. The pub had all the classic drinks covered, including local ales and cider which my housemate enjoy, My only warning is don’t get too loaded, you’ve got both the unfenced canal and steep stairs back to the street to contend with…

@themancunion Our new article, ‘A crunchy trip away: 24 hours in Chester’ is out now! #fyp #uni #student #roundup #memories #friendship #fall #weekendvibes #travel #travelonabudget @ManchesterSU @ellarrobinson ♬ Flowers – Miley Cyrus

Overall, Chester is a beautiful city that feels more like a town in all the right ways. My housemate and I returned to Manchester restored and also pooped from our day of site-seeing and café hopping. Whether you’re looking for a mini-break on a budget, a night out, a taste of culture or a history tour, Chester is your best bet.


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