Chester is one of England's coolest small cities. Packed with history stretching all the way back to the Roman era, exploring Chester on a budget is simple and awesome.
I've been to Chester five times now. My husband went to university there and still has friends in town, so when we want to get away somewhere familiar, this is where we end up.
There's so much to do in this small city, and the architecture and atmosphere is just oozing with history. Particularly if you're from a part of the world where nothing was there before the 1950's. This means that if you're up for a walk, you can see some incredible sights without spending any money.
Chester is completely surrounded by Roman walls, and you can walk all the way around the ancient border of the city. Spend a few hours taking in the river, the cathedral, and the Tudor architecture. You can also explore the Roman Gardens and visit a creepy old church, St. John the Baptist, where a man was buried alive in a wall.
In the heart of the city, you can stroll along the Chester Rows and seek out the small, family -owned businesses amongst the chain shops. There's something lovely hiding in just about every corner.
Worth the Money
If you're up for a bit more walking after dark, I'd also recommend a ghost tour. You'll learn a lot and have a totally different perspective on the city in the morning. Some tour companies advertise free walking tours, but you should definitely leave a generous tip at the end.
If you have a full day and a bit of cash to spare, the Chester Zoo can't be beat. Tickets are pricy (we're lucky to have a connection for free tickets), but you're also making a contribution to support animal conservation which is something we're deeply passionate about. You can save some money by booking tickets online at least a week in advance. By far my favorite part is the free-flying butterfly house. It's absolutely magical. But they have all the cool animals in a beautiful environment. Check it out if you can.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of expensive hotels in Chester. We even splashed out and stayed in the Chester Grosvenor on our last visit, using my husband's student discount. While it was certainly luxurious, I've been just as happy staying in smaller inns and guesthouses. We've stayed at Lloyds of Chester Hotel in the past, and while not exactly glamorous, it was clean and comfortable. It's just a short walk from the train station and another short walk to the heart of the city.
Where to Eat & Drink
You know eating is my favorite thing to do, so you'd think we'd have tried more restaurants in Chester. To be honest with you, some of the best meals we've had have been at chain restaurants. On our last visit I had an absolutely delicious carbonara pizza at Pizza Express. I was a little drunk, but I think it's still pretty awesome. We also had the best nachos I've had in the UK at Firejacks which is a chain but was new to us. Good nachos are hard to find in Scotland, so I couldn't resist.
Burger Shed 41 is a local place with a killer chipotle peanut butter burger. Skip the shakes, though. They were thin and disappointing.
If you're looking for a cool place for a drink, I'd recommend the Marlborough Arms for a quiet week night drink or Alexander's for a bit of music with your booze.
For tea and cake in the afternoon, we enjoyed Bridge Street Roastery. They had a great selection and weren't super pretentious like some coffee shops can sometimes feel.
Guidebooks might suggest you go to The Boot Inn, supposedly the oldest pub in Britain or something like that. Current management is puritanical and takes all the fun out of the simplest things. I'd also give Hanky Panky Pancakes and Hickory's a miss. I was disappointed by both.
My favorite thing to do in any city I visit is just be. Walk around, explore, get lost. Chester is an ideal place for this. I've been several times and still haven't gotten bored. Get yourself to Chester. It'll be awesome.