The Black and White City
Continuing our trip during this bank holiday long weekend, we move south from Liverpool to Chester, the “black and white city”. One of the most beautiful and unique in the country, and so one of the most perfectly complete from the Victorian era when majority of its buildings date from among some medieval structures and the best preserved walls in the country; first built by the Romans, extended and strengthened thereafter to how we see these today.
Although not much remain from the Roman era bearing what was the largest amphitheatre in Britannia, partly uncovered, and other smaller structures in the walls and gardens around it, columns and some statues; what really makes this city special is the large amount of Tudor revival architecture literally covering the entire city centre core. The characteristics of such style are self-described in one of the city’s nickname, “black and white”. Combining black timber frames and bricks and walls in white. Built during the Victorian era, it is without doubt the largest and finest collection of such houses within a same place.
Another peculiar fact you might realise are the “Rows”, these are covered walkways on the first floor of the buildings where access to shops are. Above these, the residential homes itself, and below the walkway accessed via steps from the street level, more shops. It is a direct legacy from the medieval times put back in practice during the 19th century revival period.
The city is quite small and easy to navigate through everywhere on foot. So while the visit won’t take you longer than a day, easily manageable in just half a day, there are countless other places in the nearby you could go to make the most of the day. Northwest Wales is minutes away, with great landscapes, nature, beaches and castles not farther than an hour away as is Llandudno or Conwy and also in the same region, south from Chester, you can find the amazing Llangollen navigable canal, with the fascinating Pontcysyllte Aqueduct a masterpiece from the industrial era. Listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it is the longest in the country and the highest canal aqueduct in the world.
From our experience, both Chester and Pontcysyllte were the highlights for the day, with plenty of time for both and well enough to return to our base actually quite early in time for a beautiful sunset at Southport Pier.
For further information about Chester check Wikipedia site. The united Kingdom’s currency is the Pound (£, GBP). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Chester and nearby
- Chester Railway Station located towards the northeast of the walled city centre, was opened in 1848, with a neoclassical Italianate frontage.
- Grosvenor Park On the southeast corner outside of the walls, a short walk south from the train station. Beautiful landscaped park right by the River Dee north embankment.
- Queen’s Park Suspension Bridge Connects the Grosvenor Park across the River Dee to Hanbridge District. It’s quite photogenic for its beauty.
- Saint John the Baptist’s Church Along the western side of the Grosvenor Park and north of the Suspension Bridge. One of the finest example of church architecture in the region dating from the 12th century, in Normal style.
- Roman Amphitheatre next to the previous church at its right, and the Roman Garden and City Walls along the west side. The largest of Roman Britannia.
- City Walls The best preserved and most complete in the country, you can walk the entire perimeter above the path, from where you will gain great views towards some of the key landmarks of Chester, especially when reaching underneath the Eastgate Clock.
- Chester Castle Although not much remains from the old structure bearing the Agricola Tower, the rest of the buildings are now the neoclassical County Court. You can reach it walking along the walls, continuing west from the Roman Amphitheatre.
- Old Dee Bridge Dating from the 13th century, you will see it as you walk the walls on direction to the Castle.
- Grosvenor Museum North from the Castle, as the city walls make the turn and head north-wise. Home to a great collection of Roman tombstones and an art gallery.
- Watergate, Bridge, Northgate and Eastgate Streets The most famous landmark in Chester, these four streets, once the major Roman cross, are fully built with the most impressive “black and white” buildings and their respective “rows”.
-Chester Cross Dating from the 15th century, this octagonal pillar surmounted by a carved head and a crucifix on its top is the main landmark and meeting point, right at the intersection of the 4 streets.
-Eastgate Clock Continuing along Eastgate you will reach the most fascinating buildings, and the impressive clock right above the city walls that pass through the street above. It is the most photographed clock in England after the Big Ben.
- Cathedral North from the Eastgate Clock, you will get an entire view if walking north along the city walls. Dating back to the Norman era, its impressive inside and outside. Don’t miss the inner courtyard and the most elaborately carved choir canopies stalls in the country.
- Town Hall Right by the main entrance of the Cathedral, was built in 1869 in Gothic Revival style.
- Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Around 30 kilometres south of Chester is this impressive UNESCO listed aqueduct, the longest of its kind anywhere in the UK, and highest navigable canal in the world.
While the nearest airports are both Liverpool, and much bigger Manchester, reaching Chester from one another is very straightforward and actually in quite decent travel times and fares. In the other hand, if coming overland from anywhere within the United Kingdom will be nicer and easier since Chester is within a major junction of both rail and road mainlines. From Liverpool is less than an hour, and so is from Manchester, but there are also direct connections towards York, Leeds, Birmingham, London. North Wales and everything in between.
Once in the city and due to its very reduced size, there is absolutely no need for taking any public transport, which is in any case composed of only buses. Moving anywhere within the city walls is a matter of few minutes from one end to the other, hence completely accessible on foot.
Since this was a day trip from our base at Southport, north of Liverpool, I cannot say much about any place here in Chester other than this is a very expensive place for a hotel. It’s in any case the general rule all over the country, but specially at the bigger and more touristy cities, the prices can seriously be too high, without value for money. As usual, the most reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. Then, if your budget is still not met, there is a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes of course but note that the difference in price does not really make much sense in this case, so you can be better off at a hotel.
We stayed at the Prince of Wales right in the main street of Southport. Once upon a time a grand and elegant Victorian property, nowadays dated yet still, comfortable, spacious and clean of course. Very friendly staff and all needed for our 3 days stay so definitely a good value for money in our experience. Conveniently located in the middle of the shopping area, with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants.