Chester is a city steeped in history. Neil Hudson samples some of its many attractions on a family break
THE thing about Chester is, it's a bit like York. Only bigger.
If you haven't been, I strongly recommend you do, if only for the city centre itself, which is a marvellous pedestrianised space full of some really wonderful shops and an all-pervading sense of history, which is truly captivating.
The city was founded by the Romans as a fortress town almost 2,000 years ago – the Eastgate Clock, said to be the most photographed in the country after Big Ben, stands on the original entrance to the city. This grand structure dates back to the 1700s and links to part of the city walls, meaning you can walk under it and over it.
The city walls are impressive and offer those with a head for heights some impressive views and ideal picture opportunities.
It is this head-turning sense of wonder which makes Chester such a fabulous destination, because you never know what is around the next corner.
The city centre is positively alive with street performers of all kinds, there are countless alleyways and side-streets to explore and plenty of places to stop for something to eat and drink.
There are several covered shopping centres, too, so not to worry if the weather does take a turn for the worse.
Chester's main shopping street is lined on either side by long galleried walkways, a feature unique to the city, wherein you will discover all manner of wonderful outlets, from clothing and toy shops to jewellers and whiskey specialists.
If you fancy a break from all the hustle and bustle, there are quieter, more serene areas to explore, not least of which is the river front, where you will find boat trips, portrait painters, yummy ice-cream parlours and what is reputedly the smallest house in the UK, measuring just 9ft tall by 3ft wide.
There's lots to see and do in Chester city centre and to explore it all properly you will need more than just a day.
Days Inn Hotel
Situated on the edge of Chester, the Days Inn offers the perfect location for those who want to explore both the town and surround area.
Chester itself is a must-see city but the immediate area also has much to offer – Days Inn sits conveniently just off the A494, about twenty minutes drive from the city centre.
Accommodation is clean and more than adequate for a short break, the hotel even boasts a pool and spa-gym area, so if you fancy starting off your day with a morning dip, you can.
Staff are friendly, knowledgeable about the local area and helpful – we had no problems during our stay. The hotel also boasts a restaurant, which is used for the buffet breakfast and evening meals. For those who require it, there is also internet connection. Our room had two double beds, TV, tea and coffee, even an iron and hair dryer.
If you're looking for one of those places to take the kids and spend an entire day, then Chester Zoo is just what you need. It is so big and has so many different kinds of animals, you can easily while away a few hours just sauntering round.
In between exploring the various habitats created for the animals, there are a number of places to stop and get a bite to eat or shops to just browse and buy gifts.
As with all zoos, there's an obvious debate to be had about whether large animals should be kept in such confined and at the end of the day artificial spaces.
That aside, Chester Zoo remains intriguing and not just for the larger animals, there are dozens of smaller animals and insects to be amazed by.
Blue Planet Aquarium
If you've never been to the Blue Planet Aquarium and you are in the vicinity, it is well worth a look, although the 15 per person entry fee is a bit of a budget-killer.
Still, once inside, there's plenty to see, including the impressive domed glass tunnel, which runs right underneath the main aquarium, allowing you to get as close as possible to sharks and other fish without actually getting wet.
The aqua-tunnel, as it is called, is longer than you would expect and thanks to a rolling walkway, all you have to do is step on at one end and it will take you right the way through.
The fish and sharks are one thing to marvel at but there are also touch pools, ducks of all things, which you can feed and then watch as they dive underwater and poke around with impressive ease and a number of other interactive displays.
One of the most interesting of these is the spider dome, which you literally have to crawl into, before standing up inside a glass dome, only to find yourself surrounded on all sides by some of the biggest and scariest spiders you're ever likely to see. Another tank contains thousands of tiny jelly-fish whirling around on an unseen current, illuminated in all their transparent glory – it's almost like a scene from the hit film Avatar.
Days Inn, Chester
Tel: 01244 830332
Prices vary but a typical weekend break, checking in Friday and checking out Sunday for two adults would cost 104 (based on prices for January 7-9)
Tel: 01244 371273
Standard adult tickets start at 14.00, children 10, with a family ticket costing 42
Blue Planet Aquarium, Chester
Tel: 0151 3578804
Adult tickets cost 15 and children up to 14 11, a family ticket costs 50.50, with concessions for some people