CHESTER ROMAN TOURS 001For centuries, Chester was the gateway into North Wales. Now it is also a gateway into history. As one of the oldest cities in the UK, it contains incredible buildings, some of which are totally unique. A world class zoo, award winning gardens and fantastic shopping facilities make Chester an ideal destination for groups.

As the Roman city of Deva, Chester was the centre of military might, culture and commerce. Roman soldiers still stroll the streets providing guided tours with a difference. Roman Tours UK provide an authentic Roman soldier to take visitors on a journey through the Roman remains including the amphitheatre, Roman Gardens, city walls and hidden finds under the basement of high street shops. Bespoke tours can be created which can even include first hand experience of drill and marching or team building exercises.

Visitors to the Roman Amphitheatre are generally amazed by just how big it was. This was the largest in Britain, and was used for entertainment as well as military training. 7,000 spectators enjoyed circuses and gladiator fights here. It is often used to host events and outdoor theatre, especially at weekends during the summer. Artefacts discovered during the 2005 archaeological dig are on display in the Grosvenor Museum, which also contains displays on Roman life and times and the city’s role within the history of British silver.  Entry to both the Roman Amphitheatre and the Grosvenor Museum is free of charge.

Chester Racecourse has an equally authentic Roman heritage. Known as The Roodee, it was once the site of the Roman harbour. The racing season begins here with the three day May Festival and continues throughout the summer.  Special themed days include a Roman Day during which Roman legionaries can be seen patrolling the race course, and there are numerous themed activities for visitors. In addition to this, the Racecourse hosts two Polo tournaments, charity fun runs, Antique Fairs and food festivals.

Surrounding the city are the spectacular city walls. These are the oldest, longest and most complete series of city walls in the UK.  Some parts of the walls are almost 2,000 years old.  The main access onto the walls is located at the gateways to the city – Northgate, Eastgate, Watergate and Bridgegate, although there are many other steps and ramps onto the walls to be found around the circuit.  Walking the walls provides spectacular views around the city.

Close to the city walls are the remains of Chester Castle. Founded by William the Conqueror, Chester Castle was an important site throughout the Medieval period.  The interior of the castle and the chapel of St Mary de Castro with its medieval wall paintings can only be explored via a guided tour.  The castle links into the

For over 1,000 years, Chester Cathedral has dominated the skyline of Chester.  It is quite unique in that it managed to survive the depredations of Henry VIII and has an unbroken history of prayer on the site since 1092.  The cloisters and church form the most complete monastic complex in the country, with stunning stained glass windows and the medieval shrine of St Werburgh.  For those with a head for heights, the Cathedral at Height tour is a fascinating opportunity to explore behind the scenes.  The tour takes you within the actual walls of the cathedral, stroll along galleries to look down on the choir, see stained glass windows up close, explore the bell ringing chamber and finally climb the 200+ steps to the top of the tower from where there are panoramic views across the city, two countries and five counties.

Chester is the only place in the UK that has kept up the tradition of having regular midday proclamations at a set place and time.  Between May to August, the Town Crier calls out his messages at the High Cross in the centre of the city. These take place at noon each day, or at 10.30 on race days.  The city centre Eastgate clock is one of the most photographed in the world. Built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, it was fully restored in 2015.

The Rows are another unique feature of Chester, and include Commonhall Street, Watergate Street, Bridge Street and Godstall Lane. These half timbered black and white buildings are over 700 years old and form the oldest shopping façade in the country. The double floored walkways form a continuous line of balconies with shops at two levels, street and first floor.  It is an area where shoemakers, bakers and ironmongers once sold their wares and is now home to a host of independent boutiques.

A more modern equivalent can be found at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet on the outskirts of Chester.  A popular destination with shopping enthusiasts, it contains 145 stores selling luxury high street brands including Burberry, Lacoste, Superdry, All Saints and Ted Baker. Prices are always 60% less than on the high street, and tax free shopping is available for groups from overseas. There are special benefits provided for pre-booked groups of 20 or more. This includes a welcome service, a fashion passport with an extra 10% off, exclusive offers and restaurant vouchers on arrival plus a free meal and drinks voucher for the coach driver.

There are many special tours which can be taken around Chester, highlighting familiar and unexpected aspects of the city. Chester Heritage Tours offers a 30 minute sight-seeing tour of the city’s archaeological and architectural heritage in a 1910 vintage open top bus which once drove round the streets of London.  Only 3 of these rare vehicles survive, and Chester Heritage Tours owns one of them.

A longer, gently relaxing cruise along the River Dee can be enjoyed with Chester Boats.  The route passes through meadows, under a suspension bridge and through the city.  Lots of wildlife can often be spotted during these cruises including swans and occasionally, even kingfishers. These sight seeing cruises can be privately chartered by large groups. For groups seeking a somewhat different experience, Chester Boats can organize themed and party cruises such as Mamma Mia, hits of the Seventies, Curry & Quiz or a fish and chip cruise.

Alternatively explore the Shropshire Union Canal on board the Restaurant Cruiser from Mill Hill Hotel and Spa.  Roman soldiers stand on guard at the prow while passengers enjoy a Roman High Tea Cruise.  More conventional dining experiences for lunch, tea and dinner can also be enjoyed on board.  All the meals are prepared in the hotel kitchen. The starter course is served before the boat heads off towards Northgate Lock, then returns to collect the main course as the journey continues to Hoole Lane Lock. The journey passes the King Charles tower, alongside the Roman Walls, under the Bridge of Sighs and past the only Napoleonic Lead Shot Tower in the country.

At night, pre-booked tours of the mysterious, murky and macabre underworld of Chester attract many curious visitors. There have been hundreds of ghost sightings in this historic city, and Chester is regarded as one of the most haunted in Britain.  Chester Ghost Tours run regular public tours, and can be booked for private groups, corporate or school groups. A maximum number of 25 persons per guide is recommended. Tours are available all year round.  Special tours are held at Halloween, which are extremely popular and are booked up very quickly.

Adults and children alike find Chester Zoo an enthralling place to visit. This is the largest zoo in Britain, containing 20,000 animals from over 500 species. From elephants to rhinos, butterflies to jaguars, the range of animals is impressive.  Renowned as a centre for conservation, it contains many unique animals such as the NZ tuatara which pre-dates the dinosaurs. Chester Zoo has achieved a breeding first – the first tuatara to be bred outside New Zealand.  Other dinosaurs guaranteed to capture attention are the thirteen robotic dinosaurs within the ever-popular Dinosaurs at Large exhibition.  As visitors walk around the pre-historic trail, the dinosaurs swish their tails, snap jaws and spit water.

A new development, Islands at Chester Zoo, recreates the tropical environments of six East Asian islands complete with typical houses, boats and statues. Visitors can enjoy a tree top encounter with an orangutan, take a river boat trip round the islands, see Sumatran tiger tracks and visit Bali.  Authentic food from the Asian islands can be enjoyed in the restaurant such as beef burger flavoured with lime leaf, chilli and coconut, or Lapis Legit layered cake from Indonesia.

For garden enthusiasts, Chester Zoo has extra attractions. The Zoo is set within 100 acres of award winning gardens featuring plants from all over the world set in appropriately styled environments.  These include a Sunken Garden, Andes Gardens, a Rock Garden, carnivorous plants, Wildlife garden, a stunning collection of orchids and even a Roman area divided into three separate types: a courtyard style medicinal garden, ornamental area with water feature and a Rusticus or domestic garden highlighting what gardens would have looked around around Chester many centuries ago.

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