Chester is ranked 20th out of 1,000 shopping centres in the UK and the best in the North West in 2021’s vitality report*. This is testament to Chester’s city council, Chester BID and all of the amazing retailers in the city’s hard work to keep the shopping environment vibrant and thriving to welcome and inspire you and why we highly recommend you choose Chester as your shopping destination of choice.
A shopping trip to Chester means you are literally browsing and buying your items of choice immersed in the backdrop of buildings and streets that make up the living breathing museum of a Roman fortress! You can always tell a visitor from a local in Chester because as a visitor it’s impossible not to be enthralled by the surroundings, continually looking around and taking in the fact that you are enjoying your modern day shopping trip in an environment steeped in historic presence and intrigue.
While you walk the cobbled streets and world famous Rows of Chester it’s always fun to imagine what shops and stalls preceded the modern day facade you see before you and whose footsteps you tread in. Within this awe inspiring environment you can find anything that a shopper could desire from high end clothing, jewellery and independent boutiques to high street brands, unique gift shops and an amazing local food and drink scene.
There are of course many modern day shopping delights around Chester too, most notably the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet Village which was the first and still is the largest of its kind in the UK.
*The annual vitality report is compiled by retail property consultants Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH).
Choose from boutiques to department stores to markets to retail parks.
It’s easy to get your bearings when shopping in Chester as the medieval Chester High Cross marks the intersection known as “Chester Cross” where all four main shopping streets meet. You will often hear the town crier’s voice ringing through Northgate, Eastgate, Watergate and Bridge from the steps of the cross around midday in the summer months, this area being a notorious meeting point when those in your shopping party wish to go their separate ways.
In Roman times to the north of the cross at the end of Bridge Street stood the site of the very grand Roman Principia, (the headquarters building), which was surrounded by the offices and stores of the day currently mirrored in the modern layout of the city. Would you believe that the basement of Pret a Manger on Northgate Street actually houses the remains of the pillars of this building? Even while you’re taking a tea or lunch break during your shopping outings in Chester you can be certain you are either atop or within historic sites of huge significance which definitely adds a certain gravitas you just can’t get elsewhere!
The Chester Rows are the most unique element of the Chester shopping experience, lining the four main shopping streets radiating from Chester Cross of Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, Watergate Street (to the west) and Bridge Street (to the south).
Their origin is still the subject of speculation but the first written record dates back to 1293, them being an eclectic mix of medieval, Georgian and Victorian architecture. They are on two levels consisting of covered gallery walkways hosting numerous shop fronts (very handy when caught in the rain) overlapped by imposing black and white half-timbered buildings with another set of shops sitting below at street level (this offers you twice the amount of shopping options all in one place!)
Timber railings flank the walkways and it’s believed the traders of the time would have used them to display their wares and entice shoppers up to the Row level. Whilst spending time inside the premises on street level we advise you look up as you’ll note that many of them retain the medieval stone arched vaulted undercrofts that were constructed underneath the rows. About 20 of these undercrofts still exist – see if you can find them as you shop!
The architecture on display stands out against any other structure in Cheshire and offers visitors a variety of local businesses to shop at. Once the sites of tradesmen presenting their wares, you will now find fashion, art galleries, jewellers or health and beauty stores as well as more to satisfy your Chester shopping itch. Hear the heritage of the floorboards creaking underneath your feet as you get lost in the time spent looking around, trying to discover each and every store there is. There really is no other shopping location as unique as The Rows.
If you start your shopping outing on Northgate Street, you will find an open area in front of the town hall aptly named Town Hall Square which annually hosts Chester’s Christmas Market as well as many other events throughout the year. It also leads to shopping locations and landmarks of interest. Rufus Court and Storyhouse are further up the street towards the walls, Chester Cathedral is opposite and next to town hall is The Forum Shopping Centre and Chester Market. If you like a good photo opportunity, especially with the kids, why not take a selfie with “Janya”, the life size baby elephant outside Barclays bank gifted to the city by Chester Zoo?
If you wander across the street from Storyhouse, where you can enjoy theatre and cinema classics or simply relax and read a book in the library café, you may find yourself in the hidden oasis that is Rufus Court. This cute cobbled courtyard is tucked away within Chester’s roman walls and is home to Alexander’s Live, Chester’s only weekly comedy venue and has led the music scene since 1991. Nestled beneath the walls this courtyard houses a lovely selection of gift shops, wedding boutiques, coffee shops and vegan restaurants.
Along the length of Northgate Street you’ll find numerous well known brands such as Zara, The White Company, Dr. Martens and Pandora alongside a number of smaller outlets such as the beloved ShareShop who work with local families in crisis and the homeless so you can bag a bargain and have a delicious coffee and cake knowing you are also contributing to their great work!
You can cut through from Northgate Street to Eastgate Street by meandering down St Werburgh Street past Chester’s iconic Cathedral where it is likely you’ll find yourself browsing the gorgeous items in Pyramid Designer Glassware and Gifts, which is recognised as one of the country’s leading glassware retailers, perusing the amazing selection of vinyl in Up North Records or even treating yourself to a cheeky mid-shopping cocktail at the Botanist.
Once you’ve made your way to the end of St Werburgh Street, turn left and take one gaze upwards to confirm you’re in Eastgate Street as the over 121 year old Eastgate Clock towers above. This is another very popular photo opportunity and is in fact the most photographed clock in the UK after Big Ben.
Interlinking Eastgate Street is Foregate Street, separated by the Eastgate Clock. An array of popular Chester shops adorn both of these streets, for example Boodles plus many other independent jewellers, Flannels and local award winning fashion designer Matthew O’Brien alongside Jo Malone and the independent Tea Islands specialist tea and coffee merchant and your high street staples of M&S, WHSmith, Primark, JD Sports, Lush, Next, Jack Wills etc…
The famous Browns of Chester department store on Eastgate Street (established in 1780) sadly was a highly unfortunate victim of the pandemic having to close it’s doors on 12 May 2021 but watch this space as the council are determined to keep the iconic building as a thrivng shopping venue and bringing some creative ideas to the table.
Frodsham Street leads from Foregate Street to the canal and further towards the bus station whilst itself housing the treasure trove that is Abakhan, a leading UK fabric and haberdashery store, as well as many charity shops and independent specialists.
Head back through Eastgate Street and carry on past the Chester Cross to find yourself in Watergate Street. This is a slightly narrower, less populated street that leads down to Chester Racecourse. Here you can explore a host of more creative premises such as beautiful art galleries, Uri Jacobi Oriental Carpets & Rugs plus Harriet & Dee and Rainforest gift shops where you can buy really unique presents, keepsakes and cards. Head in and out of the stores up above on The Rows and perhaps enjoy a tipple at one of the plethora of wonderful bars as you shop.
Last but not least, if you head back towards the Chester Cross and turn right you’ll immediately be in Bridge Street, which extends all the way down over the bridge (hence the name) to the district of Handbridge on the south bank of the glorious river Dee.
Bridge Street proudly boasts the building named Three Old Arches which currently has JoJo Maman Bébé as it’s tenant and is widely believed to be the earliest identified shopfront in England. Along this street you can discover independent fashion, lifestyle and vintage boutiques like homegrown avant-garde Nicholls & Co Chester and Chester Boutique known for it’s particularly friendly and helpful staff. You can also treat yourself at one of the many jewellers including Lowe & Sons established in 1770 making it the oldest family run antique jewellers in Chester.
For the gents, Bridge Street is the home of City Gate Menswear, Chester’s longest established designer store offering unique, quality menswear for over 40 years, Gieves & Hawkes luxury menswear and tailoring (just inside The Grosvenor Precinct), Scotts Menswear and Tessuti.
Additionally Bridge Street is well known for both the Chester Health Store, The London Camera Exchange on the Rows and just off Bridge Street next to Scott’s is Commonhall Street, the home of The Arc, which is a beloved place for gift shopping showcasing the best of British contemporary craft and design.
A Chester shop to suit you can most definitely be found down this long and graceful street. We count at least 29 shopping fronts on one side alone! We implore you to search high and low for all the stores you’ll love.
Entering Grosvenor Shopping Centre from either Bridge Street or Eastgate Street you can’t help but feel a sense of calm come over you as the beautiful partly Edwardian Mall echoes a very gentrified era of shopping with light showering down upon you through the beautiful glass ceiling. It houses around 70 shops from high street fashion to toy shops with what seems like miles of different brands lining it’s halls. Some feel the Grosvenor Shopping Centre is one of the best shopping centres in all of Cheshire, let alone CH1 Chester.
Chester Market won best small indoor market at the Great British market awards 2020 and we couldn’t be more proud! It boasts a wonderful variety of unusual and traditional stalls you’re unlikely to find on the high street alongside an awesome range of delicious and nutritious food options with a central dining area perfectly situated for people watching.
If you’re feeling like a glass of wine whilst browsing what the market has to offer, Vinological is a very popular independent wine merchant, deli and wine bar offering high quality wines by the glass or bottle at great value prices. vegan, organic, low sulphites – you name it, they have it, and their wine list changes every week so there’s always something new to try!
The indoor market is currently part of The Forum Shopping Centre dating back to the 12th century and has always been an integral part of Chester’s shopping ecosystem. In recent times it has seen many changes resurrecting market trading values to create an improved offering for it’s visitors and bring the community together including improved accessibility, extended opening hours and become an environmentally sustainable retail outlet.
“Foodie Fridays” is an ever popular draw to the market and has gone al fresco with a pop up eating area in the courtyard to keep in line with Covid-19 regulations. For a list of all the places serving up locally sourced delicious things within the market see the local produce section below.
A highly quirky and unusual tourist attraction which has raised thousands of pounds for charity also resides within the market which depicts Chester’s landmarks immortalised in Lego, adorning the market with yet another award by winning a prestigious Travellers Choice Award for 2020.
The Forum Shopping Centre is accessed via Northgate Street, adjacent to the Town Hall providing the home for Chester’s indoor market hall. It has something for everyone and focuses on life’s essentials and value for money. If you are feeling creative you’ll be taken by Intuneative, which specialises in the sale and repair of all manner of musical instruments, or University of Chester’s art and design gallery.
As you will see from the work commencing next to the entrance to The Forum Shopping Centre in the near future the Northgate Development project will actually replace it. The Northgate Development will form a new market and leisure destination and after 20 years of planning it will see a six-screen Picturehouse cinema built alongside shops, cafés, bars, restaurants, a new indoor market, parking and co-working office spaces. It is due to open in 2022 and builds upon the success of Chester’s Storyhouse nearby.
The old library frontage of the new Northgate Development will form a grand arched entrance to a new arcade which will also be accessible from Hunter Street and Princess Street and a new public square will be created linking the new market hall, Storyhouse and Town Hall.
When visiting any city it’s always a treat to sample the local produce and take home your favourites to share with your family and friends. Chester has some wonderful local delicacies on offer both in the indoor market and in and around the city.
Within the market you have a variety of wonderful artisan stalls serving up fantastic, locally sourced delicacies such as Pastry Pédaleur (who also do home delivery), Stile Napoletano, NiceBites, Crustum, Peak Sandwiches, Death by Tacos, Jeffro’s Wingz an Tingz, Steins, Arden’s Deli and The Cheese Wedge alongside the staples of David Joinson Quality Meat, Steve Cartridge Fishmonger and @Ian’s 5 A Day greengrocers.
You would be remiss to visit Chester without popping into The Cheese Shop on Northgate Street near the entrance to Rufus Court. Set up over 34 years ago by the farmer’s daughter with a penchant for making cheese, Carole Faulkner, they now sell more than 200 different cow, goat and ewe cheeses from both the local area and across the globe and even make exquisite cheesecakes for weddings and occasions.
Local ice cream is also a big deal at the following venues around Chester, hopefully one of them will be on your route to or from the city…
Backford Belles is a family-run ice cream farm making the finest Jersey ice cream just north of Chester, an 11 minute drive from the city centre and just 5 minutes drive from Cheshire Oaks and Chester Zoo which is also currently operating a click and collect service.
The Ice Cream Farm in Tattenhall, approximately 25 minutes outside of the city, is the world’s largest family-friendly ice cream parlour and adventure park making more than 50 flavours of award winning ice-cream onsite from their dairy cows including non-dairy vegan options and fruit sorbets, with kids’ play areas, farm animals and quad bikes. The Ice Cream Farm now also has the convenience of a drive through!
A little further afield you will find Snugburys which is just over 30 minutes outside of the city centre towards Nantwich. Snugburys has been well known far and wide over 30 years for it’s farmhouse ice-cream outlet in a converted barn, with a lovely courtyard, amazing sculptures and canalside walking trail.
The Hollies Farm Shop was named the North West’s best local food producer by the Countryside Alliance and is also not far away from CH1 either, around a 30 minute drive out to Tarporley. Be warned if you’re planning to just browse though as it’s very tricky to leave empty handed!
There are plenty of places to enjoy a drink in Chester, from wine to beer, gin and other spirits, there are options for every taste bud imaginable and many local options to both taste and take home with you.
Brewhouse & Kitchen has an onsite micro-brewery located on Love Street, just off Foregate Street providing special tasting and brewing experience days for beer and gin and special 5L mini kegs to buy and take home.
The Brewery Tap, located on Lower Bridge Street also has a brewery HQ called Spitting Feathers just outside of the city where you can take a tour, taste their beers and gin and buy your favourites in either a cask or bottles.
Chester Zoo has even created it’s own gin infused with hand-picked botanicals that also feed the animals from it’s awesome park gardens. The Zoo describes it as a gin like no other inspired by their incredible animals and made up of 11 botanicals picked from their 128 acres including banana leaf, chicory leaf and dandelion. It can be purchased directly from Chester Zoo’s gift shop and is served at The Oakfield within the zoo’s grounds.
Another local gin success story is that of the driving force behind the highly popular Chester eating and drinking spots of The Suburbs, The Old Dukes and The Yard Kingdom Thenga who has created, serves and sells his very own gin called Kingdom Recommends in all his venues above. With numerous exotic flavours and the brand ethos of Ubantu reflecting the creators heritage (a South African term meaning ‘humanity to others’ and translating into ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’) it’s powerful stuff.
There’s also a whole host of other specialty drink retailers around the city that are not necessarily local produce but stock high quality liquor that make lovely gifts such as Vinological with a superb wine list which changes weekly, Beer Heroes craft beer bottle shop and tap room, Turmeaus Cigar Whiskey & Tobacco store with an old school sampling lounge.
If it’s something sweet you’re after, then why not pay a visit to Dinky Donuts? – Living up to its name you will be able to find the small store by checking around the wall the Eastgate Clock sits on as it’s tucked away hidden in the corner! Similarly, Roly’s Fudge, Hotel Chocolat or Mollie’s Traditional Sweet Shop can be found scattered around in the city centre or if you’re out of town then pop into Spavens in Hoole to get your sugar fix.
After a long hard day shopping your stomach may be calling out for food and drink in the form of a snack, light lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, a nice glass of something special or even a fancy cocktail and you won’t have to look very far in Chester as the eating and drinking scene has something for everyone!
You may like to make the most of the day and perhaps walk off your lunch by taking a stroll along the beautiful river Dee, through Grosvenor Park or the Roman Gardens, around the Roman Amphitheatre or around the ancient city walls which are the oldest, longest and most complete in Britain. If you’re up for walking the walls you can access them from the gateways at all four points of your main shopping streets Northgate, Eastgate, Watergate and Bridgegate.
If you’re looking for something more to complete your shopping trip there are plenty of in town things to do and events to take part in throughout the year including watching the new blockbuster films or live stage performances at The Storyhouse, laughing hysterically at local and globally known comedy acts doing their stand-up routines, taking a sightseeing tour around the walls and through the streets past the many landmarks in the city, or even cruising on a boat ride along the beautiful river Dee. There are so many things to do in Chester that you’re really spoilt for choice!
If you are out and about, tired from the number of hours walking around shopping, you may notice the numerous street performers Chester has to offer when stopping to take a breath. These buskers are made up of a variety of musicians, street artists, living statues, daredevils and many more – be sure to give them a tip if you enjoy as they help keep the city centre vibrant and cheery.
Often what starts out as a shopping trip turns into a fabulous staycation and we have plenty of wonderful options to choose from…
There are plenty of great places to stay in both Chester’s city centre and on the outskirts of town giving you access to both the city and other locations in Cheshire. There are plenty of award-winning five star and luxury hotels as well as spa and boutique hotels plus aparthotels, glamping and budget accommodation.
Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet as the largest of its kind in the UK draws visitors from far afield for the breadth of choice available and the amazing bargains to be had with savings of up to 60%!
Located in Ellesmere Port just 20 minutes drive from Chester city centre, you will find more than 150 well known stores, restaurants and cafés of all kinds with long opening hours and free parking.
You’ll discover large discounts at the biggest designer brands over a mammoth 400,000 square feet of retail space and right next door you will find additional fun to be had at Blue Planet Aquarium plus a cinema and entertainment complex so you can truly make a day of it!
However you decide to travel into the city, we’ve got you covered as our travelling to Chester page has all the details for getting here whether it be via trains, planes or automobiles plus the park and ride options and the best places to park in the city.
Content written by Jordan Adam
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