25 fun and free days out in Chester and Cheshire
Are you visiting Chester for a weekend city break, introducing Cheshire to friends, or just looking for ideas to entertain the kids at the weekend? Whatever brings you to Cheshire, firstly – welcome!
However you choose to enjoy the sights of our beautiful county, there’s no doubt that the majority of attractions can seem expensive. With everyday living costs spiralling, we are all looking for ways to save pennies without sacrificing the enjoyment factor. Here I use my experience to suggest 25 fun and free days out in Chester and Cheshire suitable for all ages. The majority of these ideas are also dog friendly and my suggestion would be to picnic and take public transport where possible, to keep costs down.
Free parking in Chester: Chester Racecourse CH1 2LY and Linenhall Car Park CH1 2LP (27th March/24th April/29th May/12th & 26th June/10th & 17th July/21st August/10th & 25th September/30th October/27th November/18th December 2022)
With sections dating back 2000 years, the historic Roman walls that encircle Chester are the longest and oldest in Britain. It is possible to walk the full route without a break, allowing a unique perspective on many of the city’s major sights including the River Dee, the Eastgate Clock, and Chester Racecourse.
Did you know Chester has a Castle? Entrance is free but the site is only open on certain dates and managed by English Heritage. Confirmed 2022 dates: 14th/15th May (Red Coat Event) and 25th/26th May (Medieval Event)
Roman Garden and Amphitheatre
The Roman amphitheatre in Chester was the largest in Britain and this historic site, along with the nearby Roman Gardens, is partially preserved and free to visit.
To learn more about the history of the Romans in Chester, simply sit back and listen as the real-life Roman soldiers’ march school kids around during the week, or instead, study the many informative signs dotted around. Chester walking tours and ghost tours can be booked via the Chester Visitor Centre (at a fee).
Chester’s largest municipal park covers 20 acres and affords spectacular views across the River Dee from its elevated position. Within its green-flag awarded grounds, there are ornamental flowerbeds, an excellent playground, cafe, and miniature train line that runs during weekends, bank and school holidays (not free but a couple of quid).
Take a picnic and enjoy a relaxing few hours while the kids play happily. Alternatively, walk the Walls to Water Tower Gardens for another great adventure playground.
Chester Zoo Walk
Sadly I don’t have a secret way for you to enjoy the famous Chester Zoo for free but the Wildlife Connections Trail is a great way to walk a green corridor from Chester Zoo into Chester itself along a 5.4 mile route.
Where once was industrial and urban space, Chester Zoo has worked with local communities to help connect people with nature. Finish at the zoo’s nature reserve – a safe haven for over 320 species of plant, animal and fungi.
Playing host to a full calendar of free events, the Chester Cathedral website is a fabulous resource when visiting Chester. With back to back events, exhibits and installations, there is more likely than not, something to see inside this magnificent space. The annual Christmas Tree Festival is a popular attraction during December and the rest of the year, enjoy everything from art, Lego or light displays.
Housed within an old cinema building, the Storyhouse is now one of the country’s most successful art buildings. Offering a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle outside, the Storyhouse situated next to Chester Town Hall incorporates a library, cafe, cinema and theatre space.
While charitable donations are always welcome, it is absolutely free to access and look around. Pull up a chair and grab a book, enjoy time reading or crafting in the children’s library or simply, find a quiet space to catch up on work.
Situated on Grosvenor Street, just a short walk from the main shopping centre of Chester, the Grosvenor Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.30am-5pm and Sundays 1-4pm.
While donations are welcome, entrance is free and the grand space showcases collections celebrating the history of Chester, its heritage and natural history. From Roman occupation to life in the 1920s, history buffs will relish the opportunity to step back in time. Close by, the Chester Military Museum is a nominal fee of £9 for a family ticket.
Chester Riverfront and Handbridge
Also known as the Groves, Chester Riverfront is a hive of activity during the day. The focal point of the city, this paved promenade has plenty of seating and places to find food, drinks and ice cream.
Alternatively, bring a picnic, feed the ducks and watch the sightseeing boats travel up and down. From the Groves, cross over the pedestrian suspension bridge and incorporate a walk on Chester Meadows or a visit to Edgar’s Field park and playground.
Sandy Lane Aqua Park
Approximately 2.5 miles east of Chester city centre, the Sandy Lane Aqua Park and adjacent play area are hugely popular during the warmer months. With a water play and grassed picnic area, the aqua park is open daily between Easter and September 10am-5pm. Use postcode CH3 5UL to find the park with car park access off Sandy Lane.
Nestled in rolling countryside in Wildboarclough, on the edge of the Peak District, this delightful ice cream farm is free to visit. While no picnics are allowed to protect the business, visitors can enjoy the family-friendly (and accessible in part) nature trails that criss-cross the meadows and woodland.
There are wood carvings and plenty of wildlife to spot along the way with a cafe, ice cream parlour and pottery shed all additional extras.
Quarry Bank Mill to Carrs Park
on sunny days, the shaded woodland walk that follows the River Bollin from Quarry Bank Mill to Carrs Park is a delight. Park for free in the National Trust car park before crossing through the cobbled courtyard to join the public football into Styal Country Park.
A good 4 miles in each direction, it’s not for younger legs, but perhaps for those with dogs or older kids happy to commit to an 8-mile circular. Manchester Airport is close by and the constant stream of low-flying aircraft is a bonus for plane enthusiasts. Shorter routes can be enjoyed around Styal Country Park and Chapel Woods.
Kelsall Park and Rose Farm Shop
The pretty hamlet of Kelsall, just outside Delamere Forest, has a truly epic wooden playground. Situated within a village green, the enclosed playground and neighbouring basketball court are surrounded by accessible pathways and space to picnic.
The Morris Dancer pub is the perfect stop for a drink or combine with a visit to the nearby Rose Farm Shop where along with picking up local produce, you can visit the farm animal enclosures completely free of charge.
Superworm Trail Delamere Forest
The newly opened Superworm Trail is a welcome addition to the hugely popular Delamere Forest, particularly after the Gruffalo Trail rotted away! Aside from the parking charges and £3.50 for an activity pack (which you don’t have to purchase), you can follow the self-led trail and the Julia Donaldson characters as you meander through the woodland.
For those looking to park at Delamere Forest for free, there is a small free car park located just off Ashton Road (Barnbridge Car Park) with direct access to an accessible trail. The 1 mile circular Superworm Trail starts at the main car park and visitor centre – CW8 2HZ.
Wizard Woodland at Alderley Edge
The sandstone escarpment that overlooks the prestigious enclave of Alderley Edge is one of the major landmarks in Cheshire. National Trust members can park for free, and for non-members there is a small charge.
Pass the famous Wizard Tearooms before entering the woodland where a number of circular walks can be enjoyed enroute to the sandstone lookout. There are often free guided tours (check the National Trust website for dates), while little ones can enjoy time playing in the trees and natural dens.
This vast free to visit country estate in south Warrington is one of Cheshire’s most popular days out, and for good reason. Aside from a small parking charge, visitors can take advantage of a huge enclosed children’s playground and delightful miniature zoo.
Formal gardens, restored conservatories and woodland trails make Walton Gardens a full day out. There are opportunities to splash the cash with a treetops rope course, crazy golf and pitch and put, but it’s equally as easy to pack a picnic and enjoy a free day out here.
Nantwich Museum & Nantwich Lake
The historic south Cheshire market town of Nantwich is a sight to be seen in its own right. With nearly as many half-timbered buildings as Chester, it’s quirky and winding streets are joyful to navigate.
Make sure to visit on a market day (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) to feel the buzz of the town before taking a visit to Nantwich Museum and a walk around the nearby lake. During the summer months, the Nantwich open-air brine pool is unique to the county and available to visit for a small fee.
Victoria Park Widnes, Splash Park
This impressive park situated in Widnes, is Green-flag awarded with an exhaustive list of free-to-access facilities. Free parking is available on the adjoining streets and the park itself features an impressive playground, splash park during summer months, fairy trail, ornamental pond, climbing boulder, skatepark and butterfly house. Fully accessible with good facilities, including a cafe, Victoria Park is a fantastic day out particularly on sunny days.
Anderton Boat Lift
Located just outside Northwich and celebrating the rich industrial heritage of Cheshire, the Anderton Boat Lift is considered the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’. Connecting the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal three-storeys above, the boat lift is an impressive site with boat trips available to book on weekends from April.
The fully-accessible adjacent visitor centre, cafe, picnic area and playground are free to visit and open weekends 9.30am-4pm. The car park has a small nominal charge but also gives easy access to the Anderton Nature Park and canal path towards Marbury County Park and Neumann’s Flashes.
Port Sunlight Village
The model garden village of Port Sunlight, situated on the Wirral peninsula, was created for the workers of the nearby Lever Brothers soap factory. Still a fully-functioning village, the unique architecture and pretty floral blooms, of Port Sunlight make it truly unique to walk around. The Lady Lever art gallery located within the village is open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm and free to visit. Access to the museum, Soapworks and guided walking tours are available at a cost.
Tatton Park and Knutsford
Although visitors arriving by car will have to pay a car parking charge to enter Tatton Park (those arriving on foot or by bike are free to enter), this is nominal when you consider the huge country estate, deer parkland and children’s playground that visitors have access to.
National Trust members can access the formal gardens as part of their membership while all visitors to Tatton Park can take advantage of the many events that take place in the estate throughout the year. Summer days can be spent picnic-ing on the lakeside or in the enclosed playground while watching the planes overhead.
Grappenhall Heys Walled Garden
Located just outside Warrington, the free to enter Grappenhall Walled Garden is open Tuesday-Sunday with the on-site cafe open Friday-Sunday. Parking is available for free just outside the entrance and although small, the kitchen garden, conservatories and kitchen garden are a delight to walk around.
Nearby, there are accessible paths, woodland and to explore with a route to follow into Grappenhall Village. Over the road, there is a small playground to enjoy.
A popular year round attraction, this Lymm beauty spot is a manageable circular route that encompasses the dam, sandstone follies, woodland and boardwalk. With longer and shorter routes available, Lymm Dam can be combined with a visit to the pretty centre of Lymm Village, it’s Heritage Centre (also free to visit), Bridgewater Canal and Trans Pennine Trail.
Hadlow Road Railway Station and Wirral Way
Situated in Willaston on the Wirral Way footpath, the Hadlow Road heritage railway station is a restored 1950s railway station complete with authentic ticket office, waiting room and telephone box. Run entirely by volunteers, combine a visit to the station with a walk or cycle along the accessible and traffic-free Wirral Way. Starting in Hooton and finishing in West Kirkby, is part of the National Cycle Network and incorporates the Wirral Country Park.
RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre
One of Cheshire’s hidden gems, despite it hiding in plain site adjacent to Gulliver’s World in Warrington. RAF Burtonwood is situated on part of the old airbase and tells the history of Europe’s largest airbase. Open to the public Wednesday-Sunday 2.30-5pm with donations welcome.
Fairy Garden, Vale Park
Another gem on the Wirral peninsula, the spectacularly magical Fairy Garden at Vale Park has been created entirely by volunteers.
A place of imagination, little ones will appreciate the tiny touches and intricate detail. Within the park, there is also a fantastic playground, cafe, and access to the seafront promenade that follows the River Mersey up to New Brighton. Take in the spectacular views across to the famous Liverpool skyline and enjoy time playing on the beach or following the Mermaid Trail.