Back in December we took our first official family press trip to Chester. Before visiting, I had heard lots of lovely things about Chester but had actually never been myself. Being a small-scale, walled and Medieval city, I had also heard it had similarities to York. Seeing as York is my hometown, I was intrigued to finally visit Chester and to make my own mind up about the similarities. It was also the perfect opportunity to check out the Chester Christmas Market and to take Theo to Chester Zoo. At the time of this trip he was 14 months old and 10 months 'corrected'. Here are the highlights of our Chester Mini Break, all of which I highly recommend if you are planning your own visit (with or without baby).
On our first full day we crammed a (very full) day bag and set off with Theo in search of Chester Zoo. Chester Zoo is located in Upton-by-Chester just outside the city centre. It can’t have taken more than 15 minutes to drive there from our base at Oddfellows Hotel. I was surprised to learn that Chester Zoo was still open throughout December, as well as hosting its much-loved Christmas event The Lanterns.
Sadly there wasn’t any availability to book in for the Lanterns (snap up tickets quick as they go fast) so we went to visit for the day instead. I have mixed feelings about the general concept of zoos but after doing some research into Chester Zoo I was pleased to find that it focuses hugely on research, conservation and protecting extinction. Theo’s favourite animals were the monkeys as they were so lively and energetic. He loved following them as they swung and jumped around. It was such a lovely experience and we would definitely like to return when he’s older and can understand more.
Chester Christmas Market
The Chester Christmas market usually runs from late November to early January each year in the very central Town Hall Square. Having visited the much busier Christkindelmarkt in Leeds only a few weeks before, I loved that Chester’s market felt smaller and more intimate. Firstly, the twinkling market looks beautiful set in the foreground of the imposing Town Hall tower. It’s a lovely location for a Christmas market.
Christmas markets these days all seem to becoming ‘much of a muchness’, but I was pleased to find some unique and interesting stalls that I hadn’t seen before. There was a stall selling personalised baubles (lovely gifts for new babies or milestones) and I was eyeing up some gorgeous wool and suede slippers. The supersize sweet treats were enough to make you gawp and I liked going round the foodie stalls and trying out the different samples. There was also a few pop-up cafes and bars including a gin bar. We would definitely have popped in for a swift one if we didn’t need to get back to feed Theo (how life has changed!) . Finally, it wouldn’t be a Christmas market without some deliciously tempting street food and Chester’s had that in abundance.
We wrapped Theo up warm and walked around the market at around 5pm on an early December weeknight. The market had a very calm and festive atmosphere, but I can imagine it to get much busier at weekends and towards the 25th. The Christmas market is an absolute must if you’re planning a festive Chester mini break.
Picanha by Fazenda
Our final highlight was an incredible dinner at Picanha by Fazenda, a gaucho-style Brazillian restaurant in the heart of Chester. Picanha is part of the Fazenda restaurant group, but has been created to give diners a smaller and more intimate space. I loved the elegant and contemporary interior of the restaurant and we were given a warm welcome as soon as we arrived. Whilst we were early diners with a baby in tow, it still had a great atmosphere.
Picanha is best known for its succulent grilled meats and unique dining concept which involves a traffic light system. Each diner is given a card with a red and a green side. The green side means you’re ready to try more meat. The red side means you’re full or having a rest. The waiters come around to each table with a selection of freshly grilled meats to sample. Because they are served in small pieces, I felt like I was never overfeed with what was on my plate. I am not a huge meat eater, but I was blown away by almost every meat I tasted. From wagyu beef to fillet steak, gammon and chicken thigh, it was all to-die-for. I was also glad that the meat feast was accompanied by a very impressive salad bar. I’d go as far as saying it was the most high quality and tasty salad bar I’ve ever seen.
Pinanha was also incredibly child friendly. It was so nice to find a high chair and plastic cutlery already set up when we arrived at our table. This was such a thoughtful and personal touch that went a long way. Going to a nice restaurant with a baby is always risky business, but I felt like Theo was 100% welcome there and luckily he behaved incredibly well just playing with his toys.
Our dining experience at Picanha was faultless. The staff were friendly and attentive, the surroundings were gorgeous and the food was incredible. It’s not a place worth visiting for vegetarians or vegans but they are catered for and welcomed all the same.
Where We Stayed: Oddfellows Chester
Our base during our Chester mini break was the Oddfellows Chester; a stylish 4 star Chester hotel, housed within a characterful Georgian building. As we were travelling as a family, we opted to stay in one of the hotels baby-friendly apartments which were located a short walk from the main hotel. Staying at the Oddfellows apartment made our little break even more enjoyable and definitely more convenient. I’ve blogged all about the apartment in detail so be sure to check out Our Fantastic Family Friendly Apartment in Chester.
What did you think of my Chester mini break round up? Is there anywhere else in Chester that you’d recommend for next time? We’d love to return soon
My trip to Chester was a press trip with Oddfellows Chester and Marketing Cheshire. All views are my own. All photos are my own.