A Guide to Nottingham – The City of Caves

Maybe it was the excitment of being in a new country… Maybe it was the lack of sleep… But I pretty much immediately fell in love with England.

Naturally, my first few days of being in Nottingham were spent doing all of the touristy things: Nottingham Castle, the City of Caves Tour, Wollaton Hall & Park, the Galleries of Justice… All the fun stuff.

So I started my own walking tour at the Old Market Square. Which is basically the very centre of the city, and actually the largest public space in the UK outside of Trafalgar Square in London. I believe almost every town in England has a market square, which were traditionally used for markets, obviously, but seem to mostly be used for meeting places nowadays. I think most of them still host a market one day a week.

There’s almost always something set up in Nottingham’s Old Market Square, like a “beach” in the summer, to try to make Notts’ citizens forget they’re in the most land-locked part of England – complete with sand, beach chairs, and a beach bar even. At Christmas time, usually starting in November, England’s market squares become Christmas Markets. There’s all kinds of stalls with hand-made crafts, German foods like bratwurst, mulled wine and cheese… Just the sort of things to get you in the festive spirit. Nottingham even has a skating rink and ice bar! Sadly, the only pictures I have are of Old Market Square on a regular day, with no beach or Christmas Market… you’ll have to Google it to see for yourself.

My next stop was Nottingham Castle, since I’d never actually been in a castle before. For those of you who haven’t seen the castle here, it’s nothing spectacular. Sorry Notts, I love you, but it just can’t compete with the castles in Edinburgh and Lincoln. The castle grounds and the view of Nottingham are nice though, I’ll give it that. The inside of the castle is essentially just a lot of paintings and old artifacts, which isn’t really my cup of tea. But there is a bit of history of the story of Robin Hood, and the cave tour gives a good history of the city as well.

Another fun fact about Nottingham – the city is built on top of over 500 man made sandstone caves. If you visit the castle, you can purchase a ticket for the caves tour as well, which will take you through the caves underneath the castle, leading down to the oldest inn in England – Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, built 1189. I believe it’s 8 pounds for the castle, and 5 for the caves tour. However, the castle is closing at the end of March 2018 for renovations/upgrades for two years, so you’ll have to do the City of Caves Tour in the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre if you want a tour of caves before then.

You can see some of the caves exposed in the picture above, with the castle at the top, and the tour ending in Brewhouse Yard, where the Museum of Nottingham Life is. I haven’t actually gotten to see the museum yet, as it’s been closed every time I’ve tried to go, but I’m told it’s a really good museum, and it’s free to enter. A visit to Ye Olde Trip for a pint is a must while in Notts. And of course, a trip to Nottingham isn’t complete without a visit to the Robin Hood statue – just outside the castle walls, between Ye Olde Trip and the entrance to the castle at the top of the hill.

Next on my list of touristy things to do was the City of Caves tour, and the National Justice Museum (aka the Galleries of Justice). You can buy a joint ticket for the two tours, for 16 pounds. The Galleries of Justice is 10.95 on its own, and the City of Caves Tour is 7.95, so you can save a couple pounds if you book a joint ticket.

The City of Caves is a really great tour – I actually prefer it over the Castle Caves tour. They’re both interesting, but the Castle Caves tour mostly discusses a history of the castle, whereas the City of Caves tour gives a history of Nottingham, and different uses of the caves throughout the years. You get to see more caves with the City of Caves tour too.

Green’s Windmill is also just outside the city centre. It’s a restored, working windmill that was built in the 1800s, with a science centre alongside it to entertain the kiddos. It wasn’t open when I went, of course, but it is a pretty windmill!

Nottingham has some really lovely parks too – Wollaton Hall & Park, Colwick Country Park, Bestwood Country Park, the Arboretum, Arnot Hill Park – just to name a few. At Wollaton Hall, there’s also a golf course and deer park – yes, deer park, with deer just casually hanging out everywhere, dodging golf balls – and the Nottingham Industrial Museum.

The park is a lovely spot to stroll around, and I found the Industrial Museum pretty interesting. It was only 2 or 3 pounds to go in, and there was an older gentleman volunteer that gave me a great description of how the huge lace machines worked and some interesting stories behind the exhibits. They have a variety of exhibits including lace machines, bicycles, cars, radios, and even steam engines.

Wollaton Hall on the right, with the Nottingham Industrial Museum on the left

Some of Nottingham’s other parks… and some of my favourite cycling spots :

Arnot Hill Park – Rose Aviary

Colwick Country Park – lakes for fishing & boating

Colwick Country Park – walking/cycling paths

Bestwood Country Park – Mill Lakes

Bestwood Country Park – Mill Lakes : my favourite hangout tree

Bestwood Country Park – Winding Engine: the only existing twin cylinder vertical steam engine in England standing on its original site.

Bestwood Country Park

These are a few things to do in Nottingham… Of course, these are all just things to do in the city. If you’re interested in going a bit outside of the city, Sherwood Forest is about 30-40 minutes by car, or about 45 minutes by bus if you take the Sherwood Arrow from the city centre. Like Nottingham Castle, I found it pretty underwhelming… the Major Oak is about a 15 minute walk from the visitor centre there, and the walk through the forest to get to it isn’t nearly as nice as the other parks in Nottingham. But hey, at least you can say you’ve been to Sherwood Forest and saw the Major Oak.

Speaking of the Major Oak, it is quite a tree… as far as trees go. It’s estimated that it weighs 23 tons, is 33 feet in diameter, and is over 1150 years old. Unfortunately, you can’t actually go right up to the tree, as there were thousands of visitors each year which compacted the soil so much that the tree started to die due to lack of nourishment, so in the 70’s a fence had to be built around it to protect the tree. It’s also so heavy that it has a metal support system holding up the branches.

The church Robin Hood and Maid Marian were supposedly married at.

Nearby is Rufford Abbey, a Cistercian monastery turned country house. It was founded in 1146, then incorporated to a house in 1536. However, it suffered from neglect in the late-20th century, so had to be partially demolished in 1956, but the medieval part of the building and kitchen wing were preserved. It’s interesting to see the building, but the park itself around it is also a nice place for a stroll. Centre Parcs is also in the area, although I have never been.

So there you have it, my guide to Nottingham. It is a really lovely city, with plenty of history and things to do… Including 250+ bars. So if you do get tired of all the touristy things, just go check out one of the many, many bars in this city!

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