Nottingham is often referred to as the ‘Queen of the East Midlands’ because the English kings held court there when they went hunting in its surrounding forests. It’s also famous for the legendary Robin Hood so we thought it was about time that we explored the city for ourselves.
Nottingham is easily accessible from all parts of the U.K. being 129 miles from London, 80 miles from Manchester and only 55 miles from Birmingham. As is often the case on our weekends away, we decided to travel by train, arriving into Nottingham station at midday, in a little under three hours.
We were feeling peckish so headed off to the nearby Canalhouse pub which we’d read about. The pub is located on the lower floors of the former Canalhouse museum and is unique as the canal actually extends into the building, complete with two full size narrowboats and a bridge creating an extra special atmosphere.
As we were quite early, we managed to secure a table overlooking the internal canal where we were able to watch the narrowboats gently move from side to side in the water. The pub also has a large beer garden overlooking the Nottingham and Beeston canal but as it was a cold day, we enjoyed the convivial atmosphere indoors.
Not only is the pub famous for its internal canal, it’s also renowned for having the largest selection of world beers in the East Midlands as well as an extensive bar menu of reasonably priced dishes. We were spoilt for choice but finally settled on steak and ale pie and a reindeer burger from the specials board along with tankards of German Pils.
The food arrived promptly and tasting my steak pie which contained large chunks of tender beef in a rich dark beer gravy, I knew instantly that I had made the ideal choice on a cold winter’s day. My son was also in raptures over his large reindeer burger served with apple relish, chips and salad, pointing out that venison was a healthy option, but perhaps not his chips!
After enjoying our lunch our next stop was to our hotel to drop off our luggage. We had reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Castle Marina one mile from the city centre. Although the hotel is on the outskirts of the city, it is easily accessible by public transport. Located on the Karlsruhe Bridge just above Nottingham railway station is the tram line, Nottingham Express Transit. On Saturdays and Sundays, a ‘group of 5 ticket’ is available at £5 which allows unlimited travel for up 2 adults and 3 children (minimum 2 adults) so this was perfect for our requirements.
It was only a five minute journey (one stop) to the Meadow Ways West tram stop and then an easy 7 minute walk to the Holiday Inn. We did notice a bus stop outside the door which would have cut down the walking but we were happy using the tram. The hotel is located on the edge of a retail park with shops, a supermarket and restaurants nearby.
We received a warm welcome from the receptionist who soon checked us in and handed us our keys to a room on the first floor. The hotel has undergone a major refurbishment and our spacious room featured contemporary styling with twin double beds, a 49″ smart television and a luxury bathroom. After quickly unpacking, we made ourselves some cups of tea from the well stocked hospitality tray before setting off to explore the city centre.
Trams are frequent and we only had to wait a couple of minutes for one to appear, staying on two stops this time before alighting at Lace Market. Nottingham was once the centre of the lace making industry and the Lace Market district is one of the oldest parts of the city with its Victorian architecture. The lace making industry has long since gone but some of its red brick warehouses and buildings are now listed and home to offices, bars, restaurants and shops.
Not far from the tram stop at Weekday Cross stands the Nottingham Contemporary which is one of the largest contemporary centres in the U.K. The gallery has been open since 2009 and its iconic green and gold exterior celebrates the Nottingham lace heritage with a nineteenth century cherry blossom lace design embedded into the concrete facade. The gallery offers free admission and its aim is to offer international art to everyone.
Taking place during our visit was the final weekend of Act One of the exhibition ‘Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance’ so we picked up a brochure and strolled through the galleries. The exhibition explored the history of resistance movements and alternative forms of living. We viewed more than 100 thought provoking exhibits examining resistance across the world from domestic to large scale uprisings spanning the late 19th century to the present. Although the exhibition in Nottingham has now ended, Act Two will be running until 2 June 2019 at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, further details available here.
After leaving the gallery we continued our stroll through Lace Market and onto neighbouring Hockley. The narrow lanes of Hockley exude bohemian charm and are filled with an array of vintage clothes shops, second hand bookshops and independent boutiques.
Continuing our tour of the city centre we arrived at the Old Market Square, a large pedestrianised square at the heart of the city with shopping streets leading off in each direction. Dominating the eastern end of the square is the Exchange Building which was constructed between 1927-1929. Wandering indoors, we admired the magnificent 200ft dome and glanced in some of the arcade’s exclusive stores. It’s certainly the place to go for designer shopping and dining in Nottingham’s city centre.
From there, it was just a few steps across the road to another smaller designer arcade known as the Flying Horse Walk. This contained a range of stylish boutiques and galleries and where we found an independent cheese shop and deli filled with delicious savoury foodstuffs.
Some more shopping followed before we made our way back to the Lace Market for something to eat. We had worked up an appetite after our traditional English pub lunch so thought it would be nice to have tapas for dinner. Tucked away down a narrow lane lies Baresca and as soon as we walked inside, the cosy atmosphere made us feel as if we had been transported into an authentic Catalan bar in Barcelona.
We were shown to a window table and with some suggestions from our friendly waitress chose a selection of tasty dishes. To begin, we shared a cocas which is a Catalan style flatbread which we accompanied with glasses of house wine. Our tapas dishes were then brought to the table as they were prepared which I prefer, as if all the dishes are served at the same time they have always gone cold before we have finished.
The attention to detail with presentation and quality of each dish was impressive and we feasted on garlic and chilli prawns, lobo beer battered cod, lamb koftas and a Moroccan chicken and chickpea stew accompanied with an aubergine, tomato and cheese gratin dish called an aubergine tumbet.
I often find it difficult to work out how many tapas dishes to order but this selection was just perfect for the two of us. If you are visiting Nottingham I’d recommend a meal at Baresca for some delicious Spanish tapas and a warm, friendly welcome.
It was then back on the tram a couple of stops over to the Royal Centre as we had planned to complete our first day in Nottingham with an evening at the Theatre Royal. Built in 1865, we entered the Victorian building through its columned portico feeling a sense of occasion in this beautiful venue. From our seats in the front stalls we were treated to some Shakespeare with a National theatre production of Macbeth. The acting and sets were first class and it was interesting to see a modern interpretation of such a classic play.
A tram was approaching as we came out of the theatre which meant that it didn’t take us very long to return to our hotel after such a lovely start to our weekend in Nottingham.
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