Visiting Gloucester – A City Guide
Gloucester is a small cathedral city in southwest England, known for its wealth of historic buildings and surrounding countryside. It started out as a Roman garrison and still contains fine architecture from a range of periods, including medieval churches, half-timbered Tudor houses and 19th-century canalside warehouses.
Gloucester: city layout
Gloucester city centre is compact and easy to explore on foot. The four ‘Gate Streets’ – Westgate, Eastgate, Northgate and Southgate, now largely pedestrianised – mark the historic core of the city. This is also the main shopping district, and where you’ll find many museums and attractions, including Gloucester Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece.
Beyond the city, the honey-coloured stone villages and rolling hills of the Cotswolds spread to the east, while the Forest of Dean lies to the west and the Malvern Hills to the north.
Top attractions in Gloucester
The soaring columns, stained glass and fan vaulting of Gloucester Cathedral attract admirers of ecclesiastical architecture, while its use as a film location draws Harry Potter fans from across the world.
A short stroll away are the regenerated Gloucester Docks, a reminder that the city was once England’s farthest inland port. The Victorian storehouses now contain apartments, a museum, some of the city’s liveliest bars and restaurants and an outlet shopping mall.
It’s ten minutes by rail from Gloucester Train Station to Cheltenham Spa, England’s most complete Regency town, where cultural and shopping opportunities abound.
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Hotels in Gloucester
Gloucester accommodations range from old-fashioned inns in the city centre to modern, business-friendly hotels near the motorway. Countryside retreats include historic manor houses with manicured grounds and purpose-built spa hotels.
Business travellers and visitors keen to explore the Cotswolds tend to position themselves on the outskirts of Gloucester, in Barnwood or Quedgeley. They’re handy for both the city and the M5 motorway, and some major companies have offices in the vicinity.
An even wider choice of rooms is available in nearby Cheltenham, ideal for guests attending a wedding at the Pittville Pump Room or horse-racing fans heading to Cheltenham Racecourse. Amid the town’s leafy Regency squares, you’ll find the latest in chic boutique hotels as well as luxury suites, cosy B&Bs and self-catering apartments.
Eating Out in Gloucester
Dining options in Gloucester tend to be traditional rather than trendy. Historic pubs serving fish ‘n’ chips, health-conscious wholefood cafés and child-friendly pizza parlours are the norm, with a smattering of ethnic alternatives for spice-lovers.
You’ll find the greatest number of cafés, restaurants and pubs in the city centre. Globe-trotting favourites include C&W African Experience, Tiger’s Eye and So Thai for pan-African, Asian fusion and Thai cooking, respectively. Lily’s near the cathedral is a cute choice for a very English cream tea.
Gloucester Quays has become a buzzing destination for casual and family dining, with reliable chain restaurants serving pizza, Italian and Mexican food. More bucolic waterside dining is available beside Over Canal Basin, where the Wharf House serves top-notch Modern European fare made from local, seasonal ingredients like self-harvested honey and River Severn smoked salmon.
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Shopping in Gloucester
The main shopping area, centred on the pedestrianised Gate Streets in the city centre, incorporates two high-street malls. Nearby are a traditional covered market and an outdoor market, selling everything from curtains to cauliflower. There’s also a weekly farmers’ market.
If you’re looking for a bargain, visit the Gloucester Quays Outlet Centre at Gloucester Docks, where discounts are as high as 70% off brands such as Bench, Nike, Gap and Osprey.
Unsurprisingly, antiques are something of a speciality in this historic city. You can poke through the myriad offerings at the Gloucester Antiques Centre, recently moved to a lovely old building on Westgate Street, or browse for vintage finds at Upstairs Downstairs, a spacious warehouse on Severn Road near the Docks.
Discerning shoppers travel the few miles to Cheltenham for its larger malls and independent retail scene, especially in womenswear, beauty, interiors and books.
Best gift shops in Gloucester
Culture & Nightlife in Gloucester
The city’s main entertainment venue is the multipurpose Gloucester Guildhall, on Eastgate Street. Here you can catch indie, rock and folk bands, enjoy stand-up comedy, view an exhibition or watch art house and mainstream films.
The Docks quarter has some popular late-night bars and a buzzing, studenty vibe, while traditional real ale pubs are the order of the day in the centre of town.
Gloucester’s music scene is nicely varied, from rock and punk bands playing intimate gigs in pubs to chamber and choral concerts at Gloucester Cathedral. There’s no lack of well-established annual music festivals, including the Cajun & Zydeco Festival, the Rhythm & Blues Festival and the Three Choirs Festival, which rotates among the cathedral towns of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester.
Local theatre lovers head to the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, which stages everything from opera to a much-loved annual panto in its ornate Victorian auditorium.
Gloucester’s best pubs
Visiting Gloucester with a Family
Gloucester’s museums cater well for children, with exhibitions, trails and workshops specially designed to interest young visitors. Indoor activities range from climbing to go-karting, and in summer you can explore the city’s canals by boat.
The medieval cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral appeal to wannabe wizards: they stood in for the corridors of Hogwarts School in three Harry Potter movies. The occasional Potter-themed guided tours sell out fast.
‘Flying experiences’ with owls, buzzards and hawks are available at the Barn Owl Centre, near Quedgeley. In Cheltenham, expansive Pittville Park is a perennial favourite thanks to its play areas, birds and bunny rabbits, as well as two lakes for boating and fishing.
Gloucester’s best waterside attractions